ith the rise of the #MeToo movement (see more in the cover story here), the news and social media are inundated with heart-wrenching stories about sexual harassment and assault. The #MeToo Silence Breakers were named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and the movement is uniting survivors by allowing them to tell their stories of harassment and assault. Undoubtedly, if your daughter is on social media, she will see these stories, too. Talking to your daughter about what sexual harassment is and what to do about it will allow your daughter to be prepared in the event she or her friends encounter it.
Start the conversation early
According to one study, more than 1 in 10 American girls has experience some form of sexual harassment by age 11. Don’t wait for your daughter to tell you something has happened to her. You can start talking about good touching and bad touching as early as 5 or 6. Tell your daughters it is never okay for someone to touch them without their permission. Teach them the significance of their “no-no square”: the imaginary box that extends from their collar bones to mid-thigh—if anyone makes weird comments about their “no-no square,” they should tell you about it immediately. Teach your children how to talk freely about their bodies by being frank and open.
What is sexual harassment?
Make sure to discuss the definition of sexual harassment with you daughters. Sexual harassment is not just unwanted touching, but also includes verbal harassment (catcalls, rumors, comments); cyber harassment (texts, emails, social media); physical harassment (unwanted touching, grabbing, kissing); and nonverbal harassment (gestures, notes).
Ask questions about what she has heard
For tweens or teen daughters, you can ask her about what she has heard. Listen to her opinions, insights, and thoughts on the subject. You may be surprised how much she already knows. Based on what she says, you can have age appropriate conversation and discuss strategies if she is faced with unwanted sexual comments or advances. Answer her questions honestly and use your own experiences from the past as an example of how to handle—or not to handle—a situation. If you are watching television or a movie, and you see harassment taking place, embrace the opportunity to talk about it.
Discuss Realistic Strategies She Can Use
Ideally, your daughter will feel empowered enough to extricate herself from any harassment situation. The first line of defense being, say no, and walk away. It is not always possible, however, to respond in the moment. When dealing with someone older or a person with authority, your daughter may not feel comfortable or may be afraid to speak out in the moment. She needs to know it is okay to stay quiet in some situations, and then find someone she can trust to talk to about it when she can get to a safe place. It is good practice to write down all details of the event as soon as practical after it happens. Most important, your daughter needs to know to never be ashamed to talk to you about a situation even if she wishes she had handled it differently or responded more forcefully in the moment. Teach your daughters to not only report sexual harassment she experiences, but also if she sees it occur to someone else.
Talk to Your Sons, Too
Obviously, teach your son to be respectful to women; but a boy needs to know what to say and what to do when he experiences or witnesses sexual harassment, too. Talk to your son about consent and control over his own body as well. Make sure your kids know that both boys and girls can be sexually harassed.
With greater awareness and a refusal to stay silent, there is hope we can look forward to a world where sexual harassment is extinguished.