Over the past decade, more attention is being given to dangerous sexual behavior among our youth and to the crime of sexual assault----mainly due to cases and news stories concerning celebrities, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, and the military.
Unfortunately, the public debates arising from such prominent cases often lead to even greater misunderstandings of what consent means; how to teach safer understandings of intimacy to teenagers and young adults; how sexual assault is defined; and how to honor survivors of sexual assault/rape.
Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, was in college when he got the call that his sister had been raped. That one call completely changed his life. From that moment on, Mike has dedicated his life to educating others about the power of verbal consent and how to support your family after an attack. His message of “Can I Kiss You” is told to hundreds of audiences each year from young kids to adults---even members of the military.
There isn’t a person in this world that hasn’t been affected by sexual assault or knows someone that has. And Mike is the perfect voice on this subject. Mike shares about the Date Safe Project below.
Q: What is the Date Safe Project about?
A: We are driven by the belief that every person deserves for each sexual experience to be consensual (wanted, freely given, between 2 people of legal age and of sound mind). While almost every American believes in our mission, few people are ever taught how to create such a culture of consent. Thus, we work side-by-side with families, school systems, universities, and the US Military around the world to provide them the necessary "How To" skills.
Q: What motivated you to start the Date Safe Project?
A: In 1989, my sister Cheri was sexually assaulted. I saw the pain rape inflicts on the survivor and felt the impact on our family, and caring friends. At the same time, the strength and courage inside my sister inspired me to speak out - to use my voice to help others to use theirs (Asking First). Thanks to the support of many wonderful allies, professors and schools began to bring me in to share with students - even though I was only a college student myself.
Q: One of the focal points in your program is the question, “Can I kiss you,” is this a major question that leads to rape?
A: The failure of one's partner to request consent and to honor the answer can definitely lead to sexual assault. If you don't ask and receive a "Yes," you are guessing with another human being's body and boundaries. Every person deserves a choice.
Q: What are some misconceptions about healthy dating?
A: Too often parents teach their children that healthy dating is about "Opening the Door" or "Paying for the Meal". Healthy dating is about respect, equal choices, honoring boundaries, being yourself at all times (including being independent), and enjoying being with each other.
Q: What would you say to a survivor of sexual assault?
A: Thank you for sharing with me. You are strong and courageous. You are a SURVIVOR!!
Q: Many youth learn about sex at an early age, what is the best age to discuss sex with your children?
A: The key is to make each conversation age appropriate using the correct terms (do NOT use terms like "your private place" and instead DO use terms such as "vulva" or "penis). Children on farms learn at extremely young ages because of what they see on the farm. If you as a parent "wait", your child is likely to hear more incorrect versions from friends, media, and/or the Internet. Trying to "unteach" is much more difficult than teaching the correct lesson from the start.
Q: How does a parent recognize that their teen has been sexually abused?
A: There is not necessarily a definite sign of sexual abuse. What is important to is create an open atmosphere where your teen feels safe telling you what they are experiencing in their life and that your teen fully understands how he/she deserves to be treated when he/she chooses to engage in sexual activity (whether now or 5 years from now). Stress how your teen always deserves to have a choice and that no person ever has the right to take away that choice or take advantage of you when you don't have a voice (drunk, unconscious, etc...).
Q: What tools should a parent give the teens to make the best choices regarding dating?
A: Give your teen very specific "How To" skills to implement when in moments of sexual decision-making. Help your teen know how to make the right choice. Avoid telling your child what "not to do" and instead focus on what "to do." We wrote the book "May I Kiss You?" to give parents a fun, easy-to-read resource for their sons and daughters.
Q: As you indicate much attention is given to “sexual behavior among our youth and to the crime of sexual assault” which leads to a public debate whether it was consensual sex or not– How is consensual sex determined?
A: Did the partner request and receive consent from a person who is of sound mind (including being sober), of legal age, and freely given?
Q: How does being rape change a victim’s life?
A: The impact of the trauma can be different for every survivor. A sense of safety and trust can be damaged or destroyed short term or long-term. The important message to remember is that survivors are strong, courageous individuals.
Q: What steps should be taking to rehabilitate rape victims?
A: Fully support survivors with love and unlimited access to counselor and therapy.
Q: How can society contribute toward sexual awareness?
A: Teach everyone the importance of asking first before engaging in sexual intimacy and why everyone should want to (and know how to) intervene when they see someone not being given a choice.
Special thanks to Mike Domitrz for this interview.