First off, if you believe in a creator i'll invite you to read this really amazing talk that's helped me a lot in my healing process. Talk
Now, let's get down to a very serious discussion: How can we combat the mentality that has lead to rape culture? I have a few ideas, and i'd like to hear your responses to them. If you come up with a better idea, or a way to build upon the ones outlined here, please let me know! This is a discussion that needs to be had, and i'm inviting you to it.
Sexual assault, statutory rape, criminal sentencing for sex crimes, and resources for victims of assault to receive help... Make them ALL a part of regular Sexual Education curriculum. These are things that normally get swept under a rug. They should be out in the open and talked about freely, so that our children are prepared for the real world. If I had been taught about the different forms of sexual assault I probably would have been prepared. If I had known what it was at the time, I would have reported it. If I had known the warning signs of a sexual predator ahead of time, I could have stopped it before it reached the point where I was assaulted.
Teach them about the definition and forms that sexual assault can take. Teach these teenagers to look for the warning signs in the people around them, so they can reach out to their friends if they suspect that person has been victimized. Also teach them the warning signs that lead to someone committing a sexual assault. Inappropriate touching or saying inappropriate things can be the first step toward someone committing such an act. Asking about underwear color, or touching breasts or genitals can be a warning sign. Teach them that can come to any member of the faculty if they are concerned about another person's behavior towards them.
Teach them what constitutes statutory rape, and why. Don't be condescending. Explain that they are emotionally and physically far behind adults, and that sexual relations with adults is against the law. Make sure that both federal and local laws on the matter are clearly defined. Also cover things such as sexting and sending nude photos, which can get them arrested on child pornography charges.
Speaking of pornography, if you are going to allow your children to view it... make sure it isn't demeaning to women. The type of porn that frightens me the most is the kind where women are physically overpowered, made to look weak, or roughly handled. If you are not going to hand your kid porn, make sure they understand from a fairly young age (basically as soon as their body starts developing) that pornography can be extremely degrading towards women, and give them a very messed up idea of what a consensual and loving relationship looks like.
Explain that coercing someone into having sex by threatening to break up with them, is rape. This seems to be a topic that is sadly lacking in most birds and bees talks. Your daughters especially, but also your sons need to be taught that withholding love/kindness/other intimacy in order to gain sexual intercourse is a form of rape. We talk about peer pressure all of the time, but seemingly never in this context. Teens aren't just pressured into drinking, smoking, or drugs.
Everyone needs to be taught the formal declaration of Federal and State laws concerning sexual assault. I think some people would not commit these actions if they knew, clearly, that what they were doing was illegal. I think more convictions would occur in rape cases if they could prove that the assailant knew fully that what they were doing was wrong because they had been taught it in class. Either way, this needs to be covered. No question about it.
The final segment of the lesson should cover resources available to anyone who has been a victim of assault, including hotlines, counseling services, and local shelters. Write them up on the board, give handouts. Tell the kids that even if they haven't gone through it, they never know when someone close to them will need this help. Give them the statistics on how frequently sexual assault occurs. 1 in every 3 women have experienced it. Tell them how under-reported it is. Most of all, explain that it isn't their fault if it happens to them. Tell these kids how wonderful they are. That each of them matter. That they are all human beings, worthy of love and life.
After all of this, have an open questions segment. Let them all put questions in a box, then pull them out and answer each one as honestly and kindly as you can. If you can help it, have someone from a local counseling center come in and assist with this day's curriculum. I promise you that not talking about it is never going to bring an end to it. The only way to root out evil in our society is to talk about it openly and vilify it in the eyes of the populace.
I'm including some links to very useful sites that can hopefully help you open up more discussion with your kids/peers about sexual assault, or help you get help if you've experienced it.
Warning signs, what to watch out for
Call here if you have been assaulted
More info on assault, statistics, effects, and recovery
RAINN.org has been an extremely helpful site in my own recovery process. It was there that I finally found proof for myself that what I experienced might have been sexual assault. That site gave me the courage to really seek help and get a full explanation and diagnosis.
I really hope we can begin to discuss these topics in an open forum, and that doing so will lead to real progress.