With two children, this title could be in reference to many issues or any difficult issue in general. Our son Ryan is two and our daughter Anastasia is only three months so there are many conversations to prepare for. However, due to stories that have been in the news the last month or so I have been thinking about how to talk about a particular subject. That subject is rape.
I know it may seem early to think about how to talk about such issues to kids who are still in diapers, but in the course of a month or so there were three stories about teen girls getting raped that have taken center stage. The first story was the trial that took place in Stuebenville, Ohio which took the attention of the nation and opened up some discussion and debate about rape. The next two stories to come out were two teen girls who took their lives after being raped or sexually assaulted in some way. I don’t think I need to go into more details than that here, but needless to say it seems that these incidents have caused a number of people to think about the issue of rape, and I guess I’m no exception to that.
One of the big topics out of it is the idea of rape culture. If you don’t know what that is, like I didn’t before reading a few blogs on it, it may be worth your time looking into it. My basic understanding of rape culture is that as a culture we tend to deflect any blame from the men involved in sexual assault and rape and place an inordinate amount of blame on the victims of such crimes. From what I get this is rooted in the idea that there are different standards for sexual behavior between men and women. In my limited understanding the main problem for those who believe a rape culture exists seems to be men so therefore we need to teach men not to rape.
Now I do think that the idea of rape culture has some merit. However, I do believe that it is ultimately flawed and maybe a little shortsighted. I’m not going to go into all the reasons for that here, but I will say that one of the flaws is that the focus seems to be solely on men. As I think about it from a male point of view, yes I do think that I need to teach my son certain things and be able to empower him to avoid being a victim or a predator. However, I also find myself asking the question how do I empower my daughter to help her not become a victim either (or a predator for that matter)?
By asking this question about my daughter though, some would probably call me a victim blamer. I get why the outrage on that, but at the same time, do we feel that women have no power to try to make themselves less of a victim? I can hope that there won’t be any men who would rape by the time that my daughter gets to be a teenager, but “rape culture” or not I don’t see that happening. I think it is important to educate men to respect women, and punish those who don’t appropriately, but I am not naive enough to believe that education will somehow eliminate all rape. I’d rather be able to empower my daughter to not become a victim, than simply hoping that if she becomes one that the man/men who violated her would be punished appropriately. I know well enough that no matter how prepared one is, we are never fully in control, but does that mean give up and just place all the blame on men or “rape culture”? Something about that just doesn’t sit well with me.
So with this basis I wondered, what would I teach or tell my children about rape? I know right now they are too young to talk about rape, but it is never too early to think or prepare about such a discussion is it? Honestly as I’ve thought about the advice I’d give, very little of it even mentions rape, but are more general principles that help erode ideas that may lead to rape.
My first bit of advice might seem simple, but honestly it is not quite as easy as it sounds. I would want my son and daughter to respect others. What I’m thinking of particularly here is the ability to value people and to be able to listen to them. This means listening when they say they don’t want to do something, to not take advantage of people when they are in a poor state of being, and to simply be able to disagree in a civil manner.
If you are able to value people as people then it seems likely to me that you’ll treat them better. This may not always result in you being treated better, but in some cases that will probably happen as well. In this idea of respecting others, is being willing to stand up for those who are being mistreated. You will probably not be able to change people’s views of a person, but you can stand up against bullying or abuse that is happening to that person. This is a type of respect that will definitely make you friends and enemies, and is much more difficult than simply not bullying or abusing people yourself (which is often difficult enough).
I really have two things in mind with this piece of advice. The first is be willing to tell people when they are doing something uncomfortable. If someone is talking to you in a way you don’t like, tell them. If you don’t want to do something someone wants you to do, say no. If someone is touching you in a place or way you don’t want them to, tell them to stop and move away from them if possible. Have enough respect for yourself that you believe that your feelings matter and that if things make you uncomfortable you can speak your mind. Yes, this may not win you points with that person, but you are worth it. Remember that.
