When you think of rape culture, you might think of the tacit encouragement and toleration of sexual assault. And that's part of it, but the truth of the matter is, rape culture begins during childhood, when we're taught consent doesn't matter. But Liz Andrade and Morgan Roe's "Survivor Mama Teaching Consent" comic demonstrates how we can accomplish the opposite: Instilling respect in children for others' boundaries and their own in all their interactions.
The comic, which can be viewed on Andrade's Medium page, is part of a series of comics that deal with different social issues, including abortion and trans visibility, Andrade tells Bustle over email. Since last month was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, she reached out to Roe, a sexual assault survivor and activist who works with the advocacy group Party for a Purpose, to create a storyline. Roe developed a narrative around teaching her kid about consent, and Andrade adapted it to comic form and created the drawings.
The comic describes how Roe has taught her daughter to appreciate consent from a young age by always asking permission before touching her. "The answers are never up for debate," it reads. It also describes how her daughter now asks for consent before she touches other people.
Here's some advice from Andrade and Roe for teaching children about consent in all its forms.
1. Talk About It Early On
Since schools often aren't teaching kids about consent, it's important for caretakers to talk about it with their kids explicitly. "We are underestimating our children's ability to understand the concept of consent," Roe tells Bustle over email. "Explain the concept of consent to your children from a young age, and actively practice it in your home. Teach them how to ask for the things they need in order to self-soothe, protect themselves, or stand up for what they feel is right."
2. Make It About More Than Sex
Consent education can start before sex education, says Roe: "We're limiting consent to the idea of sex, which scares us away from talking to our children about it at all." In reality, she explains, "consent can be physical, emotional, [and] psychological." The comic, for example, describes asking her daughter before she washes her in the bathtub. Respecting boundaries can also mean, for example, not forcing someone to eat something they don't want or making sure everyone agrees to a group activity.
3. Teach Them They Can Always Say "No"
"We force ourselves and others into a child's personal spaces constantly," Roe says, citing relatives who hug and kiss children without asking. When we teach kids to go along with whatever the people around them would like to do to them, we teach them it's okay for people to violate them. To combat this, it's important to tell your kids they don't have to show or accept any physical affection if they don't want to. "The message should be 'when it comes to you, you are in charge,'" Roe says.
4. Push For Better Sex Education
According to Andrade, schools are limited in their ability to teach kids about sexual consent because they often can't even teach them about sex. She recommends looking at your state's policies and your school board's curriculum and pushing back if your kids' education isn't fact-based. "Your kids and their classmates deserve better," she says.