Since the Stanford rape case a couple of months ago, I’ve given even more thought than usual to rape, how we handle it and what we tell our children about it. The way that case was handled was absolutely ridiculous. A young lady was violated and the nation read how sad it was that her attacker could no longer enjoy a good steak. I’m sorry, but she can no longer enjoy her body. That beats a good steak any day.
But, this case also reminded me of all the cases I’ve read about where innocent men had their lives ruined because some woman lied about the consensual sex that took place. I’m not saying this to take away from the Stanford victim’s pain and abuse. I’m saying that rarely do I read a rape case and walk away feeling like justice was served. It’s usually not – either an innocent man was framed or a victim was shamed. Both are losses. And it’s disturbing, especially as a mother of two young girls who I have to school on navigating this mess. I’m not just concerned about teaching them not to feel ashamed of their clothes and sexual choices (rape victim respectability politics), but I’m also concerned about teaching them accountability for their own actions and words. As important as it is for me to teach TD1 and TD2 to love and own who they are, it’s also important to me that I teach them to look out for the young men who they will encounter and befriend and not throw them under the bus because of shame or regret.
I need them to understand the world we live in and the laws that could very innocently ruin all of their lives. I want them to understand that yes women get raped and it’s horrible, but it’s not always men or even strangers that do that raping (and rape won’t always be violent). And yes, less talked about women rape men. And then some women, for whatever reasons, lie about men raping them. And then there are people who find themselves in situations that unfortunately result in criminal charges (here’s looking at you underage sexers and sexters.)
As much as I want my children to wait until marriage to have sex, I know that’s not a decision I can make for them. And if they choose to have consensual sex with someone who is a year or two older than them, I don’t want that someone to go to jail for being a willing participant in something they both wanted. Likewise, I don’t want to see myself or T-Daddy go to jail because the girls were caught with a boy in their room and, for fear of getting in trouble, they lied and said he broke in and was trying to rape them. And because we love our daughters, we reacted in the moment and did something that can’t be undone. All of these situations are real situations that I have read about over the years.
I want them to know that consent is not the same thing as desire. And as much as they may want to have sex, if they have not given the green light, that desire does not matter. They don’t have to “lie there and take it,” just because someone tells them “you know you really want this.” I need them to know that if they’re having a bad day and don’t want to be touched, it’s okay to say that. Their body is their body and no one has the right to force themselves on them, even under the guise of “this will make you feel better.” I want them to know that they can say “No” at any time. It doesn’t matter how far they’ve already gone. They always have the right to change their mind. Even if that someone is their boyfriend or husband. What they shouldn’t do is after they’ve had consensual sex, say “You know what? I really didn’t want to do that and even though I said yes, I didn’t want to, so I’m going to say he assaulted me.” No, that’s not assault. That’s a bad decision, sweetheart. And Mommy and Daddy have made a lot of those.
I want them to know that it’s important to explicitly state their intentions and permission. This is something that I teach them now. As much as I love hugs and kisses from them. We tell them they have to ask Mommy and Daddy for a hug and kiss. They can’t just take it. They have to respect personal space. And if Mommy and Daddy say “Not right now,” they have to respect that as well. AND they have every right to tell Mommy and Daddy, “I don’t want a hug/kiss right now.” We ask them for hugs and kisses. We don’t tell them to hug and kiss us. We don’t take them. And we try really hard to make sure that our family and friends obey these rules. Many of our old school family don’t quite understand it. But you can’t raise a boy or girl in an environment where those they “love” are constantly taking hugs and kisses from them and you tell them it’s okay because this is family, someone they know, someone they love and not expect them to become men and women who think it is okay to touch someone without their permission. To think that if their boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse kisses them when they’re not in the mood, that they have to accept it because of who this person is to them. Also, it’s sick, but let’s not pretend like aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers and fathers aren’t out here molesting kids. They are. And all children need to know that if someone creeps them out, they don’t have to let them place their wet lips on them.
Too often we teach our girls to not be easy and say yes the first time, while teaching our boys that if she says no, they just need to try harder till she says yes. WRONG! We should teach our daughters to say, “I like you, but you need to show me you’re worth my time and you aren’t playing games that I have no time for and am not interested in playing.” We need to teach our boys that if she says no, she means no. Don’t try to wear her down. Respect her enough to respect her decision. If she’s missing out on a great guy, that’s her loss. If we teach our kids to play these cat and mouse games about first dates and kisses, how can we be surprised when they spill over into the realm of sex? (And I won’t even get started on this whole teach our girls to be pure virgins till death while teaching our guys to go out and sow their wild oats BS – that’s a topic for another day.)
