Imagine your daughter, lying lifeless on the ground. She has been at a party where she’s had too much to drink and no one is around to watch over her. What do you hope happens here?
The fact is, anyone can be unconscious, at any time, for a great many reasons.
The recent sentencing of Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, has captured the attention of the nation. Outrage is mainly focused on the six-month sentence Judge Aaron Persky imposed on Turner, when the law called for a minimum of two years. Turner’s self-absorbed concern with the impact of the sentence on his own life, and the lack of an apology to his victim, has also been hotly debated.
Victims’ rights groups have intensified their call for an end to “rape culture,” where the victim is often blamed for “causing” an assault, either by by her state of dress, level of inebriation, or being alone.
But assuming a victim has something to do with another person’s violent actions has kept rape in the shadows for far too long.
The fact is, anyone can become unconscious, at any time, for a great many reasons. A young woman (or man) having a diabetic or allergic reaction, who faints or loses consciousness, would be just as vulnerable.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one in five women have been raped in their lifetime. The violence of rape can haunt a person for the rest of their lives, often profoundly impacting their ability to develop trusting relationships and damaging their self-esteem.
It is also a parent’s worst nightmare.
So what can any of us do help our children stay safe?
1.) Use the ‘always’ rule.
Stephanie Nilva, executive director of Day One in New York City, conducts workshops about sexual assault, consent, and intimate partner violence, and believes very early training in the Always Rule is vital.
They need to know they can always come to you for help and they won’t get in trouble.
“Train your kids to always come to you under any circumstances, if someone has caused them harm or they fear being harmed,” she told LifeZette. “If you’ve prohibited some behavior, like being with certain people, drinking, or being out past curfew, and your child violates the rules, and is harmed while violating the rules, they need to know they can always come to you for help and they won’t get in trouble. This would apply equally to any type of sexual assault — the key is letting kids know they won’t get in trouble.”
2.) Teach boys and girls about consent equally.
Sarah Lisovich, the Senior Editor for Central Infusion Alliance Medical in Chicago, Illinois, says she was profoundly affected as a child by the term “boys will be boys,” suggesting boys can do whatever they please, with no consequences for their actions.
“The language used around children has a strong impact on their behavior,” she told LifeZette. “At a young age, if a boy teases or treats a girl in a way that lacks respect, upsets her, or even physically hurts her, parents and adults often tell the girl that ‘he probably just likes you.'” By embracing these words, the girl can assume that affection comes with violence and hurt feelings.
Nilva recommends teaching there is no middle ground in consent. A “yes,” she explains, should always be clear and verbally expressed. New York, among other states, recently enacted affirmative consent laws on campus.
Need help explaining consent to your kids? Check out this incredibly simple narration on consent that has gone viral in recent weeks.
3.) Support reporting any crime.
According to a Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) analysis of Justice Department data, only 54 percent of sexual assaults are reported and only 3 percent of rapists serve time. That leaves a lot of rapists, who tend to be serial criminals, free to harm others.
4.) Encourage protective instincts.
Encourage your children to look out for others and be thankful for those who have their back.
“If you can make a decision to drink, you need to be accountable for what happens after that,” said one psychologist.
In the Stanford case, two Swedish Ph.D. students, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, acted swiftly to interrupt the rape, chasing Turner down when he ran, tackling and holding onto him until police arrived.
Johnny Edgerton (not his real name), a senior at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said his parents constantly pushed the value of watching out for others. While he has been a student at the university, The Princeton Review ranked it the #1 party school in 2013, and the #2 party school in 2014 and 2015.
“I have helped people get home, both alone and with my friends, when they seemed too far gone to make good decisions,” he said. “But some women are insulted if you offer. You can always encourage them to call a friend. Even if they refuse help, it’s good to offer anyway.”
5.) Understand the transition to alcohol is a pervasive part of college life.
In the Stanford case, the convicted rapist has tried to paint himself as a victim of the college “party culture.”
Most students attend college during ages 18 to 23, unique years where they transition to legal alcohol use. Students who are experienced handling alcohol and students who don’t understand their response to alcohol are together, under each other’s peer influence.
Dr. Barbara Winter, a psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida, recommends explicitly teaching a child about responsibility for the initial decision to drink alcohol. “If you can make a decision to drink, you need to be accountable for what happens after that,” she said. “While we can lose a sense of reality with intoxication, we alone make the choice to drink. We are sober when we make that choice.”
She recommends parents explicitly emphasize there are no excuses later.
Edgerton said it is common to blame a college’s culture, but he believes there are two sides to the “party culture” story. “As a freshman, I actually didn’t feel pressured to drink. You can always say no. There are tons of people who don’t drink, or drink much. I do see a lot of people drinking because they need to impress people, or fit in.”
That may be a parent’s toughest assignment: raising kids who don’t feel the need to “fit in.”
Pat Barone, CPCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating.