Any parent who sends their child away to college is likely aware of the various dangers their child could incur there. Among the possible dangers, sexual assault is one of the most severe. Parents tend to worry most about their daughters, as women are the victims of sexual assault with greater frequency than men. How often do parents talk to their daughters while they’re away about the dangers of sexual assault? Probably not enough.
For those parents who recently sent their children away for their freshman fall semester, it is more important than ever to routinely warn them to be careful. Following an audit by the Department of Education, a study that investigated sexual assaults on 31 campuses found that the numbers of sexual assault were actually 44 percent higher than were originally reported (Yung, 2015). One of the primary reasons why assaults go unreported is due to stigma or embarrassment, not wanting to admit to others you don't know well the details of something painful and embarrassing.
In order to prevent your own child from being a victim, you can do your part as a parent to remind them gently about the risks of sexual assault. In particular, the risk for sexual assault rises significantly with the intake of alcohol, as alcohol often distorts one’s judgments. Make sure to tell your daughters to avoid alcohol until they reach the legal age, and tell them that drinking even when they are the legal age does not protect them from assault. Having worked with females who have been sexually assaulted, I can share anecdotal information that the assaults often take place when a female leaves her female friends and goes somewhere private with a man. The point is to remind your daughters to make sure that they either don’t drink alcohol or drink very little in order to make good, sound decisions that allow them to protect themselves from dangers.
When it comes to your sons, it is equally important to talk to them about the risks of sexual assault. A young man, having recently graduated high school, may be eager to explore his sexuality and act out on his sexual desires. When alcohol is added to the mix, a young man can lose some of his inhibitions and get sexually aggressive without any conscious intention to cause harm. Talk to your sons and remind them that sexual assault occurs frequently while males and females are under the influence of alcohol or other substances, so issue some of the same warnings to your sons that you would issue to a daughter: do not drink alcohol under age, and when you reach the legal age, drink alcohol at a minimum. Be explicit when you warn your sons: “Most men who commit sexual assault in college don’t set out to be violent toward a woman, but alcohol and other substances can cause you to make bad decisions and to become sexually aggressive or violent even though you had no intention or plan to hurt anyone.”
Finally, if you have any concerns about your child – son or daughter – potentially engaging in dangerous behavior, call the mental health center at your child’s school and share your concerns. Ask if a counselor could reach out to your child and perhaps meet with him or her for a session or two. Even if your child never follows through with the recommendation, your care and warning sends an important message that someone is trying to monitor their behavior and guide them toward behavior that allows them to be successful and socially appropriate with their peers.
Corey Rayburn Yung, JD. Concealing Campus Sexual Assault: An Empirical Examination. Psychology , Public Policy and Law, Vol. 21, Issue 1 DOI: 10.1037/law0000037