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Breaking the Cycle of Sexual Violence
I am raising a son and I couldn’t be happier or love him more. He is adorable, loving, and adventurous. Everything is still new and exciting to him. And, as he moves into a new phase of his life—kindergarten—I am awakened to new fears, fears that I never considered while raising my daughter because, statistically, I didn’t have to. With both of my children, I have taken steps and had conversations to attempt to minimize their risk of becoming victims of sexual violence, in any form, but now I am also aware of the flip side of this issue.
Could my son inadvertently do something to another child, especially a little girl, that could be considered inappropriate? He loves holding hands, giving hugs, and already, at five years old, talks about how he wants to get married and be a dad when he grows up. And it is all from a place of innocence, but what if the other children he chooses to share his affections with don’t like it, and worse, don’t say anything because they don’t know how? What if he thinks he is being kind and friendly but in reality he is making someone else feel uncomfortable?
Even more importantly, what can I teach him about all of this to ensure he never acts in ways that are sexually inappropriate as he reaches maturity? We live in a very contradictory and hyper sexualized culture, so how do I teach him where the line is between sexual violence (which includes comments and unwanted advances) vs. appropriate expressions of interest when he begins to navigate the dating world?
We are all impacted.
In this time of sexual violence transparency, there comes a startling realization. It is often portrayed that there are just a few ‘bad guys’ out there who are sexually attacking women and children, but there are actually many people, of nearly any age and gender, abusing all types of other people, in various ways, to various extents. To add to the vastness of the problem, sometimes the youth, and even adults, who are the perpetrators honestly don’t know that they are doing anything wrong.
Another’s politeness or silence can be taken as consent. And in this culture we are often expected to be polite, and to be silent. Or people don’t say no because they are in a state where they aren’t capable of telling someone else that they are scared or uncomfortable. In this type of situation, and many others, any of us could freeze, or let socially acceptable ways of talking to people override our own discomfort or opinions. We put up with things we don’t like because we are conditioned to ignore our own bodies and our instincts in order to be accepted.
As I ponder all of this, I am left wondering, did the boy who sexually assaulted me on the playground when I was eight have a clue what he was doing to me and the impact it would have on my life forever after? Did his mother worry about teaching him what was and wasn’t okay? We were only a few years older than my son is now. We were children. He was a child. And yet there was a clear difference in me—in my confidence and my level of comfort in my own body—before he assaulted me and after. I started dressing in baggy clothes, hiding myself away as much as possible. I became shy and reserved.
Did he mean to do that to me? I truly doubt it. I’m not condoning what he did but are other children making the same mistake and perhaps, years later, still have no idea that they had done anything of note at all?
And when a different form of sexual assault happened in a completely different set of circumstances when I was fourteen, did the man who did that to me know that he made me feel sick to my stomach for weeks after? In his drunken state, was he even conscious of what he was doing? Did he even remember?
No amount of speaking out about our own traumas, or taking self defence classes, or ‘good’ men standing up as things are happening can actually fix this issue if we keep ignoring the root of it. It is of no use to say that girls are being sexually assaulted so they better be careful, because clearly, it isn’t just girls and it isn’t up to the people being assaulted to stop the abuse. We must change our language around all of this and say instead that people are sexually assaulting other people. It can happen to anyone.
This isn’t a problem any person should have to face, yet we do. No one is excluded. Anyone can be on the receiving end of sexual abuse, and it is becoming more and more apparent that nearly anyone can be an aggressor in some capacity, inadvertently or otherwise. And we have to, as a collective, deal with the underlying issues that create the normality and acceptance of the kinds of behaviour that lead to assault. Because it is not okay. No matter the circumstances.
Through conscious choice we can end this pattern.
We need new insights and perspectives in how we teach our children, as well as how we ourselves, move through interactions and relationships. It isn’t enough for some adults to model boundaries and respect when so much of the media is still portraying rape culture as if it is okay. It isn’t enough when some children are learning about sex through playing videos games that simulate raping prostitutes. While these games may be intended for the 18+ years age group, they aren’t staying within an adult only audience. And really, is there an acceptable reason for anyone, of any age, to be playing at this type of abuse?
It is up to all of us, as a culture, to try to instil knowledge and understanding in our children that will allow them to traverse and pursue interactions and relationships with an awareness and skill-set that no one I know seems to have. I wonder how to raise my son to have that awareness, right from childhood, to understand the struggle our culture has and is facing. How do I teach him about consent when he hasn’t begun to understand even half of the dynamics that play into it? How do I teach him to be sensitive, to read people and situations correctly? He is so small to have the weight of this on his shoulders, but it is something we must teach our sons and our daughters despite the statistics, before it has a chance to become an after-the-event conversation.
Through the strict rules we impose on children, especially in authoritarian settings, they learn to eat and drink when they’re told, sleep when they’re told, talk when they’re told, use the washrooms when they are told. And all of this whether they feel like it or not, if it is the right time for them or not. This, in turn, forces them to tune out of their bodies and intuitions rather than tune in. This cultural norm must stop. We must respect our children in the ways that we want them to respect others. We need to encourage them to honour their physical and emotional needs and instincts.
We are in transition with many child care practices—spanking is still considered right and just by many. The bigger stronger, humans make and impose the rules in so many aspects of life, so how then can we expect our children not to take these ‘rules’ and try to live by them? To make themselves be the bigger, stronger one who gets to have the power to control others. It is unfair and unrealistic. Just as it is unrealistic to teach a child not to take from other children, when adults take things away from children all of the time as punishment or ways of getting them to focus. There are too many conflicting messages in such scenarios, and children do not have the capacity to wade through them.
It is impossible to teach children that physical affection is not meant to be forced on others while those same children are told that’s it rude not to reciprocate affection from adults. And while the adults we make them hug or kiss or cuddle may be family members we dearly love, it doesn’t make the discomfort or the message that the children receive any less confusing and intense. There is so much we do without awareness of the impact we are having on the younger generations, and the only way out is to become conscious and make change in ourselves and our child rearing methods.
The Eighth Insight gives us a guide for parenthood, and it is of vital importance, now more than ever that we raise our children with clear and mindful intention, to have clear and mindful intention. From as early of an age as possible, before the sexual aspect of life becomes apparent to them. We can show them how to be respectful, compassionate, and communicative. We can teach them how to talk honestly with adults and with each other, how to practice attentive listening, and how to live from a place of love and reverence for other people, for all beings.
As the concept of the Love Wave spreads, and more people are attempting to live from a soul level, we owe it to our children to teach them to live in the same vein. Our souls do not drive us to force and manipulate, or to create empty relationships with no regard of the other people involved. Our souls want connection that is genuine and deep. After a lot of research and thought, I have come to believe that the only way we can raise the next generations to break the cycle of sexual violence is to teach them to honour that truth, and to help them understand when they are imposing selfish control over others…or when someone else is doing the same to them.