I introduced the kids to Veronica Mars in the last week or so. One of the ongoing themes of the show is sexual assault. All three seasons have young women who were raped, with a combination of GHB, alcohol, and unconsciousness thrown in for good measure. I’ve had to do a lot of explaining, to the best of my ability, though I could not explain why it happens. Can anyone?
There’s a lot I haven’t told them, and I’m still working through what to say, how much, and when. Their curiosity, questions, and total naivete about the subject has made me sure they have never been abused themselves (not that I had ever suspected it, but it’s still a relief to have it confirmed). I’ve been thinking a lot during these discussions about what comes next with them. How do I raise my children to be neither perpetrators nor victims of sexual assault?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and not just about how to frame it for my kids. A friend of mine told me this week that someone close to her had disclosed her ongoing experiences of being sexually abused by her partner. This woman no longer says no because her boyfriend gets angry when he doesn’t get what he wants. He uses her body however he pleases while she sleeps. She sees this as “what men do,” and something she needs to get used to.
How do I even wrap my head around this? How do I prevent my daughter OR my son from internalizing the myth that men can’t control their sexualities and that women have to acquiesce to their demands whether they want to or not? How do I get them both to understand that sexual relationships, whether they’re a single encounter or an ongoing committed situation, are not about coercion or threats, but about negotiation and respect?
And how do I have these conversations without getting triggered myself?
I started writing a post last week comparing Wikileaks to my prom dress. It’s not quite as spurious a link as you might think. The ongoing drama surrounding the sexual assault accusations against Julian Assange triggered memories of my own experience.
The short story is I went to prom, hung out with friends in a hotel room after, had a drink, made out with a friend, stated after realizing we had no condoms I wouldn’t have sex with him without one, drank some more, made out some more. I’ll save you the gory details, but I will say in spite of my declaring I would not have sex without a condom, something approximating it happened regardless. Woke up next morning, remembered it only as bad sex, and continued to remember it as such for over a year, until I was walking the old path to my high school and experienced a flashback that hit me like a truck.
I had said no while mostly sober. I never changed my mind about having sex without a condom. I remembered sobbing while it was happening, and being awake in the bed with him as he slept. As those memories flooded me, I sat down on a curb and cried. It still catches up with me, sometimes. Last month, it was Assange. Sometimes, activities I’m generally totally fine with will freak me out. It’s momentary, and I pick myself up quickly enough, and it doesn’t happen that often, but it’s still there.
I hate having to explain, almost 20 years later, when I occasionally lose my shit at times when I genuinely WANT to be doing what I’m doing, that I’m not okay.
I hate feeling it come on and dissociating to get through whatever I’m doing instead of stopping to explain, and then feeling it all over again once I’m alone anyway.
I wish I could say the first happened more often than the second. The explaining, if it happens at all, happens so much later than it should. Something I’ve learned over the last 20 years is that people who don’t know how to talk (or who don’t know how to say things in a timely manner) don’t stay in healthy relationships for long.
I will do everything I can to make sure my children never have to experience any of that (or lead to someone else experiencing it). But like I said, I’m still trying to figure out where the hell I’m supposed to start.