I scrolled through the #WhyIDidntReport tweets and expected it to be heartbreaking. It was. What I didn’t expect was a parenting lesson. Over and over again, so many survivors of sexual assault tweeted that they stayed quiet because they were afraid of upsetting or disappointing their parents.
I did a search for tweets that included the hashtag and mentioned parents. Some reasons that users frequently shared were:
“I didn’t want to break my parents’ hearts.”
“I didn’t want my parents to look at me differently.”
“My parents would be mad at me.”
“My parents would hate me.”
“I didn’t think my parents could handle it.”
As I read, my heart shattered for these women, and for so many others who likely have felt the same way. And I never, ever want my newly minted 16-year-old daughter, the one with the bright blue eyes that sparkle when she’s happy, to ever feel that she can’t share with me.
I can only imagine that their fear of or worry about their parents’ response only compounded the trauma those women experienced. Of course I hope and pray that my daughter is never assaulted. I’m also very aware of her vulnerability given that females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault, according to rainn.org, which uses statistics from several government agencies including the Department of Justice.
I hope that my daughter never has to tweet that she could not share the fact that someone has assaulted her because she feared my response.
I wanted her to know that she has her mom’s support, something those other women did not have. I told her:
I hope that you will come to me if something traumatic happens to you, under any circumstance. And I especially hope that you will come to me in the case of rape or sexual assault.
I will believe you. I will love you. I will help you get the help and support to help you heal.
I will not be mad at you. I will not blame you. I will not shame you, because I do not believe a woman asks for assault.
And sweet girl with the bright smile that lights up my whole world, please know that I could never hate you.
I will not crumble. I may be heartbroken for you and what you’ve experienced, but I am strong enough to handle it. Please know that my emotions are mine, and I own them. They are not yours to manage.
Most of all, I want to be your mother, no matter what you’re going through in your life. I want to tell you that I love you unconditionally, and that’s both when you’re at your highest or lowest point.
If for some reason you feel you cannot come to me, I hope that you will not stay silent. I hope you will find a trusted adult who can offer guidance and assistance. I know that both are important because I have been sexually assaulted. Please don’t feel like it’s something you have to handle by yourself. The choices of others and their lack of respect will never, ever change the fact that your mother loves and supports you wholeheartedly.
We often hear that parenting is not for the faint of heart, and while that’s often said in jest, it’s true. It’s particularly and painfully true when something awful happens to your child. As the sheer volume of tweets show, our parents and past generations clearly struggled when that something awful was sexual assault. It’s likely that we will, too, though in different ways because it’s a different time. But I believe we can break the cycle.
That doesn’t mean that you need to know exactly how to respond. It’s ridiculously challenging to know how to handle trauma especially when it happens to a loved one. It feels like being present, available, respectful and supportive all go a long way toward kids seeing a parent as a safe space and a soft spot to land. Every scenario and relationship is different, but having your child know you’ve got their back and that you’ll say, “I love you no matter what,” is never wrong.
What steps are you taking to make sure your children feel comfortable sharing with you?