Like most Americans, I have been following the sexual assault accusations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. There has been not one accusation, but (at least) three. Three different women who never knew each other, three different stories, three different times, and three different (but very similar) descriptions of the judge that should make us question his character.
As a mother of three boys, and an executive director of a non-profit organization that works to empower women, I often think about how I can raise my boys to do better. I have come to believe that true gender equality and elimination of sexual violence needs to start with the men. In other words, we need to be raising our boys differently because it’s 2018, and sexual assaults are not decreasing. We’re clearly doing something wrong here.
The way we speak becomes our children’s inner voice so you can be damn sure in my house when a woman makes a sexual assault accusation, we do not say things such as “she’s lying” or “it’s just a campaign smear” or “why did she wait 36 years to say anything” or “he didn’t even rape her.” What is this teaching our boys – the next generation of men?
Below is a list of 5 things Americans are saying that are extremely damaging to our boys and the way they view sexual violence and rape culture.
1. “She’s lying.”
Boys hear: All women lie about sexual assault. Men don’t sexually assault women.
This may be the most concerning statement. For years, sexual violence experts have tried to get away from this stigma so women are not scared or feel ashamed to report or tell their story. Any expert will tell you to always believe the victim, because assuming they are lying can be detrimental to their life and future. Only 2-8% of sexual assault accusations are false, and that number gets smaller and smaller once the law officials get involved.
The “she’s lying” statement teaches our boys that they do not need to believe women. It belittles women, by automatically believing the man first. I can’t believe how many people assumed Dr. Ford was lying before the hearing even began. Talk about patriarchy. SHE PASSED A POLYGRAPH for crying out loud!
But no matter what I personally believe about Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I want my boys to treat all individuals as equals, regardless of their gender or gender identification. I want them to believe the victim, because if they are telling the truth (which over 90% of them are), I want them to be kind humans, not mean ones. Each night at the dinner table, we try to all talk about one kind thing we did for another human. I feel that’s a good place to start.
2. “If it were true, she would have reported it right after it happened.”
Boys hear: 100% of real sexual assaults are reported right after they occur. Anything that’s not reported is a lie.
Only 1/3 of sexual assaults are ever reported, and it’s no wonder why – look how Dr. Ford is being treated. As most women, I could sit here and write about all of the sexual assaults I know of or have experienced. Guess what? Not one was ever reported. Does that mean they didn’t happen? Absolutely not. As an adult, it disgusts me what the women in my life have been through. What society has made us believe we should be ashamed for, and what we have to live with every day of our lives. Personally, I thought it was perfect timing for Dr. Ford to come out with her story as this man may have a lifelong position as a Supreme Court justice.
Yes, it’s 36 years later, but it is a true indication of Judge Kavanaugh’s character, something we should all be questioning for any nominee in such a high position, no matter your (or their) political party. Boys need to know that sexual violence is complicated, and no story is the same. No victim feels the same or has the same amount of memories (some who have suffered PTSD have very little memory), and no one experiences the exact same type of assault. It never looks the same. And the one choice sexual assault victims have is if and when they want to report and/or share their story. As kind humans, we need to at least respect that choice, and know it’s theirs to make.
3. “He didn’t even rape her.”
Boys hear: As long as I don’t rape her, it’s not sexual assault.
This is just disgusting. Any time an individual is not giving consent, it is sexual assault and I will make damn sure my boys are aware of this and know to keep their hands to themselves unless it is 100% consensual. If they are unsure if it is 100% consensual, I will teach them all they need to do is use their words and ask.
4. “This is a campaign smear.”
Boys hear: Women use sexual violence accusations to get what they want.
No. Just no. Sexual violence is its own category and every victim deserves the right to be heard, respected, and believed no matter who the accused is. Teaching boys that women make sexual assault accusations for their own personal agenda is like shaping a misogynist.
5. “You’re innocent until proven guilty.” – President Donald Trump, after being asked by a reporter what message he wants to send to boys.
Boys hear: Go ahead and sexually assault women, just don’t get caught.
I’m baffled by 90% of the shit that comes out of this man’s mouth, but this was a push over the edge for me. This is the worst message we could possibly send our boys. You are absolutely not innocent if you have committed a crime. Ever. It sickens me to think how many boys heard this and what they took away from it. Last year, when my son was in kindergarten, he said he hit another child, but his teacher didn’t see so he didn’t get in trouble. He shrugged it off like it was nothing. Does that make it okay to hit children? Nope. Duh. If my kindergartener can understand this concept – which he did – the rest of the nation should be able to as well.