Wendy Thomas Russell
Wendy Thomas Russell
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Can’t find the right opportunity to talk to your son about rape? Lady Gaga is at your service.
The superstar singer has just released an incredibly moving video for “Til it Happens to You” — a song recorded for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about rape on college campuses. The video already has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube.
Warning: The video below contains graphic content.
I am so grateful to Gaga for using her extraordinary platform in this way. As the mother of a daughter who will someday go off to college, the statistics — that one in four to five college girls will be sexually assaulted during her college career — are as frightening as they are maddening.
Obviously, these conversations need to happen. But they’re not easy. I mean, rape is not exactly something you bring up at the dinner table, or a topic that comes up naturally during a walk in the park. Usually, parents have to find their own ways to broach the subject.
Because if you are the parent of a boy between the ages of 11 and 18, Lady Gaga has just given you a golden opportunity to discuss this all-too-important subject. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but what you say today has the power to alter the course of a young girl’s life.
Which brings me to this:
10 things to tell your sons about rape
1. “Rape is…” Let’s start with the basics. Because, unfortunately, a lot of boys and men don’t understand what constitutes a rape. And sometimes they actually rape girls without realizing they are doing it. Rape is when one person pressures, forces or manipulates another person into a sexual act.
2. “All sex requires consent.” Consent means that you can only have sex with a girl if you know for a fact that she really, really wants to have sex with you. And you can only know if she really, really wants to have sex with you if she tells you she really, really wants to have sex with you. Otherwise, it’s rape.
3. “Rape doesn’t always seem violent.” It can be done in an alley or in a dorm room or in a girl’s own bed. It can be done with a stranger or with a steady girlfriend. It need not seem violent. It need not even seem harmful at the time. But it’s still rape. It’s still a crime. And, no matter how you “feel” about it, rape is one of the worst things you can do to another human being.
4. “Rape has serious consequences.” First of all, rape hurts. When a girl’s body isn’t ready for sex, the act itself can leave serious and painful injuries. Second, girls who are raped can become pregnant. Third, rape victims suffer terribly. They often become very depressed and withdrawn; their grades fall; they become fearful and often have trouble trusting people — maybe even for the rest of their lives. In some cases, girls who have been raped kill themselves. There are also consequences for the boys. Rape is a felony. If reported, it will get you put in prison. You will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life. You will have trouble getting jobs. And you will have to explain your criminal record to all your future girlfriends.
5. “A girl can say no at any time.” And when she does, you must stop immediately. If everything is going along smoothly and both you and the girl are consenting to every sexual act, there’s no problem. But the minute the girl says “No,” she has placed a gun in your hand. And if you go any further, you will be pulling the trigger. There may be a million reasons the girl said “no” — and every single of one of them is valid. Never argue with a “no.” Instead, support and encourage it. It means you’re dealing with a girl or woman who is strong and self-possessed and has boundaries. That’s a great thing.
6. “It’s either alcohol or sex — not both.” Consent is when a girl says yes and means yes. But she can’t mean yes if she’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If a girl has been drinking or using drugs, her mind has been altered and she is unable to give consent — even if she thinks she is! So never have sex with a girl who is drunk or high. Never. Always wait to have sex until you both are sober.
7. “Never call a girl a slut.” A slut is a derogatory term used against girls who either enjoy sex or who have sex with multiple sex partners. Neither of those things are at all bad, and no girl deserves to be called names for it. A girl who has sex with a lot of boys can still be raped. In fact, she may be more likely to be raped because boys will expect her to have sex with them and therefore may pressure or force her to do it. So ban that word from your vocabulary. And if you hear others call a girl a “slut,” speak up. That may be an indicator that something bad is going to happen to that girl.
8. “There is difference between sexual fantasy and sexual acts.” A lot of different things — sometimes pretty weird things — can put people in the mood for sex. Sometimes the thought of rape can turn people on. Both girls and boys can have rape fantasies, but that doesn’t mean they are rapists or that they want to be raped. It’s just fantasy. In pornographic movies, sometimes you’ll see men overpowering women in sexual ways, but the girls in those films are actually completely in control of those situations. The girls are the ones deciding what they want to do. So when you see stuff like that, remember that those movies aren’t encouraging actual rape. They are just playing out fantasies, and the girls in those movies want to be having sex — even if they are pretending they don’t.
9. “It is not a girl’s responsibility to not get raped.” Girls owe you nothing. No matter how they look, how they act, what they wear or how much they’ve had to drink — sex isn’t yours until it is freely given. You can look at girls all you want; but you don’t touch them until you know they want you to touch them. It’s the same way for you, incidentally; girls don’t get to touch you until you want them to. But please remember that, very often, boys are a lot stronger than girls physically. And boys who are physically strong have a responsibility to use their strength for good, not for rape.
10. “Talk to your friends about rape.”Don’t hold back. You are getting an education about this that a lot of boys don’t get. So take this conversation with you. Take it to the high school locker rooms. Take it to college. When you hear boys talking about sex, don’t be afraid to speak up. Talk about consent. Make sure all your friends are on the same page. In a very real way, this simple gesture could save a person’s life.
Wendy Thomas Russell is an award-winning journalist and co-author of the "ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids." She lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband and daughter.
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