When Our Girls Are Victims of Sexual Assault
Sexual Assault Cases on Teens
The subject of sexual assault is difficult for a lot of people. If this subject makes you uncomfortable, please don’t go any further, this link will take you back to my blog.
There have been a great many high-profile sexual assault cases in the news over the past few months, three come to my mind. The girl from Steubenville*, Audrie Potts, and Rehtaeh Parsons. Audrie and Rehtaeh both committed suicide as a result of their experiences.
*I will be talking about the Steubenville case throughout my post. From here on out I’ll simply refer to the victim as “Jane Doe” to respect and preserve her anonymity.
Reading about these kinds of incidents can make you feel sick, especially if you have teen girls, or boys. They make you want to pray that this never happens to one of your girls, and that if your son was ever in a situation like this, that he would do the right thing.
The questions I want to answer, over the next couple of posts are:
How common are sexual assaults like these?
How can our girls (and boys) reduce the risk of being sexually assaulted?
How can we more effectively teach our children the concept of consent?
In my experience with sexual assault, there are many confusing and downright incorrect resources floating around out there. I hope what I’ve found through years mentoring should prove enlightening for my audience.
According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which is designed to measure sexual violence against men and women, most girls who are raped are under twenty-five years old, with 29.9% happening between ages 11-17, and 37.4% happening between ages 18-24.
According to recorded figures, 1 in 300 women was raped sometime in 2010. It’s also shown that the most likely rapist is going to be a friend or acquaintance. The numbers for boys, which I’ll discuss in Part 2 of this series, are extremely similar.
If you’re the kind of parent who becomes obsessed with numbers like these, shake the fear off. Your kids aren’t numbers, they’re people. And as we’ll see soon enough, there are things they can do to reduce the likelihood of them becoming a victim of sexual assault. It’s time to empower them.
Rehtaeh Parsons, Jane Doe, and Audrie Potts were all 15 years old when they were sexually assaulted. And what happened to all three of these girls was eerily similar. They went to parties where alcohol was present, they got drunk, blacked out, and inappropriate things unfolded.
Take a look at these snippets from articles reporting on the case, I’ve bolded the relevant text in each.
“At the parties, the girl had so much to drink that she was unable to recall much from that night, and nothing past midnight, the police said.” –from the case of Jane Doe, Steubenville.
“In her original statement to police, Rehtaeh identified the boy in the picture and herself as the second person, said she had had a lot to drink very quickly, and that she had sex with two of the four boys present at the house. When she leaned out the window to be sick, she told police, one of them assaulted her. She remembered almost nothing else.” –from the case of Retaeh Parsons.
“Audrie had gone to a girlfriend’s house on Sept. 2, Allard, the family’s lawyer said. The friend’s parents were out of town for the weekend, he said, and the teens had access to an unlocked liquor cabinet. The teens, including Audrie, began drinking alcohol mixed with Gatorade. At some point Audrie went to a bedroom and fell asleep.” -from the case of Audrie Potts.
When all three of these girls were sexually assaulted, their senses were impaired because they were drinking underage, and their attackers — all of them underage boys — didn’t understand the concept of consent, that what they were doing was wrong, and were probably under the influence of alcohol themselves.
If you’ve seen these cases in the news, like I have, and are scared for your girls, this is the lesson you need to take away from these experiences:
Underage drinking is not okay. And unsupervised underage drinking is a recipe for disaster. (If you think your teen might be drinking underage, or are unsure how to talk to them about it, click HERE.)
If you want your teen girl to avoid being a victim of this kind of sexual assault, your first step is knowing the state of her self-esteem and the kind of friends she has. What kind of messages is she getting about drinking? Is she aware that drinking around people she doesn’t know, even if she WAS old enough to drink, is an extremely unsafe thing to do?
These are conversations you need to have with your daughters. They need to know that this is something that can happen to them, but that it can also be avoided. That the scary incidents we see on the news are extremely unfortunate, but they can be avoided.
Talk with her about setting boundaries, whether she’s on a date with a boy, or at a party, that NO means NO, even if it started out as a yes. Clearly express the importance of letting you, her parents, know where she is.
Most importantly, harbor a relationship of trust with your daughter. If she makes the decision to drink at a friends house and doesn’t feel safe, she should feel that she is able to call you to pick her up.
How To Talk To Your Teenager About Sexual Assault
Let your daughter know that she should never feel pressured into having sex if she doesn’t want to. As I say in my book “My Feet Aren’t Ugly”
“If it takes sex to keep a boyfriend, he isn’t worth having.”
Teach both your boys and girls that having sex with someone who has been drinking is NOT okay. That when someone says that they don’t want to have sex, to respect that boundary. If you think that your daughter has been the victim of sexual assault, encourage her to report it to the police first, and help her seek counseling. Let her know that it isn’t her fault and that she has nothing to be ashamed of.
There are a lot of horrible stories in the media about sexual assault. But there are countless untold stories of couples respecting each others boundaries, sex in a consensual and loving relationship, and teens respecting other teens.
We don’t want to see our teens on the evening news, as a victim or perpetrator. All of us would much rather have their stories be the ones that don’t make the news.
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Debra Beck is a devoted mother, sought-after presenter, author, and has spent over 20 years working with teens and their parents. She’s helped thousands of teen girls develop their self-esteem through her blog, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and mother-daughter retreats.
Her award-winning book My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself was revised and updated for re-release in September 2011 with Beaufort Books.