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.
About the Author
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.