Talking to Kids About “Legitimate Rape”
Last week I wrote a letter. I posted it publicly on Facebook and I sent it to Todd Akin himself. I got a plethora of comments of support, admiration and love, lots of people liked it and several folks re-shared it on their own pages. Mr. Akin hasn’t responded to me yet. I suspect he never will. Here is what I wrote:
Dear certain members of the Republican party and anyone else who wants to tell women what to do with their bodies,
I got pregnant from rape. I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. I scraped together $300, found a clinic that performed abortions and went through the procedure and the traumatic aftereffects all alone. It was a horrible, arduous and incredibly traumatic event that had detrimental effects on my self esteem and my ability to relate to men for many years.
It was legitimate rape simply because I said “no” and the young man forced me to have sex anyway. It didn’t matter that I was drunk, it didn’t matter that I was a 17 yr old at a college frat party or that I might have been wearing a skirt. I was raped. I did not want the baby. I tried to force my body to miscarry many times by drinking, smoking and taking very poor care of my body. But I was a fertile young woman and I was stubbornly pregnant.
I do not regret the decision I made to have an abortion, and I am grateful that I was able to make that choice. There is no man in the world who will ever understand my experience and no man has any right to determine whether what I did was right or wrong, or to make a judgment about whether or not women can make that decision in the future.
Spend my money to teach young men and women that every person’s body is their own to do as they please. And that every person has a right to choose to have sex or not. And spend my money to assist women who are raped, who are young and who are unable to care for a child to decide what they want to do of their own free will. And please spend my money taking care of the children in the world today who need our care now: the unwanted, the abused, the hungry, the neglected children who will thrive with our our love and care. Love and take care of our resources now rather than create more problems for the future. Please.
With much love,
What I didn’t talk about was the crazy confusion and self hatred that went along with the whole situation. What I didn’t talk about was that I could not tell my parents because they never talked to me about sex, so I was afraid to talk to them about being pregnant. What I didn’t talk about was how I was a straight A student all the way through high school, until I got a C in my Calculus class the semester I got pregnant. What I didn’t talk about was how I brought that C back up to an A by the end of my senior year through grit and determination on many levels. And what I didn’t talk about was a commitment I made to myself and to my own kids that I would always be open and honest about sex with my children. I wanted to make sure they didn’t go through or put anyone else through what I had experienced that year.
So last night, my husband and I had a short but super sweet conversation with our 13 year old son. As usual, we were talking about this issue within earshot of him. He asked, “What are you talking about?” We shared the topic. We said that there was a man running for public office that stated that he believed that a woman’s body would shut down and not get pregnant if she experienced “legitimate rape”. My son squinched up his face and said, “WHAT?!?! That’s so stupid!” We agreed with him. Then he suddenly said, “Wait! What does ‘legitimate rape’ mean?” We explained that the man who said it meant that he believed that sometimes a woman might not have *really* been raped or that they might be making it up or something. He continued to hold an expression of disbelief.
I asked my 13 year old son, “You know what rape is right?”
I asked my 13 year old son, “Can you tell me?”
He shook his head and looked like a deer in the headlights. This usually means I have taken things somewhat past his comfort level, but I persisted a little bit more.
I asked my 13 YEAR OLD SON, “Is it ever okay to have sex with someone who says no?”
He said, “No.”
I asked him, “No means no, right?”
He smiled and nodded. This is a joke between us due to a time when I hugged him against his permission.
I asked him, “Is it okay to even touch another person when they tell you no?”
My 13 year old son emphatically said “no.”
I am so proud. First of all, he knows he is not supposed to force himself upon another person, period. Some of this he has learned from personal experience, some of this he has learned from us talking to him about clear boundaries. But even more important, unlike a grown man running for public office, my 13 year old son knows enough about the biology of the human body, sex education and general science to know that a woman gets pregnant from sperm in her vagina, generally distributed by a penis. My son knows that whether that penis was welcome or not, pregnancy can still happen. I didn’t tell him my rape story. I may never, but I can teach him lessons about intimacy, violence and sex without telling my own story. I can teach him about boundaries and respect for other human beings without telling him my own story. He learned the science on his own. Seems to me a grown man might know better, too.