September was back to school time. And back to school time means that campus rape stories and statistics have been all over the news again. Every article I read stirs up a lot of emotions for me. Because I have two daughters. Because I was once a young girl. Because I was raped.
This is the first time I’ve ever written those specific words in a non-poetic and matter of fact way. And just moments before I published this blogpost I spoke to my mom about it for the very first time. I had never told her before.
I’ve only ever spoken about it to a few close friends. It’s something that is in my very distant past, and I don’t ever want to give it too much weight. It is simply one of the pages of my long life story. A page that made me strong, built some serious character, a page which continues to reward me in positive ways. It has given me the ability to feel deep empathy, and to truly forgive.
Throughout my life I have worked through the experience on different levels. I can clearly remember a day when John and I were driving up the Parkway and I started to cry. I don’t want to have kids. I can’t have kids. What if I have a girl? I can’t do it!
I was so afraid to have a daughter because I was so afraid that someone would hurt her. Like I was hurt. And I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to protect her.
And here I am now, with two daughters. Daughters that I worry about every day. Daughters who are getting older and who are spending more and more time out of my direct line of vision. Sending them off to pre-school was the beginning of the end! I knew that one day I wouldn’t be able to protect them. I could no longer be there every second of the day like the neurotic crazy person inside of my head wants to be. So I let them go a little more each day. They are slowly on their way to becoming strong independent women of the world. Sigh.
I continue to work through my experiences on different levels as my girls grow and change. Just as we all do. Parenting through our own experiences, no matter what the experiences were.
I’ve read a lot of articles lately about campus rape, and date rape, and sexual assault in general. It’s out there in the news and it has been in my mind to write my own story. Then one day recently my high school freshman told me in casual conversation that she had heard a rumor about a boy who “pressured a girl” into having sex with him. A rumor. It may or may not be true. But I immediately thought about that girl and I thought, if it were true, she probably wouldn’t report it. She will keep it to herself and not tell her parents or her counselors or the authorities.
I never did. I never told my parents, or counselors or authorities. But I was only ten.
And I had already been systematically abused by my grandfather at a very young age. My ideas of attention and love and intimacy had already been severely distorted by the time I was four years old. I had already been conditioned not to say a word (perhaps a story for another day). So when I was ten and I was raped by a boy who was 15 or 16, I didn’t tell anyone.
There are so many reasons not to tell. Girls are pressured into sex all of the time and they don’t tell. And yes, they all have their own reasons not to tell; shame, fear, living in a victim-blaming world.
I decided to use this rumor as a teachable moment, just one more in a lifetime of teachable moments. We have talked about this before, but now that my girls are getting older and spending more time out in the world our conversations will become more frequent and more specific.
We have always talked about trusting their instincts and leaving any situation that they find uncomfortable in any way. We’ve discussed not being alone with anyone behind closed doors, and sticking with a trusted friend at all times. They know that as they start to go to parties, they should never drink anything they don’t pour for themselves. They know that there is a possibility that someone may try to do something bad to them at some point in their life.
I have also explained to them that
any unwanted physical contact at all
under any circumstances at all
while wearing any type of clothing at all,
in any location at all,
in any state of mind of at all,
is sexual assault.
I am almost ashamed to say I have even gone so far as to tell them not to wear clothing that shows too much skin. Basically, I am teaching them how not to be victims. Which makes hardly any sense. It’s like teaching black boys that they have to walk around with their hands up. It sends them a message of guilt and blame before anything ever happens. But this is the world we live in and I have to protect my daughters.
I only have daughters.
I would like to think that if I had sons, I would teach them how to treat other people,
how unwanted contact of any kind is assault,
how no means no, even if it comes after a string of enthusiastic yeses.
I hope that people who have boys are teaching them how to treat girls, because the scary statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls is sexually assaulted in her lifetime. And every time it happens there is a boy involved! A boy who is using charm, pressure, coercion, alcohol, date rape drugs, accomplices, force. A boy who is someone’s son.
Parenting is not easy. I know, no one ever said it would be. And I knew that it would be a huge undertaking when I finally decided to have my kids. But I have never doubted that decision for one crazy neurotic second. I just hope that I am teaching them well.
Every page of the story builds more character.
If you or anyone you know needs information about sexual abuse and/or assault visit: RAINN.