Teaching My Son About Sexual Assault

My son was 17 when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. I was busy in the kitchen when my son bustled down the stairs yelling, “Mom! Where are you?” Finding me at the stove, he asked if I was aware of the accusations. Elated he was up-to-date on current events, I turned to give him full attention. “Can you believe this woman is accusing him of sexual abuse that supposedly happened 30 years ago? Why did she wait until now? I think some women want attention by accusing men when they get famous.” I was incensed. I wanted to confront my son with statistics- to throw every scholarly article on sexual assault in his face. But I knew if I did, I would not only close the door on further discussions but slam it in his face. His words triggered deep wounds. I was also 17 when my gym teacher sexually assaulted me. He told me not to tell anyone, and quite frankly, I was afraid of him. He had all the power. When my parents found a letter to my friend detailing the assault, they contacted the school. Called to the principal's office, I encountered two angry men who stood by the coach's denial and accused me of lying. It was his word against mine-I had no proof. The coach was not fired and remained at the school. It is traumatic to be sexually assaulted, but to be shamed and called a liar compounds the trauma. False reports of sexual abuse are rare. Unfortunately, there is a cognitive dissonance that occurs when we hear about sexual assault, making it difficult for people to believe that it can be true- especially when the accused is famous, well-respected, or influential. I didn't know how to help my son understand this dynamic, but the silence was no longer an option. I had only one choice, and it would require a vulnerability my son had not seen from me. During a relaxing family trip to the mountains, my son and I were sitting on the deck of the log cabin enveloped by the gentle winds, the cacophony of birdsong, and the smell of the musty forest floor. Reluctantly, my voice quivering, my stomach full of bumblebees, I told my story. I shared what it feels like as a victim of sexual abuse; how hard it is to tell someone; how demoralizing it is to be discounted, shamed, and silenced. His gaze intense, I could see anger, pain, and compassion. It would have been easier to keep my secret, to share facts, figures, and scholarly research in the hope my son would see the issue from a different angle, but it would have eliminated the human component of a sexual assault. It is one thing to read about it; it's another to know the victim. Recently, my son asked for my abuser's name as I hadn't revealed this. When I asked him why it was so important, he said, “Because I want to hunt him down.” I guess our next conversation will focus on nonviolent activism, but for now, I have to remember he is 17 and loves his mama.

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