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Teaching Our Sons Not to Rape

5 things we must teach boys about sexual assault.

In my psychology class recently, I shared the story of three High School girls from Oklahoma, all allegedly raped by the same classmate. An audio recording circulated around their High School in which the young man in question gleefully told his friend about one of the attacks. He also sent peers a video of the asault. Meanwhile, the victims were bullied and called sluts. All three girls ultimately chose to leave school as a result of this bullying, while the young man went on about his life with seemingly no consequence of his actions. Outrage from fellow students and parents brought media attention to the story. It was only months later, after receiving press, that the 18 year-old was finally charged.

I played the audio recording, which had been posted to Youtube, for my class. The recording had been cut with some photos of the young man obtained from his social media sites. Counter to the popular image of the deranged looking serial rapist, what the class witnessed was a clean-cut, handsome boy laughing and bragging about raping a 16 year-old girl.

After the presentation, one of my students, outraged, raised her hand and asked "What is wrong with this boy's parents!? They must take some of the responsibility." The class debated the degree of the parent’s culpability. In doing so, it was ultimately determined that, while as a society we make an effort to teach girls methods to avoid getting raped, we ironically do not teach boys not to rape. As a mother of a son, I have recently given this notion great thought. As it relates to acting to minimize the risk of sexual assault, parents and safety educators know to teach girls about the buddy system, to watch what they wear and the dangers of getting drunk or high, but what do we teach boys?

The answer is “not much.” However, overwhelmingly, it is our sons who commit rape. In instances in which a female was the rape victim, a man was the perpetrator 98% of the time. For male rape victims, a man was the perpetrator in 93% of the instances.

Some rapists are sociopaths with absolutely no regard for other human beings. Thus, no manner of education will ultimately deter such individuals from harassing or raping another person. However, for some (and I would go as far as to say for many), education will cause them to think before they act in a destructive manner, before they violate someone.

As a therapist, I have worked with both rape victims and rapists. I once counseled a 19 year-old college student who was mandated to counseling because he raped a classmate in his dorm room. He admitted she was passed out when he penetrated her, but he said, through tears, he figured it wasn't a big deal because he thought his victim liked him. He was distraught. He was contrite. Perhaps a solid education or parental guidance could have prevented the rape.

Here is what boys need to know:

1. Sexual harassment of any kind is WRONG. Unwanted comments about a person's body or catcalls on the street are not funny and they are not compliments. It can make a person feel threatened and has been shown to lead to anxiety and body consciousness. Instead of participating in sexual harassment, think about how rude or vulgar comments may make a person feel.

Why: If we condemn sexual harassment, it will be clear more egregious sexual violence is not tolerated.

2. Consent laws. Consent means a person can freely choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity and can stop the activity at any time during sexual contact. In addition to the basic definition, it is illegal to have sex with a minor, so know the age of consent in your state. Also be aware that a person, not matter how old they are, cannot give consent if they are intoxicated, asleep or mentally impaired.

Why: If someone doesn’t know the limits of consent, they may not understand when they’re violating someone else—and they may unknowingly rape someone.

2. Yes means yes. When determining if someone wants to have sex with you, look for a yes, not the absence of a no. No one should ever pressure or talk someone into sex. While doing so isn't rape, it is unethical behavior. It's ideal to only have sex with someone who really wants to have sex with you, and vice versa.

Why: In an effort to reduce campus rapes, a bill was passed in the California Senate requiring college students to make sure they have a “yes”—not just the absence of a “no”—before they have sex. Affirmative consent requires couples to communicate and make certain both parties are on the same page.

3. No one is entitled to sex. It may seem like everyone is having sex, all the time. But that is not reality. No one is ever entitled to sex with someone. That includes a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. You don't "earn" sex from being a "nice guy" or spending money on a date. Sex is a mutual decision that both parties make on an ongoing basis.

Why: A large, international study conducted by the United Nations found a pervasive belief among rapists that men are entitled to sexual experiences.

4. Alcohol makes things risky. Alcohol clouds judgment and lowers inhibitions. It also interferes with clear communication, and thus you may not accurately read non-verbal communication or hear a person's "no" clearly when you are drunk. Substance use can lead you to a decision you deeply regret.

Why: Among male offenders who rape women, 64% were using alcohol and/or drugs prior to the attack.

5. You can help reduce rape by speaking up! Some boys harass girls or make rape jokes to impress their friends. Most bystanders chose to stay quiet instead of confront bad behavior because it can be hard to go against the group. One study found that 80% of college men felt uncomfortable when women were belittled or mistreated in their presence, but they didn't speak up because they thought they were the only one who felt that way. By using your voice you can help spread the message that rape is unconscionable.

Why: Campaigns that target young men to end rape and stand up to harassment have been shown to be successful.

More from Kathryn Stamoulis Ph.D.
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