Rosalia Rivera Is Changing the Way We Define Consent

Rosalia Rivera

Photo by AboutCONSENT

Consider what comes to mind when you think of the term consent. Perhaps you come to the importance of sexual consent or the fact that one cannot consent to sex when intoxicated. Alternatively, you may think about consent in the healthcare system—those informed consent forms you sign off on before beginning psychotherapy or the long spiels your doctor gives before prescribing you a much-needed medication. Culturally, we tend to think of consent as various acts of permission that are granted on one-off occasions. 

While consent is important in each of the previous scenarios, it is much more than an occasional conversation. Rosalia Rivera is a change-maker whose mission works to shift our cultural understanding of consent. 

Why Consent Matters

Twenty-six percent of girls and 5% of boys will experience sexual abuse by the time they turn 18 years old. Keep in mind, these are just the numbers of reported cases—and due to a lack of public education, many may go unreported. Childhood sexual abuse is associated with conversion disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance misuse.

Translation: childhood sexual abuse is a public health crisis and we cannot ignore the urgent call to redefine how we educate ourselves and our children about bodily autonomy. Riviera heeded the call, diligently following her inner compass before arriving at her mission to shift the way our culture discusses consent.

Redefining Consent

Rivera’s purpose of redefining consent for the public is rooted in her own unique experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse and a member of a family system that was impacted by sexual abuse. Her journey to this work is interwoven through her journey to healing, with a few pit stops along the way. 

When Rivera was 17 years old, her sister disclosed the sexual abuse she experienced. It had such a deep impact on Rivera that she chose to attend university and study psychology, with the goal of eventually working with survivors. Yet, in her third year of university, she had a rupture in a relationship that ended up feeling deeply triggering, leading her to switch career paths entirely and shift to marketing and photography.

Around age 27, she felt that pull to come back to survivor advocacy, and began documentary photography. She felt strongly about a project uplifting the stories of rape survivors, sharing how they healed and found empowerment. However, the content of the work was all too much. After experiencing significant triggers again, she stepped away from the work and began to wonder if following her passion for supporting sexual assault survivors was the right path for her. “I didn’t realize why I was being triggered, I didn’t realize all the suppressed memories,” she explained.

That was until she had children.

Breaking the Cycle

When her oldest was 5 years old, she was preparing him for a major rite of passage: his first summer camp. “How do I know these people are safe?” she recalls asking herself. This question felt overwhelming to the point she experienced a panic attack. As if all the pieces of her winding path around supporting survivors became illuminated, she began diving head first into researching everything she could about consent.

In the midst of attempting to impart all she could on her eldest, she realized she was putting pressure on him. “It was in that process of educating myself [and] educating my child when I realized this was the source of all of the triggers from the past,” she explained. 

It was in that process of educating myself [and] educating my child when I realized this was the source of all of the triggers from the past.

After developing a support system, seeking help from trained mental health professionals, and confronting the trauma of her own life, Riviera realized she wasn’t on the wrong path. In fact, she was being led towards not only her own healing, but helping in others' healing as well.

In 2018, she started to explore how she could make her realizations around consent and safety into something, realizing the importance of sharing her own story as part of her work. “Initially, I didn’t come out and say I am a survivor. But, when I realized I was kind of hiding, I [decided] I was going to share my own story,” she explained. The path illuminated itself and in 2019, she officially created CONSENTparenting™

What Is CONSENTparenting™?

Focusing on consent as an ongoing discussion that applies in every facet of life beginning from childhood, Riviera educates the public on Consent Parenting. “I also wasn’t so aware that this was having a mental health impact on parents,” explains Rivera. 

In her most recent TED talk, she shares the story of two girls. One grew up learning about consent as a young girl. When this girl was little, she was offered the option of either being carried or holding her parent’s hand when crossing the street. She was never pressured to hug relatives. She was taught she could say no and if she was too scared to say no, she could ask for help. She learned to ask her peers for consent too, respecting if they didn’t want to be touched. In turn, she had decreased conflict with her siblings, was able to report a teacher who was physically inappropriate, developed healthy relationships, and taught her own children these same values.

The other girl was not taught any of these values. Instead, she was swooped up without warning when it was time to cross the street, even if she protested by kicking and screaming. She was given the message that her body is not her own and it isn’t okay to say no. Mistakenly, she’d cross others’ boundaries, leading to interpersonal issues with her peers. This manifested in struggles with boundary setting, trauma that was present throughout her adulthood, and relationships where she didn’t feel safe or valued. Because she hadn’t learned differently, she raised her children the same way. 

This tale of two girls illustrates the core of consent parenting. It is a model for living that values setting boundaries, providing age-appropriate psychoeducation on bodily autonomy, and prioritizing a culture of informed consent in all aspects of the family system. Rivera knows firsthand how overwhelming it can be to attempt to shift one’s mindset completely, especially in the midst of familial trauma, all while parenting.

In addition to her online platform CONSENTparenting™ which educates parents who are also survivors on how to protect children from abuse, she also delivers actionable information about how to implement consent into your family through her podcast AboutCONSENT™. Her Instagram is a wealth of free information as well. Boasting 122K followers, it offers practical insights on how to navigate the tricky situations that can arise when teaching consent. 

Visions of a Healed Society

“My biggest hope is that we get to a place in [our] culture that being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is not shameful,” explains Rivera. She illustrates a hope of arriving at a place where it is possible to acknowledge sexual abuse as a crime where the victim is not at fault, marking a departure from our current culture that often places blame on survivors.

Aside from facilitating conversations about abuse prevention and consent with children, she sees it as a critical conversation that needs to happen with other adults. 

For those who are struggling to navigate teaching their children about consent, she suggests prioritizing self-care. Breaking it down to a fundamental level, she suggests beginning with sleep. When sleep is prioritized, then there can be more patience. With more patience can come compassion for self and energy to sustain the challenging journey of consent education.

My biggest hope is that we get to a place in [our] culture that being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is not shameful.

When considering the obstacles to improving our collective mental health and well-being, she believes it is the issue of asking for help. She clarifies that she isn’t insisting that this begins with a mental health professional and instead conceptualizes help on a foundational level, encouraging individuals to create a village of some kind that they can lean on.

She notes that asking for help can be linked to trauma, with some avoidance in doing so because they believe they are not worth being helped. This self-defeating belief is often indicative of how others have treated us. It can be healed through therapy, developing healthy reciprocal relationships, and beginning to unlearn the fallacies you were raised on.

Survivor Turned Thriver

Rosalia Rivera is one of the Verywell Mind 25 because she represents hope, a true testimony of what can happen when we follow a heart-centered calling, and a vision of what a well society can look like. Survivors aren’t to be left surviving for the rest of their lives—the cycle of pain didn’t begin with them, but it can end with them. Rivera serves as an example of this truth.

Her candor is a breath of fresh air as she states, “I do consider myself a thriver now and that’s my aspiration for everyone.” If we follow her lead and shift our conversations around how we interact with each other, we can usher in generations of thrivers. 

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Melmer MN, Gutovitz S. Child sexual abuse and neglect. Treasure Island, FL. StatPearls Publishing; 2023.

  2. Hailes HP, Yu R, Danese A, Fazel S. Long-term outcomes of childhood sexual abuse: an umbrella review. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019;6(10):830-839. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30286-X

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.