Another high-profile person being accused of sexual assault? Sadly it's nothing new, but these cases are getting more attention, and it’s not just adults who are talking about the issue. Because many of these sexual assault cases involve abuse against teenagers, young people—especially those who may have been in similar situations or know someone who has—are paying attention and taking everything in.
“While the details of the allegations are graphic and disturbing, what is perhaps most disturbing, and in fact dangerous, is that many in the public eye continue to say that even if these allegations are true, this type of behavior is not a big deal,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “This message that sexual assault is just a teenage indiscretion, that it’s akin to horseplay, or that it’s ‘normal behavior’ for adolescent boys is damaging not only to girls, but to all young people.”
Specifically, these types of dismissals can make victims even less likely to report sexual assault, more likely to blame themselves, and keep them from getting the help they need to recover. Meanwhile, this messaging is damaging to boys because it’s unfairly stereotyping them all as toxic, misogynistic, and violent—and essentially giving them a free pass to engage in these horrific acts.
The hard truth is that teen sexual assault is incredibly common and severely underreported:
It’s terrifying to consider, and often easier to think, “Well, not my girl!,” but as parents and caregivers, we have to do better.
“It’s our job to let the girls in our lives know that we take what happens to them seriously—that their bodies and rights are to be respected and that their safety and well-being come first. Additionally, we need to let boys know that nothing about sexual assault is normal and that we expect, and in fact demand, better from them,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald.
Having these types of conversations with your children might feel awkward at first, or even intimidating, but their health, safety, and well-being depend on it. Here are some ideas on to get started:
Beyond having these conversations with your girl, keep your ears open for comments and chatter you hear out in the world. If someone you know dismisses sexual assault as “no big deal,” do the brave thing and correct them without apology. Our girls (and boys) are watching and listening to your example, and your boldness could give them the courage to do the same. Changing the culture and spreading the message that sexual violence will not be tolerated is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do to keep our girls and in fact all young people, safe.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, free and confidential support is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.