Raising Young Men and Women in a Culture of Sexual Assault

Ask the Experts by Mary Petersen

Q: With so much sexual assault rampant these days, I worry about raising teenagers in our society.  How can you help me?

A: Human beings have lived in a culture of sexual assault for centuries. What's different today is that we talk about it more, and thus we have a better chance to help our children consciously break the cycle.

Young men and women are in a particularly vulnerable position: they are innocently growing into developing adult bodies and minds.  They're learning about themselves and how appropriately to interact with others on both an intimate (and sexual) level, hopefully gradually and age-appropriately. Their culture, values, morals and beliefs are important.

Equally important is figuring out how to get their needs met in positive, healthy, respectful ways that don't compromise the freedom of others.

Often young people are exposed too early to sexual violation before they have experienced the natural, normal, awkward growth into healthy sexuality. They may learn unhealthy attitudes and behaviors from parents who have not resolved their own issues.

Likewise, silence and sheltering children from reality teaches them nothing about how to cope with the world while still being true to themselves. Keeping an open dialogue with children is instrumental, and you should remind them that it is safe to talk to you about anything.

We must challenge the myths of sexual abuse with truth:

  • Sexual abuse is not about sex - it's about power and control.
  • Helping children be secure in themselves and respect the boundaries of others will facilitate healthy intimate relationships.
  • Both men and women can be abusers.
  • Both men and women can be victims/survivors.
  • We must teach children to express their needs respectfully and communicate what they will and won't tolerate from others.
  • As in all relationships, if both parties agree on and follow "the rules," things will work out fine.

Mary Petersen, LMSW, ACSW, is a clinical psychotherapist in private practice.  One of her specialties is treating women and men who are survivors of sexual abuse and she welcomes even anonymous phone calls inquiring about this sensitive topic.  Mary is a member of the Family Center Association of Professionals and a member of their Board. For more information, please visit her website www.marypetersen.com

Enriching Our Community Through Stronger Families
The Family Center serves as the community's hub for information, resources and referral for both families and professionals. The Family Center is a non-profit organization founded with a mission to serve our community through programs and resources vital to today's families.

All gifts are tax-deductible.
To volunteer or contribute, visit the 'Get Involved' page, call 313-447-1374.
Email: info@familycenterweb.org or write to: The Family Center
32 Lake Shore Drive, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236.