I was sexually molested by a relative from the age of eight to fourteen.
Later in my teen years, several other men, strangers, approached me and tried to have sexual interactions.
I felt like I had the proverbial sign above my head. “Easy target. Pick her.”
Back then, I had no idea why. Now, I understand.
My low self-esteem. My assumptions that sexual things were secret, dirty, and unspoken. My belief that my feelings weren’t valid.
All those, indeed, put an invisible sign over me that predators, who know what they’re looking for and know how to spot it, could easily see.
I am a #MeToo girl, but I’ve worked to make sure my three girls don’t have to say that. No one wants to think about their little girl or boy being sexually traumatized. We know, though, that given the plethora of #MeToos and the cultural landscape, we need to prepare our children for the possibility.
Yet many of the popular ideas out there for teaching our girls are so negative. Don’t wear this. Don’t go there. Don’t act this way. This is actually the opposite of what girls need to have a healthy outlook on their bodies and their rights.
Boys, on the other hand, may learn that they’re supposed to be tough, rub some dirt in it, and never cry. They’re expected to aim for sports fame and leadership. A boy who has no interest in those activities can feel left out of social interaction, vulnerable to someone who tries to isolate him even more. Boys who don’t fit the “tough” mold aren’t as likely to tell someone they’re being abused, fearing that “telling” is proving their own weakness.
Ted Bunch from A Call to Men insists that parents should strive not to reinforce stereotypes that indicate boys are weak if they cry or feel emotions. He says “I think that we have to be careful in how we talk to our boys and be more sensitive in how we talk to our boys. We want to teach boys to have the full range of emotions, let them cry, let them experience their feelings.”
What are some positive ways to teach our daughters and sons about this dangerous aspect of their world without instilling fear or shame?
Maybe surprisingly, the best options are not specific to sexual trauma but to raising healthy children in general. Healthy, strong kids become kids who resist becoming statistics.