With the influx of the #MeToo movement, this is a good time to talk to your children about the meaning of sexual harassment, boundaries, and ramifications of this behavior. While it appears sexual harassment is happening more frequently in the news and with celebrities, it’s more that the issue is just being discussed more openly. Victims finally feel able to speak out.
Statistics show that one out of four girls, and one out of seven boys, have been sexually abused or harassed. Before talking to your child, it is important that you know the legal difference between harassed, abused, and assaulted. While all three can be a criminal act, the degree of the act is defined by state and federal statutes. Each state has subtle differences in their descriptions, but these are the main definitions:
This is a very broad term. Merriam dictionary describes it “as uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (as an employee or student).”
Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner, to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way, to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.
The term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. Sexual assault also contains the word rape.
Even with the news rampant about this issue, there are many parents who do not believe in talking to young children about sex. If you’re concerned they are too young, consider having conversations about boundaries and harassment. Rather than just reprimanding a child for hitting his sibling, use this incident to talk to them about boundaries. Since bullying is consistently a current topic, start a conversation talking about that. You can then segue into different kinds of harassment, including sexual violations.
A child who is made aware of acceptable boundaries is more likely to recognize a sexual harassment encounter and to speak up about it. Those boundaries can be taught at a very young age.
Hopefully, these open conversations with the younger generation will help to stop the reprehensible behavior of the past.