A Father’s Day Post on Protecting your Daughters – Part 2

A few times since sharing my story, parents have asked me what they can do to protect their daughters or nieces or granddaughters from rape. My first reaction was that they can’t – no one can. But I thought about it some more, I thought about why some girls get raped and others don’t…

I felt the need to separate this post from part 1 which discusses tools we can use to equip young women; namely teaching them to trust their intuition, identify risks, and overcome emotional boundaries to resisting the unwanted sexual behaviours of men who were known to them.

It needed it’s own post because it’s not about preventing rapes that are about to happen, it’s about all the things that lead up to the moment it’s about to happen. And it also needs it’s own post because I might lose my nerve and take it down – it’s very personal.

 

When I got raped at age 16, I was in an upstairs room of a house with at least 10 friends downstairs. “Why didn’t you scream?” People have asked me that and I’ve asked myself a number of times too. In the past few months of my healing journey I finally figured out why.

I didn’t scream for help because somewhere between realizing what was happening to me and it being over (about 2 minutes), I accepted that I had brought it on myself. I was already humiliated and guilty and shameful. I didn’t scream because I had already accepted blame and I already hated myself for “putting myself in that position.”

So if I have one piece of advice for how to protect your daughters it is this: empower her. Embrace her femininity. Show her how to respect women – in the way you talk about yourself and about other women. Teach her to expect no less from men. Teach her that she’s in control of her body and that no one has the right to violate her physical or sexual boundaries. Raise her to be the type of woman who knows that sexual assault is never her fault.

You could do all these things and more, but you can’t protect her from being raped. But you may be able to protect her from suffering in silence. You may be able to protect her from hating herself and blaming herself and looking for a way out.

As a girl, I didn’t learn the lessons above. Here are the ones I learned, the things that led up to the moment it happened.

In junior high (grade 7-8), I was a chubby, unpopular, nerd who loved books and won spelling bees. I was terrible at sports but excelled in school, my only “friends” just wanted to copy my homework or be in my project group. Boys didn’t notice me unless there was a test coming up. The other girls had started having sex and I hadn’t even gotten my period yet. They had started smoking and drinking and going to parties with older boys – I spent weekends doing chores.

I wore wide leg jeans, oversized sweatshirts, and platform saddle shoes. I had no fashion sense (did anyone in the 90s?), and I was ashamed of my body and those clothes hid my flat chest and muffin top. I didn’t style my hair and when I tried to wear makeup it looked like a six year old’s colouring book – clearly some effort was put in, but not objectively pleasing to the eye. No one taught me to blow dry my hair, no one taught me how to put on makeup. My father took me shopping at stores that also sold lawn sprinklers and horse feed. I was afraid to spend more than 5 minutes “primping” for fear that I’d be acting like a typical woman. I dreaded getting my period because it would mean I couldn’t pass as the son he never had.

You see, women are high maintenance. Women are not to be trusted, they’re catty and manipulative and too emotional. They cry too easily and they’re irrational.

In my community, my school, even within my family this was the message. It’s easy to see why I shied away from my own femininity. I acted interested in boy things, and cracked jokes and tried to act like one of the guys. I hid behind sarcasm which further isolated me.

Lesson: I should be ashamed of my femininity

In 9th grade, I was one of only a few girls in my class who was still a virgin. I felt young and naive and uncool as ever. But a senior boy took interest in me. He asked me to be his girlfriend and I happily said yes. I didn’t really like him, but I was thrilled to have a boyfriend because I wanted the other girls to accept me and stop calling me a loser.

That night he snuck out to see me and threw pebbles at my bedroom window – straight out of a romantic movie. He helped me down from the window and we walked to the park and sat on the swings. He kissed me – my first kiss. I was 14. Two years later I’d be the school slut, but if you tried to predict that no one would have believed you.

Suddenly, the other girls let me into their conversations. I was, after all, dating a senior now. They gave me advice about getting birth control from the free clinic and giving blow jobs when you don’t feel like sex. I was in their circle and loved every minute of it.

Once, he took me for a drive at lunch time. We parked and made out and went to second base. Another night, still within the first month of dating, he came by my bedroom window at night again. We went to the park again and made out for a little while and he tried to unbutton my pants. I pushed his hand away and he stopped, stood up, and said we should go. He didn’t walk me home or help me back through my window. The next day at school he completely ignored me. I heard through one of his friends that we were broken up. He told everyone I was prude and a baby and the girls stopped talking to me again. I considered giving him a blow job but I wasn’t 100% sure what that was so I accepted my fate. I was still a loser, but I was beginning to learn how to get approval from both men and women.

Lesson: my value is related to my willingness and ability to please men.

