I am the mother of four sons. They are quite fully grown, and they make me laugh. I am not with them every moment of the day, which is the thing that happens when your kids grow and stretch away from you. But I still like to think I know them in the pit of my belly. This is the plight of parents everywhere; to fully know who our children are. To help them grow into the people they are meant to be. I thought of my boys as I read Stanford rape survivor Emily Doe's letter in Glamour Magazine. I thought of the men they are now and the men they could have been if I had chosen to close my eyes and not fully know them in that deep down place inside. I thought of empathy, and survival, and this world that can knock them on their backs.
Emily Doe somehow manages to have empathy still, which is a feat unto itself. After she was raped by Brock Turner in January 2015 at a party at Stanford University, she was later violated again by the justice system that chose to sentence Turner to just six months in jail (a sentence which was later reduced to just three months, after Turner was released from jail early). Emily Doe, who has remained steadfast in her anonymity, wrote a victim impact letter that was read in court. Then shared on Buzzfeed. Then read aloud on CNN, on the floor of Congress, and went on to be viewed online more than 11 million times. In short, her letter was truly, deeply impactful. Emily Doe was recently named one of Glamour's Women of the Year, and her words continue to impact.
While every syllable rings with the solid, clear bell of truth, one phrase especially struck me as a mother:
So now to the one who said, I hope my daughter never ends up like her, I am learning to say, I hope you end up like me, meaning, I hope you end up like me strong. I hope you end up like me proud of who I’m becoming. I hope you don’t “end up,” I hope you keep going. And I hope you grow up knowing that the world will no longer stand for this. Victims are not victims, not some fragile, sorrowful aftermath. Victims are survivors, and survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving.
As parents, we are meant to raise survivors. Human beings who will survive regardless of whether we are standing next to them, clutching their hand, or they are completely alone. One mother on the Romper staff had this to say about her daughter when she read Emily Doe's powerful words:
Something I worry about so much is that I feel like I have no way to protect my daughter from this. I won’t be with her at the party, in the dorm room, etc. And it’s not her job to protect herself really, and yet I wish I could help her do that.
It is a terrifying thought, sending your child out into the great, wide beyond. But it is what we do. And there are no real talismans to protect them, which nobody wants to hear, but there it is.
So here is a parenting lesson we could all learn, I suppose; Know your children. Not simply their strengths, but their weaknesses — because they are not yet the people they are going to be, and that's actually okay. Teach them to empathize, because it's truly a lost art. Teach them to put themselves in someone else's shoes, rather than just wipe their brow and say, "Phew! Glad that wasn't me." Teach them that "surviving" isn't just something the weak do — that survivors are stronger and capable of accomplishing things no one else could.
Teach them to be strong and wise and, above all, human. Teach them not to point the finger at someone who has been brought down by tragedy — and teach them to lift themselves back up if, God forbid, that person ends up being them. Their lives will most assuredly not be all smooth sailing, and that is the way of the world. Teach them to survive, survive, and survive again, in the proud tradition.
As Emily Doe wrote, "survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving."
Survivors are the ones who change the world. Raise up your little survivors.