Editor’s Note: There is a sexual assault content warning for the following post.
It was written yesterday in response to the testimony and questioning on Capitol Hill by an author who will remain anonymous. I’m so grateful for this author’s insight and courage, because like many of you, I’m just not sure how to talk about it with my children. At 2:55 pm yesterday, I turned off Judge Kavanaugh’s voice on NPR and stepped out of my car for elementary school pickup. The first thing my seven year old said to me upon seeing the state of my face was, “Mom, what’s wrong with you?” And so when we got back to the car I told my kids. I talked to them about the Supreme Court appointments, Judge Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford and once more, we talked about consent. I had no idea what I was saying and no idea if they were listening. When we got home and this post was waiting in my inbox and I’m so incredibly appreciative. I needed to read the suggestions on how to have these conversations with my children and the reminder to “think about how we as Christians are called to respond to this very difficult issue.” This is a post for all of us.
My daughter was raped.
Even typing this sentence makes me weep.
Across the country, people are talking about the allegations of sexual assault against a Supreme Court candidate. I don’t know if these allegations are true. I pray the truth can be uncovered.
But I can tell you that the way people are responding—from cruel memes and snide social media posts to government leaders and the media—is breaking my heart.
The call came at 6 a.m. from our daughter’s best friend. Come quickly, she said. Your daughter’s here with me, and something bad happened. She’s okay, but she needs you.
We knew something was seriously wrong, and I jumped to worst-case scenario. My prayer was short, a liturgy of anguish. For the 15-minute drive, I kept praying over and over, Please God, no. Please God, not that. Please God, no.
Perhaps the allegations against the court candidate are politically driven or curiously timed. Or perhaps they are a crack in the emotional dam, a sliver of light on a secret held too long in a dark place of the soul. I don’t know.
But I can tell you that nothing prepares you for the vacant eyes and listless hands of your 16-year-old daughter whose first pelvic exam is to swab for the semen of a rapist. No number of Law & Order episodes can steel you for the sight of her shorts and T-shirt, bra and underwear packaged as evidence.
Somehow this beautiful child, who we hoped and prayed for, who we swaddled and read fairy tales and taught to look both ways before she crossed the street, was now the victim of this nearly unspeakable crime. And somehow, some way, she found the courage to speak, to tell us, and to report it to the authorities within an hour.
I don’t know how she found that strength. I don’t know because when I was assaulted as a teenager, I didn’t tell the police. I was too scared and too ashamed, and I’ve been haunted for three decades.
Often, the posts of this blog focus on fun activities for faith formation, ways that parents, grandparents, godparents, and others can support the journey of children in a loving and lifelong relationship with God.
Today, I ask you to think about how we as Christians are called to respond to this very difficult issue. Whether the testimony is found to have merit or is dismissed as the faulty memory of a young girl, we are at a pivotal moment when we must stand up and speak out for the dignity of all, women and men. We must not, cannot, be cavalier or silent, treating this national conversation as something set apart, as must-see reality TV that has no bearing on our own lives.
Please, talk with the children you love. Promise them a brave space to share their hurt or express their anger. Tell them about Jesus who loves all of us when we’re strong and when we’re broken, when we have been wounded beyond imagining and when we are the ones who have inflicted the wounds. Tell them that their words and actions matter—and then show them that it is so with your own words and actions.
This is more than a sex-education discussion or a talk about safe practices and being diligent (although talk with your children about these too!). I encourage you to read the Bible together—especially the tough stories. Consider the story of Susanna (in the Apocrypha). Two men lust after her, “burning with desire,” and she is falsely accused of committing adultery, an act punishable by death. In her story, we see how truth and justice ultimately triumph over evil.
Talk about the Baptismal Covenant and particularly what it means to respect the dignity of every human being. This respect is for the physical person, to be sure, but also respect for truth and justice. I urge you to talk about social media: Explore together the best ways to respond to hurtful comments, thoughtlessly shared memes, and forwarded fake news.
And remember, your children are listening not only to what you say but what you do. Look carefully at your own social media feed. Does it reflect your best self—and your hopes for those you love? Above all, make sure these children—your own, your nieces and nephews, your godchildren—know that they can come to you, that they can trust you with their story, and that your love and the love of Jesus will never waver.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]