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 campus safety and, more specifically, sexual assault.
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 Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and you do not need to explain why.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.
- Write down a list of local taxi services, transit, or campus shuttle services. Make sure that they have ride-share app such as Uber or Lyft installed on their phone, which brings us to our next point…
- Always charge your phone. Before heading off to school, make sure that they have a list of safety contacts aside from just your own phone number. For example, add in an aunt, uncle, or a trusted family friend’s contact information.
- Know where you’re going and be each other’s allies. Even if you start at one place and everyone is deciding to move to another bar or party, get the address. If something does happen, you should be able to know how to get home, and also where and when it took place.
- Speaking of allyship, some kids might not know their limits, and some might relish in the idea of partying as an adult for the very first time. It’s hard to tell your kid not to drink too much and expect them to obey that rule throughout their college experience, but kids should be advised to check-in with their selves and others at a certain point. It’s also important to advise never leave a drink unattended at any time.
- Don’t forget about bystander intervention. If you see that someone isn’t okay, ask them if they need help. Call someone out for doing something that you don’t think is right.
- Understand Consent. If you plan on being intimate with someone, make sure that you know what consent consists of. As we mentioned earlier, it’s more than just the word yes or not saying no. There are many factors to consider, such as:
- Has the person been drinking too much? Are they tired?
- Body cues: do they look physically uncomfortable?
- Are they enthusiastically agreeing to this?
- Is there a power imbalance? If someone has a position of authority, it can make it difficult for the other person to say no
- Take your time and do what makes you feel comfortable. Remind them that they don’t need to do anything that they wouldn’t normally do. They have years to experience college life. Not everything has to happen during orientation week.
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 campus safety, here are some recommended sites: