Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

Subscribe to the Embrace the Chaos feed.
Follow me on Twitter
Join Us On Facebook

Canadian Family's
18 Mom Bloggers We Love

2013 Canadian Weblog Awards nominee

Solutions for Moms across Canada

I'm a Blissdom Community Leader!

I'm Speaking at BlogHer '12

« Guest Post: Mother Regrets Having Her Two Kids | Main | Family Kicked Off Plane For Complaining About In-Flight Movie »

Lessons From Rehtaeh & Steubenville: Talking To Boys About Rape

Rape, sexual assault, boys, girls. It is on everyone's minds, including the minds of every media outlet available. First there was Steubenville, and then there was our Canadian version in Cole Harbour where Rehtaeh Parsons lived, and died.

We spend a lot of energy talking to girls about how to avoid rape but now, finally, the conversation is turning to talking to boys about respecting and expecting consent. In other words, teaching not to rape. 

But it's not an easy conversation to have and it starts very young. We should be teaching all kids about boundaries -- that the words 'stop' and 'no' have weight. Even professionals have a hard time with it. I asked Marnie Goldenberg, a mother of two, a lawyer, a sexual health educator and the person behind Sexplainer.com to write about how she spoke to her 8-year-old about sexual assault and how she was planting the seeds of informed consent at a young age.

Guest Post: The most uncomfortable
conversation with my kid: talking about rape

I was driving my almost nine-year-old son home from March Break
hockey camp. I had been listening to the
news on the way to pick him up. I slowed at the curb and he jumped in.

For days, there had been a lot of reporting on events in the now-infamous Steubenville, Ohio. Despite the
attention given to this particular incident of sexual assault (which is what it
is legally called in Canada, ‘rape’ having been eliminated from the Criminal Code
in 1982), my child had been spared from its ugliness. Until now. The story hit the airwaves and I turned off the radio. And then I sighed heavily.


“What, what?”

“Why did you sigh?”

“Oh... sometimes I hate listening to the news when you’re in the
car with me”


“Because so much of the news is about terrible stuff that
happens in the world. And I want to
protect you from hearing such terrible things even though they are a part of
life. It’s my job to teach you about the
world though, even the nasty stuff. Do you know what I mean?”

Silence. Except for
another heavy sigh from me. I got brave:

“I turned off the radio because there was a story about 2 teen
boys who got drunk.  Which of course was
a dumb decision. And there was a teenage
girl who was drunk too. So that was dumb
also. She was so drunk that she passed out cold. Which is kind of like being
asleep except no one could wake her because of how drunk she was.”

Now my heart was pounding fast. It felt like it was coming through loudspeakers.

“They were all at a party and the two teenage boys sexually
assaulted the girl.”

“You mean they murdered her?”

“No, she wasn’t killed. Assault basically means physical violence. Because it was a sexual
assault, or rape, it means these boys had a kind of sex with her that was
violent. They didn’t have her permission
or consent. She never said it was ok for the boys to do what they did because
she couldn’t. Remember that she was unconscious. Sex is supposed to be something both people
want to do.

There’s another terrible part to the story. There were a lot of
teenagers at the party. No one stopped
these boys. In fact, some of the other kids took pictures and videos and sent
messages about it on Facebook and stuff.
It seems as though they thought it was funny.”

At this point I felt physically nauseous. But now that the nasty
truth of it had been said, the chance to educate my son was available to me. I
spoke about how:

  • Sexual
    assault usually happens by boys or men and how most of the time (but not
    always) the victim is a girl or woman;

  • Any
    physical contact between people ought to be consensual. Wrestling with his
    brother is not ok unless his brother wants to wrestle. The same is true about
    kissing someone, or having sex with someone;

  • People
    who have sex need to be really really really sure that consent is there.  Which means respecting the other person and
    their body and being sure that anything that you do is something that you want
    to do and that they want you to do too;

  • It’s
    not enough to say ‘I’m pretty sure it’s ok’ or ‘last time she said yes’. Every physical contact should include
    enthusiastic consent;

  • Peer
    pressure often makes kids feel like they need to do certain things, or follow
    along so that they fit in. It can be hard to be your own guy. It’s so important to be your own guy;

  • At
    one time or another, we all see other people doing stupid, dangerous or harmful
    things. Even when we aren’t actively
    participating, by doing nothing, we are kind of going along with the stupid,
    dangerous or harmful thing;

  • When
    we witness people hurting other people (emotionally or physically), the right thing
    to do is to get involved. Tell friends to stop. Call me. Get help. 

