This week, in a heartbreaking article, The Hindustan Times shared the story of a 12-year-old girl who realized for the first time that she had been raped by her father after a "good touch, bad touch" lesson at school. The abuse had been ongoing for at least five years, but it wasn't until the school's consent lesson that she realized what was happening. It's a tragic story, and one that should serve as a reminder to all parents and educators about the need to talk to kids about consent early on.
In this case, the girl in question confided in a close friend soon after the school's lesson on consent, who then reported the abuse to the school principal. A case has now been registered by a non-profit organization against the girl's father, who was arrested earlier this week. It remains to be seen how this case will unfold in the days to come, but for now, the girl appears to be safe.
While tragic, there's definitely a lesson to be learned from this horrifying incident, and that's that children need to be learning about consent early on. Far too often, parents will skip out on teaching their kids about sex and consent because they don't want to "sexualize" children or they find the conversation too awkward or they expect that kids will learn about sex and consent at school, at an age-appropriate time.
But the thing is, many kids aren't learning about consent at all. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 24 states and the District of Columbia actually require that public schools provide their students with sex education (and only 20 of those states mandate that the education actually be medically and factually accurate, which is dumbfounding). One Harvard survey of more than 3,000 high school students and young adults found that only around half of the respondents had conversations with their parents about consent.
That lack of discussion has a direct effect on children. According to a study carried out by the Department of Justice in 2007, 35 percent of sexual assault victims did not report the crimes to authorities because they were unaware that what had occurred was actually a crime. Others stayed silent because they didn't feel like the assaults were "serious enough."
Without clear information on what consent looks like or what it entails, kids can't recognize it — or put a stop to it. As Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, told The Atlantic last year:
When speaking to a national audience or the general public, we strongly encourage parents to have those conversations starting at the age when their kids are starting to spend more time with friends out of the home, and start to be in social situations that could turn dangerous... even if it’s before the parents think [it’s appropriate for their child to be sexually active].
Learning about consent doesn't rob children of their innocence. Instead, it empowers them to learn about their boundaries early, to know when something is wrong, and to come to their parents if something is wrong. That's something everyone should want for all kids.