Colleges and universities have an obligation to share their statistics and policies around sexual violence, but parents have an important role to play as well: talking to your student before they leave for college and throughout their years on campus. Sexual violence is not an easy topic to discuss, but it is important to have ongoing conversations with your student about the ways they can help change the campus culture.
Education about Sexual Violence
- 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 violence.
- 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 survivors who have been sexually assaulted know their perpetrator.
Tips for Parents
- Communicate directly with your student 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 student to trust their instincts. 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 student knows that they can say “no” if someone makes them uncomfortable and “no” means that the other person should stop.
- Discuss drinking with your student. Acknowledge that there will be opportunities to drink and stress that you want your student to be safe if/when they choose to drink.
- Encourage your student to be an active upstander. If they see something happening that doesn’t seem right (e.g., someone is being taken advantage of), it is really important that they take action in safe way. Call the police or other campus authorities and don’t leave the vulnerable person alone with the aggressor, if possible.
- Tell your student 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 student 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 person that what happened was not their fault.
- Keep an open dialogue with your student 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 anyone 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.