How I’m talking to my kids about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Ford: teaching your kids about sexual assault, disclosing, and consent in today’s world.
My 10 year old daughter asked me yesterday, “why are you watching so much news?”
It’s true, I’ve been glued to CNN for the last 3 days pretty much every waking hour.
In that moment, I had to make the split second decision to either gloss over her question with “oh, just keeping up to date on politics,” or take this opportunity to have a tough conversation that could potentially change the course of her life as a woman.
I told my daughter that the Senate is choosing the person they think is the BEST judge to become a Supreme Court Justice. “Do you know what the Supreme Court is?” I asked.
“Yes! We are doing government in school right now!” she answered eagerly.
“Ok good,” I said. “So you know that to be a Supreme Court Justice, you need to be an excellent judge: very smart, and also very fair, and know the difference between right and wrong. Many people think this man is all of that. But then, one woman came forward whose name is Dr. Ford. And she says that a long, long time ago, when they were both teenagers, he touched her inappropriately at a party. So lots of people, especially women, are upset about that.”
“What did he do to her?” she asked, now sounding afraid.
“No one is sure exactly, because it happened so long ago. But she says that he pushed her into a bedroom and tried to take her clothes off. And now some people believe her, and some people don’t.”
“Why don’t they believe her?” she asked.
This is where I really wanted to hone in on my point.
I told her, “Some people are saying, ‘if this really happened, why didn’t she tell anyone back then? Why didn’t she tell her own parents?’ And I think it’s because, at age 15, she was afraid she’d get in trouble. For going to a party, for being around alcohol, for possibly lying to her parents about what she was doing. So what I really want you to know is, if anything like that ever happens to you, Dad and I won’t care about any of those things. You won’t be in trouble, and we will believe you.“
How parents can change rape culture
I watched this week as women reacted to Dr. Ford’s testimony. So many of us felt her pain and her fear.
We got angry that people accused her of lying. Many of us felt powerless as we heard Senators dismiss her testimony. Each one that said they’d still vote Kavanaugh in felt like a personal slap in the face as if women, our stories, and our traumas don’t matter.
As parents, we don’t need to feel powerless. While we may not be able to change current events, we can play an important role in changing the climate in this country surrounding rape culture. We can give our daughters the courage to disclose knowing that they will be believed and they will not be shamed or blamed. We can eradicate the “boys will be boys” mentality and raise sons who respect all people and understand consent.
What I need my daughters to know
The many articles written about why sexual assault victims don’t report and the estimated 800,000 tweets about #WhyIDidntReport have clued me in to the reasons so many girls and women don’t speak up. These reasons revolve around shame and fear.
I need my daughters to understand that they don’t need to fear being blamed (at least not by our family), and they don’t need to fear that they won’t be believed.
Whichever way the vote swings on Brett Kavanaugh, the outcome will likely have little impact on my children’s lives. But with 1 out of 5 women being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, this is not a subject parents can justifiably ignore. This is why I talk to my younger children as well: it’s part of an ongoing dialogue I’ve had with them since they were toddlers.
With my 5 year old daughter, it entails:
- making sure she knows we don’t keep secrets from Mom and Dad, especially if another grown up asks her to,
- that it’s never ok for anyone to touch her body in a way she is uncomfortable with, and
- if someone tries to touch her inappropriately, she should kick, scream, bite, and do whatever else she needs to do to get away even though she’s always been told she’s not allowed to do these things.
What I’m teaching my sons
In addition to all of the above (we know boys can be victims too, as an estimated 1 out 10 victims are males), I am also teaching my sons about consent.
They don’t even know what sex is yet, but they know that “no means no”. They know each person is the boss of their own body. They know that being bigger or stronger than another person doesn’t mean someone is more important or more valuable.
As they get older, my husband and I will speak candidly with our sons about specifics. Unless you have explicit consent- ask first, no assuming- it’s a no. Drunk girl equals no. Underage girl? Also a no.
So many challenges
Sometimes I think about how many things I have to teach my children in the few remaining years before they get to high school. It seems so overwhelming.
I want them to be assertive, but not bullies. I want them to respect others, but also themselves. We have barely touched upon huge topics like how to drink responsibly, pouring your own drinks, always going out with a friend, not being a bystander.
It seems like every time I teach them something, I think of ten more things they still need to learn.
But I think if we start with the concept of respecting all people, their bodies and minds- that’s a decent place to begin.
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