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rape prevention

Parenting Teens Amid Rape Culture

Back before Orlando and Istanbul, when we were still talking about Stanford rapist Brock Turner and the rape culture that he, his parents, and the judge arose from and perpetuate, I remember reading lots of opinions about the fact that alcohol had been involved. The gist was something like this: just because the survivor was drunk doesn’t mean she was to blame. (Example.)

True that. I absolutely agree.

And still, it feels to me like we got hung up on assigning blame, which prevented us from discussing prevention.

I want my kids to understand the perils of getting drunk (or compromised by any means) and the possible scenarios that can unfold when they are unable to make sound decisions for themselves.

Does my wish stem from a blame-the-victim mindset? I think not, and here’s why.

rape cuture and prevention

Defensive Driving

Imagine you’re doing everything right as a driver. You have a green arrow to turn left at a busy intersection and are doing so. You’re doing nothing wrong.

But there’s another guy barrelling toward you, running his obviously red light. Maybe he’s texting or otherwise distracted. Maybe he’s an entitled jerk. Who knows.

You don’t expect that he’d so brazenly break the law. His car hits your car. Your life changes in an instant.

He’s 100% at fault. You are 0% at fault.

But still — you have injuries. Your car is totaled. You have physical and emotional pain, not to mention logistical inconveniences. Your life is derailed, at least for awhile.

As both my daughter and son near driving age, and later partying and drinking-alcohol ages, I’m thinking a lot about how I’d like to approach driving, partying, drinking. I go over and over conversations in my head. Here’s what I’ve been thinking, especially about driving, our most imminent frontier.

When someone learns to drive, we teach them what they need to know to not cause a collision. We want them to never be at fault or to cause themselves or others suffering.

But that’s only part of keeping a new driver safe. We also aim to teach them how to not be in an accident — how to avoid a collision by someone or something else that is the cause. We teach them to drive defensively, to watch out for the other guy, the deer, the road debris, the unexpected.

I want my kids to understand that the goal is to not be in an accident. The goal is not merely to avoid CAUSING an accident. Because whether or not you are at fault, if an accident happens to you, you’re still in it. You still suffer whether your blame-level is 0% or 100% or somewhere between.

What do you think? Is it misguided to mention drinking alcohol when discussing sexual assault with teenagers? How did/will/would you talk with teens about navigating around these important decisions?


This post is part of #MicroblogMondays? Whazzat? A post that’s not too long. Head to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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14 Responses

  1. We definitely talk about alcohol a lot, especially because the kids have noticed that I don’t drink while a lot of adults do. We talk about responsible drinking and irresponsible drinking, and why some people may not want to drink alcohol at all while others may enjoy it.

    We also started early talking about our expectations: That they won’t drink underage, but if for some reason they did have a drink (or their friend had a drink), to never get in the car. That any kid can call us and we will safely provide a ride for them and that responsible action will counter-balance the irresponsibility of underage drinking. That there is no consequence they may receive for drinking that would be worse than losing their life or taking someone else’s life.

  2. This is something that terrifies me about having children, thinking on preparing my child for the possible ugliness out there. It makes me so angry that I have spent my life as an adult always getting my car keys out of my purse and holding them in my hand so I can quickly get into my car and not fumble with my purse, vulnerable, in any parking situation. I do this to prevent violence against myself, because other people are jerks. Meanwhile, my husband has never ever thought about that, not once. As a woman, I am constantly trying not to get raped, which sounds dramatic but it’s not, not really. What I would love to see is equitable prevention for both sexes — not just directed to women as to how they can prevent being assaulted, but also to men as to how they can prevent being assaulters. Like, don’t get drunk, young man, because you might lose your inhibitions and decide you can take what you want. I am good with preventative talks and including the dangers of alcohol or any other substance that makes you less aware of your surroundings or able to protect yourself (from yourself, in the case of rapists). I just want it to be an equal conversation, to both women and men, and to not feel like I am always on the defensive because there are men who never learned that you can’t just take what you want when you want it. I think alcohol definitely makes it easier for horrible situations to occur across the board, but it’s only part of the problem — it exposes vulnerability on one side and violence on the other, and those are what I’d like to see focused on…the societal norms that feed into assault, not just the substances that serve as enhancements to what’s already lurking under the surface.

    Love the defensive driving analogy… really great comparison that made me think. So yeah, I guess after all that blah blah blah I think it’s important to mention that alcohol can enhance a bad situation, but to equalize how it’s discussed.

  3. I think it’s a tightrope. Modeling responsible behavior and teaching that alcohol should be consumed in moderation is what research shows is the best thing for parents to do – as well as laying down the law when it comes to drunk driving and sexual assault. Zero tolerance.

