‘Your son has been accused of sexual assault’ are not words we would want to hear, but it happens. Sometimes it is true, sometimes poor judgment , and sometimes it is made up. The aim of this article is not to offer a defense or justification. Rather some basic guidance for if this bombshell hits. I appreciate that sexual assault can also be girl on boy as well as boy on boy, but the majority is boy on girl. However, the guidance is the same no matter the sex dynamic.
Hard numbers are hard to find, but according to one campaign group, 59% of young women have been sexually harassed at school. We also know that many cases go unreported. Not all allegations of your son being accused of sexual assault are the same. It could be inappropriate ‘play’, sexting to the most serious of forced rape. Alcohol has a massive correlation in sexual harassment so it is important to talk to your child about it. Another issue is the pornography your son may watch. On openly available websites like Pornhub, there is very aggressive porn which, although hopefully is acting, it is at best derogatory, at worst simulated rape. In much of it, what starts as rape, the woman then submits and enjoys it. This could lead to your son thinking this is normal. Therefore it is important to talk your son about how pornography is not real.
First Steps When Your Son Has Been Accused of Sexual Assault
The biggest defense that you can give your son is making sure he is aware of consent. One of the messages I give boys that I work with is not to set their bar at consent but rather enthusiasm. ‘OK then’, is not meaningful consent, ‘yes please’, is. Not saying ‘No’ is also not giving consent. We have lots more advice on this issue, but we will start this article from the point of an allegation being made.
The best thing for everyone is for an allegation of sexual assault against your son to be investigated. All the children involved should be treated with respect and care. That is all children, not just the alleged victim. Schools and the police are relatively good at this. However, it is what happens outside that is often the most worrying. Trial by social media is a concern and the effect that this can have on all those concerned. Your role as the parent is to support your child as they go through this. It will be emotionally hard for all of you, so you will need help from an external agency. Within a day or so the school should be suggesting this. We strongly suggest that you contact them sooner rather than later. If your son has been accused of sexual assault you may possibly need legal advice as well.
What to Realise if There Is an Investigation
It will not go away If there has been an accusation of sexual assault against your son it will not blow over. Even if the allegation is subsequently withdrawn the school must investigate. Although you will think that it is so obviously not true that no one will take it seriously.
All schools, whether they are private or run by the government, will have plans for how to handle sexual misconduct. They are legally bound to run a process, even if the action has not occured on school grounds. Whether the school has jurisdiction is not always clear. However, if one of the people involved is a member of the school community, it may be that they are the first to become aware. Arguing with them about what they can and can’t do will not be productive. They want the right outcome, and working constructively with them will make the process less harsh on all. They will have access to the previous behavior of all concerned, for example, if false allegations have been made before. They will not share this with you, but working with them will mean that they will be more balanced. Their first role is to see if it needs to be escalated to the police.
Understand how school investigations are done Instead of acting as a barrier, ask for a copy of the school’s policy. It should also be online. Therefore nothing will come as a surprise. Having been involved in some of these, I can promise you there is no joy in doing them. We have a strict policy that we follow. We do this to ensure that we are transparent and beyond reproach. For all the pupils concerned, we want things to be as smooth and quick as possible. Our role is not to pass judgment if it is a serious offense but to support the students. If it is serious, it will quickly be escalated to external bodies. The other concern we have is that if it becomes a legal matter, we are ‘compliant’.
Things can vary in schools, but here are some broad aspects of ‘best practice’ that there should be.
Usually, a member or small team of the school staff does the investigation on their own. This person might have special training and skills, or they might not. It is a small team for confidentiality and speed. It also means if there is an appeal, a second group can check the process. Ask who it will be and their experience.
A member of staff outside of the investigation should be assigned to each pupil. They are the ‘go to’ person who is always accessible to the pupil to listen and advise. They are kept separate from the investigation so that they can be impartial. However nothing said to them is in confidence. On a related note, the school will record all contact. So the late-night email to the Deputy Headteacher will be shared with the police if it comes to this.
You have the right to be present in any conversation where your child is being questioned. If you feel that they are not strong enough to give a good account of themselves, you can be present. Not to ‘defend them’ but rather to make sure that the questions are relevant. If you are unhappy with the mode of questioning, you can ask to leave, saying that you feel the questioning is leading. This might be very emotional for you, and you might hear things about your son you weren’t aware of. Keep your cool, make your point and ask for it to be recorded.
Make any police investigation a top priority Most schools will call the police if someone says they were sexually assaulted in a serious way. Anyone in this situation should know those police investigations and school investigations are very different.
In contrast to most school investigations, if a child is being questioned by the police, they must have an adult with them during the interview. Usually, this is a parent. The child will also have the right to have a lawyer with them at the police station when they are being questioned, as well as the right not to say anything.
The criminal standard of proof is one of the strict rules that police investigations must follow.
If the police call a parent about a claim, the parent is usually best off agreeing in principle to their child going to a voluntary interview outside of school hours. If you do this, the child might not have to be arrested.
No one should be questioned by the police before they’ve talked to a lawyer.
Maintain an appropriate distance It is probable that you will know the person who made the allegation. Do not contact them. It will become obvious in a few days whether this is going to become a criminal matter. Emotions will be running very high in your house. As the parent, your job is to act as the voice of calm and help steer the ship. Not to right any wrongs at all cost. Only the school or police can clear your son’s name. Do not stand in the way of them.
Watch out for social media Schools, the police, and social services are all required to make sure that neither complainants nor accused people are named in public. Criminal courts also give complainants of sexual crimes and, with rare exceptions, prosecuted children the right to remain anonymous for the rest of their lives. Innocent till proven guilt is sacrosanct. But these rules don’t apply to the playground.
There’s not much anyone can do about talking on the playground. But anyone who is part of a school investigation into sexual misconduct is told not to use social media. They should stop using social media and, as much as possible, turn off their cell phones. The same should be said for their friends. Even if a post or message online is meant to be “helpful” or “supportive,” it might not have the effect its author wanted.
Teenagers who spend a lot of time online may find this advice hard to follow, and getting off social media won’t stop the rumors, but staying above the fray is a good first step, at least in the beginning. As their parent find other things for them to do. Maybe playing board games or computer games with them. Give them company, as this is what they get online. You will need to fill this void. The situation will be all encompassing for all of you. Protect each other and get your minds of it.
Think about your child’s safety If your son is accused of sexual assault they will be at risk. Both physically and online. Even though parents are a child’s best source of emotional support, they may also benefit from talking to a trusted person outside the family. This could be a professional who has dealt with things like this before. Being accused of sexual misconduct is a very traumatic and stressful event. If not handled correctly, it could throw a young person off track at a time in their life when they are most vulnerable.
Final Thoughts if Your Son Is Accused of Sexual Assault
This will not be easy. It is likely you will find out things about your son you are uncomfortable with. Emotions will be extremely high and fragile. Your big burly son will be reduced to tears. Just be there for them. Try not to judge them but rather put a protective wall around them. Any investigation will run its’ course. Understanding the process will mean you can make it clearer for them. Knowing the answers to ‘what happens next’ means that you can help them. Your son being accused of sexual assault may happen. It may also be true. This is likely to be the biggest test of love you will ever have.