Having read the article about the Supreme Court upholding the conviction of a man who sexually assaulted a 15-year-old schoolgirl almost 20 years ago, we hope and pray that this survivor receives the healing required to feel worthy and understand that the assault was not her fault.
This case clearly demonstrates that we can still be affected 20 years later from an experience of childhood sexual abuse and that childhood sexual abuse causes trauma.
Trauma from an experience of sexual assault equates to years of emotional pain for a survivor versus a moment of unlawful sexual pleasure for the person exerting the power. Abuse is when one exerts power over another. Forcing anyone to do something they don’t want to do is not considered consent!
We, as parents/guardians, must have ongoing conversations and role-model the meaning of the word “consent”.
Let’s begin with “No is No!”
“No” is not for negotiation. No matter what your private parts are feeling, “No is No!” No matter what someone said five minutes earlier, “No is No!” We need to educate our children to understand self-control and respect for others. This is critically important for our young people to hear and witness.
Exerting power and control over another person is unacceptable behaviour and, if unaddressed when young, it could result in experiencing feelings of entitlement and bullying behaviour into their adulthood. Children who observe bullying behaviour in the home can also mirror that behaviour on others. Sex offenders are bullies who use sex as a means of obtaining power.
We would like to take this opportunity to encourage parents and guardians to have ongoing, age-appropriate, child-friendly conversations with their children early and often around sex, boundaries and consent. It is our responsibility as parents and guardians to prepare and teach our children these valuable life-saving skills. We must get past our own discomfort around the topic of sex and help our children understand the risks and responsibilities that come with engaging in sexual behaviour.
We encourage our parents to talk to their teens about these risks, about respecting boundaries and about the laws. In this country, no one under the age of 16 can legally consent. Help your teens understand that it doesn’t matter how old you think the other person is, how they are dressed, or what they have been told.
We applaud this survivor for her courage in using her voice and power in reporting abuse. We also applaud her spouse for supporting her, as support is critical for survivors. Finally, we applaud our judicial system.
• Debi Ray-Rivers is the executive director of the child sexual abuse prevention organisation Saving Children and Revealing Secrets. To learn more about child sexual abuse, sign up for a Scars training. It’s free! https://www.scarsbermuda.com/virtual-community-training/