The second piece of this is care about yourself enough to seek help if there is a situation that is making you uncomfortable. Maybe, you can’t tell the person who made you feel uncomfortable to stop or say no. Maybe, you just need to process why it made you uncomfortable so you can say “no” or “stop” next time. I know that as I give this advice to my children I would hope to be a parent that my kids would be comfortable talking with if they had issues like this. Even if it wasn’t me or my wife though I’d hope they had a friend or mentor they trusted enough to seek help from. Seeking help and depending on others doesn’t mean you are weak, in fact it often seems to take more strength to seek help than it does to try to do it all on your own.
Too Much Alcohol Isn’t Your Friend
This may be controversial and I’m not saying that one needs to avoid alcohol entirely. It just seems to me that it is no coincidence that all three of the stories that I talked about above involved alcohol. All three of the girls raped were drunk enough to pass out and not remember what happened to them the night before. I don’t recall any focus being placed on how inebriated the boys were at these events, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if a good amount of alcohol was in their system too.
Am I saying that the girls are to blame because they got drunk? No. Am I trying to excuse the behavior of the boys because they too were probably under the influence of alcohol? No. What am I saying then? I’m saying that the alcohol didn’t benefit this situation at all.
Would these boys have raped these girls even without alcohol being present? Maybe. Would the absence of alcohol helped these girls not be victimized? Maybe. It is easy to ask the “what if” questions on things like this, but the reality is we don’t know exactly how it would play out in another circumstance. I do know though that alcohol impairs our judgment. It can allow us to become a monster or a victim if not used properly, and too often it is not used properly.
So I would ask this of my children, drink responsibly. Know your limits and don’t get drunk. Don’t drink if you are underage (again that happened in all three of these cases), and if you decide to blow all this advice off then at least have someone who will help watch your back. We as a culture believe it is a good idea to have a designated driver to avoid drunk driving, why would someone who is designated to help us watch out for trouble be a bad thing? It may not be a guarantee, friends can betray or abandon us, or we could tell our friends to buzz off and let us have fun, so who knows? At the same time though, it could help prevent us from doing something we regret or having something done to us. If we want to prevent abuse, perhaps we should include preventing our own abuse of alcohol.
Sex is Good, But It Is Worth Waiting For
The title sums it up pretty good, but some clarification may be needed here. Admittedly, I’m writing from the somewhat unpopular position of waiting for sex until marriage. So yes this is largely where I’m giving this advice from. Don’t think though that this reasoning is just out of religious devotion or the idea that if you wait you’ll have really awesome sex, it actually goes quite deeper and I think is useful for even those who decide not to wait until marriage for sex.
I believe that while sex is a physical act, it is also a very emotional and maybe even a spiritual act as well. Sex is the joining of two not just physically but emotionally as well. Therefore those should be the ways in which we approach sex. It is not just a physical connection, but it is also an emotional connection. I also believe that because the emotional connection can take much longer than the physical connection does we need to try to make sure that the emotional connection is there, growing, and healthy before the physical act of sex takes place.
Even then it may be better to wait when pressured for sex. If you don’t feel ready, don’t do it. It may cost you this relationship, but I think that any relationship that ends because you weren’t willing to have sex until you were ready is not a relationship that would probably last or be healthy either way. Don’t try to coerce consent either, respect the other person enough to wait as well. It just seems to me that there will always be more to gain by waiting than by not waiting. Basically, there is no need to rush it. If you feel like you need to rush it could easily lead to a lack of emotional connection, you coercing someone or being coerced to have sex with major reservations, and even lead to rape.
These were the thoughts that came to my mind about the advice I’d give my children regarding rape on both sides of the coin. You want to prevent both being the perpetrator of rape, but also being a victim. While it may be a long while before I talk about alcohol or sex with my kids, teaching them to respect themselves and others will not really require any waiting. Think I’m missing the point on any of these? Think I’ve missed any? Let me know.