Parents, we are in the midst of a crisis with our sons. We are experiencing a crisis of character. A crisis of common sense and decency. I’m sure by now, you’ve caught wind of the atrocity of justice that has just recently been played out in a California courtroom, involving a Stanford college student who brutally raped and assaulted a young woman behind a dumpster in January of 2015. The judge handed down an extremely lenient sentence, which only further incends the culture of rape, causing it to spread like wildfire. Below are the statements written by the victim, as well as one written by the father of the rapist. It is difficult to determine which is more disturbing, the gut wrenchingly brave and raw account of the victim’s experiences, or the horrifying statements from a man who raised a son, and is incapable of grasping that his son should face jail time for “20 minutes of action”.
Read the statement letter of the victim here:
Read the letter from the boy’s father to the judge here:
Why is something like this allowed to happen? Is it growing up in a life of privilege? Is it being raised by parents who have swooped in to fix things that haven’t worked out the way the family wants throughout his life? Is it the pervasive messages of entitlement communicated to him by his parents throughout his life, both overtly and covertly? Or is it as simple as a lack of discussion about the word CONSENT?
As a parent of boys, this case has led me to truly question what kind of job are we doing as parents to stop perpetuating this rape culture, where men are entitled to dominate women, often with little or no consequences. Teaching our boys about the concept of respect towards women goes way beyond holding doors and having manners. As parents, our responsibilities are many, but one of the ones I hear most parents struggle with, is how to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations with your child. There is not enough candid, graphic, open conversations happening in the family home where these challenging topics need to be addressed. Think for a moment: What conversations have you had with your son about CONSENT? And yes, it needs to begin at a young age, but no discussion at any age is too late. Here is my rule of thumb:
If you are not uncomfortable when you talk to your kids about tough topics like consent, you are not saying enough.
Learning about consent involves beginning with a much broader context. Consent is a gift belonging to every person. It is not something we take freely from another. Unless it is handed over to you on a silver platter with the word CONSENT written on it, you cannot take it, swipe it, steal it, or put your hands anywhere on it.
From a very young age, we must speak to our boys using the word CONSENT. When your son has a friend over, and they decide to play a game, talk to them about how they decided on that game. Does your son feel he’s entitled to make the call because it’s his house? Does the guest get to pick what they do? Is there even a rule in place at all for that? This is an excellent context within which to start a conversation with your son about consent. Teach, educate, and EXPECT a dialogue to take place where a decision is reached. If the friend doesn’t want to play something, they don’t have to.
This then leads to middle school age, where social media often comes into play, if it hasn’t already. Speak open and regularly about taking photos, texting, and communicating with others. When a girl says to stop texting her, you MUST STOP TEXTING HER! Teach boys (and girls) to ask for permission before taking photos of someone AND before posting that photo on social media. ASK before you tag someone. Middle school is also usually a time when first slow dances happen. Slow dances lead to kissing. C’mon, don’t be so naive and think that your son “just isn’t interested” in girls. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Talk openly to your son about asking a girl to dance, AND how to handle the rejection if she says no. Find out how your son reacts when he likes a girl, but she doesn’t like him. Is he angry? Hurt? Sad? Talk about all the possible scenarios and give him ideas on how to handle them, even if he is freaking out and pretending to ignore you with his fingers in his ears. It may feel painful and like pulling teeth when you first begin this, but the more you talk openly about all of this, the less weird and strange it’s going to feel for both of you. Just like offering a baby a new food, after enough times of trying it, they might actually like it!
In high school, this is the time when you can assume NOTHING. Below is an excellent video which illustrates how consent can be compared to asking someone if they’d like a cup of tea. Share this with your son!
By the time he begins high school, make certain that your son can answer the following (even if you think he’s light years away from ever being in a situation like that):
What is CONSENT? How is it communicated? How is it NOT communicated? What he should do if someone is slurring her words or becomes unconscious or passes out? Give him viable options to contact you or another parent if he’s too nervous to call you. Someone’s safety ALWAYS come before being afraid to get in trouble. Make sure he knows that if there is ANY question whatsoever about whether or not someone has consented to sexual activity, you can ONLY assume they have not.
The bottom line is, in this age of technology, insane schedules running from one activity to another, the family dinner concept out the window, plus the “must achieve and succeed” mentality that has been branded in our communities, there is very little time left for the talking, connecting, and teaching that is ESSENTIAL and MUST happen if we expect our boys to grow up to function from a place of kindness, empathy, awareness of self and others, and common sense. If we don’t address this crisis, we will only find more young men destroying the lives of more women and living out their days on a sexual offender list.