This morning I heard the verdict in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
The young men accused are juveniles, so they could be incarcerated only until they are twenty-one. I hope beyond hope, that one day things change for our daughters and our sons.
When my daughter went off to college three and a half years ago, I knew there would be things out of my control. I remember college too. And because I knew there would be things out of my control, I gave advice. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. Alcohol clouds your judgement. Alcohol makes you more vulnerable.
Mom, I know.
I put in my two cents about what she wore. Maybe that one black dress is a little short, Lovey.
Mom, it’s fine.
Promise me you won’t walk across campus late at night alone.
Mom, I won’t.
But as a parent, there is only so much I can do or say. Should my daughter and her friends not drink anything at parties or at a bar? Should they be dressed in turtlenecks and skirts to their ankles?
What should they be doing to avoid getting raped?
The answer is clear. We need to teach our sons not to rape.
All the responsibility and shame for this heinous act falls on the woman’s shoulders. Don’t drink, dress modestly, walk in groups.
One morning, at 4 a.m., my phone rings. I hear sobbing in the background. I hear my daughter say, Talk to my mom, just talk to my mom. It’s Linda, Mom. She can talk to you right? She needs to hear it’s not her fault.
I know Linda’s story. After the young woman at Amherst wrote about the treatment she received after her own rape on campus, Linda agreed to be interviewed for an article about her rape. It broke my heart when I read it.
Four a.m. Everyone is safe, but my daughter is worried that Linda isn’t going to stop crying. Linda can’t stop blaming herself for the rape. I am touched that my daughter thinks a complete stranger is going to talk to me.
Linda can’t say anything to me because she is sobbing. They’ve been to a party, and it has triggered the memory of the rape, the fear and the shame.
Talk to my mom.
Linda sobs into the phone. “It’s my fault.”
Those three words haunt me. That’s all she will say. Over and over and over.
She hands the phone back to my daughter. I ask her if she thinks she will harm herself in any way. My daughter says no, she is lying down with her dog and calming down.
I remind her that Linda needs to go to the ER if she wants to harm herself. I hate saying that, because it was the hospital and the university that helped shame Linda into the state she’s in now. After the rape, she was transported by campus police to the local hospital where she was put into the psychiatric ward.
Linda did nothing wrong.
Don’t drink, dress modestly, walk in groups.
I’m tired of giving that advice.
Most parents have taught their sons to respect women. Most young men do not rape. But the prevalence of teenage rape and rapes on college campuses is astonishing. For all the advice we give our daughters, we need to give advice to our sons too.
Let’s teach our sons well.
Guest contributor Joan Haskins has been writing her popular blog on Open Salon since 2009. She teaches yoga to children at Balasana Yoga, which provides material for many of her pieces. She also writes memoir pieces, which goes against everything she was taught as a child about not telling family business. She has one daughter in college who she misses on a daily basis.