Preventing sexual assault begins at home

Preventing sexual assault begins at home

Rising concerns of sexual assaults on college campuses can leave parents on edge about their child’s safety. However, amid shopping for new clothes and dorm room decorations and before students head back to campus, now is a good time for parents to talk about consent, sexual assault and rape.

More than 11 percent of college students will be raped or sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). In addition, more than 50 percent of those sexual assaults occur during the first semester.

The U.S. Office on Women’s Health defines sexual assault as any type of forced or pressured sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent from unwanted touching to rape and attempted rape.

Sarah Katula, PhD., an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says parents tend to concentrate on teaching their daughters how to stay safe on campus. The often talk about how their attire and behaviors affect how others view them and caution them to never walk alone at night and not drink from an open beverage.

However, less time is spent talking to teenage sons about their role in being a responsible friend and citizen, and Katula wants to change that perception.

“Young men have mothers, sisters and women friends, and highlighting the value we place on them and all women is a good place to begin a conversation,” she says.  “Parents can talk with their son about how women are viewed and portrayed in our culture. For example, discuss with your sons the music, TV shows or movies that depict violent, sexually offensive or demeaning images that are misogynistic.”

“The more we as parents draw attention to the objectifications of women, we can hopefully make an impact on their thinking and behavior,” adds Katula.

“But we can also discuss music, TV and movies that depict love and caring for women. Asking our sons what they think and feel, while also sharing our own value system, will allow young men to recognize these messages as unacceptable.”

While parents can find these conversations challenging, it’s important to equip teens with tools to help them navigate social situations.

“Open lines of communication should be developed early on so that it is part of the parent-child relationship. As the teen moves through the developmental stages, the content shifts, yet the connection and communication should remain consistent,” she says.

Katula reminds parents that modeling positive behavior begins at home.

“Mothers and fathers give messages, both consciously and unconsciously, as our children grow. If we can consciously relay positive messages about how to treat women and people in general, we will make a real impact. Parents can also be aware of the messages given through media, teachers and public figures that influence the thinking of developing minds. We all need to be very conscious about what we create and the messages we send out into the world. We all have a responsibility,” says Katula.

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One Comment

  1. So, the first major problem I have is the idea of 11% of college students having experienced rape or sexual assault according to RAINN, which I grant is at least lower than the 20-33% often quoted, but according to feminist blogger and author of “The War on Boys”, Dr Christina Hoff Sommers, who quotes the 2014 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests the prevelance of campus rape is more accurately 1 in 53, which means that the actual percentage of rapes and sexual assault on college campus is roughly 2%. (I rounded up) The idea that boys need to be talked to specifically is nonsense. If you are telling your 18 year old not to rape or sexually assault people then that person is already in trouble because its far too late to try and “parent” your child. Treating people decently begins in adolescence and is more than complete by the time they go to college. My other major issue is that if we use the U.S. Office on Women’s Health’s definition of sexual assault then the conversation needs to be between parents and their college students. Since the definition includes “pressured sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent from unwanted touching to rape and attempted rape” allows for the possibility of a female being the purpetrator of one of these crimes. Also, if we note that the ratio of female to male college students is around 57:43 with growing numbers of females attending college over men, we can assume that women will more likely come in contact with women on campus so it would be equally beneficial to teach both genders how to be good “friends and citizens” as Dr. Katula puts it. She is also correct in noting that “Young men have mothers, sisters and women friends…”, which means young men already know how to treat them, especially when you consider the idea of “friends” because you don’t keep friends you are trying to sexually assault. My point, of course, is that if someone is intent on doing something wrong or immoral then they are doing so in contrast to what they have been taught and I am also suggesting that women are in no way above doing something wrong or immoral. So, if you really think this type of conversation is necessary (it’s not) then it needs to be had with both sons AND daughters, not just young men.

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About the Author

Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.