As you all have certainly heard by now, recently leaked audio tape reveals presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by their genitals. Regardless of who you are voting for or whether you believe Trump’s version of events, the audio has sparked a national conversation about consent. This is the silver lining of the our acrimonious political climate: It is forcing us to have conversations we never would have had before and leading us to re-examine many of our social expectations and beliefs.
In discussing this topic with women and listening to women in the media, it has occurred to me that I don’t know a single woman who has not been touched against her will in some way. Whether riding the subway, walking through a club, dancing at a concert, or even standing by the office printer, so many women have shared stories with me of being groped, grabbed, rubbed, or otherwise touched without consent.
One common theme tends to reign in these stories: They were touched without consent, and afterwards, they were too embarrassed or afraid to speak up. Maybe they laughed awkwardly or simply brushed it off. Maybe they shrugged and said “It is what it is.” Maybe they told a friend or trusted family member and that person said, “Hey, if you’re selling it, somebody might buy it.”
Nor does this touching start at in adulthood. Often children and adolescents experience that same level of disrespect. Such was the case for Lola Brian, a 7-year-old little girl. Lola was experiencing unwanted touch at school from a classmate who was always grabbing her and hugging her against her will. One day he even kissed her when the teacher wasn’t looking.
Lola came home sad and angry. “I just want this day to be over,” she told her mom, Rachel Brian, who was aghast and brokenhearted at her daughter’s story.
Rachel channeled her energy into making a kid-friendly video about consent. It’s a video that kids and parents can watch together, a short, simple video that won’t confuse children or overload them with concepts that they can’t understand yet. Check it out below:
Many of us struggle to talk about issues with consent with our children, and we tend to delay the topic much too long. Yet the reality is that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, as will 1 in 6 boys. Clearly we cannot continue to delay these conversations into adulthood: They need to happen now. They need to happen frequently. They need to happen within the home with trusted adults such as Mom and Dad.
We also need to reexamine the way we force affection upon children. Whether it was making a child give Aunt Nancy a kiss on the cheek or telling them to go give new friends a hug, we need to stop forcing our kids to submit to physical touch against their will. Doing so teaches them that other people have the right to tell them what to do with their body. It also teaches them to ignore that icky feeling they get in their belly when someone touches them against their desires. This makes them more likely to be victimized by predators, and it also makes them more likely to think it is okay to touch others against their consent as well.
It’s also time to stop telling kids that boys hit girls because “He likes you!” We tend to tell little girls that if a little boy is bullying them or bothering her, it’s okay because “He just has a crush on you.” This is a dangerous message and it also gives our boys a bad name. If they like a girl (or boy), they have the ability to simply say, “I like you, let’s be friends.” If they don’t have that ability, we should mirror that and teach them how to do so, instead of simply laughing it off when they pull a girl’s hair or swat her arm.
Major social change happens when we start teaching the next generation of kids differently. Parents have to step up to the plate. And thanks to moms like Rachel Brian, that conversation has just become a little easier.