My 8th grade science teacher is in prison. I was 13 when it started; he groomed me (and other young, female students) over several years into a sexual relationship with him. He was eventually convicted of two counts of lewd & lascivious behavior and one count of statutory rape, after some charges were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
I don’t share this to shock you. I know that I am only one of the so very many who can say #MeToo.
Being a woman IS being a victim of rape culture. I was physically and emotionally manipulated for many years by a person of trust; and while his was the worst of all the experiences, it certainly was not the only experience.
The one good thing I thought had come from it was my ability to keep the same thing from happening to my kids. And sure enough, when my daughter Kira had a funny feeling about a teacher at her school (who was later dismissed for his inappropriate behavior with young, female students) I thought I’d done my job well – she was hyper aware and recognized the behavior for what it was.
But I’d never been a victim of domestic violence. My daughter was the victim of domestic violence by her police-officer boyfriend.
Our two different experiences – so similar in their after-affects: PTSD, fear about how to protect our own daughters – were so different that preparing her to protect herself against one type of abuse did nothing to protect her from another.
So what do we do? How do we protect our daughters if our singular experiences are not enough?
We keep talking. We keep sharing, when and how we can, if we can.
The goal of talking about any of this at all – of ripping scabs off old wounds and newer ones – isn’t for some kind of titillation or shock value, but to change things for the next generation of girls – my younger daughter, my granddaughters, my nieces – and yours. And for our sons, too, because lest we forget, they are also often victims of abuse.
I’m 30 years past what happened to me, yet it still impacts me in many ways. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what made me a target (after spending nearly as many years blaming myself for believing him, for thinking it was real).
I know I was insecure – the epitome of the socially awkward teen who went to a school that was predominately made up of one religious group to which I did not belong. So, giving our kids healthy self-esteem is certainly part of it.
But it didn’t help that my parents were almost puritanical in their approach to sexuality – it wasn’t discussed; it wasn’t allowed; it wasn’t acknowledged. I am not holding it against them; my parents did the best they could being kids of the 50s, where kids were raised to be seen, not heard, and every adult was to be respected, period.
But do I raise my kids differently because of the experience I had? Hell yes.
Not only have I raised my kids to meter our respect based on it being earned, not just because the person is a teacher or an adult or anything, but we also openly and comfortably discuss everything (even when it’s not comfortable). No topic has ever been off limits in our home. No question has been rebuffed. There is no teasing, no embarrassing, no judging.
The only way we can truly protect our kids is to get over our own discomfort about sex and sexuality by having open, honest conversations about sex, relationships, the human body, and the dynamics of power.
When kids know it is safe to ask questions about anything and feel comfortable reaching out to their parents at a young age, that openness builds a protective barrier around the child that a predator finds difficult to penetrate.
The only way we can end rape culture and domestic violence is to openly talk to our kids about what loving relationships really look and feel like. We need to end the notion that boys show girls they like them by hitting them. We need to acknowledge that boys and girls need to know that NO MEANS NO. We need to teach our kids from the minute they’re born that their bodies belong to them.
We have to start talking to our kids about sex, relationships, and sexuality. We cannot let faith or beliefs or fear or discomfort prevent us from communicating in this way.
It’s never too early to have “The Talk.” And we need to keep talking to them, openly, in an age-appropriate way throughout their childhood. We need to talk about date rape. We need to talk about online predators. We need to be comfortable talking about vaginas and penises by their proper names. We need to talk about and acknowledge that sex feels good – and that masturbation is ok. And we need to answer their questions, even if they give us heart attacks over breakfast.
I still have issues and insecurities that stem from the experience; I have difficulty prioritizing my own needs. I still tend to have difficulties setting proper boundaries in relationships, I often worry about misplacing my trust. I keep my circle small, and even within that circle, people are quickly removed if I sense a threat. It takes enormous effort for me to maintain friendships, because there is always risk of betrayal. It never goes away; it never fully heals. But my experience can change the experience for someone else – my daughter or yours – and give them more power to protect themselves.
In my own situation, my parents were never the same; my little sisters were deeply affected. Even my friends from high school who simply knew what was happening have had emotional difficulties dealing with their inability to protect me. In many ways, my experience has made me stronger, and I am a resilient, passionate, and happy woman in a healthy relationship with a wonderful family. I feel that I have taken a very devastating situation and drawn knowledge and strength from it that has helped me be a better mother and a better member of my community.
We need to keep talking.
I’m willing to keep talking.
And I’m here if you need me.