While I have no children of my own (yet), I provided childcare for many years. I’ve also been a sex educator, and for me, it is easy to see the connections between these two seemingly very different fields. Consent is one of the biggest. As a feminist sex educator, the subject of consent was one that came up often: what it means to give informed consent, who is able to give consent, and how to best obtain consent.
Children and tickling is a great example. It can be really fun, right? And who can resist the contagious and adorable laughter and squeals? But how many of us have continued to tickle when a child says no? Regardless of the intent, the effect of continuing the game is to teach that child that no does not mean no, and that as an adult, we can trample over their attempts at boundary-setting any time we want. Those lessons influence their own interactions and they carry that with them into adulthood.
What would it look like to teach consent to our children from a very young age? To teach them respect and bodily autonomy through our words and actions? I see this as a crucial component of prevention. I believe that children who grow up understanding that they have control over their own body and practicing consent will be far less likely to abuse and/or rape when they are older. This post from Vibrant Wanderings offers some thoughts and suggestions on how to do just that. (There are some great discussions in the comments, too!)
Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, I get one of these responses:
- they look at me real hard to figure out if I am a crazy raging feminist that they need to be afraid of, or
- they say, “Wow, good for you,” or “I could never do that,” or “That must be so depressing,” or
- they quickly change the subject.
But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe instead of saying that I work to end domestic violence, I should just say, “I’m an optimist.”
Domestic violence advocates envision a world where domestic violence doesn’t exist. We really and truly think it doesn’t have to happen. We believe this so much that we continue to enter into relationships ourselves. You’d think after hearing terrible stories day after day, that all of us would swear off relationships. Not so.
I can’t think of anyone that I have ever worked with in nearly 20 years that has said, “You know what, it’s just not possible. It isn’t worth looking.” Nope. Instead advocates help people pick up the pieces and dream of something better. Then they go home and try to do the same for themselves.
What optimism! I love that we envision a just and loving society. I love that while we see the bad and the ugly, we work for the good and the beautiful. I love that our work is moving towards preventing violence, not just supporting survivors. I believe that we can end domestic violence. I really do. I guess I’m an optimist!
-Ilene Stohl, our economic justice & prevention coordinator