This is my last post on the topic of teens and sexual assault. I’m going to start with another story from my adolescence that will always stay with me. I was 15, and had lied, finagled, and faked my way into an all-night party at my friend Hannah’s* house. The ages at this party ranged from 13-20 (first problem), Hannah’s mother was willing to tell parents she’d be there all night, but went to sleep early and never woke up (second problem), the house had a few acres of property, including cabins (third problem), and there was beer everywhere (fourth problem.)
When I was about 15, a friend was confiding in me about our friend Sasha’s* fight with her boyfriend James*. Sasha had been dating James for a while, and their relationship included sexual activity. She told me that Sasha had cheated on James, and he had found out and been furious.
“What did he do?” I asked.
“He was really mad. He yelled at her and threw things and made her have sex with him,” she said.
“Like, he made her have sex, when she was saying no?” I said, incredulous.
“Well… I don’t know. I don’t think so. He said she was crying but didn’t fight him or anything.”
Reading this as an adult makes me cringe. But as teens, we were a little confused as to whether James could really rape Sasha, given that they were going out and had had sex before. When we saw Sasha next, she and James were together and they seemed happy. We concluded that she couldn’t have been sexually assaulted.
When we think of teens being sexually assaulted, we often think of stranger/ acquaintance rape, but teens can and are sexually assaulted by their romantic partners. This can occur even if they have consented to sex in the past, and might again in the future. Consenting to one episode of sexual contact does not mean that there is blanket consent for sexual consent at all times.
This seems like an easy concept for adults to understand, but it’s important to remember that the very idea of date and marital rape wasn’t really addressed by our society until the 1970s. One of my earliest memories of talk radio is listening to (and being confused by) a debate in the early 80s that boiled down to, “Is it really possible to rape your own wife?”
Teens- especially younger teens- can be confused by the concept of sexual assault within the confines of a romantic relationship that has already involved sexual contact. It’s important that teens realize that it’s wrong to make, or coerce, someone into having sex, even if they’ve consented to sex before. It’s also important that teens know they can say no to someone- with every expectation of an immediate halt to sexual activity- even if they’ve said yes before, no matter what the circumstances. In Sasha’s case, I found out later she felt she’d “deserved it” for having sexual contact with someone else while dating James.
While it’s very important that your teen realize that it’s important to gain consent for sexual contact, they also need to know that consent is important for every sexual contact. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a teen has to seriously sit down and formally ask for consent every time (although they can if they want to), but they do need to realize that consent is not a one-time process when one is dating someone, or has had sexual contact with them before. This may not be one of those concepts where you can give a step-by-step guide on how to deal with it, but it’s still important that they’re aware the concept exists.
Once you’ve discussed how important this is with your teen, ask them how they’d go about making sure every sexual contact is consensual. There isn’t one correct answer. Discuss their ideas with them. Depending on your teen, they may be so embarrassed at the idea of talking to you about this that they stop the conversation, which is fine. Once you’ve asked the question, you can leave their mind to fill in the blanks when it’s time… although bringing it up again when they’re in a romantic/ sexual relationship never hurts.
What conversations have you had with your teen about this? What was their reaction?
Teen pregnancy rates have declined in the US over the past few years, however they continue to be higher than other industrialized nations. We’ve blogged about teen pregnancy before, and my co-author posted an entire series on the topic, but a journal article published online this week has prompted me to write about teen pregnancy today. With the staggering statistic of nearly 1,000 teens giving birth each day in the US, I think it’s worth mentioning again. Read full post »
Developmentally delayed teens are at a much higher risk of sexual assault than their non-delayed peers; the numbers are both depressing and well-validated. Despite the high rates of sexual assault in the teenage population, developmentally delayed teens are at even greater risk. The reason is simple: they are seen as an easy target, and there are predators out there looking to take advantage of them.
“Developmental delay” is a vague term (and is starting to become replaced by the phrase “intellectually disability”), encompassing Down Syndrome, autism, and other conditions that may be genetic or acquired. The range of developmental delay spans from teens who cannot communicate in any fashion with their caregivers, to articulate teens who plan to graduate high school and seek higher education or employment. Obviously, discussion and education for a delayed teen is not a one-size-fits-all task.
