Raising a girl as a rape survivor

Yesterday my local paper published a short article about police stopping two separate groups of college aged men carrying unconscious women back to their homes. In both instances, no one present was able to provide the police with the woman’s name. They were taken to the hospital to be treated for alcohol poisoning.

No charges filed.

I reposted the article and a guy I went to school with commented that this happens “every day.” He has worked in bars for many years.

In come the opinions. The questions. And all of them directed at the unconscious woman. Why did she drink so much? If she was drugged, shouldn’t she have known? Shouldn’t she have the foresight to know what happens to girls like her? It’s completely irresponsible, these girls get what’s coming to them.

I sat blinking through my tears as I read the comments. Replaying those words, “It happens everyday.” I want to fix it. To somehow police all of this myself. I want to change the way we talk about this, as though “those girls” are someone else’s problem. It’s as if we want to believe it’s all their fault because believing that there are so many rapists among us is too much. It’s the whores this happens to. These irresponsible, asking for it sluts.

It was me.

It was me and I believed all of those things about myself to be true.

As a survivor of sexual assault, I don’t begin to question the girl. I don’t start throwing my opinions around about her choices. My heart stops. The way it does whenever I hear a fire siren as I know the distinct terror of standing outside of your home, watching it burn. I wonder where she is now. I wonder if she will be supported, or if she will assume the blame. Will she resume her life? Will she shove it down somewhere and try to make it something better? Will she struggle in her relationships, as I have struggled in mine? Will she learn to repeat the words “you are safe here” to comfort herself in moments where she is only being offered love.

It’s been almost 20 years and I still struggle to feel safe in my body.

I remind myself to breathe when catcalled. Pulling myself back into my body and out of fight or flight. I walk in confidence that is hard fought for. I struggle to relax, even when I am alone. I pull my shoulders out of my ears only to find they settle back there.

I have never been the same.

I live one mile from these reported incidents. With the sweetest 7 year old baby girl. I work tirelessly to face my own demons so that I don’t pass off my fears to her. Recently I drove by the middle school she will attend and imagined her entering it. I had to pull over and teach myself to breathe. I am terrified and that won’t help her. I am actively working through my shit.

But what am I supposed to teach my daughter?

I want her to make responsible choices with alcohol and friendships. I think every parent wants that. But as much as we want to believe it will, that won’t keep her safe. I was sober and wearing baggy clothes. I fought back. I gave up. “I gave up” can describe more than a decade of my life afterward. If teaching her to drink responsibly or not at all would keep her safe, I would actually be all for that. But that is not the case.

She knows, because I have taught her, that her body is only hers.

She knows, because I have taught her, that she makes all the rules.

She knows, because I have taught her, that if anyone disrespects her rules for her own body that she can fight back.

She knows profoundly of her own autonomy because her mother felt hers violently taken at 13.

She doesn’t yet know that.

Maybe things will dramatically change before I send my baby girl into the world. But what if it doesn’t? Truly, what am I supposed to teach her? How to cope with being seen as a whore? How to distrust every person she runs into? How to fight, now and for the rest of her life?

This is the place I’ve not really allowed my brain to go. And as I do, the sounds coming from my crying belly are ones I’ve never heard before. In a culture where unconscious women are carried on public streets by men who don’t know their names with zero consequence, what more am I to teach my daughter?

I’ve been repeating “I am safe” for years, is she? Am I preparing myself to walk her through the same fires I have? For being such an emotional being, it’s interesting to note that that last sentence is where I shut off. No more gut crying. Only warrior.

Help me. This isn’t some other girls. It’s one in four of girls you know. In your life. Now. What am I to teach my daughter? Today, I am at a total loss.