I want my children to know that rape and assault are never their fault. Yes, they can do certain things to “help lower their risk,” but it’s no more fool-proof than always wearing your seatbelt, driving the speed limit and never driving intoxicated or distracted. Someone who’s not doing those things can still hit you. You wouldn’t be blamed in that accident and you shouldn’t be blamed if someone violates you. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, how much you’re drinking, how much sex you’ve had or who you’ve had it with. If you didn’t consent to this person, they are wrong. Point. Blank. The End.
But the issue of consent brings up a very touchy subject. Intoxication. Alcohol. Drugs. The law says an intoxicated person can’t give permission to have sex with them. I don’t know very many people that haven’t had consensual sex under the influence. That does not in any way discount the testimonies of the unconscious victims. It just makes it a very sticky situation that I don’t have the answer to. But, I want my daughters to fully understand the ramifications of getting drunk and engaging in sexual activity. This is where I feel torn. On one hand, I wholeheartedly believe every rapist should be punished. On the other hand, I can’t in good conscience say that every intoxicated woman doesn’t know what she’s doing so she can’t consent to sex, but an intoxicated man should know better than to have sex with someone without permission. As a woman, I find offense to that because that’s saying that I’m helpless when I’ve been drinking simply because I’m a woman. It also implies that men should still be in control even when they’re intoxicated. And for male victims of rape, that can be a dangerous implication. Because if I’m a victim (male or female), I wouldn’t want the fact that I’ve been drinking to be used to imply that I wanted sex or that I’m promiscuous.
Sober people get raped. Drunk people get raped. Sober people rape. Drunk people rape. Sober people get together and have consensual sex. Drunk people get together and have consensual sex. Alcohol complicates things because it affects everyone differently. Some people can appear just fine and not remember anything the next day. I’ve dated guys and had friends where I’ve had to explain to them in detail what happened the night before because they didn’t remember it. They didn’t seem pass out drunk at the time either. I also know people that have seemed sloppy drunk and remembered every single detail of everything they did. When you’ve been drinking or the other person has, it can be hard to judge which type of person they are. If you’re young and you think you’re just going to have “awesome, drunk sex” with a consenting person, it can be difficult to think of the ramifications of those actions.
I know plenty of people that love having “drunk sex.” And their partners agree. The difference between them and these campus rapes are that they are in a committed relationship, said drunken sex is probably taking place in a private space with no witnesses, and there is consent. But let’s not pretend like significant others don’t get drunk and rape their partners. They do. Because what was consensual one time can very easily not be the next time. And because rape is having sex with someone without their consent, it’s applied to every instance of sex. So those early morning rollover, wake the other person up with sex sessions can very easily be defined as rape. Particularly if your partner isn’t receptive to it. The problem is that we tend to only look at rape as one way. We tend to only look at rapists and victims under one light. But it’s all very multifaceted and complicated.
I don’t have a solution to rape and the rape culture we live in. I’m sure some of my thoughts might even have been influenced by said culture. What I do have is a desire to talk openly and candidly about sex, consent, rape or any other topics they want and answer any questions they have. To teach my children to respect others and their personal space. Regardless of intoxication, gender, or relationship status. To let them know the other person can always say no, and they can too. Whenever, there’s a question about whether they have consent, just don’t touch. If they’re unsure about if this is what they really want, it’s okay to say “Don’t touch me.” And, if in the off chance they do cross a line, to own up to it, apologize and accept the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, we cross boundaries simply because we didn’t know it was a boundary. Sometimes, we cross boundaries to see if we can get away it. And to never, ever lie on someone else to save face. That’s a person’s life you’re ruining.
Whether you’re accusing someone of a rape they didn’t commit or you’re trying to shame your victim to make you seem less of a predator, it’s wrong. It has real emotional implications beyond the legal ones. And God forbid, if they’re ever the victims of rape, it’s not their fault. EVER! Mommy, Daddy and God still loves them just the same.
I want to teach them all this and more, but right now, we simply start with don’t touch. And always ask.