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How to talk to your son about date rape

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Teaching him to be smart and safe

It’s not just moms of girls who need to worry about date rape. Boys need to be prepared to be smart, safe and know what the consequences of sexual assault may be.
Date rape

We spoke with Mike Domitrz, founder of The Date Safe Project, who shares his tips for talking to your son about this difficult yet highly important issue.

When your teenager begins dating, you are suddenly faced with a whole new set of issues and concerns. Both boys and girls need to understand the serious issue of sexual assault and consent. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the perfect time to start a conversation about date rape with your son.

When Mike Domitrz was in college, he received a phone call that would change his life. His sister had been raped, and the whole family was devastated. He switched colleges to be closer to home and provide support to his sister. As he attended his college courses, Mike began to notice that no one was addressing one of the most serious elements of sexual assault — a failure to obtain consent. He felt compelled to start addressing the issue and created a one-person show called “Can I Kiss You?” that used humor to get his point across. In 2003 Mike founded The Date Safe Project, which has become a leading organization for creating educational materials on consent, respect and sexual assault, as well as supporting survivors. Mike shared some tips with us on talking to your son about sexual assault.

What constitutes sexual assault?

"Sexual assault is sexual contact without consent," says Domitrz. Whether between two people in a long-term relationship or someone you have just started dating, consent is the key to any and all sexual contact.

"Consent must be freely and willingly given in a sound state of mind between two individuals who are both the legal age of consent in that given state," he adds. Movies and television programs are sending the message that forcing a kiss is sexy and romantic. Parents need to talk to their sons about boundaries and consent.

Ask, then respect the answer

"Never assume what your partner wants," says Domitrz. "People are not good at reading 'body language,' especially when they are sexually excited. Most people mistakenly assume what they want is exactly what the partner wants."

There are times — even in a long-term relationship — when one of the parties may not feel comfortable being intimate. Feelings change, and what your partner wanted last week may not be the same today. "Honor their boundaries and your own," he adds.

Make sure your son understands that simply not being told "no" isn't the same as yes. Some girls may have a difficult time speaking up. "If you and your partner both want the intimacy to happen, you should be able to talk about exactly what you want to do and be able to say yes when you want to," says Domitrz. By respecting your partner's answer, you are taking steps toward a healthy relationship. Too often, people try and change the answer to fit what they want.

Danger zones

Teens kissing

Alcohol should never play a part in any intimate encounters. Alcohol decreases inhibitions, creating a situation where the consent is not valid. "If you want to be sexually active with a partner, do it when you are both sober," says Domitrz. Some may use the excuse that alcohol helps their partner relax and be more comfortable. "You just admitted your partner is not comfortable engaging in sexual activity with you sober. Remember consent must be freely and willingly given in a sound state of mind," he adds.

Doing the right thing isn't always just a matter of your son's intimate relationships, but extends to social situations as well. "When you see someone trying to use alcohol to facilitate a sexual assault at a party (what many refer to as a 'drunk hookup') intervene! Look out for yourself and others."

Another potential for trouble is the age of consent, which varies from state to state. What seems like an intimate act between two young people can be a punishable crime — a sex crime in many states. "Know your state age of consent laws and don't bend them. Being sexually active with your partner two days before his/her 18th birthday is engaging in sexual activity with a minor," says Domitrz. "Age laws vary greatly from state to state. Find out your state laws and always know the age of your partner."

Bottom line

All teens need to be aware of the parameters of a healthy sexual relationship — not just girls. Teach your son to respect boundaries and always gain consent before any type of intimacy takes place. By teaching him about appropriate behavior with the opposite sex, you are helping him build the foundation for healthy relationships now, and in his adult life later.

Sexual assault isn't only perpetrated by the stranger in the dimly-lit alley. Any sexual or intimate contact between people where someone has not given their consent constitutes sexual assault. Make sure your teens know that healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and communication.

More on teens and dating

When teen dating violence hits your family
How to deal: Teenage romance
Teens and responsible dating

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