When I was a sophomore in high school I had one of those epic high school parties. It started with a few friends but then quickly grew to the size of a Lollapalooza show circa 1990. It was a hazy night of funneling beers and downing copious amounts of Bacardi Breezers that culminated with the local police eventually breaking it up. I passed out in my bed. The rest of the details are fuzzy but I remember waking up with someone on top of me holding me down and trying to take my clothes off. I struggled to get out from under him. I remember saying again and again “Please stop, please stop (was I awake or asleep), please stop (what is happening), leave me alone (why isn’t he stopping), please stop.” When it became obvious to my drunk sixteen-year-old self that he wasn’t going to stop I remember thinking “just get it over with.” When he was done he got up and left. He was my boyfriend’s best friend and also dating one of my friends and I remember wishing it was just a nightmare.
The next morning I woke up blaming myself for not fighting hard enough to make him stop. It was the only time in my life I thought about killing myself. He was a good-looking, popular, former member of the high-school football team now going to a great college out of state. Men like that don’t rape. I just didn’t fight hard enough. I spent the next twenty-six years believing that narrative. That it was my fault. So I buried it. Deep down in “the bad things I’ve done in my life” file.
Until a woman I went to high school with outed her high school rapist on Facebook in response to the Stanford rapist’s light sentence. She used only his initials. She didn’t even have to use them. I knew exactly who she was talking about. And it didn’t end there. Eight victims reached out to her in the less than twenty-four hours the post was up. She took it down because in her own words “Eight is ENOUGH!”
It was the first time in twenty-six years I admitted that I had been raped. Through my forty-two-year-old eyes it seemed obvious. Painfully obvious. If this had been my daughter I would have lost my mind. Jail would have been the least of this predator’s concerns.
And that is it, right? It’s about being a parent now. As I read the statement from Brock Turner’s father indicating that the six month sentence his son received was “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action” I realized how as parents it’s one of our most important—if not the most important—job we have: to teach our boys not to rape. How treating girls as objects or play things is unacceptable. It’s about being very specific with our sons to teach them how to respect girls. It’s about having embarrassing conversations with our boys letting them know how “no” means game over. No questions. Just done.
And for our daughters how we need to teach them to always be vigilant and how to defend themselves. But just as importantly teaching them that when their vigilance fails or they are too drunk to defend themselves that it’s not their fault. Not being able to stop a rape doesn’t make it their fault. Even when it happens in a nice town with a good-looking boy. Even then.