When I was a freshman in college, a friend told me about something a professor had said to the class at one point. “She said that if you’re at a party and you’re the only girl left, and things are starting to feel weird, throw a lamp out the window! Then run while everyone’s wondering why you threw a lamp out the window.”
While I can’t give a broad recommendation to throw lamps out windows (you never know who is standing below), the message of this stayed with me: If your gut tells you something is wrong, go with it, even if it means looking foolish or crazy. By then, I’d had enough friends who had been sexually assaulted- one at a party where she was left as the only woman, no less- that it made perfect sense to me.
At some point, most teens end up dating someone who is a little older or younger than them. But when that age gap widens, teens can be putting themselves or their partner in danger of legal (and emotional) consequences if the relationship involves sexual contact. This week we’re going to take a look at the legal implications of the age of consent and statutory rape.
In the United States, the most common age of consent is 16, although in some states, it is 17 or 18. This means that someone under the age of 16 cannot legally give consent to sexual contact with an adult, while once a teen turns 16 they can consent to sex with anyone they choose (with a few exceptions, such as teachers, foster parents, and supervisors.) Read full post »
In this post, and posts to come, I’m going to talk about safety measures that teens can take to try and lower their risk of sexual assault. However, that comes with two important caveats. The first is that, unfortunately, there is nothing a teen can do to keep themselves 100% safe from sexual assault. The second is that if a sexual assault occurs, the blame is 100% on the perpetrator. It does not matter how the victim was acting, or what risks they took, or whether or not they showed good judgment in the situations leading up to the assault; a person who sexually assaults another person is the only one who bears responsibility for that assault.
The tips I am giving in the next few posts are ways to possibly lower risk, but someone who chooses to ignore all of them should never be blamed if they are attacked. Sometimes I wonder if we spend time teaching our teens to take safety measures and then forget to teach our teens to not sexually assault people. Like I mentioned in my last post, take the time to discuss with your teen, no matter what their gender, what is and is not acceptable. Again, I’m not implying your teen is the type of person to victimize someone, but they might be able to speak up to help someone else. If one teen had chosen to call the police when they saw what was happening during the Steubenville incident, the victim’s assaults- or at least some of them- might never have happened. Read full post »
The small town of Steubenville, Ohio, has suddenly become reluctantly but internationally famous, and events there have made headlines around the world. The story of a teen girl, dragged unconscious from party to party, her repeated assaults known of and even witnessed by peers, is a nightmare. It chills any parent’s heart, for multiple reasons: the young woman’s vulnerability, the callous nature of the assault, the youth and former promise of the young men who committed it, and the small town politics that many allege obstructed the initial investigation (the mother of one of the accused is the town’s prosecuting attorney).
I want to go over how to talk to your teens about sexual assault and consent. I touch on this in item number three of “10 Tips For Talking to Your Teen About Sex“, but it deserves further discussion. It’s vital that you have a frank discussion with your teen about sexual assault, and the media coverage of the Steubenville incident gives parents a perfect opportunity to bring it up.
Genital human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In fact, it’s spread through direct skin to skin contact, so most people have been exposed to it once they become sexually active. It’s the same virus that leads to a wart, but if it is spread through sexual contact, it’s also the virus that can lead to cervical cancer. We now have a vaccine to protect against the strains of genital HPV that are most likely to cause cancer, but parents and teens should be aware of the impact HPV can have.
My co-author, Jen Brown, posted on the HPV vaccine a while back, so I won’t duplicate that information. This post can give a bit more background about the infection and tell why parents should be aware of it. Read full post »
Despite our best efforts, there is no way to completely prevent unwanted teen pregnancies.
Many people paint a picture of pregnant teens as being somehow irresponsible, or rather, “deserving their fate.” Remember that in many cases they are no more or less responsible than teens who don’t get pregnant; it may be simply a deficit of resources, methods, or plain luck. Some teens do not use birth control when they are sexually active. Others may see birth control fail, either through “operator error” or because even the most effective birth control isn’t 100% effective. A young woman who chooses to abstain from sex is still at risk for sexual assault. In the saddest cases, a teen may have experienced sexual abuse since childhood, and is now simply old enough to conceive.
This post will will draw from prior ones to discuss pregnancy, STDs, and talking about sex. Remember: many unwanted teen pregnancies can be prevented by good communication, planning ahead, and/ or access to birth control.