As a sexual assault advocate, one of the most heartbreaking experiences is to hear from a teen who is afraid to call their parents and tell them they have been assaulted. They don't want their parents to know they were drinking, were someplace they weren't supposed to be or using an illegal substance.
While it's not the topic every parent wants to discuss, the time to talk about sexual assault and risks your teens may face is now. Don't wait until they leave the house. Frequent short talks will allow you to build a relationship of comfort and trust with your teen. Use this information to help keep your teen (and their friends) safe:
No matter what your teen does, and no matter what happens to them, you want them to feel comfortable calling you. Although you can't protect your child from the consequences of their own actions, be clear that your number one concern is their safety and survival. Together, you can deal with the rest of the issues later.
2. Give them an excuse code
Create a code word to use when calling or texting home. Sometimes teens aren't comfortable at a party but are too embarrassed to tell their friends they want to leave. Let mom and dad be the "bad guys". For example, if the code word is "gas," your teen could text you, "I need gas money." That's your signal to call and tell them to come home immediately.
3. Keep their friends safe
Sometimes it's easier for a teen to talk about keeping their friends safe, rather than themselves. Use this to your advantage. Talk to your teen about concerns they may have for their friends. This may open the door for important conversations about keeping your own child safe.
4. Encourage them to date in groups
Or take at least one trusted friend with them when they meet new people.
5. Stay in safe locations
Talk about staying in well-lit or chaperoned locations. Teach your teen basic skills like calling a taxi or taking a train.
6. Stay together
When teens are at concerts or other large events it really is wise for them to go to the bathroom in a group.
Encourage your teens to create a code among friends that signals the group that you want to leave or are uncomfortable with someone or something. Help your teen practice checking in with their friends about their comfort level.
8. Teach teens that true friends tell the truth
Teach your teen to speak up when they see their friends acting strangely or putting themselves at risk by going somewhere alone. Role play ways your teen can express concern to a friend. Remind them you are only a phone call away if they need your help and support.
9. Date rape drug education may save your teen's life
You can't list all the different drugs that can be used to cloud judgment and put your teen at risk. The important thing for teens to know is that when they or a friend have been given a date rape drug, they probably will not pass out. They will continue walking and talking but will act strangely. If they notice a friend behaving strangely or if they feel they have been drugged themselves, they need immediate medical attention. Let your teen know you will not punish them for asking for help, even if they have made some bad choices.
Teach teens not to accept drinks or food at parties from anyone. Pack snacks. If you bring a can of soda to a party and open it, keep your hand on the top of the can. If you set your food or drink down and walk away from it, do not return to it. Throw it away.
10. Purity is a gift to be given and cannot be taken without consent
Discuss consent with your teen. Use It's On Us to start a conversation about consent and stopping sexual assault. Remind your teen that these are big decisions with lifetime consequences that should be made with a clear and sober mind.
12. Avoid victim blaming
Victims of abuse often blame themselves, because if it's their fault, they still feel they have some control. We often blame victims because we want to distance ourselves from the possibility of assault. Victims blame themselves to create a sense of safety - "It happened because I was dressed like that. If I never dress like that again, I will be safe." Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people and predators choose their victims based on the opportunity and the hope they will get away with it. It is never the victim's fault. Never.
Society sometimes blames victims for not running away or fighting back. We all respond to fear in different ways. Some of us run, some of us fight and some of us freeze. If something happens to your teen, whatever they did was the exact right thing. Don't second guess their decisions. Please just tell them how glad you are they are alive and support whatever they did to stay that way.
If your teen tells you they have been assaulted, contact your local law enforcement or go directly to the closest emergency room. If you wish to report the assault to law enforcement do not shower, use the bathroom, eat, drink or change your clothes to protect important evidence. For more help, find sexual assault advocate in your area for follow-up care.
Being able to talk to your teen about these difficult topics will foster a close relationship with your child. No matter what they do, make sure your teen knows you love them.
Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh