Educating Young Adults about Sexual Assault Prevention: Tips to Get the Conversation Started

By Anne Payne, M.A., LPCA, NCC

As spring approaches, many high school seniors learn where they will be attending college this fall. Parents recognize changes in their relationships with their sons and daughters as these young adults anticipate the physical, intellectual and emotional freedom inherent in this rite of passage. Given recent revelations in the media concerning the high rate of sexual assaults on college campuses, parents are experiencing increased anxiety about the safety of their young adult children.

By starting a dialogue about the risks associated with sexual assault prior to matriculation at a college, parents can prepare their young adults to advocate for their own safety and the safety of their peers. Parents are justifiably overwhelmed when faced with the task of talking with their young adults about such a complex issue. Included below are some subjects on which to start the conversation and some resources with practical suggestions to help keep it going.

  • Talk to your son or daughter about consent and what it means. Consensual sex means both partners are old enough to consent, have the capacity to consent and have agreed to the sexual content. (Retrieved from Questions to think about regarding this issue include: In what physical states is consent impossible? What is the difference between verbal and non-verbal consent? Which one is more effective? How and when should someone ask for consent? The websites listed below contain excellent information and practical tips to use when discussing these questions with your young adult.

  • Educate your son or daughter about how alcohol use by college students puts them at greater risk for perpetrating and/or becoming a victim of sexual assault. Why is there such a high correlation between alcohol use and sexual assault? How does alcohol affect decision-making?

  • Discuss the concept of victim blaming. Victim blaming stems from false attitudes and beliefs about rape and includes a willingness to assign blame to sexual assault survivors. Watch the Project Unspoken videos using the link below with your teenager. What are some examples of victim blaming? Where has your teenager seen victim blaming in his or her own experience? How do our print and television media perpetuate them? Can well-meaning friends, teachers, administrators, or family members reinforce them? If so, how?

  • Identify potential high-risk situations in a college environment where sexual assault is more likely to occur. An example of a high-risk situation would be an intoxicated woman/man left alone at a party. Problem-solve with your son or daughter about what actions he/she would take in this and other similarly risky situations to ensure his or her personal safety as well as the safety of a friend. Which actions would be easy to take? Which ones would prove more difficult? Why?

Use the links to the websites and videos below to find answers to the questions above and start a conversation with your son or daughter. Parents will find their comfort in discussing the issue of sexual assault on college campuses increases as parents learn more about this complex issue themselves.

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