Talking to Our Daughters about Consent
By Michelle Wolff, CCASA Blogger
Some people think if a girl is drunk and someone rapes her, she’s to blame. However, educating our daughters about sexuality, consent and rape isn’t something most of us do. I mean, I’m 47 years old and still don’t want to talk to my mother about sex.
I told my daughter ad nauseum not to drink, because she might drive and kill herself or someone else. I told her that while we learn our limits, mistakes happen. We can drunk dial and say stupid things. We can end up seriously ill. We can lose our memory, and when it comes back, we might have serious regrets — all of which are natural consequences of overdoing alcohol. I didn’t add rape to that list because rape is not a natural consequence of intoxication and it never occurred to me to pair the two concepts.
We do need to talk about the two ideas to some degree, because some rapists use alcohol as a tool for avoiding consent. Just like I would warn her to watch out for shady people trying to sell her a crappy car, I wish I had warned her to watch for people who will try this tactic. I wish I had told her what these offenders do and say. I wish I’d emphasized what sexual consent looks like, sounds like and what her rights are regarding it because my daughter – all of our daughters – deserve to understand these things
We can’t wait until our daughters are headed out the door to parties – where alcohol or drugs might be available – to talk to them. By waiting until this point, we never have the opportunity to create a dialogue.
Even if daughters deny that they go places where alcohol is served, even if they swear they aren’t drinking, cross their hearts and hope to die, talk to them. Talk about what consent really means, because at the core, a lack of consent is the real issue if a rape happens — not the amount of alcohol she consumed.
Girls need to understand that if sex or sexual acts occur while they were too drunk to think straight or have patchy memories or blacked out or got sick and threw up, it doesn’t matter what was said or how they acted – true consent could not have been given. No way, no how.
What do we say exactly? Where do we find the words? How do we balance the need to tell our daughters to control their alcohol for many reasons with the need for them not to blame themselves if they are raped while intoxicated?
We take a deep breath, calm our hearts and talk to them directly. “Daughter, there are some things we need to talk about. One of them is alcohol use and how it affects your mind in X, Y and Z ways. If you drink too much, you may hurt yourself or someone else if you get behind the wheel. You may hurt your body to the point you throw up or even have to be hospitalized.
“However, the harder thing for me to say has to do with sexual situations in life that may confuse you. I want you to know how to handle them. I want you to understand your rights around sexuality. I want you to fully understand what agreeing to be sexual means and that there are times being rude to a person pressuring you for sex is the right thing to do. Sadly, there are people in the world who use sex for power. They look for women who are so drunk that they don’t have to ask permission. If you aren’t already drunk they may joke around and tease you into drinking more than you can handle. They may try to get you away from your friends, etc.”
You talk about how sexual offenders work. You talk about the fact that most men – most people – are not like that at all and if your daughters don’t have examples in their lives already, you describe what healthy men look like and sound like with regard to sexual encounters. You stress that no one who is sexually abused or raped is ever to blame.
And then you take another deep breath and tell them what to do if the worst happens. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, prepare them and arm them with information just like you would any other issue.
If you can’t do it yourself, find a friend or relative to help. Tell her you will always believe her no matter what. Most kids do not tell parents first, so plan ahead for this and ask, “Say something happens to you at a party and you’re scared to tell me because you weren’t where we agreed or you were drinking or using drugs, who is an adult that you could tell?”
You say things like, “Although drinking can hurt you or cause you to hurt others, it is never your fault if someone rapes you. It is always the fault of the person who committed the crime.”
If she’s still in the room at the end of this, give her an opportunity for questions. Don’t be surprised if she stares at the floor, mumbles something unintelligible and gets the heck out of the room as fast as possible.
It’s ok, she heard you.
If you, as a parent, don’t know how sex offenders operate and what rape dynamics really are, then get that information from CCASA or your local sexual assault prevention agency if you are outside Colorado.