We reached our destination, so it was a good time to end our
conversation. I finished by saying that
I’m always available to explain something when stuff is confusing or if he
isn’t sure what to do in any situation.

For days after, I felt unsettled in a way that I’ve never felt
before. I’ve thought about it a lot and realize a couple things:

1)  My
child is losing his innocence with or without me. 

  • After
    all, he knows the word murder and knows what it means. And murder is not a subject understood by the

  • He
    sees violence all over the place, whether in cartoons, movies, advertisements or
    the school yard.

  • He
    sees sexual imagery all the time too - some of which has subtle messages that
    question consent or at least play up teasing, withholding and taking.

  • Gendered
    ideas are really starting to assert themselves and he isn’t even nine yet. (Of course
    it started way back when baby gifts came from the ‘boy’ section of The Gap but
    that’s another story.)

2)  My
son needs to understand how to read social circumstances and interpret cultural
norms so that he is part of a future that doesn’t include sexual assault. 

  • There
    has been commentary on who the victims of Steubenville are, as news agencies
    reported on the ‘ruined lives’ of the convicted young men. 

  • While
    I absolutely stand by the truth that the young woman is the victim of this
    assault, I also believe that the young men of Steubenville and many young men
    across North America (along with young women) are being short changed. Mass
    media is educating them, porn is informing them and not enough trusted people
    are reinforcing truths about respect, consent, self-control and other real and
    powerful notions of masculinity.

  • I can’t fool myself to think that this is behaviour that
    only happens elsewhere.  As one tragic
    story of sexual assault fades in the news, another story takes its place. This time in Canada. Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide after
    struggling with depression that emerged following a sexual assault when she was
    15. Like in Steubenville, a picture was
    taken and circulated. Rehtaeh was
    humiliated, bullied and shamed. The
    perpetrating young men were not even charged. Each story is a tragedy; That we aren’t changing the story is a greater one.

3) It
is painful to tell my son about such terrible things, but it is far more painful
to think that he will learn about them elsewhere and it is unbearable to
imagine him learning that sexual assault is anything other than a horrific and
preventable act.

If you missed it Rehtaeh Parson's father wrote a moving blog post about his daughter. He writes: "My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police."

How will you talk to your kids about this difficult subject? 

Marnie Goldenberg trained as a lawyer but always loved her job as a sexual health educator at Planned Parenthood. She is now the sexplainer, showing people how to raise sexually intelligent kids.

If you want to support the teaching of informed consent in schools, you can check out this indiegogo campaign.

Want more chaos? Remember the Oreo breastmilk ad?

Enjoy this post? 'Like' the Embrace the Chaos Facebook page to get each post directly in your newsfeed

Reader Comments (12)

I have a son that is 5 and a daughter that is 3, so I am still a few years away from a discussion like this. Still, I have discussed it with my wife and we feel uncomfortable already.

In fact, I am still struggling with the concept of rape culture myself. I often feel that blog and media discussions of rape culture, which presumably we all belong to, portray men, in general, as bad guys. While I want my children, both my daughter and son, to be safe, and to respect themselves and others regarding sexual consent, I don't want my daughter to live in fear of or angry toward men, and I don't want my son to feel guilty for crimes a few of his gender commit.

