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Talking to Your Kids About Sexual Assault and Campus Safety

Sending your kids off to college is a monumental time for both them and for you. Before they take this next step, it's important to discuss the steps that they can take to stay safe.

So you’re sending your kid off to their first year of college. Maybe this is the first time, or maybe you’ve already been through this process with their older siblings. Nonetheless, it’s a monumental time for them, and also for you. They might be heading to a local college, or they might be going overseas. Either way, this might be their first time experiencing total independence on a day-to-day basis. You’re probably both running through lists of what to pack and prepare. As busy as you are, before they head off to the festivities of their freshman year, it’s important to have a conversation about sexual assault and campus safety.

At this point in their life, it’s likely that they’ve already learned about the various forms of assault. They might know someone who has experienced an assault, or they may have been through some trauma themselves. This conversation could be a reiteration of one you’ve already had, and that’s completely fine. All that’s important is that they know how to recognize an assault, and, should something happen, where or who they can turn to for support.

It’s also crucial to note that although statistics show that women more likely than men to experience unwanted sexualized behaviours in the post-secondary setting (source: Statistics Canada), youth of all genders should be educated on sexual assault and campus safety. According to RAINN, 13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

Being Aware of Consent

Consent is actively and verbally expressing that you are interested in a sexual activity with someone. You cannot give consent while you are sleeping, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and you do not need to explain why.

There are 7 must-haves that make up sexual consent. It must be freely given, enthusiastic, well-informed (i.e. both partners are aware of each other’s STI status and the method of birth control being used), an ongoing conversation (as in it’s not a one-time question and answer), reversible, and, most importantly, it’s always needed. You can read more about consent in our blog post here.

In an ideal world, knowing about consent and how to stay safe would be enough to prevent an assault from occurring. Sometimes, just being informed and cautious is all that it takes. But there are things that happen that are completely out of their control. In this case, if they can instantly recognize that what happened was not consensual and does constitute sexual assault, they’ll have the wherewithal to start the coping process early on. Also remember that if you’re the one who had this conversation with them early on, you have an opportunity to instill a sense of trust, should something bad happen to them.

You might want to say something like:

I’m happy that we had this discussion, and just know that I love you and trust you completely, and know that you can talk to me about anything. If something happens to you, I will always be on your side, and I’ll always be here to help you in any way that you need it.”

Prepare, Protect, Prevent

There are steps that students can and should take to help maintain their safety and prevent a crime from occurring when they’re out and about. This doesn’t just pertain to sexual violence, but also violence of any kind, theft, or abduction. Some of these steps may seem obvious, but they’re important to reiterate. We also want to make clear that sexual violence is never their fault.

It may sound cliche, but the most important thing that students should do is just to be smart and aware of what behaviours are okay and what behaviours are not. College is a significant benchmark in any person’s life. They’ll make life-changing moments, but also some life-changing decisions. This isn’t about scaring them or you – it’s about knowing the potential dangers that can occur and how to prevent them, and how to protect their selves and others. By having this conversation, you’re also building a sense of trust between yourself and your soon-to-be self-reliant kid. No matter what happens, you’ll be there for them, and there are always resources available to both of you.

To learn more about sexual assault and campus safety, here are some recommended sites:


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