To help students and parents understand how to navigate the waters of college relationships, we asked members of the Arizona State University staff—Dr. Aaron Krasnow, assistant vice president and director of ASU Counseling; Dr. Karen Moses, director, ASU Wellness; and Michele Grab, executive director, Strategic Initiatives—to provide some insight and advice. Here’s what they shared.
Why is it important for parents to discuss dating safety with their child before he or she leaves for college?
Discussing safety with your child before he or she attends college is essential. Just as discussions about academic achievement and financial planning prepare your college student for their new responsibilities, communicating with your child about safety and making safe choices helps them to prepare for the myriad of decisions and complexities they will face in college. Having these types of conversations prepares your student to understand their personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety and well-being of their peers.
What specific topics should parents discuss?
Decision making and trusting their instincts. Discuss what your child would do if they were with someone who made them feel uncomfortable? How can they get help, if needed?
Alcohol, which can impair judgment, can lead to unwanted or unplanned sexual experiences, sexual violence and dating violence. In a report prepared for the National Institute of Justice, a recent study of college students found that in more than 70 percent of sexual assaults among college students, either the victim or the perpetrator had been drinking alcohol prior to the assault.
Consent: what it is and how to get it. Someone who is intoxicated or passed out can’t give consent and having sexual contact with that person is a crime. As soon as someone says “stop,” you must respect those boundaries and not pressure them to change their mind.
Even if a sexual assault happens when alcohol or other substances is involved, it is not the victim’s fault. The victim can still report it and receive medical/rape crisis services. Make sure your child knows how their school handles sexual assault and the phone numbers they can call for help.
Recognizing the warning signs of an abusive person or relationship. In a 2014 report by the American College Health Association, 1 out of 10 undergraduate students said they were in an intimate relationship that was emotionally, physically or sexually abusive. Discuss how they might recognize the difference between control and manipulation vs. caring concern or normal conflict within a relationship. Even if they do not experience this situation themselves, your child’s well-being could be impacted if a friend or roommate is in an abusive relationship. The best way to help is to listen, be supportive, tell the victim that whatever happened was not their fault, and connect them to resources that can help.
Helping others, if they can do so safely. If your child sees something that doesn’t seem right, they should call the police or other campus authorities. And, if possible, they shouldn’t leave that person alone.
Creating a community of care and respect takes all of our efforts. Empower your child to say something if they hear someone making jokes about rape or talking about women and/or men in ways that make them feel uncomfortable.
If a student experiences a dangerous situation or violence on a date or social event, what should he or she do first? Who should they talk to?
Safety is always the first concern. Is the student in a safe place? Do they need medical attention? These questions should be asked first.
Once safety and medical issues are addressed, make sure your child has the support needed for their well-being. This may be a circle of friends or counseling services, which colleges and universities often offer. Students can also talk to the Dean of Students office to learn what to do when they have traumatic experiences.
Students can get help and make reports through the Title IX coordinator or other sexual misconduct resources offered at the institution. Title IX is federal legislation that protects against gender discrimination on college and university campuses nationwide. All campuses are required to have a Title IX coordinator to educate students about campus resources for victims of sexual misconduct, and to investigate claims of sexual misconduct on their campus.
At ASU, resources are available online at sexualviolenceprevention.asu.edu, and many other colleges have a similar resource website. Outside of university resources, there are many national and local agencies that provide support and information for victims, such as the National Sexual Violence Hotline and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If a student is thinking of pressing charges for sexual violence or for intimate partner violence, it’s important to get an examination by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Local police, service agencies or hospitals can tell you where these examinations can be done in your area. Even if the student is unsure or does not want to press charges, it is still recommended that they have an exam.
What are the dangers or hazards of dating apps like Tinder or Hinge?
Any social situation where the parties have limited information about the person they are sharing time with involves risk. Remember, most people who experience sexual violence or dating violence know their attacker. They are not strangers.
The best advice is to talk to your child about strategies to improve safety in any dating or social situation. Students meet new people every day, whether through a dating app or through classes, student organizations, work or social events. They will have many chances to get to know potential romantic/intimate partners.
Having a safety plan in general is good practice. What would they do if they were in a situation where they felt uncomfortable? There are hotlines, community resources, transportation options, even apps that can help with a safety plan. ASU provides the LiveSafe mobile app as a tool to enhance safety and communication.
How important is it for young adults to understand the meaning of consent and respect?
Consent must be clear, mutual, voluntary and active – and that applies to all circumstances, not just sexual situations.
Sometimes it can be helpful to talk about consent and respect outside the context of dating. There is a great analogy becoming popular online that talks about consent in terms of offering a cup of tea. If you offer a person a cup of tea, they have the option of refusing the offer or accepting, but not drinking the tea. You wouldn’t force them to drink it, you wouldn’t pour it down their throat if they were passed out and, if they changed their mind about whether they wanted it, you wouldn’t pressure them into drinking it. It’s a good analogy because it reminds us that in many other aspects of our lives, we have no problem understanding consent, and it should be the same when the issue is sex.
Along with a discussion about consent, it’s important to emphasize mutual respect between partners. Unfortunately, the reality is that most people who are assaulted know their attacker. In fact, 85 to 90 percent of college students know their attacker prior to an assault.
We have been warning people, particularly women, for decades to be wary of random attackers. Someone could jump out of the bushes and attempt an assault so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings.
This is good advice concerning personal safety and risk reduction, but when it comes to sexual assault, a student is significantly more likely to be attacked by someone they know. That makes learning about consent and respect even more critical. Knowing your boundaries, how to communicate them effectively, how to respect those boundaries and not pressure others for sex are crucial skills for everyone to learn.
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