“The silence was killing me,” J.Lynn writes in Wait For Me. “And that’s all there ever was. Silence. It was all I knew. Keep quiet. Pretend nothing had happened, that nothing was wrong…”
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it is unfortunately more timely than ever. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that in 2016, Child Protective Service found substantiated a claim of child sexual abuse every 9 minutes. “Rape is not about sex. Rape is about having power and control over another person,” the Valley Crisis Center says. It is a crime that thrives in secrecy, and places a burden far beyond the physical on its victims. Most victims find it very difficult to even speak of what has been done to them.
“I met my perpetrator on the internet when I was 12. We chatted for months, about perfectly innocent things. Gradually, he began telling me things about him and his girlfriends,” one survivor shared. The survivor emphasizes how insidious this manipulation is: “My resistance artfully, gently, worn down, I welcomed him into my childhood bedroom. I said yes as much as a child can say yes to something they don’t comprehend.” The victim of rape or sexual assault often experiences emotional trauma, which can look different in each person. Some will retreat within themselves, dressing as plainly as they can. Others will dress more provocatively than they did before. Some will eschew sex; others will become hypersexual. It is important to understand that this is part of the victim’s attempt to regain control and a sense of ownership over themselves and their own bodies.
The Legal Side
One additional burden is understanding the differing definitions of rape and sexual assault in different states. In Virginia, for example, the age of consent is 18; in neighboring Maryland, it is 16. A comparison of the two states’ laws shows that neither provides a definition of consent, but Maryland contains a list of more protected classes (including those with physical or mental impairment, which includes use of drugs or alcohol).
We are not powerless. There are ways to help!
Action: Talk about it!
Many parents find it is difficult to know when their child is ready for ‘the talk,’ and then how much detail they should give. Unfortunately, sometimes they learn that their children have already had “the talk” from their peers or school, or worse, from pornography. Talking to your child honestly and openly about sex, sexual assault, and rape can be incredibly difficult… but it also tells your child that you are in their corner, and a safe person to talk to if something does happen. Knowledge is power, and arming our kids with accurate information is one of the best ways to help them protect themselves.
It is also a parent’s job to raise their children holistically, and this means educating them about how bodies change and babies are made–of course, at the age appropriate level. The question often is, “How do I know what to say?”
We recommend the Sex Talk, developed by our partners, Proven Men, as a guide to help parents discuss these topics with their children. The last thing kids want is to be sat down and given “a talk”, then left to swim or sink from there. Rather, parenting holistically means wise preparation for the topics that our culture inundates children with at school and through screens. It means frequent conversations when questions arise—in the kitchen, at bedtime, or in the car. It means not treating it as a dirty or scary topic, but as something that is a part of life.
Parents have a choice. Either your children will learn from you or from someone else. We recommend parents do the teaching. The great thing about the Sex Talk is that it provides introductory videos for parents to go through for their own confidence before covering information with your kids. We wish you the best as you begin!
You Can Also Donate to Libertas Home!
Donating to a nonprofit like Libertas Home, whose mission is to fight sexual assault, can make a real impact on the lives of survivors. It can also help in the campaign to spread awareness about both the crime and how to stop it.