DIARIO DI MAMMA
My 4-year-old son recently picked up and hugged and tugged at his best friend at soccer practice. I could tell the 5-year-old boy he was holding was uncomfortable, so I ran over and had my son put him down. I helped the boys get back into practice mode and moved on.
But on the way back to the car, when we were heading home, I told my boy that you have to respect people’s space. You can’t force anyone to do anything he doesn’t want. He apologized and said he would not do it again and that he just was so excited to be with his friend. He’s affectionate. I get it. But I want him to respect people’s boundaries, to take no for an answer, to know his own physical and emotional strength and use it (or not) appropriately.
Now, these lessons are a bit beyond the scope of a 4-year-old boy who had delayed speech and is just now beginning to communicate with us. But I’m planting seeds. Just days after this experience with my son, the world listened to an eloquent, moving letter from a rape survivor about the consequences of violence, disregard, privilege, entitlement, and disrespect. Reporters, who read the letter on air, could not help but cry. I cried. And the youth of the rapist – not even 20 when he committed the crime – had me wondering all the more what kind of people raised such a depraved human being. There’s a sad, sad irony in the fact that it seemed necessary to write the headline, “How to Teach Our Sons Not to Be Rapists.”
In March, Brock Turner, a Stanford University swimmer, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at a fraternity party in January 2015. He faced up to 14 years in prison, but prosecutors sought six, according to the Washington Post. The judge only gave him six months in prison for fear that jail would be too hard on him. Really? Too hard on him?
The problem with America today is that none of us are taking responsibility for anything. We throw blame around like it’s a ball. We protect our children from being grown ups, even when the time comes for them to be adults. Our priorities are completely off base. For starters, the fact that this rapist’s swim times were featured in the same articles reporting on the rape he committed (with two eye witnesses mind you) says a lot about where we are as a people. It’s very sad to think about raising a child here.
Frankly, one of my gravest concerns – ever since I learned I was carrying a boy – is teaching him to be kind, generous, and respectful of everyone. This rapist had a charmed life. He was a swimmer attending Stanford University, one of our nation’s most prominent institutions of higher learning. Clearly, he had the means to fulfill his greatest potential. The problem is that money doesn’t buy character or a moral compass, apparently.
I don’t like to judge other parents. This is a hard job, and we all have our own way of doing things. And I certainly have no idea what went on in the home of the rapist in the years leading up to his crime. But the response from his parents is nothing short of despicable. There seems to be no guilt, no disappointment, no responsibility for their role in their son’s behavior. There isn’t even shame. No one has truly apologized to this poor woman, who is struggling to put her life back together and had the strength and conviction to share her story and more importantly her feelings, including profound sorrow, loneliness, and anxiety.
As a mom and a woman, I wanted to reach into the screen and hold the hand of this survivor, known only as Emily Doe, to let her know she is not alone. We all care for her. We all are outraged. We all are sorry she has to face this trauma. We want to help her endure and thrive now. If I felt guilt and responsibility when my son lifted another child without his consent, how could these parents not feel genuine remorse and a desire to help when their son committed rape? Turner’s parents should have reached out to the survivor, tried to comfort her, or at least said they were sorry – and meant it. They didn’t.
Instead, Turner’s father wrote a letter so offensive that I’m unsure how his lawyers allowed it out into the open, where all of us could dissect every inch of distaste and insensitivity and vomit at its very existence. In it, he noted that his son’s dreams, which some have suggested included going to the Olympics, would be dashed now that he would have to register as a sex offender. Poor baby, right? Maybe he should have thought of that before he committed such a horrendous act of violence. Worst of all, the father does not acknowledge the crime as rape. Of jail time, as opposed to probation, the father actually writes, “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” For real? You’re referring to rape as “20 minutes of action”? It is literally unbelievable.
CNN reported that Turner’s mother begged for leniency because her son would not be able to endure the hardships of jail. Mothers the world over can relate to wanting to save your baby. But I’d like to think that if my son committed such a horrific act, I’d want him to pay the full price of his actions, to serve as an example, to right his wrong by taking responsibility and trying to help his victim and others. Of course, I’d like to think my son would have called for help rather than raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. Yes, that is where this disgraceful violence took place and where two Swedish students witnessed the crime, tackled the rapist, and called for help.
Here’s the problem. How do we teach our boys to respect our girls so that our men respect our women? This is my plan, which is a work in progress:
- I will teach my son not to touch anyone who doesn’t want to be touched. Check! But the work must continue.
- I will teach him to help his friends when they’re crying or hurt, so that if he ever sees anyone in trouble he will take action, whether that means comforting the person or calling for help. He will not take advantage of the situation or the person. If he sees others doing wrong, he will speak up. He will do this because I will teach him by caring for others myself, by talking to him about difficult situations he might face, by making it clear that empathy is encouraged.
- I will teach him that his mistakes have consequences. This means following through on time outs or grounding or taking material items away. The punishment will fit the bad behavior and age. This also means encouraging authority figures, such as his teachers, to discipline him. How many parents do you know who have gone into schools and reprimanded teachers for putting their kid in time out or lowering their grade for bad behavior? Turner’s parents aren’t the only ones aiding and abetting their son. Earlier this year, the world was horrified at Ethan Couch, the kid claiming “affluenza,” being too privileged to understand right and wrong, when he was being charged for driving drunk and killing four people. Then, he shockingly got probation, was caught drinking again and breaking the terms of his probation, and ran off to another country with his mother to escape punishment. I will say no to my son. I will punish him when he deserves it. If the affluenza kid was my son, I would drag him by the ear to the courtroom, have him beg for forgiveness to the families of the victims, and go to jail because last I checked homicide is not the same thing as breaking curfew.
- I will teach my son that we have a zero-tolerance policy for violence under any circumstance. I am already doing this every time he argues with my niece and nephew and someone starts throwing punches or scratching, or biting. They know any of this behavior results in time out and a loss of some privilege. It is simply unacceptable.
- I will teach him the true meaning of consent and to accept no for an answer. I will teach him that consent is impossible if someone is inebriated, unconscious, or semi-conscious. I will teach him to help those who can’t help themselves and to respect others’ bodies.
- I will teach him to say sorry and mean it when he does wrong. I’m doing my best to teach him to be responsible for his actions. I want him to recognize that everyone, regardless of their sex, sexuality, race, creed, or nationality, has worth and deserves his respect. When he hurts someone – knowingly or unwittingly – he should apologize and learn from his mistake.
- I will hold his hand and show him love. I will not buy his love. I will not love him by making excuses for him. I will not make it possible for him to get whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I will not love him by fighting his battles for him or doing his homework for him. I will lift him up when he is down. I will help him navigate this harsh, harsh world. I will show him to love thy neighbor through my example. I will love thy neighbor.
Still, I don’t know if any of this will be enough. Since it takes a village, I’m open to your recommendations. Send them to me. Shout them from rooftops. Tell me at the schoolyard. We are in this together.
My fear lies with the rest of the world, which is becoming less and less recognizable to me. When everyone else, including people vying to be leaders of the free world, esteemed judges, and involved parents seem to be contradicting the lessons of decency and respect, it makes the already difficult job of parenting seem impossible. It makes me fear for the future of my son and children everywhere. It makes me scared we will lose the love we’ve fought so hard to get.