Over the summer, everything changed. I reached puberty, slimmed down, and developed breasts. I was allowed to get highlights in my hair and for my 14th birthday my parents bought me a makeup lesson and a few subtle colours of eyeshadow and blush.

I went into 10th grade a new person and everyone noticed. Suddenly the boys paid attention and flirted with me, which meant the girls let back me into their circle because I suddenly had some social capital. I was still smart and bookish but I hid it and started acting out in class to hide that side of myself. I wanted to leave that nerdy, lonely girl behind. I still wore an oversized sweatshirt to school, but took it off when I got there to reveal a low cut tank top and a pushup bra.

Now that I was attractive, the fact that I was a virgin made me even more appealing. I dated one of the most popular boys in the senior class, and then broke up with him for not paying enough attention to me. I was reveling in my new-found social status and had the confidence (and cockiness) to match.

Lesson: sexuality is power.

I had been dating someone for a few months and my father and stepmother started to worry it was getting too serious. They told me not to have sex with him, that I needed to wait. I had a million reasons why I should and I knew they didn’t know what they were talking about, but they just had two:

1. “Remember what happened to that other girl at school? She ended up getting raped by a guy at a party. That’s what happens to promiscuous girls.”

Lesson: being promiscuous and going to a party is going to get me raped.

2. “If you have sex with him, he’ll break up with you. He’s only with you because he wants to ‘take’ your virginity and once you give it up he won’t want you and no one else will either.”

Lesson: once you lose your virginity, you are damaged goods.

They forced me to break up with him. We never had sex.

The summer after Sophomore year was uneventful – I got in trouble at the end of the school year and spent most of the summer under strict punishment.

Junior year was my favourite year of high school. I had a car and a waitressing job and cool friends and had started planning for college. I had a little bit of money and a little bit of freedom and I dreamed of getting out of my small town and seeing the world.

By the Spring, I had left my former nerdy self behind completely. I stopped hanging out with the smart kids, dropped a few AP classes, and was constantly getting in trouble with my teachers. I smoked cigarettes at lunch time and convinced my Dairy Queen coworker to buy beer for me and my friends. I felt like I’d outgrown high school boys so I flirted with townie guys and kept in touch with the old boyfriend who’d since gone off to college.

I was still a virgin. But I dressed and talked and acted like someone who had more experience and people just assumed. I dated older boys and they didn’t correct the assumptions.

That summer, a couple of weeks before I was raped, I had sex for the first time. It was with someone I cared about, it was no more or less awkward than anyone’s first time, and I don’t regret it (now). It was really no big deal.

 

These were the things that led up to the moment that it happened. And when I found myself in the moment, all those lessons came flooding back. And to answer the question, “Why didn’t I scream for help?” or “Why didn’t I tell anyone?” you can look at the lessons I learned from an early age:

  • I should be ashamed of my femininity.
    I don’t want anyone to see me as weak. I need to be tough and act like one of the guys and just brush it off. If I get all emotional about this, they won’t accept me. I can’t let them see me cry.
  • My worth is related to my willingness and ability to please men.
    It’s possible that I misled him into thinking I wanted this, it’s probably a misunderstanding. I was nice to him – I definitely didn’t flirt with him directly but I was wearing short shorts and cherry lipgloss and telling a story to the group that was full of innuendoes.
  • Sexuality is power.
    I chose the label “slut” over “rape victim” after it happened.
  • Being promiscuous and going to a party is going to get me raped.
    Clearly, this is my fault. I put myself in this position. I had sex last week and now I’m at a party and now I’m getting raped. I was warned and I did it anyway.
  • Once you lose your virginity, you are damaged goods.
    I was already damaged goods. I bet he wouldn’t have done this if I was a virgin.

 

This is a deeply personal post and a difficult one to write, let alone share with the world. But it’s written, and I feel I have to post it because there’s a chance it could reach one parent out there and change the way he or she talks in front of their daughter. It could mean the difference between a daughter who screams for help, and one who suffers in silence for over a decade.

I’m deliberately posting this on Father’s Day. I was fortunate to have a wonderful step-father come into my life at a very important time, and counterbalance some of the chaos I was raised in. He’s been my #1 supporter since starting this Project. We went on vacation together a couple of months ago. He’s usually a man of few words but we spent most evenings talking about every topic under the sun. He asked me, “What do I do differently with my granddaughter? How do I protect her?” So I wrote this post for him, and for her, for every girl with a Papa like that and every girl who deserves one.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Read “A Father’s Day Post…” – Part 1

Author

Lauren

Lauren

Lauren Reid is the founder of When You're Ready.org, a three time survivor of rape who built this community to let other survivors of sexual violence know that they're not alone. When you're ready, I'll be here.

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