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How Do I Talk to My 4-Year-Old About Rape Culture?

Upset problem child sitting on play park playground bench concept for bullying, depression, child protection or loneliness

In the aftermath of our recent presidential election, I’ve been obsessing over what to tell my daughter about rape culture. She’s only 4 years old, so right now we’re in the “Stranger Danger…these are your privates…please for the love of God, can you just put your underwear back on so we can leave the house” stage. But I’m a neurotic Jew who has to prepare for everything well in advance (my laid-back husband would say that is an understatement).

This is especially true when comes to parenting. You should have seen my “potential preschool” spreadsheet or my color-coded vacation agenda. Although, whatever plans I make usually get thrown out the window because…and I know this is going to come as a shock to you…4-year-olds do not like to stick to plans. Crazy, right?

In any case, I feel like I’m going to be explaining the concept of sexual assault to my daughter much sooner than I ever thought I would, especially living in a country that recently elected a man who bragged about sexual assault and harassment. It’s been hard enough for me to wrap my head around that painful fact…but what do I say to my daughter?

When I think about rape I have one horrifying thought. I feel lucky that it’s never happened to me. What kind of thinking is that? Sexual assault is so prevalent in America, that I feel lucky that I’m not one of the 25 million American rape survivors.

I’ve had my share of close calls. There was one memorable night during college spent warding off a so-called “nice guy’s” insistent advances. He was such a “nice guy” he wouldn’t help me leave the party at his house, which was in an unfamiliar area of Boston. Being the naïve and perpetually broke college student that I was, I couldn’t afford a taxi and I was too embarrassed to call a friend for help. So I waited out the night on high alert, and at first light (this was before navigation on phones…how did we live???) I followed the skyline all the way back to my dorm. I saw this guy two days later and cursed him out in front of my friends, telling him he should never treat a girl that way again—it was not OK. I have no idea if what I said got through.

I’ve walked home late at night, keys clutched between my fingers, phone in the other hand just in case. I’ve fended off hands-y dates. I’ve ignored the lewd “catcalls,” which is really hard for me. My fight or flight instinct usually leans toward fight. I’m prone to shouting matches in bars with dumb idiots.

All of this is to say, that despite some close calls, I’ve made it 33 years without being raped. It’s still one of my biggest fears (of course, that has now been replaced by anything happening to my daughter).

But the question remains, how do I talk to my daughter about rape? How do I talk about this without insinuating that there is anything she could do that would cause her rape? Because, let me be clear, the only person who causes rape is a rapist.

And the answer is…well, I still don’t have the answer.

So, for now, let’s talk about your son. To anyone raising a man, here are a few things I’d like you to share with him about consent:

1. If consent is in question, the answer is then no. The answer is always no.

2. Consent is a constant conversation. Consenting to one sexual act does not mean “blanket consent” over all sexual acts.

3. Drinking to the point of not being able to say yes or no does not mean yes.

4. Just because you’ve had sex with her before, does not mean she is automatically consenting to have sex with you again.

5. Women are never “asking” for sex unless they are literally asking for sex. I don’t care if it ruins the mood…you better be damn sure they really want it. It doesn’t matter if they’re drunk. It doesn’t matter how sexy they look. It doesn’t matter how much they flirted with you. You need to be sure.

I don’t think it’s ever too young to talk about the concept of consent, no matter if you’re raising a girl or a boy. (I mean, you don’t have to talk about legalities or statistics, you can make it age-appropriate, like, “Did she consent to share Rainbow Dash?”)

We live in a world where judges value the future of “bright men” over the women they’ve forever victimized, where rape kits are stacked up by the tens of thousands and go untested, where “locker room talk” is used to explain away unthinkable behavior by politicians. But we can raise our children better. We must raise our children better if we want to change rape culture in this country. I don’t want to get all “the children are our future” on you…but you know, they literally are. And it’s up to us to raise them right.


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