**This post may be a trigger. Please be advised.**
I was sitting on the couch watching my Houston Texans win a football game that seemed to be a loss in the first half. I had been jumping up and down, screaming and yelling at the TV for the last 3 hours. My girls would join in here and there but were so used to Mom’s antics that they ignored them for the most part. When the game was on, the promo for 60 Minutes aired and I mentally told myself to change the channel. Chanel Miller, the woman who survived sexual assault and a long, drawn out court process, was to be featured. I wanted to see the piece but I was not sure that a 10, 11 and 13 year old needed to see it as well. In the end, this was the spark for how I talked to my daughters about sexual assault.
In all of the chaos of a late dinner, feeding our pack of dogs, throwing some carrots to the guinea pigs and dealing with three kids, the show started to air. The volume was loud from the game so there was no avoiding the subject matter. Soon, I found myself and my daughters sitting on the couch drawn into Ms. Miller’s story.
She had gone to a frat party with her sister at Stanford. A place of drinking and being wild. She did drink to excess. She has never denied that nor used it as an excuse. Her attack by Brock Turner, a Stanford student and athlete, took place behind a dumpster. He decided it was OK to use her body for his own pleasure… as she lay unconscious.
Two men saw a man moving on top of a woman who was clearly passed out and approached… Turner ran, only to be caught by the men until police came. Chanel woke in a hospital and was told what happened.
Years later she watched as Turner, convicted of 3 felony charges, was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail with time off for good behavior. He would end up serving one month per felony. But what stuck out was her Victim Impact Statement, which went viral almost instantly.
“I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name.”
Ms. Miller’s case, where she had been known as Emily Doe, has transformed her life in a negative way. Think about this for a moment: She was not even conscious, has no memory of the attack and the rape was not completed and she can still barely talk about it without crying.
The interview ended when she talked about the good that had come. Mandatory jail times for sexual assault in California and her book, Know My Name, which would, hopefully, empower other sexual assault victims with her words.
As soon as the interview was over I muted the TV and turned to my girls. I won’t lie, I was beyond sick to my stomach that I had to have this conversation with my three daughters whom I have spent the last 14 years of my life protecting to a fault. The thought of having to talk to them about the real possibility that a person would put their hand on them in a sexual way that was unwanted made me, literally, want to angry cry.
When They Start to Date
I asked the girls if they had any questions. I sort of got the deer in the headlights look to them. I thought, oh my gosh, I have messed up so badly. My 10 year old was the first to break the silence, ‘Mom, is she OK?’ Yes, baby, she is OK… was what I wanted to say to those big brown eyes that have so much childhood left. But I didn’t. I told her the truth. I told her that, physically, she was doing fine buy mentally and emotionally she was probably struggling. And probably would her whole life. This would affect all relationships that she may have in her future, boyfriend, husband, boss. I told then that it can take a lifetime to learn to trust people again.
That morphed into a conversation about dating. All of my girls have already experienced crushes and my oldest has even had a ‘boyfriend’. So we went further. Guy comes to house, guy picks up my daughter, guy takes her to a place she didn’t expect, guy expects something from her that she does not want. I told them that we all have a little voice inside of us that warns us about an uncomfortable situation. That no matter how popular or cute or how infatuated she is with him, it is important that she listen to that little voice. It nags for a reason.
I told them that I had gotten myself into situations that put me in a place to be a victim of sexual assault. If it were not for my little voice, I may be typing with a different story. They seemed surprised that someone like me, someone they look up to, someone they feel is strong and capable and who generally makes good decisions, could have been in a situation like Ms. Millers.
I told them, also, that the vast majority of men are good and kind and would never hurt a fly. That those who love them will admire and respect them and make them feel safe and confident in the relationship. But, as sad as it is to say, it is our job as a woman to make sure that our little voice can be loud enough to warn us through the wants of the moment should they get an iffy vibe.
Dating makes everyone vulnerable. Men and women. In this online dating world I feel everyone is a target. I was on a dating site for three hours and it was a hot mess. And I am not a cute, vulnerable, naive young woman trying to find a fairy tale behind a computer screen. I can not imagine what young women experiences in that realm… meeting a perfect stranger based on a photo and some words, most likely copied and pasted from another profile.
Date rape is a big deal. If I can – responsibly – educate my daughter on the danger of it then I feel like I have done my job as their parent.
Is it Only Dating I Have to Worry About?
