No, don’t do that. You’re hurting my body when you do that and I asked you to stop. Whenever anyone tells you to stop touching their body, you have to stop. Bodies are private. You can’t touch someone if they don’t want to be touched. And no one can touch you if you don’t want them to. Do you understand?
This is what I say to my son sometimes. Usually in response to him grinding his little knee into my femur as he tries to crawl across me on the couch. I say this now about benign things, things that he does accidentally or carelessly. I do it because I am training him to understand that no means no.
I’ve been reading about the rape of a young girl in Steubenville, OH with horror and incredulity. The New York Times ran the story a few weeks ago and details have been emerging steadily ever since, thanks to a social media trail left by witnesses. The articles portray a night of teenage debauchery, drinking, and party hopping. One young girl was so incapacitated by alcohol that she couldn’t respond to conversation, dragged from party to party by two teen boys who went on to sexually assault her while other teens photographed it, videotaped it, joked about it, and spread the story on social media in real time.
I am the mother of a son and a daughter. As I read this story I flashed on two horrific images: my daughter drunk and violated and my son as a rapist. I’ll be damned if I let either image become reality.
Bodies are private. No one can touch you if you don’t want them to.
We women know all the rules for not getting raped. Where to walk, who to walk with, how much to drink, when to leave. We meet blind dates in public, never let our drink out of our sight. We walk to our cars in pairs, lock our doors as soon as we get in, check in with friends to make sure everyone is safe. We carry pepper spray, cell phones, keys. We take self-defense classes and stay alert. Always alert.
This is the legacy I will pass to my daughter: vigilance in the face of a constant threat of body harm thrumming beneath the surface of life as a woman.
Whenever anyone tells you to stop touching their body, you have to stop.
The legacy I will pass to my son is one of respect, of attention, of decency. I work daily to instill empathy in my 5-year-old boy, asking him to think of how his actions make others feel, reminding him to pay attention to the people around him as he moves about his life. I talk over situations where someone is upset or hurt and ask him to put himself in that person’s place and and consider how he’d feel. I remind him of times his feelings were hurt by the actions of others and why he shouldn’t do hurtful things. I teach him to tell a grown-up if he, or anyone else, is being hurt.
I tell him to listen. I tell him not to push a question when the answer is no. I tell him to stop touching someone the second they say stop.
I tell him all of this today so it becomes part of his understanding of the world. If he already knows that no means no and stop means stop right now, he will take that knowledge into his interactions with potential sexual partners in the future.
Do you understand?
I teach my kids about the right and wrong of touching now in the simplest language. I give them preschool appropriate lessons on empathy and concern for others. I instill in them a sense of responsibility for others. I do all of this in the simplest terms possible because they are still so young. I’ll add nuance to the talks as they grow. For now they just need to know to be nice to others. Later, though, they’ll need to know the rest of the story.
If my kids were older, I would make them read the Steubenville story. I would talk about what everyone in the saga did and what they could have done differently. Is it wise to drink so much you can’t take care of yourself? Should you attend a party without a friend to look out for you? Is it ok to manipulate someone who doesn’t know better? Are you allowed to touch someone who can’t say yes or no? Should you stand by and do nothing if someone else is doing these things? Or is there action you can take to make it stop? I want my children to know that they have power. They can protect themselves from threats within and without. Moreover, they can protect others. One call to 911 and a tip that there was a party gone out of control would have saved that poor girl.
I hope my daughter is never in danger. I hope my son is never a predator. And I want my children to be the ones who would make that call to help someone in need.
Photo credit: photo stock
MORE ON BABBLE