You Can Tell Your Daughter Not To Walk Alone At Night, But Tell Your Sons Not To Attack Her If She Does
We all have jobs as parents. We have to feed and clothe and care for our children. Ideally, we raise them with love and compassion and kindness and empathy so they grow up to be decent human beings. We teach our children how to be safe, how to look both ways when crossing the street, about the dangers of hot stoves and drugs and alcohol and a million other things we worry about as parents. If your kids are older, especially if you have female children, you speak to them about sexual assault. You probably discuss birth control with your kids, and maybe you are even an active participant in making sure your kids take proper precautions in regard to birth control and their sexual health. Good for you. But in light of some comments that were made after the Serena Williams victim blaming fiasco I was asked to once again reiterate my own feelings in regard to discussing rape with kids.
All girls are taught to be careful in this world. We are taught that certain items of clothing we wear may be considered “provocative” and may result in unwanted sexual attention. We are taught that if we travel alone through this world we may encounter unwanted sexual advances or verbal harassment. We are told to be careful if we consume alcohol at parties. We are taught how to scream “no”, how to go for the eyes, how to defend ourselves. We are taught all of these good lessons, and I’m all for it. Teach your daughters how to be safe in this world. Explain to your sons that they can also be the victims of rape. Teach your kids about the dangers of alcohol, about consuming so much alcohol that they become unconscious, that if they are at a party and accept a drink from someone there is a chance it could be drugged with something. But what parents need to understand is that all of these things we can teach our kids, all of these discussions we have about personal responsibility and safety and how we can lessen our chances of becoming victims of sexual assault mean absolutely nothing, because there is absolutely nothing you can do to guarantee you will never be a victim of rape other than locking yourself in a tower and never leaving your house for the rest of your life.
That’s just how it is.
Sure, there are ways in which you can decrease your chances of being the victim of rape. No one is arguing that if you attend a party where you consume so much alcohol and pass out that there is a greater chance of getting raped than if you stayed home and watched Teen Nick . As the old saying goes, “If you don’t hang out in bars your chances of getting killed in a bar fight are practically zero.” But the thing is, sexual assaults don’t just happen in bars. Or house parties. Or in bad parts of town. They happen on the way home from school. They happen to kids who are walking to do volunteer work. They happen regardless of what someone is wearing, whether they were sober or not, if they were with strangers or close friends or family members. Nuns get raped.
First of all, just as we talk about the dangers of everything with our kids, we need to talk to them about rape and sexual assault. Every single parent has to do this. There are no exceptions. We need to totally change the course of the entire way we speak about rape and sexual assault with our kids. Even more importantly than explaining to them the ways they can keep themselves safe, we need to explain to them that rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual bullying and unwanted sexual advances are all completely unacceptable. We need to teach kids not to rape, and that it is never the victim’s fault. Most kids know that drunk driving is unacceptable. Most kids understand that there are severe repercussions that go along with engaging in behavior that is dangerous and illegal. They need to understand the same thing about rape.
You, as a parent, need to teach your kids that no matter what someone is wearing, you cannot rape them.
You need to teach them that no matter who is walking alone at night, you cannot rape them.
You need to teach them no matter how drunk someone is, you cannot rape them.
You need to teach them that if they are engaging in sexual behavior with someone that is consensual, and two minutes later this person decides they don’t want to have sex, you cannot force them to have sex with you, either physically or verbally. You cannot rape them.
You need to explain to all your kids, and hell, grab a neighbor’s kid and tell them this too: No matter what she was wearing, doing, drinking, thinking, or how she was acting, when a person is raped it is never, ever, ever their fault. Ever. The only individual to be blamed in this case of a sexual assault is the perpetrator of the sexual assault. Period.
This whole conversation, this whole thing about keeping our daughters safe, and as a writer who writes at great length about these things, let me assure you, it is usually the daughters we are worried about keeping safe, needs to include how we teach our sons not to rape. And if you are a parent of sons and you are not having this conversation with them, you are doing nothing to help the widespread and frequent episodes of rape in this country. This is how we have to raise our boys – we need to teach them not to rape.
So yes, go ahead and teach your daughters how to be safe. But more importantly, teach your sons not to rape. *
(*I’m fully aware that women also rape and commit acts of sexual assault. I mentioned so above. Statistically, more men (and I’m not including sexual assaults that occur amongst men in penitentiaries here) commit more sexual crimes against women than women commit against men. But please, by all means, teach your daughters not to be rapists too. )