    On the other hand, kids make mistakes – for lots of reasons (brains literally not developed yet) so it’s critical that we also don’t create a culture of blame when it comes to rape with women. I hated seeing those comments about the girl in the Stanford case. Her making a judgement error when it comes to alcohol (like a majority of Americans have done at least once in their lives) did not mean she deserved what happened to her. That leads to major damage to victims and continues the rape culture.

    If you haven’t read Missoula by Jon Krakauer, I highly recommend it.

  4. I’ve struggled a lot with the Brock Turner case. I’ve felt for the victim as what happened to her is utterly horrible and will forever impact her.

    But I’ve been angered by the parents who respond with “that won’t happen to my daughter because I will teach her she’s special” argument. The assumption being that it will never happen to their kid vs that it there’s a good possibility it will.

    The reality is we need to educate our kids that rape and sexual assault are possible. Especially when alcohol and drugs are thrown into the mix. There are those who will prey on the vulnerable and the punishment put into place if they are caught will never make up for the horror the victim will have to live with. Granted, scaring them silly isn’t useful, but considering how widespread sexual assault is, we do need to more.

    Alice Seldon wrote a memoir about her rape called “Lucky” and I really recommend every parent pick it up. The first chapter details her rape and is so difficult to get through, but Ms. Seldon candidly talks about the aftermath in a manner that needs to be understood. Like infertility, we need to start openly talking about this more. Not slut shaming, but really pushing prevention. Like having a designated driver or taking about texting while driving.

    Because the reality is Brock Turner comes from a long line of misogynists. And assuming that people him and his family will change will only lead to more trauma.

  5. The first time I got wasted drunk, I was not raped because my friends(male), distracted the perp and locked me in my own car. Would it have been my fault? No! Does that matter. No. If you get drunk enough to be incapacitated you have made yourself vulnerable(like changing lanes without checking your blind spot). I never did so again and I share my story with young friends as a warning to girls to keep sober enough to be safe in mixed company and as a plea to the guys to be the one who saves the girl who got too drunk; take her home, buy her a cab, make sure she is safe, she will thank you for the rest of her life.

  6. “I want my kids to understand that the goal is to not be in an accident. The goal is not merely to avoid CAUSING an accident. Because whether or not you are at fault, if an accident happens to you, you’re still in it. You still suffer whether your blame-level is 0% or 100% or somewhere between.”

    This needs to be hung on the wall of every child’s bedroom, from birth! Seriously, this is the missing part of the equation, and you’ve stated it very succinctly. Our three are now old enough to drive (and the eldest two are learning – family car issues are the main reason they haven’t sooner), and I’m forever telling them, “It’s not you I don’t trust on the road – it’s all the other drivers.” This takes it one, very necessary step further – thank you for this!

  7. I think this is a great analogy.

    I think the suggestion that parents read Alice Sebold’s book “Lucky” is an interesting one. It definitely shows what many rape survivors go through. But, the rape depicted there is more the ” stranger jumping out of the bushes kind”–ie, the uncommon kind. Parents need to learn to talk to their daughters, and their SONS, about rape and sexual violence more routinely, and they need to understand–and their children do–that most rape is acquaintance rape, vs random attack. Most parents and young people think–rightly so–that they/their children would never commit jump out of the bushes and attack a stranger rape–so they never get around to talking about the type of sexual assaults that are so pervasive in our society–acquaintances who have been drinking and things out of control. For that reason, I don’t think “Lucky” is a book I would recommend. It’s too easy to write off the narrative as something a family has covered.

  8. We are in a bit of a different boat, in that our girls get are getting a zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol until they’re 21 talk and we will back that up with a sizable amount of money. I’m hoping for $1k for each year from 11 when we make the deal until 21, it comes with random drug testing whenever we see fit, and it all goes away if they get caught hiding, we got back to zero money earned (so a failed test at 14 could mean she earns the next $7k). There’s a “oops I made a mistake” card for use once if they admit use within 24 hours and free rides no questions asked for friends. So in that light it’s easier to include the “and we worry about the stupid things others might do to you if you were impaired and statistically that happens most to women under 25 so bonus reason for our zero tolerance policy” bit in the conversation. We also plan to start talking about enthusiastic consent at 10 and we practice it now by letting the girls (8 & 3 years) say no to giving hugs to anyone and safe touch versus scary touch from adults. So yes, I do think the conversations need to be inclusive of “impaired people get hurt or hurt others, so don’t get so impaired you might get hurt or hurt others with touch you wouldn’t be excited about sober.” Just, obviously, same discussion for all genders.

