Ending Child Sexual Abuse and Rape Culture by Teaching Children About Consent. 27/4/2017

Published by GROKNATION

Guest writer Rivka Joseph, a survivor of child sexual abuse, shares some tips for talking to children about body agency and consent

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. So the topic of consent – as a tool in ending sexual abuse and rape culture – is extremely important to me. Since my son was a young toddler, I have been teaching him about consent in the most natural way possible. It came up in conversation as I would change his diaper, bathe him, go to the doctor, and just carry on with our regular routine. Because that’s where sexual abuse happens, in our regular routine, by ordinary people we know, usually under our noses. And that’s how we continue to talk about consent as he gets older, very casually and with no pressure.

So what does a conversation about consent look like when you are a survivor of child sexual abuse and parenting a young boy? Our conversations are two-fold, yet very much interconnected. Consent and awareness are two sides of the same coin. Teaching my son that he has agency over his own body and that no one, no matter who they are, can violate him is the first part that must be taught. I help him understand why he owns his body. Because he is an individual human being and does not belong to anyone else. Because his soul and body are intertwined as one. Because he is deserving of the utmost respect at all times. When he understands this, he can now understand why he should help another child if they appear to be hurting. He also understands why another person’s body belongs to them and that he must have consent before touching them. And so contrary to the messages that are constantly promoted by many TV shows and films, the music we listen to, and other cultural products, my eight-year-old does not believe that a girl’s body is there for the taking and that she has no ownership over her own body. He knows that every boy and girl is deserving of respect like he is.

As we raise the next generation and work to end sexual abuse and rape culture, perhaps we need to look at our language and the way we are teaching our children about their bodies and the bodies of others. Our children should understand that they own their own bodies, that they have their own agency, and that they should respect the agency of others.

7 things to cover in conversations with children about consent:

  1. 1. Give them your unconditional support. “No matter what you need, I am here for you. I will always believe you, help you, and protect you.”
  2. 2. Use the correct terms for body parts. This takes away the shame and allows your child to talk to you in accurate terms about what is or is not happening to them.
  3. 3. Help them learn about “safe touch.” Let your child know that no one is allowed to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Avoid using words like “bad” and “hurt” when referring to touch as sometimes the abuse feels good physically and this can confuse children.
  4. 4. Differentiate between secrets (bad) vs. surprises (okay), bribes (bad) vs. prizes (okay). Teach your children to come to you immediately when someone tells them a secret that they should not tell you, when they are threatened, and/or bribed to do something they are uncomfortable doing.
  5. 5. Use a term like “tricky people” to describe people who try to get children to break the safety rules. Most abuse is perpetuated by people we know and trust, so avoid using terms like “scary men” or “monsters” or “strangers.”
  6. 6. Emphasize to your child that he or she has “bodily autonomy.” Never force physical interactions between your child and others. They do not have to hug and kiss the adults in their life if it makes them uncomfortable. Let your child feel in control over their body, modeling this will go a long way.

And you can also teach your children that these same rules apply to the way we treat our peers and younger children!!!