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April is National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month and counselors say 'tweens and teens want to talk about it

April is National Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month. Sexual assault is a difficult topic to talk about, especially with children, but trauma counselors say student-on-student sexual assaults are on the rise and schools are often the site of the assault. Teenagers across Maine have held school walkouts to speak out about the problem, support peers who are survivors, and ask for accountability from authorities.

Sexual assault prevention educator Amy Carpenter says teenagers want to have conversations with adults about sexual assault and safety.
"They are hungry to talk about this stuff," Carpenter says. "They're not necessarily beating the door down to talk to their parents, but if they have a objective caring adult or teacher in their lives they are eager to have these conversations, because it's a part of their everyday reality."

Carpenter says teenagers and 'tweens need to understand the definition of sexual assault, what their boundaries are when it comes to touch, and how to respond when they feel unsafe. "Unwanted sexual touch, those are the three operative words in the definition," she says. "That's going to be different for every teenager because every teenager has a different set of boundaries, a different comfort level around touch."

Carpenter says the best way for parents to start talking about sexual assault with children is to have a casual check-in, starting when they are in middle school. Carpenter's Be Strong, Be Wise Sexual Safety Education Program is being used at Camden Hills Regional High School to teach students about sexual violence and how to protect themselves. Students at the school held a walkout last fall to call attention to reports of sexual violence at their school.

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault: 1-800-871-7741
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673