Culture of Respect believes all stakeholders must play a role in shifting to a culture of respect. One of the six tenets of our CORE Blueprint is public disclosure of sexual assault statistics and related information.
Colleges have an obligation to share their statistics and policies, but as a parent, it is imperative that you take an active role by talking to your sons and daughters before they leave for college and throughout their years on campus. Sexual assault is not an easy topic to discuss, but it is important to openly discuss ways in which your sons and daughters can help change the culture.
Below we have outlined a few talking points that will aid in your discussion – even one conversation can lead to greater awareness before your student arrives on campus. Greater understanding of the issue benefits the entire community.
National Sexual Assault
Call your college hotline
- Although college is an exciting time with wonderful opportunities to learn, make new friends, and have new experiences, it is also an unfortunately high-risk period for sexual assault.
- Sexual assault can be defined in a number of ways that range from any unwanted sexual/genital touching all the way to forced penetration or rape.
- Unwanted sex when someone has been using or given a substance like alcohol is also a form of sexual assault; many perpetrators rely on victims being unable to consent to sex or unable to resist due to substance-related incapacitation.
- A large proportion (>50%) of the sexual assaults that occur among college students involve substances like alcohol.
- The majority of victims who have been sexually assaulted know their perpetrator.
Tips for parents
- Communicate directly with your sons and daughters about what sexual assault is. The stereotypical idea that it involves a stranger who jumps out of a bush in the middle of the night actually applies to a very small number of rapes. Make sure they know what sexual assault is and that it is not ok.
- Encourage your children to trust their instincts (that inner voice that sends alarm signals when something is not ok). Ask them what they would do if they were at a party or out with friends and someone or some activity made them feel uncomfortable. Help them identify options (people to call, where to go, how to get help if they need it).
- We spend a lot of time as parents teaching our kids to follow instructions and do what they can to get along with people. Make sure your teenager knows that they can say "no" if someone makes them uncomfortable and "no" means that the other person should stop.
- Discuss drinking with your teenager. Acknowledge that there will be opportunities to drink and stress that you want your teenager to be safe if/when they choose to drink. Help them see that the inner voice that sends alarm signals is much harder to hear and can sometimes shut off altogether if drinking too much. Strategies to have fun but not get too drunk while drinking include: setting a limit before the night starts and sticking to it (counting bottle caps or keeping some other kind of tally), alternating an alcoholic drink with a full glass of water, or making sure to eat a proper meal before starting to drink. Strategies to stay safe while drinking include: never consuming a drink that has been out of your sight, even for a moment, and staying with trusted friends as much as possible (no man/woman gets left behind at a party). Also help them identify ways to leave a situation if they get uncomfortable—can they call you? A cab? Campus security?
- Tell your teenager that even if a sexual assault happens when they have been drinking or using other substances, it is not their fault and they can still report it and receive medical/rape crisis services. Make sure they have access to the information about how their school handles sexual assault and the numbers they might need to call for help.
- Let your sons and daughters know that even if it doesn’t happen to them, it might happen to someone they know. The best way to respond is by listening, being supportive, and telling the victims that what happened was not their fault.
- Keep an open dialogue with your children after they leave for college. Periodically check in, ask about their friends, and notice if any extreme changes in their mood, interactions, or grades occur. While you can’t force your kids to tell you if they experienced an assault, showing genuine interest in their life and well-being may make them more comfortable sharing if it does occur.
Talking points for parents of young women and men
- If your teenager see something happening that doesn’t seem right (e.g., someone is being taken advantage of), it is really important that they take action. Call the police or other campus authorities and don’t leave the vulnerable person alone with the aggressor, if possible.
- Even if your teenager does not witness the assault, they may know someone who has experienced sexual assault. Encourage them to be a good listener if their friend wants to talk about it; tell them not to point out things they could have done differently to avoid the situation, and let them know about campus resources that are available to them if they want to seek additional help.
Talking points for parents of young men
- Consent is really important; someone can consent to some forms of sexual behaviors but not others. For example, someone could be ok with kissing, but not want to do anything else. Consent also requires that both parties are conscious and aware of themselves and their surroundings. A very drunk or passed out person cannot consent to any sexual acts and having sexual contact with them is a crime.
- Consent can also change. Someone may consent to an activity and decide they feel uncomfortable during the act. As soon as someone says to stop, it’s important that those boundaries are respected.
- Your son may encounter other men on campus who make jokes about rape or talk about women and or men in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. Empower them to say something if they hear someone making these remarks. To stop rape, we need to change social views and the rape culture. We all play a part in making this happen.