Create a norm within your circle of family and friends where sexual violence AND prevention are topics of conversation.
Last night, I presented on sexual violence to a group of young parents. Over the course of two hours, we talked about the continuum of sexual violence, when that happens within a dating relationship, and child sexual abuse. It was within this context that we also talked about what a survivor goes through, the wide range of responses a survivor may experience, as well as the current environment where we focus on and blame the victim instead of holding the person who chooses to inflict the harm accountable. It was a really good conversation.
It wasn’t until this morning that I realized the potential impact of this conversation. While the parents were engaged in what can be a difficult conversation, many of their children were playing on the floor. Outside of conversations with friends or family, I have never had a conversation about the continuum of sexual violence in front of children. When we know 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual violence by the time they turn 18, why are we having these conversations without them? What does it mean when we focus our conversations on warning signs or what to look for if there is suspicion of child sexual abuse? What does it mean that when we do talk to kids, it is usually about stranger danger or that our private parts are private?
It seems to me that we continue to only have half of the conversation. So often when I hear about adults having suspicion of child sexual abuse, I don’t hear about the adults approaching other adults about their concern. It is usually focused on warning signs of the child instead of focusing on the behavior of the adult who might be inflicting the harm. Furthermore, when we talk to children about personal space, why don’t we include topics about consent or how all people should be treated? Why don’t we have the entire conversation about “This is how you should be treated, and this is how we treat others”?
The parents I talked to last night modeled to their children that they are learning about sexual violence, this is a topic that can be talked about within the family, and that as parents they want to know how to support a survivor. If they continue the conversation, they will be able to prevent the silence that often happens around sexual violence. They will create a norm within their families as well as the families around them that this is a topic we can and will talk about.
Demand the change. Open up the dialogue to kids. You can end the silence and create an environment where the entire family is talking and learning together.