By Grace Fansler: Prevention & Education Program Coordinator
Boundary & Consent Education Is Prevention
The #MeToo movement brought heavy media attention to the role sexual violence plays in our society. This media spotlight has driven many parents, educators, and others who take care of children to ask themselves how they can keep the children in their lives safe from child sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence. One way that adult caregivers can protect children, involves talking to children about personal boundaries and obtaining consent. Personal boundaries are rules/limits a person creates for themselves. Boundaries can establish what (if any) kind of physical contact with other people is appropriate. Demonstrating boundaries with children from a very young age, even as toddlers, shows children that every individual can assert bodily autonomy. One way to support children in setting boundaries includes allowing children to choose if they want to hug a family member or friend. It’s important for children to understand that they do not have to touch anyone they don’t want to, even if it is a kiss and a hug.
A Note on Holiday Hugging
If you are the parent or caregiver of a child who does not like to hug or kiss family members, you may be worried that your child’s lack of physical affection could unintentionally hurt or offend family members that express care and love through physical affection. One way to counter this is a quick phone call before a big holiday event that will involve hugs and kisses. Let extended family members or friends know ahead of time that your child is not always comfortable with physical affection, and that another way to show love to them could be exchanging a high-five or possibly creating a secret handshake. Emphasize that a dislike of hugging does not equate to a lack of affection, but rather allows the child to express their own autonomy.
How Do I Teach Consent without Teaching the Birds & the Bees?
For younger kids, the conversation about consent can start long before the conversation about sex. Consent simply involves respecting other people’s boundaries. It is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something.  Emphasize to your child that when asking someone to consent to something (like a hug), it should be assumed the default answer is “no” because consent must always be obtained through a verbal “yes”. Consent can be demonstrated to kids when play-tickling. If the child asks to stop being tickled, or says “No”, listen and show your child that no really means no. For more information on teaching children consent check out these great resources: Consent for Kids Video, We Can Teach Kids About Consent Without Bringing Sex into the Conversation By: Martha Kempner, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault "Consent is..." Toolkit.
Changing the Culture
MCASA has advocated for pieces of legislation that support consent and boundary education. In 2016, House Bill 72, also known as Erin’s Law, was passed making mandated age-appropriate sexual assault and child sexual abuse awareness a part of Maryland education curriculum. In 2018, MCASA successfully advocated for the passage of House Bill 251/Senate Bill 402 which will allow educators to provide age-appropriate consent education to middle and high school students in Maryland. MCASA is currently working with the Maryland State Department of Education and other stakeholders to initiate these curriculum changes. We will continue to fight on the frontlines, supporting legislation and other efforts that introduce children to boundary and consent education, because we understand that these efforts will prevent future acts of sexual violence.
To learn more about consent, please visit https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent
 The National Sexual Assault Resource Center. 2018. Sexual assault awareness month overview fact sheet. From: https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/2018-01/about_saam2018_final508.pdf