My oldest daughter came home last year and told me that a boy she didn’t really know, an acquaintance, walked up to her out of the blue and said, next to her ear, ‘Do you want to be raped?‘
Honestly, I can hardly even type that sentence. I sat down with her and tried to understand who this was, exactly what happened and how it made her feel. She said she was so stunned… that she felt her face get really hot and she just walked away and didn’t tell anyone. The shame for her had already started. She may not have realized it, but it did. We women tend to blame ourselves for any unwanted sexual advances, which I categorize this as. Blame on women starts in school with dress codes that are geared at ‘preventing’ the temptation of boys, with the complete sexualisation of girls in magazines, on billboards and movies and with our constant debate on how much we sexualize women. They hear all of this from the beginning and, somehow, develop a shame that permeates if anything makes them uncomfortable. That is is somehow their fault.
My daughter and I talked it through and, I hope, she came away knowing that she did not do anything to warrant the uninvited comment.
I did call the school and was relieved to hear the shock in the assistant principal’s voice. She said that this was absolutely an issue she would handle immediately and, according to my daughter, she did. My daughter had to fill out an anonymous report and then the boy was called to the office. I am not sure what happened after that but I got a call from the schools saying they had handled it swiftly and with consequences. My daughter never mentioned it again so I figured we were all good.
Enter this year and this boy is in one of her classes. He walked up to her last week and asked her if she would ‘go out with him’. Now, let’s forget that she is only 13 and that is never going to happen, but the fact that this boy showed his true colors the year before makes it a hard no. My daughter says he give her a weird feeling – that inner instinct maybe – and that it was a hard, unequivocal no for her. She said she tries to stay away from him in class.
I am debating calling the school to see if I could have her not be in a class with him but I hesitate. I mean, these are kids, right? Should he forever be punished for one comment?
My deal is, though, that my daughter says he makes her uncomfortable. That makes me want to take action.
However, this event helped me explain how acquaintances can be just as inappropriate as someone they know. That – and I am not in any way saying this boy would do this – people that they know in passing could corner them in a bathroom or in a place where they feel fear that something that may happen to them physically. I told them that people will show you their true colors and it is our job to listen to what people say and do.
This whole event has sent me into an emotional tailspin, I won’t lie. Yes, the boy was young and it was ‘just a comment’ and my daughter was not ‘hurt’. Then I get angry at myself. There is NO EXCUSE for making a girl or woman feel like a target or for asking them if they want a violent act perpetrated upon them. So I get mad at myself for making excuses for any person who would say such a thing. Aren’t I then adding to the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse maker that can lead to women being abused?
Shouldn’t we be as inflexible with a boy’s language and comments as we are about a girl’s dress code?
In the end we turned this story into a lesson. The vast majority of people on this planet are kind and gentle and want to just live their lives without issue. But for those who you know in passing, or just see sometimes, that inner voice is just as powerful. Listen to it.
Mom, What if We are Attacked, Like Her?
Now, listen… raised as someone who was told not to be drunk around men or to wear short skirts or to flirt with boys of I didn’t want them to have ‘expectations’, the fact that Ms. Miller was blacked out drunk makes it hard for me to totally absolve her of blame. Which is completely wrong of me. I can admit that.
As she says in the piece, paraphrasing here… being drunk does not give anyone the right to use your body in any way.
I agree with her 100% but I think hearing it the way she said it turned on a light bulb for me.
Yes, I told my daughters, there are situations that you can put yourself in that make you more vulnerable than if you made other choices. Drinking to excess at a frat party until you pass out makes you more of a target. Going to a nightclub with someone you met online and leaving him to hold your drink makes you more of a target than if you went with a trusted friend who watched your drink (speaking from experience here).
That being said. It is still NOT HER FAULT if someone has it in them to take advantage of the situation and to use them.
People – men and women – should be able to live in a space of total security. Rape, violent sexual assaults, acquaintance rape and date rape should not even be terms in our culture anymore. We are all too intelligent to allow this to continue. Unfortunately, we can’t stop them all. I wish we could.
As a mom of three girls, holy hell I wish we could.
In the meantime all I can do is educate, share and be there to listen whenever my girls need me to.
Am I right for exposing my daughters to such an impactful, but adult story? Am I right for using words like ‘rape’, ‘sexual assault’ and ‘date rape’ with these little girls who still look to me to resolve most of their life issues?
Maybe. Maybe not. It bothers and sickens me that this is a conversation even in society as a whole.
But, in the end, I feel better knowing that I was the one to explain these things to them. That I told them, in no uncertain terms, that they can come to me, can express fear to me, can share with me with no fear of judgement and ridicule. That they have one person on this Earth that will do anything to help them through the really dark times. I also told them that they need to listen to the people around them and that no means no, no matter who says it!
I just hope that the moms raising boys (and yes, I know that boys are NOT the only perpetrators of sexual assault), are having similar conversations. Not only about sexual assault and how to protect themselves, but also on how to be careful about being the criminal who causes the trauma of an innocent victim!
Have you talked to your sons and daughters? What kind of conversation did you have?