Denene Millner has already had “the talk” with her two daughters about establishing boundaries and how to handle inappropriate sexual behavior.
For many parents these days, there doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid that conversation.
In October, The New York Times published an article detailing decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault by Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein.
What followed was a cascade of women using the social media hashtag #MeToo to speak out about their own experiences.
Then, on Wednesday, two other powerful men came under the gun. First, NBC announced it had fired “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer for inappropriate sexual behavior. A few hours later, popular radio host and author Garrison Keillor said he was given the ax by Minnesota Public Radio for inappropriate behavior.
“I told them about my own issues with being sexually harassed when I was younger and certainly in college and in the workplace,” said Millner, an Atlantan who writes the blog MyBrownBaby.com and is an author. “I’ve talked with them about how to deal with it. What is appropriate. What is not appropriate and how to kind of shimmy out of the situation when your back is against the wall.”
The conversations with her older daughter started years ago when she was bullied at school by other girls. As time went on, the conversation broadened to stand up for herself in dealing with boys and to talk with her mother.
“I just wish more parents would have those conversations before boys participate (in inappropriate behavior) and girls have to go through it,” she said.
Sexual harassment and assault can start at an early age and so can those conversations, “especially along the lines of boundaries with people,” said Daniel Huerta, a licensed clinical social worker and vice president of parenting and youth at Focus on the Family, a faith-based nonprofit that helps marriages and parents thrive.
The statistics are shocking.
Every eight minutes, a child is sexually assaulted, according to the Washington, D.C.-based RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence organization. That doesn’t include other forms of harassment such as inappropriate comments.
Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement more than a decade ago. In an often-told story, Burke, founder of Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual harassment and assault, said the seeds of that movement were planted years earlier, after a 13-year-old girl at a youth leadership summer camp revealed she had been molested.
While Burke, then 22, felt horrible for the girl, she was also grappling with her own past. She was molested as a child and raped as an adult.
There’s been an increase in discussions about sexuality in general and at a younger age, said Huerta. That’s due in part to cultural influences such as the internet, social media and what a child may see on television or in the movies.
“I had a kid come in who had been secretly looking at pornography at 8 years old,” he said.
The goal is to make your child understand boundaries — what’s appropriate to say or what is inappropriate touching. For instance, a very young child might accidentally touch his parent in an inappropriate place. He advises parents to “redirect” the child and say, “‘Hey, that’s a spot where we don’t touch or no one touches you there.’ … The goal is not to make them hyper-vigilant but to make them understand.”
Not only that, but children and youths should know that no one in power should be able to manipulate or coerce them into an uncomfortable situation and if that does happen, to share it with a trusted person and not be ashamed to do so. They have to know that adults will support them.
Other tips from Stop It Now!(a nonprofit that works to stop sexual abuse of children and help with healing) and other experts include: use examples or situations that are clear to understand; practice healthy behaviors; talk about touch; explain about tricks and coercion; be approachable; explain what consent means.
Jill Joyner is a mother and a former marriage and family therapist, which may make her job a bit easier when it comes to talking with her 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter about sexual harassment.
When her son started dating, it was heavily chaperoned. She explained to him about consent and what constitutes appropriate behavior. Holding hands and kissing can be appropriate but only if the other person gives consent. “We talk about consent every step of the way.”