Mom, What is Rape?

Editor's Note - Content below references sexual assault and may be a trigger for some readers. While it is never our intent to upset anyone, we feel it is important to acknowledge these experiences and to talk about them. If you are someone who may be negatively impacted by content regarding sexual harassment, assault, or rape, please use your discretion as to whether or not you read further.

Mom, what is rape?

My first encounter with sexual harassment was when I entered the seventh grade. Seventh grade, y’all. My best friend’s dad asked to feel my legs, as his wife sat right there watching. I had no reservations at the time, so of course, I said “Sure!” To this day, it turns my stomach. I was practically a baby, only a few years older than my daughter. What grown man wants to feel a little girl’s legs? I was so unprepared, so naive.

By the time I had graduated high school, two teachers had made advances towards me.

Being the ‘quiet, good-girl’ that I was, I let it all go as to not make trouble. I babysat quite often for one family. I had to stop after one evening, I woke to find him sitting beside me in his pajamas. I later found out from his now ex-wife, that he had taken photos of me sleeping on the nights they came home late. On a spring break trip in college, I had to run for my life from a marine and his friends who had me locked in a hotel room. When I pleaded for them to stop, one of the attackers said:

You can’t stop me, so just lay there and try and enjoy it.”

I am not the exception. I know I am nothing special. I did not put myself in bad situations and ‘got my just desserts.’ Absolutely not. The teachers? They were old enough to know what they were doing and sought me out privately. I was just an average teenage girl, with my teenage boyfriend, when a teacher whispered to me as I walked to my car: “The things I would do to you if you were 18.”

Do you think I am scared to raise my children in a world where this exists? Absolutely. Am I going to bury my head in the sand and pretend that it will all work out in the end? Hell. No. Mamas.

We HAVE to enable our children to be aware of their bodies, how precious they are, and sacred. We HAVE to give them the tools to handle every situation they may come across in their lives. We HAVE to do this while they are young. However awkward it may be.

I had no clue what a penis was until a guy showed me a textbook in study hall in ninth grade. I acted like I knew what it was and said, “You’re disgusting.” Then proceeded to have a mini freak-out moment when I realized boys and girls had different genitalia. What in the world, y’all. I switched elementary schools between 5th and 6th grade, so I missed ‘the talk’ in both buildings. We cannot leave such heavy conversations up to the schools alone.

Y’all, I was naive. I wore rose-colored glasses and thought every person was a nice person with the best of intentions. This just isn’t the case, and sadly, I have to raise my kids to have a guard up that I didn’t naturally have at their age.

I want to highlight a few things that helped me in these moments throughout my life. Perhaps, they might help you or help you when talking with your kids and loved ones.

  1. Respect and trust are not the same thing. Let that sink in… that took me years to digest.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings, the people around you, and the situation.
  3. Know your lifelines. Whether you are in a crowded mall, or a deserted classroom: find someone and get help. Use your voice, use your legs, use your phone. Even if no one answers, act like they did – it works! Get help however you can.
  4. Use your brilliant brain. Outsmart the attacker. Talk about your family, your birthday, your life. Get the attacker to remember you are a human and not their victim. Ask about their family. Make them remember they don’t have to make that choice.
  5. Lie. If you can’t escape, outsmart them. I got away from the marine after he beat me and threw me onto the bed. How? I pulled down his underwear and ran. Sobbing and screaming, I ran for the police.
  6. Remember details. I was able to remember the tattoo and body marks of my attacker, so I was able to identify them easily.
  7. Fight like hell. Take a defense class (or 10…) Use your nails, elbows, teeth… use everything in your capacity to fight.

Do you know what is the most terrifying thing about this to me? It’s that my ordeals didn’t happen in dark alleyways or late night parties. Nope. Every single one of them happened to me on bright and sunny afternoons, or in the comfortable homes of someone I trusted. I knew to be aware of dangers in certain places or new surroundings. I had a plan to avoid these situations, but it’s what you aren’t prepared for that shapes us as humans.

I was a different person in relationships because of what these men did to me for better, and for worse.

I have grown and understand that I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I have learned that not all people are out to take something, but I have also learned that I don’t need to trust everyone, nor should I.

I pray every day that my kids will never have to go through any of the horrible events that I had to endure, and I pray that you won’t either. But you know what? They will know what to do in those situations should they ever arise. They will know what is inappropriate and how to stop the situation from continuing. They will know how to outsmart, how to fight, and perhaps most important of all: they will know it’s never their fault.