02 May Preventing Sexual Assault: Protecting our Children
Benny’s favorite activity as a little kid was going to church. Sunday School, volunteering at fundraising spaghetti dinners, youth group trips when she got older—there was nothing she wouldn’t do. She was a natural leader and encouraged other teens to join her. Soon she started dating an older boy who was very involved in the church; adults commented on what a perfect fit they were for each other. Benny dated this guy for a few months doing the normal teenage outings: movies, fast-food dinners, and high school sporting events.
One weekend she was over at his house having dinner and watching movies with his parents. She remembers the homemade popcorn doused in real butter, something her family never did. Once his parents went to bed he and Benny sat in the living room, continuing to talk before it was time to drive her home. Benny hadn’t dated many boys and was a little uncomfortable when he started kissing her. She rationalized this was normal dating behavior, and reminded herself he was from a prominent church family. Then the boy decided to take things further. Benny froze (which she later learned is a trauma response), and quickly discovered that she was physically pinned down and unable to move or speak. Benny dissociated from her body (another normal response to a traumatic situation), and waited for it to be over. The boy finished, she went into the bathroom to clean up, and he took her home.
Benny had no context by which to understand what had happened to her. Sexual assault was a term reserved for back alley stranger attacks, not popular “upstanding” church boys. Additionally sexuality was not a topic discussed in her family or at school, except for the barest of medical facts. With the little knowledge she had Benny decided that all of this was her fault. She changed her wardrobe, wearing only pants, made sure to never be alone with that boy again, and stopped going to church. It wasn’t until she was well into her twenties that she talked to a close friend about what had happened to her, discovering it was a crime, it was a rape, and it wasn’t her fault.
Our teenage girls and boys need to know that they can talk to us about sexuality. As an adult it can feel awkward, embarrassing, and easier to gloss over specifics. But we need to talk with them early and often, offering developmentally appropriate information and ample space for them to ask questions and share whatever is on their minds. Our kids needs to know that, no matter what, they deserve to be safe and protected.