I like the way Marnie Goldenberg handled the situation. I will likely adapt it for my own talks with my kids
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIt's only parenting
I am not a parent yet, but I hope to be soon.When I think about teaching my future son about rape culture, I think that it is intilled in a young age. I never want my son to pull a girls hair 'because he likes her' and I never want my daughter to accept that boys are mean to her because they like her. I think that these gender roles and the superiority of men are instilled at a very early age with these examples, and so the dialogue can in fact start that young. While I would not sit my five year old down and discuss rape, I would teach him that it is never ok to hurt someone.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynn
In that I agree with alot of what Marnie Goldenberg has stated, there are still some cold hard facts that are not being addressed.1) Notice that for the most part these young men who rape are not ostricized for their behaviour, as a matter of fact they are glorified, by media, their peers, their coaches and their parents. Unfortunately it is almost always the victim who is ostricized. There sure is fairness there, would you say. Proven fact when parents defend their son's rape of another person. If I had a son who raped another individual I would not stand by him, lie for him, he would be punished by the full extent of the law. If this happened more often well maybe just maybe young men would think before their actions.2) I believe you will find that in most cases of men raping another person, you don't have to look far to see that there is no respect in the home for people, especially women. It may or may not be obvious to the eye, as some of this abuse and we may as well call it abuse, is very subtle. There is still the mentality in some areas of he was just having his fun-no harm done, and the mother will pipe and say yes and he/she (the victim) was nothing but a immoral person and deserved what they got.3) We have parents that don't want their children to learn sex education in the schools but fall down in teaching it at home. As was said in the comment before me, we find it uncomfortable- why would a parent find this uncomfortable unless they have hang ups themselves. There is more to teaching your child about sex than just telling them about the act, as where to place things-there is the whole emotional, legal, human aspect to the sex act as well.It's funny how parents are quick to say we are adults, we are parents but fall down miserably when it comes to being adults and parents. Grow up parents and taking the words from a wise song- "Teach your children well"Respect for another human being starts at home at a very early age.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie
When I was little, my family were conservative and repressed in the extreme - I remember my Grandmother literally freaking out that I was allowed to watch the TV Comedy "The Facts of Life" which was about anything BUT!!!! The family thought that they were protecting our innocence - far from it!!! All of that repression didn't stop my little sister from being sexually abused, and then becoming a drug addict.... So I made the conscious descision that I would raise my childen with their eyes wide open to the world - and help them to understand, process, and come-to-terms with, all the horrors that the world holds. My own children would never fall victim to being "innocent" and not realizing that someone had ill intentions towards them. The conversations started VERY early. We dealt with all situations involving appropriate relationships between human beings (assault, rape, pedophilia etc.) In a case like Raetaeh, I would have mentioned to my 4 or 5 year old that something "nasty" had happened to a girl - that someone had done something to her that hurt her both physically, and had badly hurt her feelings - that they kept teasing her and hurting her feelings about it, and that she was sad because of it. She was so sad that, eventually, she did something silly to herself that had hurt her badly(not specific - she could have jumped off a swing for all they knew) and that she'd died. I would then ask my boys how they thought the boys who had hurt her would be feeling about what they'd done. When they said "bad", I would explain that these boys were such horrible people that they thought what had happened to the girl was "funny" and that they were laughing. At this point, my boys would express outrage and indignation that anyone COULD behave like that, and we'd discuss what the law would do to make sure that these nasty boys would know that they should be ashamed of themselves and sorry for what they did. Even at 4 or 5 you can draw a lesson which teaches empathy, without even having to bring sex into it. By 7 or 8 they were beginning to put the birds and bees together anyway, and we had already broached basic discussions of how babies were made, so I could bring in the reminder that baby-making should be something that both people should consent to - not one person forcing the other to make a baby.... and we went from there. By 9 or 10 they knew what rape was called, and they already knew, without anyone telling them "don't rape" that rape was one of the most dispicable acts that a man (or woman) can perpetrate on another human being (man or woman) - that it is an abuse of their physical power to cause mental and physical torture - that sex is something wonderful, joyous, and special that both people should enjoy and that no-one should ever use to humiliate or intimidate someone. As now teenaged boys (nearly adults) my own sons are loving and respectful of women. They are manly strapping lads, but they would use that physical power to protect, not degrade, another human being. They are proud men, and feel no "guilt" about what other men do, as some have suggested might happen, only a moral imperative that they will not knowingly let those acts ever happen around THEM to anyone in their presence. They don't feel that their childhood innocence was stolen from them. In fact, they felt safer and more in control of their own lives that they understood some of the less-pleasant aspects of real life. They were the first of their peers to recognize and steer fellow peers away from potentially threatening situations and people. They would NOT have the wool pulled over their eyes for anything, and they thank me for it! On three seperate occasions my sons recognized early grooming behaviour from an adult in it's initial approach,and immediately discussed it with me. I agreed that they had hit the nail on the head, and we made a plan to manoeuver them out of that adult's way - change class, not go to that friend's house for playdates, sleepovers, etc. Stop playing at that particular playground and play at a different playground instead etc. It's a sad reality, but for your child's OWN safety, avoiding the subject of the horrible things that happen in the world potentially robs them of their innocence, instead of protecting them!!! I would urge all parents struggling with the descision to take a deep breath and realize that if you don't inform your child's opinions, and become your child's trusted mentor, you leave your child to gain their information elsewhere and in whatever format it is presented... by the time you realize that they are having to deal with ackward subjects by themselves, you may kick yourself that they didn't hear it from you first!!!!
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMom of Two Boys
Actually, your kids are at a perfect age to start the conversation. Talk to them about consent, respect, and their right to say no. The wrestling analogy is a good place to start, but keep in mind there are those that do prey on children as young as yours. They need to know you'll be there for them if something happens. Start gently now, and you'll be much more comfortable when the conversation gets more difficult later on. Good luck!
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbecky
I am not really sure I agree with Marnie Goldenberg's talk with her not yet nine year old son. I have 3 boys, now 22, 20 and 15, I think 8 or 9 is way too young to be talking about rape or sexual assault. What she should have done was open up a conversation only about non consent, at his age that is what he is old enough to grasp and understand; kissing, hugging, using the word touching, but sex just isn't something a nine year old "gets" yet. She opened up too many issues that were way over his head, probably becoming the one to scare him. Also, she seemed to focus on boys and men doing these things that are horrible, but in reality woman committ assault - yes even sexual assualt - as well. I commend her for wanting to teach her son that he has to respect other people's wishes and be 100 percent sure of them, but at this young age "too much" information will confuse him and keep him from asking more questions.Definitely our society is making tons of mistakes with all the technology out there, kids just have way too much access to things we never had to think about when we were growing up. Lets face it, we over parent our kids now in the wrong ways. Parenting is the hardest thing a person will EVER do, if you teach them by example, give them love and proper restrictions, it is really all you can do.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
It's a very touchy subject for children, but I do believe it needs to start young. It's sickening to me, to think that in both cases many witnesses were involved and even participated in sharing pictures and videos etc.

