Boys, girls, sexual assault, and sexual empowerment: Television interview with Bill Patrick
On Monday April 15 I was interviewed by CTV in Atlantic Canada about how to talk with our kids about issues of sexuality, sexual assault, and sexual empowerment. Here is the link: http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=906320
And here is a transcript of the brief interview:
Interview with Bill Patrick by Heidi Patracek, CTV.
HP: The Rehtaeh Parsons case, which has been in the news for the past week or more has really brought up a lot of questions for parents. Questions about social media, about sexuality, and about what’s appropriate when it comes to teaching our children about sexuality, whether we’re raising boys or girls. Well this morning we thought we’d address the issue with the help of Bill Patrick. He has been working in the field fighting against sexual assault for the past twenty years. He’s currently a volunteer with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre in Fredericton*, and that’s where we’ve reached him this morning. Bill Patrick, good morning, and thanks for joining us.
BP: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
HP: Now I want to ask you the question that I hear from a lot of parents when it comes to this case and the cases in Steubenville and California: How can young boys be capable of what they’re accused of in the Parsons case and what they were convicted of in Steubenville, where we’re talking about rape and taking a picture of someone and spreading it around... How can this happen?
BP: Well my concern here is that our kids are learning about sex, they’re just not necessarily learning about it from us. Our kids now live in such a pornography-drenched existence where with technology and everything... where easy access to explicit, graphic pornography is as easy as the nearest smart phone. So what I understand and from what I’ve read, our kids are being exposed to -- at very young ages, much younger than we were -- to graphic information. And that what they’re not getting is the counter-information they need. The healthy information. The information about what healthy sexuality looks like, what consent looks like, what respect looks like, and around these issues of sexuality. It seems that there’s a huge silence there. And we need to fill that silence with healthy information.
HP: So when you’re raising, say, a boy, and he’s approaching his teenage years, what do you tell a teenage boy about sex, someone who probably doesn’t want to talk to his parents about sex to begin with?
BP: Well… and that may be part of the problem... Recently I was in a context where I was working with young boys around ten, eleven, and some of them were already kind of copping an attitude. Like they weren’t going to take our information. And I don’t think that’s an option, really. I don’t think that’s viable. Ten and eleven year-olds don’t get to control the world, and they don’t necessarily get to control the sort of information they are on the receiving end of.
I think we need to talk with them about not just what bad – what abuse – looks like, what date rape looks like, you know: ignoring someone else’s consent. All of that. But also we need to talk about at the same time what healthy sexuality looks like. And I’m concerned that that’s where we’re coming up short. That even when we’re giving kids information about sex, we’re giving them the biology, and then we’re telling them: “Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t do this, don’t do that.” And I think we do need to engage them more in conversations about that sex can be pleasurable.
And that part of normal adolescence is actually moving from this, say, ten year-old, hopefully totally un-sexualized being, this child, to at some point, you know, we’re all going to be twenty-four, hopefully sexually adept, skilled, and aware, and so my question is, and I think the question we need to answer for ourselves, is: How do we get this child from age ten, hopefully innocent, to age twenty-four, an adult?
And developing one’s sexuality is part of adolescence. It’s part of their job. And they need more guidance than what they’re getting from us.
HP: Let’s talk to parents with daughters now because I think a lot of them are thinking “Oh my goodness! I just want to protect my daughter. I want to make sure this kind of thing never happens to her.” But how do you do that?
BP: I think that’s a great question. And I have a daughter, and she’s quite young, but even so my wife and I are talking about this issue and at one point – sort of jokingly but not entirely – my wife said: “Well, there will be no boys!” And my response was: “Oh, there’ll be boys!”
So there will be boys – or maybe girls, who knows where her interests will lie? -- but the reality is that there will be times when there are boys there and we’re not there. You know, there’s this country music song that has the father sitting on the porch polishing the shotgun… I don’t think that was ever effective, and it’s certainly not effective now. And I think we need to ask ourselves what kind of healthy young women do we want our daughters to grow up into? So it’s not just our boys who need to get to early adulthood sexually adept, sexually empowered, sexually self-aware. We need our girls to get there, too.
And I think that we really need to think about what our thoughts are around female sexuality. And I want my daughter, when there are boys around and I’m not there, I want her to have enough information to say “no” when she needs to, but I also want her to have enough information to make the decisions that she wants to make, and sometimes that decision around a certain activity will be “yes.”
And that’s healthy.
HP: We have to wrap up here, unfortunately. I know it’s not enough time to cover this topic, but I think it really seems to come down to communication and “get talking” whether it’s uncomfortable for both parties or not.
HP: Thank you very for joining us this morning, Bill. I really, really do appreciate it. You’ve answered a lot of questions I think parents are wondering about out there So thank you.
BP: My pleasure.
(*It is not technically correct to say that I am volunteer with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. However, I am a huge supporter of the work that the amazing women in that organization do every day!)