When my first child was just a few weeks old, I spent many-a night rocking and soothing her, trying to get this sweet baby to understand that one sleeps at night and not 13 hours during the day. One of those nights, I went downstairs and turned on the TV for some bleary-eyed diversion. At the time we had the cheap cable package so my choice viewing options were junk and more junk. What captured my attention was an hour-long infomercial for “Girls Gone Wild.”
I had heard of this before, and had seen some tamer commercials for it. I would shake my head, and simply change the channel. I wanted no part of the sexual exploitation of drunk college women. That night, however, as I rocked my innocent baby girl, that commercial seized my heart and injected terror in my veins. Suddenly I was transported 20 years in the future praying that my little girl would never be involved in something like that. Watching these inebriated young women lift their shirts for the camera and accept dares to participate in sexual acts, made me cringe.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m a prude, and I certainly can’t say I made the best choices when I had had a few too many beers (or wine, or shots). Quite frankly, I can think of a few situations, especially when I was a young college student, in which I was remarkably lucky that I was not sexually assaulted. But, motherhood changed me. I went from disgust to plain fear. In my head I kept asking myself, “What do I have to do as a parent to make sure my daughter does not feel she has to use her body to be accepted, liked or admired? What can I do to protect her from men who only want to use her or see her as a source for their pleasure?” I do not have a definitive answer, but figured out that so much of her safety is related to self-esteem and good choices.
Reading about Brook Turner, the Stanford student who was convicted of raping an inebriated, unconscious woman behind a dumpster, has renewed those fears I have for my daughters. Often “experts” spend a great deal of time talking about what women should or should not do to put themselves in the position to be raped:
- Don’t walk alone at night.
- Don’t dress “like a slut.”
- Don’t drink too much.
- Only drink from a bottle at a club so you don’t accidentally or otherwise ingest a drug like roofies (or Quaaludes), making you easy prey for sexual predators.
- Be aware of your surroundings (e.g., parking lots, empty streets).
- Don’t party alone. Always bring a friend who can watch your back.
These are all great suggestions, and when the time is right, I will make sure my two daughters understand them. But, I will also be sure to tell them that even if they do dress provocatively or drink too much, they are never the ones who are at fault for a rape or sexual assault. That blame only rests squarely on the rapist.
The rapist is the one who does not recognize a woman as a human being, but rather an object of pleasure. The rapist is the one whose sick need for dominance leads him to violate and demean another person. The rapist is the one who perverts his sexual desires and his moral reasoning to allow himself to touch a woman’s body however he wishes and without her consent. I will let my daughters know that they not responsible for other’s actions just as they are responsible for their own actions and choices.
And, when the time is right, I will show my daughters Brock Turner’s face, and talk about how this seemingly harmless, Howdy Doody look-alike is the face of evil. They need to know that evil is not necessarily the villain dressed in black, lurking in dark alleys. Rather, I will tell them than evil comes in so many shapes and sizes and colors and backgrounds.
- Evil can come from “nice homes” raised by “nice parents” and go to “great schools”—like Stanford.
- Evil can look like the funniest of all-American dads, a TV icon even.
- Evil can look like a star athlete with potential to compete in the Olympics.
- Evil can even be disguised as their caring boyfriend or husband whose mask of a loving person will melt away to reveal the dark overpowering villain that he is.
- Evil can sound like a middle class dad who makes excuses (like he was a victim of a culture of campus partying) for his sociopathic son.
- And evil can look like a civic-minded judge who is nothing but complicit with the entire system that dismisses rape as “boys will be boys” or it was only “20 minutes of action.”
Just as important, I will sit my son down and tell him how he should treat a woman, how women were not put on this earth to satisfy men’s sexual issues, how women are smart and accomplished in thousands of ways, and how all women (all people) deserve his respect. I will also let him know that, just like the PhD students from Sweden who chased after Brock Turner, it is his responsibility to protect those who are weaker than he is, and to alert authorities when he sees or senses that someone else is in danger. And, I will tell him this is just common sense and common decency.
In some ways I think it is pathetic that I would have to make all of these things explicit to my kids. Shouldn’t they just know this? Don’t people know they should treat others with kindness and compassion? After reading about Brock Turner and how he has never admitted to any wrong-doing and how his father is more torn up about his son’s poor appetite than his victim’s pain, I think this is now a world where knowing right and wrong cannot be assumed. After reading that Brock Turner’s friends and siblings believe he is not a danger to others because he is a shy and hard-working young man, I have to be very clear when I tell my children that psychopaths can be shy, hard-working and bright with a glorious future ahead of them.
My daughters are no longer babies. The oldest will be 13 in a few days. This rape case has made me realize that now is the time I need to have these conversations with them. I’m not relishing these talks, but I know that this conversation is just as necessary as teaching them other fundamentals like using crosswalks, not talking to strangers, locking doors at night, and not engaging with strangers on the Internet. One day their lives may depend on this lesson.