We need to teach our children that it's ok to get involved and try to stop something bad from happening to others, when it's safe to do so, and when it's not, they need to call for help immediately.

There is a weird sense of complacency or fear of getting involved. We are too disconnected from each other somehow. I can't imagine being at a party where someone is being hurt and abused... if that had happened when I was a teenager, I know for a damn fact I would've stopped it myself, and so would all of my friends.

Why are our children afraid to act? For fear that they will get into trouble themselves? The good thing is that when one person acts, it is much easier for another get involved and to stop the violence. But the same can be true when one person acts badly, and others join in. It's a group mentality that needs to move in a positive direction, instead of a violent one.

I made a video on it... the stories are really upsetting and bothering me... we need to continue to speak about these issues, and encourage people to act against violence, instead of silently participating... because you're right, by standing there silently as a witness, you are standing in support of abuse... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egse-rYyKlU

SallyAka Daisukiyo

April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally Daisukiyo
tell them simply that when it comes to bodies and touching, the girls are always the boss.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaxine
Bravo to you -you must be so proud to have raised such wonderful caring and respectful young men. I also think that you gave them the necessary tools to be able to recognize predators when they encountered them. If only more parents took a page from your book when raising children. My other comments were geared more towards boys and young men only because statistics show that more men rape than the other way around. That is not to say that there are no women who are predators as well-there are. I just think that all parents should stop being uncomfortable and start talking to their children-it might just save their lives. Again thank you for raising such wonderful sons, the world appreciates it very much.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie
Years ago when my daughter was around 18 mths, a family aquaitance tickled her and I could tell it made her very unconfortable since she did not recognize him. From that day, I have always told my kids "it's your body, you get to decide (what happens to it)". It applied to being tickled, hugged, kissed, wrestled with or any other physical contact. It was a very easy concept for them to understand and once they could speak, it allowed them to take a stand in any uncomfortable situation with either adults or their peers. My kids are now 12 & 10 and this is a concept that they have grown up with. They have learned that since they get to decide, so does everyone else. So the line easily changes to "It's their body, they get to decide (what happnes to it)". It doesn't have to be a complicated or scary concept to teach to anyone. It's a fairly basic concept that can be applied to anything from your body, to your personal belongings. It should be a rule to live by and not something taught at 8 or 12 or 14. Respect for others should be taught from a very young age. Don't wait until it too late to teach it to your children.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn
i read a news story about 4 ontario cougs that picked up a 19 year old kid at a bar, offered him a ride home, and took turns doing whatever to him before dumping him in a parking lot and speeding away. maybe we shouldn't just focus on men as the sole rapists.
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersingle4life
I love love love this. So simple and so true. Thanks
April 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>