When I first read the story about the Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, I thought it was horrific. Sad, in that “those poor people that have things like that happen to them”, kind of way. I read the victim’s letter to her abuser, teared up over her pain, but still it was something that felt far away. And then, yesterday, like an atomic bomb in my perfect little world, someone I love very much told me she had been sexually assaulted in her past. Multiple times, in various circumstances, the details of which are not important for this story. I had no idea she had been dealing with this kind of insidious pain, and I cannot shake the feeling that this is an absolute injustice for women everywhere. Why are we still dealing with violence against the female population on a daily basis? Why do we still not understand the meaning of consent? WHAT is so difficult to understand?

I know this is a very dark topic, but I have now been oscillating between horrid grief and sinister rage for about 24 hours now. It is not going away, and I wasn’t even the one who was sexually assaulted. I cannot just sit idly by and wonder what I could have done. How I could have helped her had I known. All I can do is try to figure out how I can change this tortuous world we live in. It’s impossible for me to reverse the damage that has been done to this person who told me of suffering yesterday, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah is starting on the road to healing, she’s seeking out therapy, but I can’t even begin to imagine what a giant mountain that must be to climb. It’s not my journey, it’s hers, and yet I am distraught at just the thought of it.

My anger at the needless hurt she is enduring is only matched by one thing: all-consuming fear that this could happen to one of my daughters. That someday all notions of intimacy and love could be warped and twisted for them by someone’s careless actions. Rape and sexual assault has been a part of our culture since the dawn of time, so I don’t expect it to go away entirely in the next twenty years. I do, however, expect that our society has the ability to educate itself, to be better, to strive for an improved existence for all. This includes the current young girls who will grow up to be women, expecting to find a decent human being to share their life with. And yet, there are not enough band-aids in the world to cover the scars that may be left behind when they find frogs instead of princes. My only hope is that they suffer only tough breakups and not the unwanted advances that Sarah and so many women before them have had to endure.

Perhaps the worst of all this is that I have no control over what the men of my daughter’s generation will look like. And so, I turn to you, boy moms, and beg you to please listen. Please understand that I know this is every mother’s worst nightmare, that you could never dream of your son being accused of such a horrific crime. But please also understand that I can only teach my daughters to say no. It is up to you, dear boy moms, to teach your sons what that means.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to teach my daughters to defend themselves. I’m going to tell them to scream, and kick, and fight with all they have if someone ever tries to take their innocence. But wouldn’t it be great if they weren’t ever put in that position? If it wasn’t common knowledge that girls shouldn’t run late at night in the park, or shouldn’t walk in the parking lot without pepper spray in their purse? The fact of the matter is, most parts of the world are a scary place for a young girl to be these days. Best case scenario, you have to ignore cat calls. Worst case scenario, you’re unconscious behind a dumpster before two strangers get your attacker off you. None of it, including everything in between, is ok.

But what if the boys who are 4, 14 months, and yet to be born all grew up with the knowledge that unless a woman is consenting, any sort of sexual advance is not ok. I know, I know, it’s awkward, and it’s painful to even think about. But just like we have to tell them not to pick their nose, and always say “thank you”, I think we unfortunately live in a world now where a discussion about not just sex, but sexual consent is necessary and entirely warranted.  I don’t want to see your sons in jail, and I certainly don’t want my daughters to have a lifetime of trauma ahead of them.

Do not tell me to teach my daughters to dress modestly. Don’t tell me to make sure they don’t drink too much. That girl at Stanford was wearing a CARDIGAN. And an increase in intoxication does not lower the standards for sexual consent. It just doesn’t. I know you know this. I know you’re a woman, too. So please try to put yourself in Sarah’s shoes. In my daughters’ shoes. And raise men who are deserving of them. I’ll try to do the same for your sons.



P.S. If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, RAINN is a great resource for seeking help. You are not alone.

P.P.S. If you’re a grown adult and you’re still wondering what sexual consent really means, this analogy using tea below is just about as perfect as it can get: