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Teaching Girls to Say No and Yes

15/06/2016 16:43 | Updated 15 June 2016

What we can learn from the Stanford Rape

Last week was an interesting week in the world wasn't it? A week where we saw the worst in the world, an horrific massacre and the Stanford Rape disasterous decision. Both truly terrifying and unfortunately one more common than the other.

As a police officer, rape was something I dealt with too much, so the sentence for the Stanford Rapist was not shocking to me at all. I have seen business owners convicted of assaulting underage members of their staff get off with community service. All it did was made me realise how systemic our thoughts are about rape. On one hand we are up in arms about the sentence and often in the same breath, criticising how someone is dressed, saying that she is be asking for it.

Is this sentence really surprising when you consider as a society how messed up our thoughts are about female bodies? How one minute we think we have the right to say what other women should do then on the other get outraged by something that has happened?

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The saddest thing for us is that despite the 30+ year's difference between when I grew up and girls growing up now, nothing has really changed.

I remember getting told to cover up as I could give the wrong impression. I remember being asked what I had done to provoke a boy who hit me and I remember feeling like I had to have sex with my boyfriend, even when I didn't want to and clearly stated I didn't.

Things have not changed a lot and unfortunately I think we are still raising our girls to accept behaviour that is in no way acceptable.

So what can and should we do as adults to raise our young girls to expect more?

1. We should never shame women in front of our daughters. I can't say this enough and have written many articles on this. When we shame another in front of our daughters, we are teaching her to hate her body and when we hate our body or feel shame around it we are unfortunately more likely to let others do things to it that perhaps we don't want.

2. Never tell a girl to cover up because she is too provocative or might be asking for it. If we can learn anything from the Stanford Rape it is that clothing plays no part whatsoever in sexual assaults. Believe me, as an ex-police officer I know this, so stop telling our girls what they can and can not do with their bodies, as this will give them the powerful message that they don't own their bodies.

3. Teach her when to say No of course, but also teach her and talk to her about when she wants to say yes. How many parents have had that conversation with their daughters? Yet it is as vital as the conversations about No. We talk about No a lot but never about Yes. We need to start having these conversations.

4. For heaven's sake stop telling our girls to be nice to each other. Yes, we want to teach them not to be mean but when we teach them to be nice we are teaching them to put aside their own feelings over that of another. A lifetime of being told to be nice can make a girl less likely to say No when she needs to. It's OK to not be nice to everyone; it's OK not to like everyone.

5. When something goes wrong with your child and there is an argument with another, don't ask her what she did to spark the behaviour. I spend a lot of time in school offices and believe me this is rife. It was probably the most hurtful things ever asked of me after my boyfriend gave me a black eye. What did I do to provoke him? Get them to tell you the whole story and listen objectively, not taking sides and ask them what they want to do about it, but never ask them what they did.

6. Be honest - I think that often enough we don't talk to our girls about what could happen and what precautions they should take. We don't talk to them about limits, about drinking and about being safe. These are conversations I have always had with my children, maybe the police made me more vigilant than most, but I think what it gave me most was a balanced viewpoint. I know my children are more at risk if they get into a car with a young driver then they ever are on the internet. I know they are more at risk when attending a party with people they don't know than walking alone in the dark. I think often we have a strange sense of when our children are at risk and often talk to them about the wrong things. What we know about the Stanford case is that the girl was drunk and at a party with people she didn't know. Not that any of these things made what happened to her justifiable, of course they don't, but they did increase the risk. We must talk to our girls open and honestly about what increases the risk of sexual assault and how she can protect herself and while I wish this was a conversation we didn't have to have, it is one I think we must.

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We must teach our girls properly about how to love themselves, their bodies and what consent really means. We must talk to them about saying Yes as much as we talk to them about saying No and we must have conversations with them about being safe.

My heart goes out to all involved in the Stanford case; it sounds truly horrific. Events like these touch the victims, the witnesses, the families and the law enforcement involved for years to come. I hope at least that the victim can feel hope in the fact that her case has brought to light so many issues that are now been discussed openly, and has most likely helped countless more girls like her. I salute you.

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