Sexual assault and abuse remain troubling issues that are still all-too-common, despite our growing knowledge about just how prevalent these situations are.
For teens, understanding what sexual assault is and how to handle it if they’re a victim is so important.
There are many confounding issues that teens face that can make them less likely to report sexual assault.
For example, there was a troubling story in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where five students attacked a fellow student in a locker room. There was cell phone footage of the event, and the defense by the principal of the school where it happened, describing it as horseplay.
A parent spoke out about what happened to his son, saying it was undoubtedly not horseplay.
The principal in that situation didn’t contact authorities, nor did he contact parents or take any steps to prevent video footage from being shared of the event.
It’s difficult when teens see adults handle the situation in this way for them to know the proper steps to take. There is such a fear of talking about sexual assault among teens even today.
While it’s impossible to cover the topic in its entirety in a brief format, the following are some things parents, educators, and anyone associated with teens should know about sexual assault.
Teen sexual assault is defined as any sexual contact that a teen does not freely agree to, which is consent. When a teen agrees to something because they’re being coerced or influenced by physical or emotional pressure, this is not consent.
Sexual assault in the technical sense refers to a scenario where the abuser is outside the family. The term sexual abuse is usually reserved for situations where the abuse comes from a family member.
Sexual assault doesn’t have to include intercourse, but it can. Sexual assault can consist of contact with any private part of the body that’s forced on someone, unwanted and not agreed upon.
How Common Is It?
It remains challenging to know just how common teen sexual assault is because it still goes unreported so often.
It’s estimated that teens make up more than 50% of all reported sexual abuse, and teens between the ages of 16 and 19 are 3.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than the general public.
A female between the ages of 16 and 19 is four times more likely than the general population to be a victim of sexual assault, rape, or attempted rape.
One in 10 high school girls and one in 20 high school boys say they’ve been forced into sex.
The majority of teen assaults don’t involve intercourse—in fact, only around 15% of cases involve penetration. Approximately 66% of teen victims didn’t tell an adult about what happened, and only 19% reported the assault to the police.
Signs of Sexual Assault in Teens
It can be difficult if you’re a parent or loved one to notice the red flags of sexual assault in a teen because these signs can often be chalked up to “normal” teen behavior.
However, some of the things that you could potentially notice include sudden changes in weight or appearance, changes in appetite, or signs of self-harm.
Your teen may become withdrawn or experience shame or guilt, fear of being alone with other people, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
How to Talk to a Teen About Sexual Assault
If you already believe that your teen has been the victim of a sexual assault, then you should have a direct conversation with them in a safe place. You might connect your teen with a trained professional, and you should also report the situation to authorities.
If you don’t think your teen is the victim of an assault, but you want to talk to them about the risks proactively, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s hard to talk about these things, but the more open and honest you can be, the better.
First, you should talk to your teen about what they want their limits to be in their relationships and how they plan to express those limits to potential partners.
You should also reinforce to your teen that they do have the option to change their mind no matter what, to say no, or to agree to some things and not others.
Finally, it’s crucial that your teen also understands the dangerous role drugs and alcohol can play in sexual assault.