Why consent matters for all children

By: 
Beth Hoover
Thursday, September 6, 2018

Guest Column

During the last several months, we’ve seen several prominent women accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Most media outlets are asking what it means for the #MeToo movement when women who are feminist figureheads are accused of the very actions they denounce. Once again, the media is asking the wrong questions.

I’ve written before about the fact that anyone can be an abuser. The question isn’t whether or not these women are capable of sexual assault or sexual harassment, and whether they should have consequences. The question we should be asking is why aren’t we teaching our children how to recognize and handle sexual predators? Why aren’t we teaching all of our children what they deserve in healthy relationships – especially when it comes to issues about consent?

These recent accusations underline the fact that any child or young adult, no matter their gender, might find themselves in a situation with a predator. Predation happens in K-12 schools. It happens in colleges. It happens on dates. It happens at home or with friends. It happens in the workplace. All young people are at risk, not only girls. Why don’t we want to educate all our children about that risk? Why don’t we want to teach them how they deserve to be treated by others?

Every young person should learn that they deserve to have their boundaries respected. They should all learn that in healthy relationships, they should be encouraged to set their own boundaries and those boundaries should not be crossed without their consent. Having our boundaries respected should be true our whole lives.

Yet our children aren’t learning this truth. And it’s putting them at danger to become victims of sexual predators. This is true whether our children are in elementary school or just starting their first job as a young adult.

That’s because sexual predators use power and control in many ways to manipulate, force, coerce, trick, scare, or pressure others. Their power might come from age. The age difference doesn’t have to be large to matter – a 14-year-old high school freshman might believe that an 18-year-old high school senior has a lot more knowledge or experience and therefore more power.

On the other hand, predators might gain their power from being in a position to “decide” the victim’s fate. For example, a coach decides who gets to play and how much. A teacher decides the students’ grades. A boss decides if employees get to keep their jobs. The list of ways predators can get power over a victim is endless. Even if the power isn’t real, if the victim perceives that the predator has power over them, that’s all that matters.

That’s why every single child needs to learn about boundaries and consent. They need to know what they can expect in healthy relationships – every relationship, from dating and family to casual and professional.

Much of the scuttlebutt recently seems to imply that if #MeToo’s matriarchs end up being guilty of sexual assault or sexual harassment, then sexual assault and sexual harassment don’t matter.

That’s ridiculous.

Instead, these accusations should wake parents up to the fact that their children are at risk of becoming victims. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are much more widespread than most parents want to believe.

Instead of arguing over whether or not the #MeToo movement is tainted, shouldn’t we be asking, why don’t we, as a society, want to teach our children about how to protect themselves against those who would harm them?

Beth Hoover is a violence prevention educator for Power Up, Speak Out! in Red Lodge. Power Up, Speak Out! is a curriculum that helps educators teach middle school students what they deserve in healthy peer relationships, including lessons on boundaries and consent. To learn more about the program visit www.powerupspeakout.org.


Every young person should learn that they deserve to have their boundaries respected. They should all learn that in healthy relationships, they should be encouraged to set their own boundaries and those boundaries should not be crossed without their consent.”

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