“Hey Mom, can I take this call in my room? My friend is really upset.” This girl, my girl, carries so much in her soft heart...always has. She amazes me with her tender care toward others. Daughter retreats to her room to listen and console a friend from another school across town. After a good 30 minutes, my love emerges, resuming life and reengaging with us, unphased. After the table was cleaned and dishes were as done as done would get, everyone scattered across the house and toward their bedtime routine. I caught her alone and cleared my throat, preparing my nonchalant, prodding tone. You know, the kind where you slip your voice down ½ a step and channel little Baja California surfer vibe, as if to suggest that you are completely unshockable?
Me: “Hey, everything okay with your friend?”
Daughter: “Oh, well, she’s just really upset with some boys who’ve been teasing her at school, they’re talking about her butt and stuff.”
My tender girl proceeds to recount the ways a couple of teenage boys at school have said to her friend, “Man, I want to touch her a** so bad” when she stands up at her desk in class. And yet another guy, blocking her in from getting around him, taunting her about her rear end. Her brave friend continually says, “back off or I will hit you!” But this seems to feeds the lust, the fight, the desire to dominate.
Nothing has changed much in 28 years. My first week of middle school, 6th grade, 1989. I walk onto campus, clothes still smelling new, and head to the cafeteria for lunch. What happened in a moment left a permanent mark: He was an 8th grade football player with muscles and a mullet. He appeared older than your average 8th grade guy, perhaps he was held back. He could have been a vision from 90210 as I recall, strapping and handsome. I’m standing with my backpack in front of the Dr. Pepper machine outside the cafeteria doors when he comes striding down the concrete ramp. He eyes me, and I can’t quit looking at him, middle school is so new and the people are so tall. He seems so big and terribly cute. Without stopping his gate until he’s face to face with me, before even saying “hello”, this 14-15 year old swipes my crotch. There I am, a new 6th grade girl on campus, now paralyzed.
“Did anyone else see? What do I do?” My head swims.
I giggle nervously and feel my body go completely warm, my heart rate increases. Again, I am 12 and this happens at my school cafeteria. A place dedicated to my safety and education. The reality is, I knew this feeling. I had been molested prior to 12 and had hoped and prayed that a new beginning in middle school would mean a fresh start with my body. It’s as though I was marked. Did my earlier offender somehow tell this guy that I was “easy”? How did this guy know he could touch me there? How did he know I wouldn’t say a word? Through middle school, my beautiful growing body developed even more curves and those invited further scrutiny. I was a good, achieving athlete and honor society student. I was also called a host of names by boys that the darkness used to both lure and torment me. I never breathed a word of this until I was 18 and away from home.
I ended up calling the mom of my daughter’s friend. They have a good relationship and this eased my heart broaching such a tender issue. I wanted to tell the truth about what I had heard, and empower this good mama to listen hard and advocate fiercely. Mom to mom (and listen - we have GOT to be willing to “go there” together Mama’s), we talked of our own history with sexual harassment as young girls; how we took different routes, wore more pants and not dresses, avoided telling anyone of what happened, and minimized our own suffering. In every place we discredit personal or cultural trauma, it is brought to bear in our adult lives, in marriage, in relationships, in parenting.
Because pain has to purge and someone will bear the brunt of it.
One of the most damaging things we can do to our children is minimize, discredit, ignore or shame them when they bravely share about a situation of sexual harassment or abuse. Furthermore, your children are listening as you process the news of sexual misconduct in Washington and discuss #metoo with your friends. They watch and learn and pick up intuitively more than they have language for. They will mimic and model what you lay before them...or run and retaliate. Mothers, how you speak of victims...your silence, dismissal or support will tell your kids whether or not they can trust you. Fathers, your mocking, belittling, or advocacy toward victims will reveal your character and prompt their reenactment. In fact, I believe our kids are trust detectives, subconsciously gathering evidence of why or why not they can communicate honestly with us. When discussing sexual harassment and sexual assault, minimization can sound like: “Well if that’s the worst thing that happened consider yourself lucky, at least you weren’t …..” (I have literally had this said to me by Jesus-loving friends.) Discreditation like: “Oh honey, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it, maybe you’re taking yourself a bit too seriously.” Shaming: “Well if you’d learn to dress decent maybe that wouldn’t happen.” If dressing “modestly” was the root issue, then women wearing full burkas would never be assaulted or harassed. No. Immodesty does not cause someone to harm another.
