In a society that sees half of male college athletes admitting to sexual assault, the Brock Turner case brought the notion of rape and rape culture to the forefront of national discussion when past cases didn’t get as much attention.

Turner, a Stanford University freshman with a promising future in swimming and hopes for medical school, sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman after a frat party in January 2015. When two Swedish grad students passing by on their bicycles saw Turner “thrusting” onto an unmoving, half-naked female body behind a dumpster, they approached him and tackled him as he ran away. He was later arrested and charged with three felonies: “assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.”

Turner’s lenient sentence (potentially only half of his six-month sentence), a moving letter written by the victim, and a letter written by Turner’s father all created a storm of attention surrounding the case, with people demanding that he serve more time. Unfortunately, the rapes of young women in dorm rooms won’t garner the same attention as this case because it occurred outdoors and was witnessed by passersby. Still, the Turner case has captured so much attention that it is the first step in radically changing the national conversation about sexual assault, rape, and consent.

“The good news is this has entered the public sphere and the victim is being supported, so that is huge progress,” Kathryn Stamoulis, a mental health counselor and educational psychologist who has worked with patients on sexual education and development, told Medical Daily. “It’s a great example to start the conversation about consent.”

Because of the Brock Turner case, people are demanding that we change the way we talk about rape across the U.S. and asking the question: Is it necessary to teach young boys about consent and discuss what constitutes rape? And are the teachers, parents, the legal system, or society as a whole responsible for the educating? It’s likely a combination of all of those things, but first we can start with parents.

Changing Our Understanding Of What Rape Means

Rape can happen to anyone, and many men who rape don’t consider their actions to be rape because their victims weren’t actively fighting against them, or because they don’t fully understand what consent entails. It’s not to say that convicted sex offenders like Turner shouldn’t be held to blame, but rather that there’s a distinction from rapists that are sociopathic and those who aren’t, Stamoulis notes. And this is important if we’re going to teach young boys about consent: Rape culture is so ingrained in society, it happens so permissibly on college campuses, in people’s homes, or on regular dates, that nearly any entitled guy can be a rapist if he allows himself to be. And he likely won’t be punished for it: Only 2 percent of rapists go to jail, according to RAINN, mostly because rape culture allows many cases to go unreported.

“Some rapists are sociopaths, and these people will not be dissuaded to rape by an education about consent,” Stamoulis said. “The young men that I have counseled who have raped, usually in a date-rape scenario, do not fit the diagnostic criteria of a personality disorder. In fact, most rapists do not fit the diagnostic criteria for any mental disorder.” This suggests that most rapists are seemingly regular, “nice guys” like Brock Turner — talented athletes, or someone’s boyfriend — who harbor a lack of respect for women, who believe they’re entitled to sex, or who simply didn’t realize they had crossed a line.

“ Young men I've worked with have felt confused and terrible about the outcome of events,” Stamoulis continued. “Oftentimes the young men have been confused because they did not fully understand their actions were rape, they were not educated about consent, or bought into the myths about rape (for example, if a girl kisses you and likes you, they cannot be raped or, if they don't scream no, it means yes).”

The first step of teaching consent is for young boys to understand what constitutes sexual assault and rape, and that it is not just something that should be allowed to happen routinely at frat parties or dorm rooms. The lack of education surrounding the subtleties of consent, as well as a lack of respect for women, can turn a promising young athlete into a convicted sex offender.

More importantly, young boys need to understand that non-consensual sex of any sort is psychologically, emotionally, and physically destructive: It deeply harms the victim and will overshadow her for the rest of her life. Sexual assault is not “20 minutes of action” as Turner’s father stated, it’s a wound that never fully heals and a propagator of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can haunt a victim for life.

