Teaching Children Consent: Step 1 Towards Preventing Sexual Assault

Teaching Children Consent: Step 1 Towards Preventing Sexual Assault

"No means no" and other things everyone needs to understand.

Maria Nelson

In the ever present rape culture found in society today, a recurring theme is a misinterpretation of words or actions in which the rapist "thought she (the victim) said yes" when in fact she was either a) too intoxicated to consent to any sexual advances or b) very clearly expressing "no, I'm not interested, screw off." In either situation, the rapist is a lying scumbag who should be incarcerated for his behaviors but, more likely, will face little to no consequence.

While many solutions have been presented to combat this tumor of society, none has quite been effective, with one in six women still experiencing sexual assault at some point in their lives and only 3 percent of rapists facing jail time. It is time to present an alternative solution, one in which we, as a society, raise children of all sexual identities and genders to understand the meaning of consent and to see rape and sexual assault as the intolerable crimes that they are, rather than as "just another fact of life." It is time to nip the issue in the bud and to stop these heinous acts before they can no longer be undone, rather than doing damage control once the situation is already out of hand.

There are a number of phrases that come up every time a rape case captures the public attention; phrases that need to be used and respected in every interaction; from family to friends to strangers. As the newest generation of child raisers, as their siblings, as their teachers, as their coaches, as their mentors, it is our responsibility to teach them these phrases. It is our job to teach them to demand that they be respected. And, perhaps most importantly, it is our job to respect them when they say these things to us.

1. Don't touch me.

In my experience, this has always been a touchy issue (pun intended). I am a toucher. I express affection through physical contact. However, I hate being touched. Personally, I need to improve my own behavior when somebody expresses to me that my physical touch makes them feel uncomfortable and I need to be more direct when someone else's contact upsets me.

For example:

I work in a preschool and the other day, a little boy had wood chips in his hair after playing outside. Without asking, I reached out and started pulling them out one by one as we were heading inside. He turned around and said, very clearly, "Miss Maria, I didn't tell you you could touch me" (Shoutout to his parents, by the way). I quickly apologized, explained what I was doing, and promised to ask his permission next time. Everyday situations, such as this one, can be used as a reflection of larger scale problems, such as sexual assault because when children learn how to say and react to "don't touch me" on the playground, they are more likely to recognize it as a phrase of non-consent at a party or in the bedroom.

2. That makes me uncomfortable.

A number of things; from catcalling to touching somebody without their permission to making suggestive sexual comments can make people uncomfortable, particularly if the advances come from a situation that lacks consent. If somebody tells you that your behavior makes them uncomfortable, you don't get to decide that it doesn't.

3. Stop.

This has become an epidemic, especially amidst the date rape culture in which two people will be consensually "hooking up" (making out, fondling, or performing other sexual activities) and then one party will back out before it goes any further. In a similar way as the word 'no', 'stop' does not mean "convince me" or "proceed with caution."

One method of sex education is to compare sex with a stoplight:

A red light or "No" means stop. Every time. No questions asked.

A yellow light or "Maybe" means prepare to stop. It does not mean speed up or continue anyway, it means it's time to anticipate the red light coming.

A green light (and only a green light) means that it is OK to continue.

4. I don't like it when you do that.

This phrase is not an invitation to shame other people's behavior. It doesn't mean you can say "I don't like it when women swear, it's unladylike" or "I don't like your hair that way, you look better with it down." Those are your opinions and, although you are entitled to them, they have no relevance in this situation.

Every interaction, including sexual interaction, should be a consensual choice between two parties that are willing and eager to participate. Once one party becomes unwilling, the interaction is no longer consensual and, in the situation of sexual contact, can be qualified as rape or sexual assault. As John Oliver famously said, "Sex is like boxing. If both people didn't agree to participate, one of them is committing a crime."

5. No.

No means no. This is absolutely non-negotiable. If somebody says no, that does not mean "convince me." It does not mean "maybe." It does not mean "Ignore me and go ahead and do it anyway." No. Means. No.

6. Because I said so.

Additionally, saying no does not need to be justified or explained. When somebody says no to something, that's it. That's the end of it. Whining, questioning their decision, or begging for them to change their mind are childish and immature behaviors, and, in this context, they qualify the perpetrator as a rapist.

It is absolutely imperative that we educate ourselves and the people around us about the severity of sexual assault. Rape is not a joke. It is a crime and it ruins lives and destroys futures for thousands of people everyday. It is time to stop "praying for the victim and their family" or "donating a dollar to pay for rape kits." It is time to educate ourselves and one another about the reality of this epidemic and work to reverse the damages it has caused before it is too late.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, you are not alone!

If you need immediate support, you can reach your local RAINN (The Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network) affiliate at any time, 24/7, by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

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