Like countless others, I was outraged and horrified when I read the heartbreaking and powerful letter shared by the Stanford rape survivor at the trial of the man who assaulted her. The devastation she has faced after being sexually violated by this 18-year-old college student and after going through a trial that led to a lack of justice is unacceptable and appalling.
Even one such story would be one too many. Sadly, the stark reality is that countless women have also had their lives devastated by sexual harassment, assault, and rape at college, at work, at home, and in our communities – often without telling their stories to anyone for many years, if ever.
I am glad that times have changed so that this violation of human rights is now considered wrong by far more people, and that organizations, institutions, and governments are working at all levels to change laws, policies, services. and attitudes.
To change cultures that excuse, overlook, or minimize this kind of destructive behavior, people of all ages and walks of life need:
• awareness of what safe and unsafe sexual behavior looks, sounds, and feels like;
• understanding of the harm done when anyone has their sexual well being violated in any way for any reason; and
• skills for taking charge of the emotional and physical safety of themselves and others.
Imagine what our world would be like if every adult in a leadership position with young people would consistently communicate this Kidpower message: Each of us has the right to be treated with safety and respect and the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards others.
If everyone understood, followed, and upheld healthy boundaries, there would be no harassment, no sexual assault, and no rape. Children can start to learn the following Kidpower safety rules about touch as soon as they can talk, and these rules stay relevant throughout their lives:
Touch or games for play, teasing, and affection should be:
1. Safe so that no one gets hurt
2. Ok with Each Person so that each person says “yes” (people who are drunk or otherwise impaired cannot say yes)
3. Allowed by the adults in charge
4. Not a secret so Others Can Know, because abusive behavior thrives in secrecy
Having skills for protecting and respecting healthy boundaries in daily activities starting as a child is essential to ensuring consent in sexual activities as adults. When kids can speak up about what kind of play and affection is and is not okay with them, even under emotional pressure to please someone, they are far better prepared to handle sexual pressure as they get older. When kids learn to manage their emotional triggers and stay in charge of what they say and do no matter how they feel inside, they become far less likely to cross the sexual boundaries of others.
Here are some resources that many parents and educators have found to be helpful:
The Kidpower Safety Comics series provides entertaining cartoon-illustrated social stories, safety rules and skills, many of which directly relate to consent for younger children, youth, and teens/young adults.
Together, we can change cultures that tolerate sexual aggression into cultures that promote respect and safety for everyone.