Kyle Suhan is a father of three, and married to a rape victim. In a recent essay addressing the Brock Turner case, he draws on his own experience with his wife to explain how sexual assault can traumatize a human. “Trauma has a way of blocking the logic centers of the brain and reducing its survivors to their most primitive survival instincts,” he writes. “When I touch my wife, nearly 13 years after her rape, she can be triggered into an immediate fight or flight response. We never know when, or if, it will happen because [PTSD] often has no rhyme or reason. Her body remembers what her mind can’t.”

consent Teaching young boys about consent is integral in the discussion about sexual assault and rape in the aftermath of the Brock Turner case. Getty

Teaching Consent Starting At A Young Age

Mary Shaughnessy is a mother of two sons, aged nine and ten. Amidst the Brock Turner outrage, she believes that it’s important for parents to start teaching kids about rape and consent from birth, and consistently discuss it throughout childhood and adolescence. Her conversation with her own sons circles around the main values of respect, privacy, and a person’s right to determine what happens to their own body — first teaching her sons to love and appreciate their own bodies.

“We talked about how all bodies are beautiful and awesome and deserve respect,” she told Medical Daily. “We told them it was natural to be curious about bodies, and yet all children are entitled to respect and consent regarding who touches and looks at their bodies.” When news stories about rapists surface, she said, she makes sure her sons associate the actions of rapists with a sense of rage and wrongdoing, and highlight the actions of the heroes of the stories.

“We also talked to them about how we expect them to act should they ever be in a place in which someone was incapacitated,” she said. “They are to make sure the girl is safe, to give her a blanket, and to call her family to make sure she gets home safely.”

Stamoulis reiterates the importance of teaching consent starting from a young age, noting it can always be done in an age-appropriate manner. First, parents can talk about basic touching on the playground — such as respecting a person’s body when they say no touching or hugging, or squirm away from touch. Secondly, parents should teach their kids that sexual harassment of any sort is wrong — no cat-calling, no unwarranted comments about a person’s body. Thirdly, Stamoulis emphasizes that it’s important to harbor an environment of openness about sex at home, as “sexual harassment and rape breeds in environments of silence.” Finally, using the news is a good way to start conversations about sex, consent, and rape.

The True Meaning Of Enthusiastic Consent

Enthusiastic consent essentially means that both people want to have sex with one another, and the only time that sex should occur is if the other person wants to have sex and provides enthusiastic consent. If a person is unconscious, unresponsive, or not providing any sign of a “yes,” then it definitely means no. No one is entitled to sex, Stamoulis states, and “even during sexual activity, you should check in with a partner if you feel that their interest has waned.”

Alcohol tends to play a large role in rape and sexual assault cases like Brock Turner’s. Turner blamed a culture of frat parties, alcohol, and promiscuity on college campuses, but the reality is that being drunk is not an excuse to forego consent from the other person (who, if intoxicated, is unable to provide consent and should be taken home rather than taken advantage of).

“ If I am drunk, I am 100 percent sure that I will not suddenly decide to rob a bank or punch a little old lady in the face, because those things are ingrained in my moral code as being abhorrent and no amount of alcohol is going to override that,” Shaughnessy said. “So why do we think that alcohol should play a role in a man’s decision to perpetrate rape? The reason this happens is because we have a culture that indulges the stereotype that men have no control over their sexual urges and that disrespects, objectifies, and blames women. I teach my boys that anything short of a ‘yes’ is a ‘no’, that having sex without a clear yes is not sex, it’s rape, and that rape is abhorrent.”

Can Rape Really Be Prevented?

In 2010, a group known as No Means No Worldwide began teaching self-defense classes to young women in Nairobi, Kenya. At the time, Kenya had a high rate of rape and sexual assault, mainly due to the ingrained notion that women wearing short skirts, or walking alone late at night (or even taken out on expensive dates), were free for men’s taking regardless of consent. Many boys reported they didn't think it was wrong to rape or sexually assault women in these scenarios.

But the group then developed a new program, known as Your Moment of Truth, to turn the spotlight onto boys. Women can be taught self-defense, and told to protect themselves, but it’s just as important — if not more — to teach young men about rape and consent. After training schoolboys in consent and intervening when witnessing sexual assault, the number of rapes in those schools dropped by 20 percent. More and more boys began intervening when witnessing a rape, with interventions increasing by 185 percent, suggesting that rape can be prevented with education.

As for the young boys who are currently being taught about consent after Brock Turner? They’ve already shown a level of understanding and empathy. “My boys reacted to [my talk about Brock Turner] with eagerness to learn,” Shaughnessy said. “They became angry that Brock Turner got off with a slap on the wrist. They talked about how unfair it was that this young woman has had to endure this. They totally got it.”