These days, you hear a lot of parents bemoan the fact that they can’t have the news on, for fear their kids might hear something sexually inappropriate. That “America’s Dad” Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted 60 women. That the Catholic Church has been a child-rape factory and cover-up machine for decades. That our own president, accused by several women of sexual misconduct, has admitted to grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent. And that yet another conservative candidate for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court — where he will potentially make judgments about laws that affect women’s bodies and health and safety — has been accused of a serious sexual crime. Not just gross sexual harassment as in the case of Justice Clarence “Pubic Hair on My Coke Can” Thomas (which is awful enough), but actual sexual assault. It’s the case of Judge Brett “What Happens at Georgetown Prep Stays at Georgetown Prep” Kavanaugh.
I have a ten year old daughter. She’s on a serious panda kick right now — we’re talking homemade panda wall decorations, a panda comforter, a panda charm. She’s finishing the last Harry Potter book and is a huge Emma Watson fan. She still likes to cuddle and still says, in the sweetest voice that turns me into a puddle, “I love you, Mommy.” But she also just started middle school. Just about everyone at her school is going through puberty. Some of them are already “dating” (whatever that means), some for a couple of years already. At least one 6th grader wears high heels to school every day. Whether I like it or not — and I don’t: please stay little! — my kid is growing up.
So when she came came into the kitchen the other day when the details of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh were being broadcast on the news, rather than rushing to turn it off, I paused it, set up the situation for her, and then let her listen to the report. When it concluded, I turned it off and tried to convey the following to her, in the most straightforward way possible, while I continued to make veggie quesadillas for dinner:
There are some people in the world who will try to force themselves on others. These people are usually boys or men (which doesn’t mean all boys or men are like this). But these particular people will use physical force or threats or emotional pressure to take what they want and feel they deserve sexually from someone. This is sexual violence, sexual abuse, and is often called sexual assault. This happens. Way too often. It may happen someday to someone you know. I hope it never happens to you. But you need to be aware of it.
Often times survivors of sexual assault don’t tell anyone, for a variety of reasons: they feel guilty, like they did something to cause it to happen; they feel embarrassed and ashamed and don’t want anyone to know; they worry no one will believe them, like the way all the Republican Congressmen seem to not believe Dr. Ford. But — and this is important — people this happens to have nothing to feel guilty or embarrassed about. They did nothing wrong. They need to speak up and tell someone they trust as soon as it happens so that they can get the help they need. And so hopefully the person who committed this crime can be held accountable, so it never happens again to anybody else.
Do you have any questions you want to ask me?
She didn’t. But I imagine that’s because I’m a sex educator who has these type of conversations with my kids often. Okay Mom, I get it. You tell us this stuff all the time is a common response, usually followed by a dramatic sigh and a roll of the eyes and Can we pleeeeeaaaaaase turn Ariana Grande back on now? We don’t have The Talk; we have ongoing, age-appropriate discussions about bodies and consent and sexuality so they realize these topics are not “icky” or taboo or shameful.
This was the first discussion that was current event–based. And perhaps the scariest — for both of us. Some might say it was not age-appropriate, considering the details of Dr. Ford’s allegations. But guess what? Ten year olds get sexually assaulted, just as teenagers and adults do. Not talking about that reality is what has kept so many crimes in the shadows. It’s what predators rely on: our society’s squeamishness over talking openly and honestly about, not just sexual violence, but sex in general. I don’t want my kids to be scared, but I don’t want them to be naive either. I want them to have the tools to navigate the tough stuff, if ever the need should arise. And if #MeToo is any indication, it will arise — inevitably.