When I was 8 years old a teenage boy who I didn’t know approached me while I was playing outside on the sidewalk in front of my home. He explained his bike was stuck in the mud in the river and he asked me if I’d help him get it out. I remember feeling hesitant, but at 8 years old not only did I feel coerced and intimidated by an older boy, but I simply thought you helped people who asked. Soon after our interaction I began a several block walk away from my home and into the depths of a cemetery where the river was located.
But there was no bike stuck in the mud, and it wasn’t long after I realized this fact that I was lying on my back on top of a grave site, sobbing uncontrollably, with my pants and underwear pulled down while he forcefully thrust his penis against my vagina. Any innocence I had prior was lost in that moment.
On April 1, 2015, President Obama issued a proclamation declaring April 2015 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Based on the official White House press release, one of the goals is to work together to prevent sexual assaults.
Most of the work is on us, starting within our own homes. How many parents talk candidly about sex with their children, first of all, and then second of all, address the scary reality of sexual assault?
I started talking to my children about sex as soon as they could participate in a conversation. Our conversations have been open, fluid, ongoing, casual and evolving. It’s naive to believe children aren’t exposed to sex from an early age. It’s in the media, and in all their everyday interactions, as well as we are all born sexual beings (how do you think they got here?).
Sexual discussions begin as simple as using the proper names for reproductive parts. But I also tell my children no one touches you or removes your clothing except for mom or dad, or a physician, and a physician is only allowed to do so if mom or dad are with you. I tell them some people hurt children. I tell them I don’t know why, but they do.
Often our conversations about sex start because they ask a question, and I answer honestly, allowing them to continue to ask questions so they direct the conversation. If we see a sex scene on TV, I remind them sex isn’t the same in real life, and ask them if they have any questions about anything they saw. We talk about how sex is healthy and good, and that someday they will enjoy it, and that I hope they do.
But while some of our discussions are about the healthy, good side of sex, when my son reached age 8, the same age I was when my rape occurred, and an age when he started to want more independence, to play outside by himself, I told him my rape story. I used gentler terms, but I painted a clear picture of the reality that someone can take him from his home. It happens all the time. It happened to me, his mom. My children know my rape story, and often nonchalantly recount it, saying, “A boy took you once, mom.” or “It’s good he let you go, mom, because we wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t.” They seem to understand the dangers some people pose to them; hopefully better than I did.
I have no regrets about sharing my story with my children. I think it makes them more aware of the protection provided in staying close to home or with their parents, and proceeding carefully with strangers. They seem much less accommodating to strangers than I was; being nice is how I became a victim.
I think telling them my story helped them to understand why I’m protective. Sexual assault is not always a “stranger danger” issue (in fact, it’s rarely a stranger). So I keep them a little closer, and they don’t spend the night with or have large amounts of time alone with very many people.
Years later I feel fortunate to be alive, to be able to share my story, and maybe even help someone. There are stories across the country, of children who weren’t so lucky. In 2012 the Evansdale, Iowa cousins Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey were abducted while riding their bikes. Their bodies were discovered in December of the same year. While I endured an assault and the resulting emotional scars which changed my life forever, I was still tucked in my own bed that very same night.
I don’t know if I can do enough talking with my children or take enough safeguards to protect my children from a sexual assault, or an abduction, or any serious crime. But I’m going to try.