“Being divorced, [and a] solo parent with two sons, make for a very interesting dynamic when the mother is a survivor of three sexual assaults and domestic violence. After having my first son, I made up my mind that I would not be bitter or hateful toward men. After all, how could I raise health, happy, and productive sons to be men if they sense my pain and loathing?
The second attack was physically and emotionally more painful than the first rape, but the first rape changed my life the most. I was 12 when I invited two male friends (around the same age) to come over to our apartment to play video games. There was no reason to believe that I was in danger. In fact, my mind could not fathom anything happening to me, especially not rape. Rape was not even something I understood enough to consider it as a possibility. The two early-teen boys took turns assaulting me with a knife to my neck. I knew boys were interested in girls at that age, but this opened my eyes to the violence of sex before I felt the pleasure of sex.
When I first became a mother, I had to come to terms with the fact that some day my son would be that age. He will one day be physically capable of raping a girl or woman. I had a choice to either treat them as blank slates or treat them as potential criminals. Perhaps there were other choices, but to me, those were the only two. I chose to view them as a blank slate.
I was 13 at the time of the second rape. It happened in me the boys’ bathroom of my high school. The level of violence involved in the attack gave me floating feeling — as if I were outside of my boy watching it happen to me. The first rape was two boys, and with this subsequent attack there were three teen boys. As a mother, I could not bear my sons doing such horrific acts to another person. I had to make them understand ‘no’ and ‘stop’ early on. I used terms like ‘no means no’ for defiant acts and ‘respect his/her body and his/her space.’ The goal was to instill these terms in them before ‘the talk.’ I did not want to wait until it was too late or too awkward.
I told my older son, now almost 20, when he was 9 or 10 years old. As an outspoken advocate regarding sexual assault issues, it made me nervous that he would find out before I told him. So, I simply said, 'When I speak at all of these places, I talk about things that happened to me like the domestic violence, which you know about, and sexual assault. I gently explain that is when one person forces another person to do bad touches with their hands, privates, or something else.’ I purposely chose not to make it a part of the sex talk. I did not want him to think that violence and sex belong in the same category. The sex talk was about mechanics, love, choices, freedom, and responsibility. The sexual assault talk was about using sex to hurt people.
My younger son, now age 18, has a severe mental illness. So, I did not directly talk to him about my experience until he was almost 13. Now, it was mentioned that I was going to speak on my experiences with domestic violence but I left the sexual assault portion open to interpretation. I told him in a very matter-of-fact way when he told me of a boy who was victimized by another peer. ‘You know mom has been through a lot, including sexual assault and domestic violence. So, I understand what [he] is feeling.’ I embedded the issue in another conversation.
As he grew up, I made sure be understood the importance of boundaries, respecting people’s physical space, and choosing appropriate relationships. It was more important for me to focus on the positive aspects of relationships and sexuality than on the violence. That said, I worked with his clinical team to make sure he understood what it meant for people to make choices that violate someone else. My approach was to make ‘the talk’ an ongoing, open dialogue. Often we talked while in the car or while playing video games. My boys were not like the boys that raped me, or the man that raped me when they were 7 and 8, or their father that abused me. They were clean slates.
I had the talk as a way to empower them and protect themselves. I chose to help them understand boundaries in all areas of life — not just sex — and consider choices in all areas as well. To add, it was important that they knew my limitations early so they understood why mom does not like to use public bathrooms and other quirks. In order for them to feel free to tell me their deepest hurts, they had to know that I was human. That I experienced hurt. That my childhood was marred but I was resilient, and god never let me down. There was no one talk that really detailed all of the details of the rape. They know bits and pieces. My older son read my book when he turned 18 — giving him much of the details. My rape was a part of my life, so I chose to discuss it slowly so it can fade into the background of their lives, rather having some kind of traumatic awakening about what happened to their mom.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.