I’ll never forget the day. It was eight years ago, and I heard peals of laughter coming from the other room. I smiled, knowing the sound of my husband tickling our then three year old daughter. Then I heard something that made my heart stop: “No! STOP!” and after a brief pause, the laughter continued. I froze. It happened again, “Stop (gasp)! NO!” Then again, the laughter started. Suddenly, I was no longer the Mom of a beautiful little girl with two parents who love and respect her: I was back on a college campus, dealing with the cold hard reality that girls get raped. I am very lucky that this horrible thing has never happened to me. But being a Women’s Studies major, and frankly, just being a female in this world, has made me very aware of the phenomenon that is sexual violence.
I ran into the room. My daughter’s face was lit up with sweaty laughter, but I was seeing red. “Stop!” I commanded. She and my husband looked at me in surprise. I addressed my daughter first. “Susie, I just heard you say ‘no’ and ‘stop.’ Those are serious words. Do you like it when Daddy tickles you?” She nodded. “Do you want him to continue?” “Yes! I love it,” she said. “Great – it’s fun to play with him, but if you want him to tickle you, then you need to say “more” first or he won’t continue, OK?” She nodded. I addressed my husband, “If Susie says stop, please stop and do not start again until she says ‘more.’ In this house, ‘no’ and ‘stop’ must always mean just that.” They both nodded. To his credit, my husband did not roll his eyes or treat me like a crazy, over-protective mother. I mean, sometimes I am, but on this day, everyone was on board. I walked away, and I could hear her little voice demand “more!” before the laughter continued. When my son was born and old enough to participate in this game, the rules were explained the exact same way to him, and the kids were stopped time and time again from their rough play if someone didn’t obey that rule.
No means no. Period.
I do not believe that we should blame victims for being sexually violated, but I do believe that there are things that happen to us in childhood that become a part of our foundation and carry into our subconscious adult lives. If a little girl learns to ask for what she wants in the way of exhilarating physical attention by saying “stop” and “no” in childhood, at what point do we get that message to switch in her head before she is of age to be intimate with someone? Consequently, if my son learns that saying “stop” and ‘no” means the game continues, then when does he learn that sometimes they mean things are going down a very wrong path? As it is, he has grown up with these rules, and he still has a hard time knowing that. We have had to add a firm “game OFF!” for those times when he does not respect a verbal boundary. I am extra hard on him, because I know that there are many people out there who will not grow up with this lesson. He may have a sexual partner someday who has been raised with this kind of verbal teasing, using “no” and “stop” with a coy voice to mean “I really want you to keep doing that.” He needs to be smarter than that, and insist that they learn to ask for what they want directly, or he could face a shocking world of hurt. As much as it frightens me to have a daughter who is raped, it frightens me just as much to have my son accused of rape* because an intimate situation went bad.
(*I do not use the term date rape. Rape is rape, whether the victim entered the situation willingly or not.)
Not only do I think following this rule will help my children lessen their risk for sexual violence, I think it will serve them in all manner of their relationships with others. I can’t stand passive aggressive behavior. I don’t know many people who like it. Tell people what you want. Tell people what you don’t want. Period. Hoping others are mind readers and “just know,” is annoying. I realize that sometimes we don’t know what we want. So, tell them that.
Maybe you think I am making too big a deal of this. After all – they are just words, and they are just kids. But every time an act of sexual violence occurs, there is a rape victim and a rapist – and they both have parents. Let it be said that we did our part to not raise either.