The Other Conversation We Need to Have About Sexual Assault

He arrived home for Thanksgiving break. This was the first time our son was back since he left for his freshman year of college in August. He walked into the house and slowly looked around, as if in shock to be seeing his childhood home after a decade away. My heart soared, yet for a few moments, he was like a mirage that shimmers in the distance of a desert – wondrous to see, but an entity that you are not entirely certain is actually there.

Talking about sexual assault with your sons and daughters

After hugs, for both the humans and pets in the house – and a hastily eaten snack – he was gone once again to meet up with friends from high school. I happily went to bed, knowing there’d be four more days for conversation. I had so many questions and topics I wanted to discuss with him, but I knew to go at a slow pace, and let him decompress on his own timeline.

The next day my husband and I took him out for lunch. He was talkative, and we mostly listened. He talked about a couple of his classes and professors, what he would be taking next semester, and where he’d be living next year. He seemed happy and content with how most things at college were going.

My son and I have always had an easy-going relationship, and he’s always been willing to openly discuss delicate topics with me while growing up.  I’m certain he hasn’t told me every detail of his actions throughout high school, and now his first semester at college, but I am aware of a lot that goes on, and we have agreed that honesty is valued and rarely judged.

[Read Next: I Wanted My Son to Be Happy But on MY Terms]

As we sat in the booth listening to him talk about the social scene at college, and the prevalence of alcohol and drug use, something make me think to ask him if there had been discussion in any of his courses about the current climate of almost daily allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior in our country. He said no.

I began to launch into the dialog that I’ve started with him countless times since he became a teenager…” I know you are not the kind of boy who would ever think to take advantage of a girl, but as your Mom, with all that’s been in the news lately, I need to reiterate…”

“STOP,” he said.

So, I did.

He began.

“Mom. I’ve been inappropriately touched a lot since school started. Drunk girls at parties have grabbed me in several different body parts. Girls I’ve never even met before have come up to me, and have hugged me, and just started kissing my neck. It’s happened to other guys I know, too. It’s so weird.”

[Read Next: How to Talk About Sexual Assault With Your College-Bound Teen]

He had an uncomfortable look on his face, like he didn’t really want to say much more, but wanted me to know, without a doubt, that he was telling us his truth.

I have to admit I wasn’t really shocked. We all know that a lot of experimenting and letting loose goes on amongst college freshmen, and I myself was a drunk, college girl on more than a couple of occasions, many years ago. While I never touched a young man inappropriately, I readily admit I did some stupid things that I am not proud of.

But I was very surprised, about a couple of things, as I later thought about his admission to us:  that this was a scenario I had never even thought to discuss with him before he left for college, and it was something I had never mentioned to my daughter when she went to college several years ago. I had of course discussed with her how to best try not to be assaulted herself, but it had never crossed my mind to talk about the boundaries of her behavior towards guys, especially when she might be drinking.

I felt shameful for my double-standard way of thinking and parenting.

I went to my son and told him I was really sorry that he had been touched without his consent. As a kid who is friendly, but on the shyer side, and who isn’t physically demonstrative with affection, outside of his immediate family, I know that these experiences had made him extremely uncomfortable.

“It’s not that big of a deal, Mom,” he tried to say.

“No, it is.

Because if it had been the other way around, you could have been reported for it. Perhaps some girls feel that it’s OK, because guys can “handle it,” or just laugh it off, but it’s wrong.

And it’s also a big deal for this reason. Now you know, physically and emotionally, what it’s like to have someone’s hands and lips on you, when you haven’t consented to it. No matter what the gender or sexual orientation of the person initiating the behavior, it doesn’t feel at all good to the person on the receiving end.

As a man, as you grow older and more confident, and possibly find yourself in a position of power over others, I know that you will look back on your own experiences, should you ever even think to engage in inappropriate behavior, or see it happening to anyone else.

You need to remember your discomfort. And be sure you are never the source of that, for someone else.”

So, as our society grapples with the reckoning of countless, public examples of sexually inappropriate behavior by men towards women, let’s be mindful as parents:  It can go both ways. We should be talking to our boys, and to our girls about this.

No one deserves to be treated with disregard of personal boundaries.

Related:

Your Body, Your Rules: How to Talk About Personal Boundaries

Best Gift Ideas for the Holidays That are Just for Fun!

*The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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