A 16 year old girl begins her first job. Her boss makes sexually comments every day, calls her “babe” nearly every time he speaks to her and she can often feel her eyes on her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable. He’s her boss, so she tries to ignore the feeling. She doesn’t label it was “sexual harassment” for many years, but it does leave her feeling hesitant around future male supervisors.
A 17 year old’s boyfriend begins making out with her as they’ve done before. Only this time, he begins to take things further. She doesn’t want things to go any further than kissing and begins to back away, but he physically forces her to stay in place. She doesn’t say no but feels frozen in place and never consented. She later tells herself she shouldn’t be upset, because at least they didn’t have sex. She begins to withdraw from friends and has trouble sleeping at night. This was sexual assault.
A 20 year old college student stays the night at a male friend’s house because she’s had several alcoholic drinks and doesn’t feel safe to drive. He tries to make out with her before she falls asleep but she pulls away only a brief kiss. However, she wakes up several hours later and he is on top of her. He rapes her, but she feels it is her fault for drinking and agreeing to stay at his house. This was date rape and she develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where she lives in fear having nightmares, flashbacks and is afraid to even leave her house at night all the while blaming herself.
Feeling “Frozen” is a Common Response
One thing that all of these situations have in common is that the girls felt that they didn’t have any power to say no or stop the other person. They didn’t expect to have to say no and they were ill equipped to deal with the behavior in the moment. I’ve heard stories similar to these many times in my office. It’s common for young women to tell me, “I never expected him to force me,” or, “I didn’t know how to say no,” or “I was so surprised that I just froze.”
How can we empower girls?
With the #MeToo movement and news coverage about sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape people are starting to wonder how we help women avoid these situations or at least stand up for themselves and get help when needed. How can you help prepare your daughter for the possibility that a man might someday pressure or force her to do something that feels weird or that she doesn’t want. If you want to empower your daughters, nieces, friends or clients to feel safe leaving sexually charged situations or ask for help when they’ve been the victim of sexual violence, here are a few things you can do:
- Educate young women about what the terms sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape mean. I have been shocked how many of my clients didn’t even know to label something as “assault” or “rape” at the time the sexual violence took place. The news coverage right now gives many natural opportunities. After a news story has been on, ask your daughters what they think. Use coverage of the #MeToo movement as an opportunity to explain what these terms mean. My previous post on this topic may be helpful in a discussion about the types of sexual violence.
- Explain that just because you go on a date or spend time with someone doesn’t mean that you’re agreeing to have sex. It is ok to say no at any point. Even if you’ve previously said you wanted to do something but feel anxious in the moment, it is your body and you can choose to stop.
- Teach girls that if something feels wrong, they can and should trust their gut. Give examples of times you trusted your gut and are thankful you did. Say that you don’t have to have a reason to feel like a situations unsafe, that a bad feeling alone is a good enough reason to leave a room, party, etc.
- Be respectful in how you talk about women who have reported inappropriate sexual behaviors. For instance, when a news story comes on where a woman has accused a man in power of sexual assault, beware that young women around you will see how you respond. If they hear you expressing empathy and understanding for victims on the news, they will be more likely to come to you someday if they are a victim themselves.
- Provide examples of respectful relationships. Whether it’s providing a home with parents who communicate with each other respectfully, modeling adult friendships or even school staff showing one another respect, demonstrate through your own interactions what healthy relationships look like so young women will be more likely to recognize unhealthy relationships.
- Communicate to young women that you are a safe person to come to and that it’s ok to ask for help. Share stories of times you needed help or comment on the bravery of others who ask for help. This way, the young person is more likely to either come to you or seek professional help should she ever have the need.
Sexual Assault & PTSD
Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape can all leave a person to feeling confused, alone and scared. While everyone responds to these situations differently, it’s not uncommon for a victim to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Nobody has to live with anxiety attacks, depression, fear or nightmares. There are effective treatments and I would be happy to talk to you about how we can help you move forward. E-mail or call me today.
Other Resources you may find helpful: