Don’t Rape – The Title to a Book We Don’t Read to Our Children
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
There are certain things that most of us get taught as children. To name a few - Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Don’t rape.
Not stealing and not killing are relatively straightforward lessons to learn as children. Parents, police, teachers, the news, worship centers and other influential sources present consistent and clear messaging about murder and theft being wrong.
Around the time we’re toddlers we start learning the difference between personal and communal property, and by age four most people are capable of understanding death as a concept. These lessons become easily intuitive, generalizable, and distinct.
Not cheating is perhaps a bit more ambiguous and requires some more personal experience before really syncing in. It takes some wisdom to tell the difference between bending and breaking a rule, and some maturity of character to make pro-social decisions when no one is looking.
Not Raping on the other hand is not as intuitive as many people want to believe it is. We too often teach our children Don’t Rape without explaining what that really means. On its own, Don’t Rape is the hallow title to the book that we all buy, but don’t bother cracking open.
In the absence of clear messages about what sexual assault really is and how to respect people’s bodies, our children, and especially our young boys/men, are left to learn these lessons in other, less reputable places – often with life shattering consequences.
While there isn’t someone standing on a street corner, holding a big sign and a megaphone, screaming that it’s ok to commit sexual assault (except perhaps Incels) , our young people grow up with a consistent barrage of gender and rape myths that paint a very inaccurate picture of reality.
Just hearing the phrase ‘gender and rape myths’ likely evokes dozens of images and statements for anyone taking the time to read this. Nonsense like, “boys will be boys,” “what were you wearing,” and, “you can’t be anything but a boy or a girl,” have pigeonholed people for millennia. Statements like these are antiquated, victim blaming, grossly simplified, and excuse sexual violence as “just something that happens.”
Fortunately, most parents take the time to teach their children about how to avoid dangerous situations, and encourage young people to speak up if someone touches them inappropriately. There is a great deal of room for improvement here, but things are fortunately happening.
The sad truth though is that most parents feel wholly unprepared when it comes to teaching their children about what it means to not rape. And, how could they be prepared? Most parents weren’t formally educated themselves about what it means to not rape. On
Despite phrases like “sex sells” being a household term, we very rarely have meaningful conversations about sex and sexuality – especially not with our children.
The Book We Don't Read
There is this book titled Don’t Rape floating around on most every family’s book shelf that never gets taken down and read to our children.
We don’t talk about maturing bodies, appropriate channeling of developing sexual impulses, and truly respecting other people’s bodies and voices.
We’re setting our children up to cause long lasting pain to others when we fail to teach them how to not commit sexual assault.
We're setting our children up to normalize sexual harm, even teaching them to expect it as something normal.
Begin teaching your child from an early age about boundaries and respect. While most of us do this to some degree, think about how you can get even clearer with your messaging. Are you just waiting to catch them doing something before you confront their behavior, or are you proactively teaching? Are you simply telling them “no, don’t do that,” or are you taking the time to explain how their actions hurt someone?
Begin thinking of Empathy – the ability to take another person’s perspective – as a skill that you need to help your child learn. This often starts with learning and practicing self-empathy, a skill that a trained therapist can support you to develop.
Use age appropriate language that reflects not only their cognitive age, but also the age of their maturing bodies. Begin teaching your child about puberty (and all that comes with it) as soon as it starts. You don’t have to be graphic, but neither should you be condescending or condemning of the process.
Gear your conversations towards normalizing changing bodies, as well as developing sexual interests. You’re not helping anyone by saying that its ok to get an erection, but not educating them on how to use their bodies pro-socially.
Proactively undermine rape and gender myths. Teach them that it’s most often someone a victim knows and trusts, not some strange man in the bushes. Teach them that boys don’t have to be aggressive to have sex, and that someone saying no isn’t a signal to try harder.
Teach your child that it’s not only ok, but brave, to speak out against other people being sexually aggressive.
Stemming the epidemic tide of sexual assault starts at home; and it looks like teaching our children what sexual assault actually is, dispelling damning myths, and making respecting the physical boundaries of others a given – not an option. No one action, and no one voice will end sexual violence, but it is possible when we all do our part to make the next generation better than the last.
Always remember two things: Healing Is Possible, And It’s When We’re In Connection With Others That We Thrive.
Hudson Wilkins, MA, LPCC, EMDR, IFS. Hudson is a nature and mindfulness based trauma therapist inFort Collins, CO. He operates a private practice with a specialty in supporting folks who have experienced sexual violence first hand, and those that love them to heal and rebalance their lives.