On Monday night, my kids and I went to two sex education information sessions (one for each child’s year level), hosted by our school. On the same day, I’d been reading a lot of reports about a court decision recently handed down about about a rape that took place over a year ago on the campus of Stamford University in California.
The Stamford Rape Case
Many of you will know about the Stamford rape case (as it’s apparently become known) – in fact, if you’ve been reading the news over the past few days, it’s hard not to be aware. You’d probably also be aware of the sentence delivered, the reasons the judge gave for his sentence, the statements, on behalf of the man found guilty, by his friend and by his father. Many commentators have written about the rights and wrongs of the decision, of the defence approach including the character statements, and the powerful victim impact statement. I’m not going to add to that – so many people have written well (or poorly, to be honest) on this subject. Plus, in a lot of ways, the statements speak for themselves. If you haven’t read them yet, I’d encourage it. I’ve included links at the end of the post (note – some of them are particularly awful or harrowing).
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has been caught, someone has been violated, someone has been sentenced, someone has been blamed or expected to take some of the blame. And, unfortunately, it’s not likely to be the last.
What can we learn from this, as parents?
It made me think of a slightly different perspective than the ones I’ve heard lately, and that is the perspective of parents raising younger children. What can I take from these awful situations, in the way my husband and I, and all of us who are involved in bringing up our kids, that might be useful?
As I sat through the sex education sessions I had this case running in the back of my mind. It seemed particularly relevant to think about the lessons we teach our kids about relationships – sexual relationship specifically but also relationships more generally. And that includes respect for others, helping them generate enough self confidence to limit reliance on bravado, external benchmarks such as sporting successes as a substitute for personal acceptance, and developing empathy.
So, to the sessions, which were run by Family Life Victoria.
Given they were sex education sessions, they (obviously) included discussion about sex. Including sexual intercourse, in a very matter of fact way. She focused on intercourse – the courses were about how babies are made and so other forms of sexual intimacy with another person was (appropriately) not covered – our kids are still getting their heads around the idea of sex in general.
When talking about sex , the woman running the sessions mentioned three key points. She didn’t labour them, but they have stuck in my mind as points to refer to in the years to come.
- Sexual intercourse is for grown ups.
Grown ups is a simple enough concept for primary kids – yes,when they are older, we might tease this out more. Maybe some people are ready earlier, and equally, just because they are 18, doesn’t mean they are ready. The key aspect she emphasised was – there are a lot of emotions, expectations, and implications about starting a sexual relationship. You need to be mature enough to be honest, to being looking out for the other person’s best interests, while dealing with your own emotions. And there are implications – potential pregnancy being one that the kids could understand – to sex. You should be reasonably mature to be able to make wise decisions if these implications are realised.
There was a sigh of relief in the room at this first point (particularly the kids, who were getting their heads around the idea that people might actually want to DO this! Don’t worry – you don’t have to, and certainly not for a long time!)
2. Sexual intercourse is private, between the people involved
Not private, clearly, in the sense of being dragged behind a dumpster (see point 3 below). But private in the sense that you don’t go around sharing the intimate details of someone else, which can under-mind their trust in you, their confidence in themselves depending on what is shared and how, and also can lead to a range of social ramifications. It is not something you partake in for status, but for connection to someone else.
3. Sexual intercourse requires agreement from both people involved
Agreement all the way along. It’s not enough to think one or the other has agreed – you need to be clear. And it’s not enough if there was agreement at the beginning. If one or the other has, for whatever reason, changed their mind, you should stop. That applies to both men and women, by the way.
And – although this wasn’t part of the information session – if one or both is no longer in a state where they could agree (for instance, they have passed out), then stop. You no longer have consent. Stop. Think of the other person.
It’s not that difficult – respect other people and be honest
Three simple messages:
- Sexual intercourse is for grown ups.
- Sexual intercourse is private, between the people involved
- Sexual intercourse requires agreement from both people involved
These are clear enough for primary children to understand on one level, but form a platform for a more complex understanding later on.
Underpinning this all is respect and honesty
- Respect for others, and respect for self.
- Honesty to own up to when you might not have been as thoughtful as you should have been – which can happen.
This is no excuse for rape, which is an extreme version of lack of respect (and violence, and self interest, and all the rest).
We all, from time to time, fail to fully consider the other person – and there is rarely a valid excuse. If that’s the case, be honest, don’t make excuses or push the blame onto others.
And, although caring for our kids, we should protect him (or her) to the point that we don’t allow them to take responsibility for their actions. Or try to deflect by blaming the victim.
These are simple messages, and simple reasons unpinning them.
Simple enough for children.
Certainly, simple enough for a collage student to understand – and for his parents to reinforce.
You can google this topic and you will find lots of articles, opinions and summaries. I’ve personally found these useful for the basic facts, if you want to find out more: