A few months back, my daughter turned five. Something about that number feels monumental, doesn’t it? Halfway to 10, which is so close to the teen years. When I had my baby girl five years ago, I was filled with a fierce hope for her, for my opportunity to raise her. She would be a strong, self-assured girl from an early age, because I would teach her about self-love and body positivity and boundaries and consent. She would know her worth, when faced with challenges of any kind, and she would realize that the word, “No” was a powerful tool that would let people know where you stood.
Five years later, and I’m not sure the things I’ve been teaching her will be enough. I’m not sure any of it will ever be enough, because I’ve had to watch case after case of sexual assault victims in both Canada and the US go to some kind of trial, and then get destroyed. And all I can think of is, “That could be my daughter, one day.”
I see male judges treating rapists as though what they’ve done is so inconsequential, it’s barely a blip on the radar. As though it’s an inconvenience to have to give them a little slap on the wrists, when their time could be better spent putting murderers and drug lords away. All that time this past summer we got to learn about little Brock Turner, Stanford-student-star-swimmer-future-amazing-human-being-who’s-really-just-a-rapist, had me shuddering to think of what my daughter will face during her college years. Will colleges like Stanford still be teaching young women how to not get raped, and how to drink a little less? Will my daughter internalize this message that it’s the woman’s fault, for losing control, for dressing provocatively, for flirting with no intention of taking things further? And when she internalizes that message, will she then be afraid to say anything, should she be assaulted when any of those factors were involved?
This is one of the hard things about raising girls, as a woman. Ask any female you know whether they’ve ever been sexually assaulted, or verbally abused, or threatened in some way by a man. The answer is invariably yes. At some point or another, every woman’s safety feels threatened or becomes compromised. And when you look at those kinds of numbers, and place your own daughter in the equation, when you imagine your daughter being in a scenario that you’ve found yourself in, at one point or another, it’s virtually impossible not to weep.
We live in a society that doesn’t seem to have grasped the horrific magnitude of what it means to be raped. The world seems to be filled with men who minimize the damage it does to the victim, and far too many of those men are also in the judicial system either defending rapists or giving them lighter sentences (or none at all). They question if there was alcohol involved, how promiscuous the woman is, whether there was anything that could’ve been done to defend herself. As though the onus is somehow on her. As if she would ever put herself through the trauma of going to trial, just to make some man’s life more difficult.
How do we protect our daughters against that?
We can’t, obviously. And it’s a numbers game. Who knows which ones of you reading will have a daughter that ends up getting raped? It’s a horrifying thought, I know; I can’t believe I even wrote it. The reason I wrote it, though, is because I believe this is the only way of thinking, in order to effect change. In order for people to get angry enough to become activists for stricter sentencing for sexual assault, they need to be thinking of their daughter (or son) as the future victim who is standing in a courtroom being indirectly blamed, or perhaps not even believed.
I, for one, am willing to step forward and fight for a world that’s a bit safer for my daughter than it was for me. What about you?