5 Lessons I Plan to Teach my Children About Rape Culture

Image from Facebook

Honestly, I should leave this topic alone.  

I shouldn’t even considering touching it with a ten foot pole.

As I type I will be steeling myself in anticipation of the ‘backlash’.

We are all abuzz on social media about the Stanford swimming star (yes, I know he has a name.  Frankly, I don’t believe we should be using it as a household name) who raped an unconscious woman.  Let me start by saying he was wrong and his actions were criminal.  He should have been held accountable and frankly his dad’s letter claiming punishment for ’20 minute of action’ speaks volumes about the upbringing in that family.  But I digress.

This verdict along with the recent UCLA shooting has given me reason to look 15 years into the future and imagine the conversation I will have with my daughter when I send her off into the world.  And 3 short years behind her the same conversation needs to be had with her brother.  According to the internet and the outcry of putting an end to rape culture, it seems like I would be wrong to teach my children about situational risks and personal presentation.

Did I mention the Stanford swimmer was WRONG??? I did?  Good, just wanted to be sure I put that into the world.

What I am about to say has absolutely nothing to do with saying the victim was wrong, that she was asking for it, that she in anyway suggested this was okay, or that she shares any of the blame.  She is in fact the victim of a crime.  She was violated and my following comments are in no way intended to minimize that reality.

 As a mom, I worry about the day I no longer have my children at home, that I can no longer protect them as much as I am able to now.  I can’t stop them from making choices that put them at risk of any number of things and as of right now I have yet to figure out how I am going to give them the tools to stay safe in the event that they are on a campus with any sort of campus shooting.  So I have focused on the things I can educate them on.

I agree whole-heartedly that rape culture needs to go.  We need to find a deep dark whole and burry it, allow it to become part of history.  I also agree that this rapists plan to educate on the risks of drinking is a backhanded way of acknowledging that he did something wrong without actually owning up to the criminal behavior he in which he partook.

But this is all just outrage.

What we need is a solution to keep our children safe.  I can tell my children no matter what a woman is wearing or how she is behaving, if she doesn’t say ‘yes’ it is wrong for someone to continue to engage with her in a sexual manner.  I can tell my daughter she has the right to dress however she so chooses and that no matter how skimpy that may or may not be no man has the right to put his hands on her.  And that is all well and true – but that doesn’t protect her any further and what is that telling my son?  I have basically just told my son he is an aggressor and my daughter she is a victim by virtue of the gender assigned to them.  God forbid either of my children is ever the victim of rape but should my son be victimized in such a way by a woman or another man, by ‘dispelling’ rape culture I have not only not protected my daughter, but I have also shamed my son.

So what will I tell my children?

1.)  Risk assessment is key.  This is where someone is going to get all up in arms and basically say that I am victim shaming or blaming.  I don’t mean to – I had a night out where I was so drunk I almost got into the vehicle of a stranger because I thought it was my ride picking me up.  Lucky for me there were people with me watching out for me.  I have been there and made less than ideal decisions and my kids will do it to, but I think they also need to be given the tools to assess a situation.  I would liken this to choosing to go for a walk after dark.  Night time walking has risks daytime walking doesn’t.  Maybe you will be willing to take the risk for the benefits, maybe you won’t.  Which leads to point number 2

2.)  Contingency plans.  Contingency plans matter.  A lot.  We will continue with the night time walk since it is less loaded than the scenario at hand.  I want my kids to know they need to think about possible scenarios that could result from the choice they made.  How will they get help if they twist an ankle?  Does someone know they are going for said walk and did they give them a route/likely return time?  What about motorists, will they encounter them?  And how will they be visible to motorists?  Can they walk in a group or with a dog?

3.)  Sometimes the best laid plans fail.  You can’t possibly account for every likely scenario.  You could follow every single safety procedure, recommendation, and precaution and still wind up in a situation that you don’t want to be in.  You could be victimized in your own home or by someone you know, love and trust.  Should you find yourself in that situation, don’t beat yourself up.  Life carries risk as well as reward and we each have our own demands to fight.  I hope if my children ever find themselves in this situation, that they have spent enough time filling their bank with positive self-worth, strong relationships, and a confidence that can only shaken, not torn down.  I hope that he or she comes out of the situation as articulate and strong as this young woman has.

4.)  The way you dress.  I have given this one a lot of thought over the past 10 or so years.  In high school we had a dress code, and I didn’t realize it at the time but it really did unfairly restrict how the girls dressed more than the boys.  I was raised to respect authority and dress modestly so it really never bothered me then but now it seems wrong somehow.  Women’s bodies have become so sexualized that even public nursing is considered indecent.  The popular response to this is to ‘take back our bodies’.  I have even jumped on the bandwagon somewhat with nursing in public sans cover.  But I want my children to understand 2 things about the way people dress.  First and foremost, the way you dress is an expression of who you are.  You are presenting your first impression to the world and it is powerful.  First impressions are made fast and don’t usually have much opportunity for change in the short term.  So dress for how you want other to react to you.  Do you want someone to think you are smart and classy?  Dress the part.  But equally important, dress is a basic necessity.  Some people are more comfortable in less, 90+ degree summer days have a tendency to melt the layers off of every body.  Clothing isn’t who someone is in full, just 1 part of the equation.  Clothing has it’s limits for self expression.  It never welcomes sexual advances from strangers and it certainly never overrides the wearers refusal of any advances.

5.)  Rape is rape – and it is criminal and immoral.  Finally, I want both my son and daughter to know that they could be the victim or the aggressor of rape.  It matters little if they are male or female, if they dress modestly or skimpily, if they are in a serious committed relationship or if they are sexually promiscuous, if they are risk adverse or risk takers, if they like to party or if they are homebodies.  If they are ever in a situation where they have not said yes or have not been active participants, it is rape bottom line.  And there is nothing shameful in being the victim.  I want them to know clearly and unequivocally that no mater their actions prior to rape, it is never excusable and it is never okay.

This is wrong – personally I think the judge should have been asked to remove himself based on a clear connection with Stanford being his alma mater – this criminal should be getting treated like he committed a serious crime.  I also think the judge made a serious error in judgement in this case since he just stoked the fires of public opinion.  This ‘remorseful young man’ as the judge seems to believe him to be, is not being raked over the coals in a way I don’t believe would have happened had the sentence he’d been given seemed fair.