  9. I think drinking and rape prevention are two entirely different topics that may overlap. I have read enough stories to know that while alcohol can sometimes (often?) play a part in rape, it is not the only factor. So, while I understand your analogy, I don’t think it’s complete. If you lump the topics together, it may create some judgemental impulses.

    I will certainly be teaching my daughter how not to be a victim (always remain aware of your surroundings is basically the entire message), and it will include discussions about alcohol. But I don’t want her to think that if she always stays sober, she’ll be fine, because that is not true. I want her to know that sometimes it’s chance, sometimes it’s bad judgement, and sometimes it’s unavoidable – just like every other situation in life.

    I also hope to teach her that the downsides to excessive drinking far outweigh the perceived benefits – health issues, lack of control, poor judgement, etc. And I hope to help her figure out for herself where all of these things can affect the others, whether it comes to rape or robbery, walking or driving, sober or impaired, or any other combination.

    Fortunately, my kid is naturally a non-adventurous prude (you should hear her go on about males who do not wear shirts…even though she enjoys running naked through our house at bath time…at age 9) who disapproves of EVERYTHING, so this may not be too difficult.

  10. My now three adult daughters said what helped them as their mother is I never pretended that I was perfect back when I was a teenager or a young college student. I shared candidly of some scary as well as fun 🙂 experiences with them of mistakes that I made as a girl and wished that my choices had been better or more responsible This was my takeaway from my mother never telling me very little about her life while growing up. I wanted something different for my girls. She was a woman of so many contradictions, so I was never sure if her “Oh, girls don’t do this or that” always in a belittling tone was only from her strong, religious upbringing, but not from anything she learned from all of us as being imperfect human beings. My thoughts on rape … if the rapist Brock Turner had robbed a bank while drunk, could have the judge used the same excuse when sentencing him? I highly doubt it. Thought-provoking post my friend.

  11. To me it’s about awareness. If you are impaired or distracted, it’s hard to be as aware of your surroundings, hard to have good judgment/be aware of possible effects of your actions on others (realizing you shouldn’t drive, etc.), and friends are less able to look out for each other.

    How to communicate that without making it seem like the responsibility/control/blame is totally on your kids’ shoulders, I’m not sure! Let me know when you get it all figured out, k? 😉

  12. PS I did learn defensive driving – no one would say you’re at fault for the t-bone situation you mentioned. But if you had seen the other car speeding toward the intersection, you may have been able to avoid the collision. You can’t always avoid bad stuff happening, but why not increase your chances of being able to spot danger approaching?

  13. So glad parents are talking about this! Please watch the award winning documentary “The Hunting Grounds” – excellently done, much to think about in terms of preparing females and males for college. Acknowledges that there are very few rapists, but they are getting away with it, boasting multiple victims. The God-like status of athletes and the huge funding of sports by alumni is explored. “Boys will be boys” is alive and well in colleges and police members who are also sports fans. College presidents are mainly fund-raisers and sports are far more important to most contributors than rape prevention or justice. You should see which colleges are involved before you trustingly send your darlings off for a higher education where you think they will be safe. If you doubt we live in a rape culture, watch the footage of Harvard men surrounding the women’s Freshmen dorm chanting “No means Yes; Yes means an*l.” Yup.
    Also recommend Peggy Orenstein’s “Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.” This book also covers a wide swath, focusing on middle-class girls of all ethic groups from junior high to early 20’s from in -depth interviews. She writes about girls cheating themselves out of pleasure (It’s not a consideration in most sex relationships, it’s all about pleasing boys), of often consciously choosing to have sex with strangers when they are drunk (beforehand) because they are “uncomfortable” with conscious sex, choices and all. Of boys and men expecting non-reciprocal oral sex as a matter of course. (“It’s a girl’s job.”) Girls comply in lieu of intercourse (an*l also for same reason. They’re woefully ignorant of disease vulnerability. She also talks about excellent sexual education classes for boys and girls that exist. In comparison with the Netherlands, the U.S. has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world, while they have the lowest. They become sexually active later than our girls, have fewer partners, were more likely to use birth control, and experienced sex in the context of loving, respectful relationships in which they communicated openly with their partners whom they knew very well about how “far” they wanted to go, what felt good and what didn’t, what kind of protection they would need. They reported more comfort with their bodies and their desires than their American counterparts and were more in touch with their own pleasure. The Dutch girls reported that teachers & doctors & parents had all talked to them about sex, pleasure, and the importance of a loving relationship.
    Sorry for such a long reply, but I wanted to pass along these excellent sources. I know you all want to keep our kids safe & trust you want them to enjoy all the blessings of sex in a loving way at a right time in their lives. More power to you!

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