How To Talk To Your Kids About Rape and Sexual Violence.

News about rape and sexual violence is more easily thrust in the faces of children now more than ever, and as guardians we may not always know what the best way to address that with them might be. We suggest specific, sensitive and well-researched tips on how to address rape and sexual violence with kids.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

A few years ago while conducting a seminar for young girls on sexual violence, I asked them to share what they feared most about the environment in which they existed. Several of the young women shared that they feared they would be raped someday. One of them said specifically that thinking about the fact that the juvenile accused in the Nirbhaya gangrape case had been released made her feel anxious to walk the streets of Delhi because she felt like he might be anywhere around her, watching her, and she could be his next victim. A part of the seminar was to ask the young women what they thought rape was and based on their answers it became increasingly clear that they were unaware of what even (heteronormative, penetrative) sex actually entails.


Think about that for a moment.


In our country, right now, there are young girls (and boys) who have learnt about rape before we have even had the chance to give them a sexual education. The first information they have received about sex is evidence of rape around them and warnings that it might happen to them. There are adolescents walking around in fear of being raped, without even knowing what rape might actually entail. There are young girls whose lives are governed by the rules that are extended to them in the name of safety and they don’t even know who it is that might attack them, for what or why. It gives me pause each time I consider this.


I understand how this happens, I am a parent, and I know that these issues may be difficult to discuss with our children. While part of the problem is that we have been told repeatedly by various layers of social messaging that sex and all allied subjects should be shameful and difficult to discuss, the problem is actually bigger than that. In many ways in the past five years, rape culture has been forced onto our dinner tables whether we like it or not. We have had to say something to our children as silence becomes less and less of an option, but what do we say? That is the bigger problem. Many of us would love to have the discussion with our children, but how do we do it?

How do we discuss rape and sexual violence with our kids?


Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about rape and sexual violence:

Talk about sex before you talk about violence. A child’s formative sexual education should not contain ideas of violence because that will become associated with their understanding of their own sexuality. Don’t tell them, as many of our parents did, that this is a difficult discussion to have and as much as you can try to work past your own discomfort on the subject to keep it from passing on. Often children learn to understand situations by body language and tone, and if they pick up on your discomfort they will memorize sex as an uncomfortable subject. Try to end the cycle of shame.

Introduce rape and sexual violence as a subject that is a valuable part of discourse as opposed to a subject they need to understand only to keep themselves safe. Introduce it like you would any other criminal activity like theft or murder, and not as something that “just happens” in society. Teach them to be wary, not terrified of the world. The semantics of gendered violence necessitate that you must discuss the patriarchy, misogyny and sexism with your children and ultimately it is better for them if you have these discussions than if you tell them not to wear short skirts.

Don’t limit the subject to a single discussion. Don’t sit your kids down for one monumental discussion, instead open up a discourse on the subject which allows them to internalize things, develop ideas and come back to you with questions.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Don’t let their first information about rape come from the news, and if it does, address it more regularly at home from that point onwards than they might encounter in the news. Rape is a difficult topic and to a child who may not have a physical measure of sexuality yet, it can be difficult to understand the impetus for this crime and the nature of this violence. It is even more difficult for them to understand how politics might be connected to various highly publicized cases of rape, delink these things so the child may comprehend these issues without bias.

Be careful as to how you explain the why of rape. Any child is bound to wonder, but why does this happen? This is an important question and it is vital to teach them how to place the onus of responsibility for a crime. Rape happens because the criminal intent exists to commit sexual violence fuelled by the mostly-male entitlement to the female body. This is the why of rape.

Represent the victims of rape more thoroughly and as fairly as you do aspects of violence, law, safety or the media. Don’t tell children that victims of rape are “broken” or won’t ever be “whole again”. Victims of rape have undergone trauma and a confiscation of their physical autonomy, they are not broken. They might be dealing with trauma but they are not un-whole. It might have severe effects on their mental health and may cause PTSD that lasts for years. It is important to use the correct terms so your children learn to have empathy for victims, careful and measured language and how to formulatw their own opinions, as opposed to learning only fear of predators.

Don’t teach your kids to blame victims. Even in subtle ways, this can be dangerous. Statistically, rape victims are just as likely as society to blame themselves or the circumstances of rape for what happened as opposed to the predator.

Teach your kids how to identify predatory behaviour and red flags. Instead of teaching them karate (though of course, teach them karate too, just because it’s awesome and cool), teach them how to know when someone is making them uncomfortable and that they have the power to speak up and remove themselves from the situation. Sexual predators tend to prey on women and children who seem not to have an open outlet for discussion or a stable home life. They will make their victims feel special, try to alienate them from friends, take an active interest in their lives and test them by asking them to hide things or keep small secrets. Teach them to speak openly the moment they feel uncomfortable in a situation and believe them when they tell you about it. If you are in a position to do so, take action against this behaviour towards your child immediately so that your child knows that they can speak up anytime there is cause to do so and the situation will be rectified. Make sure your children know they are supported.

Photograph by Aarushi Ahluwalia

Learn together. There are many gaps in our knowledge of sexual violence. There is a tendency amongst adults to only study subjects when they are fed to us by the news or pop culture, and while we may know major cases of rape that have occurred around us, we are often without real resources. Find out more about rape culture, misogyny, rape law, victim services and redressal process alongside your child. Introduce them to women’s organisations that have worked in this field for years and learn alongside them. Centre for Social Research, Delhi, has been working for 50-years in the field of gendered violence and has a vast repository of information on their website.

Know the law. Teach the law. Empower your children, not with pepper spray, but with rights. Cover everything from age of consent to the process for medical examination to the Rape Bill 2014.

Teach consent actively and routinely. A great way to do this is with tickling (if you are the kind of family where you play tickling games, that is). Ask your kid permission before you tickle them, each time you do it, and encourage them to ask your permission to do it before they do it to you. Explain to them that they are entitled to rights over who touches their body and that those rights extend to everyone.

I know it is challenging to discuss these subjects with our children but ultimately nothing is more damaging on this subject than uncomfortable silence. End the uncomfortable silence.

Published by thejadedpamphleteer

Women's rights activist. Journalist. Writer. Pamphleteer. Cat obsessed.

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