So here’s the thing, I am concerned that our daughters and sons are clueless about how to define sexual harassment and sexual assault. I want to give us, as parents, aunts, aunties, uncles, friends, babysitters, teachers, ALL of us some action steps for our kids (and they are OUR kids) so that they are H.E.A.R.D.
1. HEAR THEM: Whether it seems big or small, listen to their stories. Ask thoughtful questions and make sure you are giving them the freedom to speak as they need to. Do not minimize their experiences, but affirm how and what they are feeling.
2. EDUCATE: Teach your kids important terms now. Teach them appropriate touch and play. Let them know that THEY determine who is allowed to touch their body, not others. “No” means “No”.
- Harassment: "Harassment" is legally defined as repeated, unwanted contact. This contact can come in any form, from in-person contact to internet or phone communications. Harassment via text message is yet another form that can be very brutal, emotional and scary for the individual being harassed. Harassment can also take the form of cyberbullying. David’s Law is a new piece of legislation that has now gone into effect in Texas making cyberbullying a misdemeanor offense and creating clearer channels of communication in reporting an offense.
- Sexual harassment: Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
- Sexual assault: “It’s actually harder to define than you’d think. According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Sexual assault is basically an umbrella term that includes sexual activities such as rape, fondling, and attempted rape.” (https://www.self.com/story/sexual-assault-definition)
3. ADVOCATE: Become a voice! Don’t stand in silence and pretend to ignore the issue that is affecting every fiber of our culture. Support initiatives that awaken hope and empower change. Shop Lovely and wear our “Not an Object” shirt to show your support! Sign the FreeHer Manifesto at freehermovement.com
4. REPORT :
- If you have been physically assaulted or raped, call 911 or a trusted individual and go immediately to the hospital and request that a rape kit be administered and police report can be filed.
- To talk confidentially about a situation, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or chat online at online.rainn.org.
- If harassment has happened via text or social media, do not delete, but save as evidence and report it school or police.
- Schools: If your child is harassed or grabbed/assaulted/stalked at school, encourage your child to tell a trustworthy teacher or counselor immediately. Always record the incident in writing using dates and a detailed description making sure to cite any witnesses. Begin reporting it in an email to the administration (a school counselor, dean, principal and/or teacher if applicable). This is important as emails are a paper trail and can be used as official documents if necessary. Request an appointment with the counselor, dean or principal as well as the teacher in whose classroom the incident occurred. Every school should have protocols on the issue of sexual harm/offense/harassment.
5. DEFEND: Defend your children, defend yourself, defend others. Go WITH your child, your friend, your coworker to the meetings with teachers, administrators, etc. Do NOT make them speak with their offender if they do not want to. Do not ask them to “forgive and forget” and thereby negate their pain. Encourage counseling and talking through action steps together. Shut down harmful conversations and stand up for others being harassed.
Finally, men, we NEED you. The victims of sexual violence are still largely women, however, we know it happens to you too...and many of you have remained silent. Culture has told you to be embarrassed and darkness has sought to emasculate you. We need your voice. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse affects men and women alike. This is not a gender issue it is a HUMAN issue that affects all genders. And while the issue of sexual abuse has always been a part of human history, we have not had an accepted social obsession with sexual dominance and violence. Pornography and commercial sex have never been more accessible and acceptable than now. Nine years old is the average age that a boy views porn. Video games and YouTube are imbedding pornographic content in cartoons while Amazon is selling children’s shirts with sexually explicit content on them saying “Blow job is better than no job.” No lie, on Amazon.
The cultural message has been: sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are part of what it means to be a woman or child. The message men have culturally received is one of dominance and power over women and children. But a new message is emerging, and the backlash will be widespread: we are “Not an Object”. We are humans with hearts and souls, made in the image of a beautiful God. As Christ followers, we must follow the way of prudence, temperance, justice, self control, kindness. We are people of virtue and noble character. We are not savages lusting for control and gratification at the expense of another. We are redeemed. Let’s live like it and empower, defend, and support the next generation in doing the same.
Founder, Jesus Said Love