So what advice is a parent/grandparent to give daughters and granddaughters among this ongoing acknowledgement of the ways in which girls frequently face sexual harassment and assault?
The least helpful approach is to ignore it. On the other hand, we don’t want our girls to be so fearful that they become paralyzed.
With almost 100 women reporting the vile sexual assault they suffered at the hands of Dr. Lawrence Nassar (Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics physician), we know that even when we send our daughters and granddaughters to places we consider safe, horrific things can happen to them. And at times, those charged with responsibility for their well-being turn their heads and refuse to investigate or take action.
I’d like to share with you the way in which a mother, Tiffany, with whom I spoke last week, handled the problem of the assault of her daughter.
First, remember that girls in the eighth grade are 13 or 14 years old. Tiffany’s daughter, Tabitha, rides a school bus , and a boy began to play with the back of her bra and then her pants and panties. Tabitha told him to stop, that she did not appreciate the invasion. He did — for a month — and then he did it again, this time at school.
Tabitha reported the assault to a school counselor, and the assistant principal called Tiffany. Tiffany’s response is casebook-perfect for how to handle a situation like this, and she reports that she told her daughter, “Thanks for telling me. It wasn’t your fault. I’m proud of you, and I’ll take care of it.”
The boy was expelled from school for spring semester as well as for the upcoming fall semester. When Tiffany told Tabitha’s grandfather, age 94, and in a nursing home, he blew it off as making “too big of a deal of something of little importance.”
I commend the school, which obviously has protocols in place for handling assaults and personnel willing to take action.
Assault is, at times, perpetrated by a family member. One of my readers, Michelle, indicated that an inebriated trusted family member assaulted her when she was a young girl: He “reached his hand up my shirt and fondled my newly developing breasts.” She told no one and “blamed it on the alcohol and didn’t want to harm the family member whom I loved very much.”
Michelle’s advice is as follows: “Tell your girls it could happen. They will probably still be shocked when it happens to them, but maybe they will think about the conversation we had with them and be able to react in a different way than we did. We can teach them to get up and walk away — run, even — and confide in someone.”
I’ve co-sponsored travel abroad trips at Edison State, where I teach, and I’d like to share some cautions I give our college students:
• If you find yourself in a facility/an area or with people who seem threatening/dangerous, pay attention to your feelings and move quickly to a safe place. Take a cab, get on public transportation, ask for help from older adults/law enforcement. Embarrassment at times causes us to not pay attention to what our brains are signaling. Scream, run, create a disturbance.
• Monitor your food and drink in public places because behavior-altering drugs can be placed in them.
• Recognize the signs of those under the influence of alcohol/drugs and avoid them.
• Monitor your emotions, your passion, your desire to be helpful, your feelings of worth or worthlessness, and don’t be reckless in terms of your response to triggers.
• Treat your body as a sacred space and don’t let others violate it by holding you closer or longer than is comfortable.
Then there are general admonitions, and I know you can add to my list:
• If persons to whom you turn to report unacceptable behavior do not respond, go to someone else.
• Be educated about the protocol at your school, business, community organization for handling these matters. If there are no written standards, take action to be sure that they are developed.
• Realize that even though you have taken self-defense classes, you will probably not be as strong as a male. Your prime objective is always to live.
Let’s keep this issue on our agendas and ascertain that positive changes are made. Find a way to talk to your daughters and granddaughters. When they ask, “Did anything like this ever happen to you?” find the courage to tell the truth.
I learned decades ago that for everything there is a season and there is “a time to speak.” That time is now.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.