Op-Ed by B.N. Frank
I’m not going to try to convince you to believe anything. I wasn’t there in 1982 when Dr. Blasey-Ford alleges she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. However, I know that situations like this were more common than most people thought in 1982. That’s because I was also a teenager in the 1980s.
I’ll never forget the private talk my father had with me in 8th grade before I went to my first “boy-girl” party. He had never talked to me like this before. He was actually shaking. I quickly became as nervous as he was. I had a hard time following his awkward nervous rambling. It all had to do with me needing to be careful around boys. There was something about being careful about who I got into a car with, that bad things could happen, and he had seen or known about some bad things.
I obviously remember less about what he said than how it made me feel. My mom had said for years already to tell her immediately if anyone did or said anything to me that made me uncomfortable. But seeing my dad this way made a lasting impact. It also better prepared me for the cases of sexual assault that were happening more often than what many people believed – even in mostly white upper class communities like ours. Even among kids from exclusive private Catholic schools.
Dr. Blasey-Ford’s allegations have dredged up a lot of uncomfortable if not extremely painful memories for both men and women who experienced it, heard about it from friends, and/or witnessed it. These types of situations happened more often than what was reported in the 1980s especially when teenagers were using alcohol and/or drugs.
Of course, some ’80s teens were still fortunate enough not to experience it, hear about it, or witness it in high school. Unfortunately, sexual assault was also happening more often than what was reported at mostly white upper class colleges and universities as well. Over my lifetime, I have met so many teens and young adults who were not at all prepared to expect anything like this to happen to them or anyone they knew. Neither were their parents.
I’m not a trained anything and I’m not the first to make these suggestions about preventing sexual assault. However, these points do seem worth repeating given the circumstances:
- Talk to kids at a young age about the possibility of sexual assault happening to them and to others. Encourage them to immediately tell you about anything inappropriate that they experience, hear about, or witness – even if they were someplace they weren’t supposed to be and doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing. Kids need to hear this or they will be afraid to speak up – especially if they were using alcohol and/or drugs when it happened.
- Talk to kids about what can happen when experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Don’t tell them they shouldn’t do it simply because you say so. That usually backfires. Explain how they may become impaired, lose consciousness and/or “black out.” All of this can make them more vulnerable to “bad things” that could happen.
- Explain that “being under the influence” can cause people to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t. In some cultures, alcohol is referred to as “spirits” because they believe we become vulnerable to disembodied spirits (ghosts) who can enter our bodies and take us for a ride, so to speak. It’s not necessary for you to agree with this theory. Most of us would agree, however, that we know people who “don’t act like themselves” when under the influence. I met someone who decided at a young age to never drink alcohol or do drugs simply because his older brother always got in trouble when he did.
- Tell kids that sexual assault victims need to be taken to the hospital immediately. Encourage that complaints be filed with the police so there is a public record and it can be investigated.
Approximately 15 years ago, my aunt (now in her 90s) told me that when she was 17 and my dad was 8, they were at a park and one of her classmates grabbed her arm and started forcing her toward his car. My father started yelling at him, pounding him with fists and kicking him. Eventually the classmate gave up and left. She didn’t mention whether this classmate was under the influence of alcohol or drugs – just that it happened. Learning about this immediately reminded me of that talk from 8th grade.
Sexual assault doesn’t just happen to girls and women. I know a man who was raped by his father when he was 4 years old. After it was reported, he and his siblings were removed from their parents’ custody. I knew a man who was raped by his 16-year-old female babysitter when he was 11. He never told his parents because her family went to their church. It seemed to haunt him even into his 50s.
Since high school, I have met dozens of girls and women who alleged they were sexually assaulted and/or raped. Many of them were sexually inexperienced when they say it happened. Many of them felt that their parents wouldn’t understand or be supportive. I still only know 2 women who reported being raped. In both cases, they were men that they had known socially. In both cases, their parents were very supportive. In both cases, the men spent time in prison.
Back in the 1980s, one of my college friend’s mothers came to take her home only a few weeks after we had started classes our sophomore year. I’ll refer to my friend as Tracy. While Tracy was home for the summer, she had asked her parents to pay for her to see a counselor. She didn’t tell them why. During our freshman year, Tracy alleged that she was raped at a fraternity party. She admitted to being very drunk and willingly “making out” with him before it happened. When he started to undress her, she told him she was a virgin and begged him to stop. He didn’t and she was too drunk to defend herself. She didn’t go to the hospital afterward and didn’t tell anyone for a few weeks. I was one of the first people she told. As she cried, I kept telling her that it wasn’t her fault because she had told him to stop. After that, whenever she wanted to talk about it, I would listen and say the same thing.
Tracy’s mom met all of her friends when she came to take her home. She took me aside and thanked me for being so supportive. She also expressed her shock that this could have happened at our beautiful mostly white upper class university. I told her it was happening everywhere and more often than anyone wanted to believe.
Most of us don’t want to think about the possibility of sexual assault – let alone talk to our children about it. I’m still really glad my parents talked to me about it when they did even though it wasn’t comfortable for any of us.