What happened when I told my 7 year old about my rape

I started writing Letters to Lola when I was pregnant. I wanted to have my stories, my advice, my words all written down long before we got to the time when she might need them most. A time when many children distance themselves from their parents seeking independence. A time when they need their parents most.

When I had the first copy in my hands it hit me that I was publishing a book of secrets. While there isn’t anything in there I had lied to her about, I had written a book for her that I was giving to the world with many details I hadn’t disclosed to her. And she’s 7.

So we had a talk. I told her there were things in the book she didn’t know about and I didn’t want to have secrets from her. But also that she might not want to know all of it yet. “Because I’m very sensitive,” she said. “Yes, but I know you can handle hard things.”

I started by telling her I had some friends who were mean to me. Then I told her I had used drugs. And then I took a giant breath and said, “You know how I’ve always told you that no one is allowed to touch you in a way that you don’t want them to? Well someone did that to Mommy. And they didn’t stop when I said no.” I told her that that might be as much as she needed to know for now but that I would always answer her questions honestly.

Then she asked me a question that no one had ever asked me before. “I have one question Mommy. Why would someone do that to you?”

I’ve probably never collected my tears from my belly faster than in that moment. I gave her my best answer. Which was that I didn’t know. That sometimes we don’t get to know why people hurt us, and that I didn’t know why that person hurt me.

Her question hit me like a ton of bricks. In her 7 years she is not yet ingrained in rape culture, so her question stood outside of it. It seems to me that this is the first and best question we should all be asking when we hear about assault. Second only to, “Does the victim have support?” And yet it had never, ever been asked to me before.

I’ve been asked what I was wearing. If I was drunk. What I did to provoke it. How I lead him on. How long I waited to say no. If I fought back. How hard I fought back. I’ve been asked everything under the sun about what I did wrong to cause my assault but no one had ever asked me why a rapist would choose to rape.

In fact I’ve never heard the question posed in any context. No without placing some amount of blame on the victim.

We haven’t discussed it further. She’s decided she would like to wait until she’s 10 to read the book herself. She has a copy. She says she wants to be “more mature” before she reads it but she read the introduction on her own. I anticipate more questions in the future and I will answer all of them honestly. I may never have the answer to her question about “why someone would do that.”

But I hope that that is the question more of us will begin to ask. I hope that we can begin to take the lens away from victims of assault and start asking what causes someone to feel entitled to another’s body against their will. What inspires violence? It seems at least a piece of this answer lies in the fact that the question isn’t asked.

But if this was my baby’s only question, perhaps there is hope that the rest of us can begin asking it too.