Brian D. Johnson, Ph.D. and Laurie Berdahl, M.D.

Warning Signs for Parents

Could Parenting Impact College Sexual Violence?

The Stanford rape case as an example

Posted Jun 08, 2016

The rape of a young woman at a Stanford fraternity party and the appalling minimal 6-month sentence given to her student athlete perpetrator Brock Turner has sparked outrage. Sexual assaults on campus are common, and most victims are female. An estimated 20 to 25% of female students are victims of attempted or completed rape during college in the US, but most cases go unreported. Young men can also be sexually assaulted around campus or be accused of it. According to a 2012 study of college males, more than 50% reported at least one experience of more broadly defined sexual victimization since age 16. 

Vanna 44, CCO Public Domain,
Source: Vanna 44, CCO Public Domain,

In the Stanford case, Brock’s father worked to get him out of the typical longer sentence associated with this crime. Emma Gray’s spot-on recent Huffington Post article about the case called-out the disturbing reasoning of Brock’s father: his son’s violent crime was an “action” of “promiscuity” that was due to drinking too much. But being intoxicated is never an excuse for criminal acts like rape, nor is it a reason to blame a victim who can’t consent to or control what is happening to him or her. Brock’s father’s statement indicated no recognition of the sexually violent crime that his son had perpetrated, stating, “He has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night. . .” 

We believe the Stanford case is one of many indicating the cultural socialization of males which encourages them to feel entitled to sex, even if someone doesn’t consent or isn’t capable of consenting, such as in the case of this intoxicated victim. In Michael Kimmel’s book, Guyland, he discussed this shocking statistic: nearly two in five college males have reported that they would commit sexual assault if they could be assured they’d get away with it. 

There appear to be common threads in campus sexual assault perpetrators: privilege, male entitlement to sex, disrespect for and sexual objectification of women, male athletics, and fraternities. 

As parenting authors, we’d like to point out how parental actions can squelch (or promote) sexual violence. You can work against it by doing these things:

•    Teach respect and empathy for women. This starts at home when kids watch how   men (fathers and other adult males in the home) treat women and girls in the family and see that equal gender value is promoted. 

•    Make it clear that you believe that girls are not just body parts to be used for sexual purposes, but human beings with feelings, thoughts, and personal value, just like           boys.

•    Discuss the CDC’s definition of sexual violence punishable by law: any sexual act “that is committed or attempted by another person without freely given consent of the victim, or against someone who is unable to consent or refuse.” It includes forced, alcohol or drug facilitated, and nonphysically pressured penetration, intentional sexual touching, non-contact acts of a sexual nature, and coercing a victim to engage in sexual acts such as penetration with a third party.

•    Teach the meaning of consent: freely given words or easy-to-see actions indicating agreement to have sexual contact by someone who is legally and functionally able to do so. Reasons for not being able to give consent include intoxication from drugs or alcohol (not functioning normally or not being conscious or aware), otherwise being unconscious or asleep, young age or illness, mental or physical disabilities, or inability to refuse because of physical force, threats, coercion, or misuse of authority. Even when consent is initially given, if it is ever withdrawn or a person becomes unable to consent during the act, continuing sexual activity then becomes sexual assault or rape. Victim physical resistance isn’t required to  demonstrate lack of consent. 

We don’t know what happened with Brock, but without these lessons, there is no reason to think that perpetrators will believe what they did was wrong, will have empathy for victims, and won’t do it again. 

Also, discuss party safety while assuming your kids might drink or use drugs, or be with kids who do, raising the risk of sexual victimization. Warn them to guard their drinks, since perpetrators may place drugs in them to facilitate assaults. Have not only designated drivers (DDs), but designated sober partyers (DSPs) who ensure that friends are safe, don’t leave with someone else, and don’t engage in dangerous or criminal behavior. Talk about ways to intervene when seeing someone in danger.

As opposed to privileged, entitled athletes, the two young men passing by who suspected a crime and intervened to stop further harm of this victim should be heralded as heroes.

Much more information can be found in the book, WARNING SIGNS: How to Protect Your Kids from Becoming Victims or Perpetrators of Violence and Aggression, to be released on August 1st by Chicago Review Press (

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