Do not fear: a message to my sons

Dear Boys,
I have so much to tell you, and I never know how much you’re ready for. If I thought you might be in danger of actually assaulting someone, I’d make you read this now. Instead, I’m writing it because I need to, and in case I die an extremely unlikely, untimely death. What can I say? my fears are dramatic. I love you.

Yesterday, a man who is about the same age and from a similar background as your father appeared before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to defend his honor against an allegation that he had assaulted a high school classmate in 1982.

He bellowed his rage at being accused. He vehemently denied the allegation with moral affront. He was absolutely furious to be put in such a terrible position, and said that he would “never get my reputation back.” He pointed to all the collateral damage to his family as further evidence of being victimized by the accusation, never acknowledging that he had a role in that damage. This was exactly, precisely your father’s response to being accused of sexual assault against his child.

Does the idea of so many women making allegations of sexual assault make you afraid for your future? Some people say that you should be, so I want to assure you why this is an unfounded fear, and give you some idea of what to do if you were accused.

Let’s start by talking about consent. If you’re having physical contact with someone and you’re unsure whether they consent, ask. If they show any hesitation, ask. If they aren’t totally into it, stop.

That’s not just with a romantic interest; that’s anyone. No one, not even a child, owes anyone physical contact (outside of safety, obviously). I know you guys, and I don’t think you’re confused, but just for the record…you don’t have to be afraid of accidentally assaulting people. If you’re still not sure, ask someone or google it. There are tons of resources out there!

Will you somehow be overcome by a desire to have contact with someone against their apparent will? Nope. That’s a choice, just like hitting someone is a choice. Even nice people do things they know might be wrong or against the rules if they think it’s their right, or they can get away with it, or it doesn’t matter.

Sadly, men have thought this about women for a very long time, and as a result, a huge percentage of us (me included) have been victims of sexual assault. Even when amends are made, the effects of sexual assault never, ever go away. Thirty-nine years later, I still feel shame and sadness when I think about it, even though I know it wasn’t my fault.

So, let’s assume you’d never assault anyone. You may still be worried that you’ll someday be falsely accused of doing so. I understand the fear, but the chance of that happening is near zero. I won’t deny that it could happen, because humans are messed up, but if someone tries to tell you that it happens all the time, compare that to your own observation. It’s like saying strangers are trying to steal random children all the time. It’s happened before, yes, but in reality almost all children who disappear do so at the hands of someone they know.

What does happen in an investigation? Generally speaking, they ask you what happened, and they ask the accuser what happened. Generally speaking, there won’t be physical evidence or witnesses on either side, so here’s what they look for.

Did the accuser talk to anyone about it, and if so, when? Did they write anything down then or since? Do they remember details that can be corroborated? Do they know other people who witnessed the general behavior of either person around that time? Do they stand to gain anything from making the accusation?

Of the accused: Do they appear willing to answer questions? Do they answer questions directly, or do they give evasive responses? Are they defensive? Do they engage in normal eye contact? While the investigator is asking factual questions, they’re also reading body language.

Then there are meetings between the investigator and experts. If the experts agree that charges are warranted, and an arrest is made, a judge still has to decide if there’s enough evidence to proceed to a court date. In other words, it doesn’t just happen all of a sudden or out of the blue.

What can you do if you are accused? Ask questions. Be open. Show compassion for the accuser. Ask how you can help. All of this is evidence that you have nothing to hide. NONE of this happened yesterday with Judge Kavanaugh, or (as far as I can tell) your father.

What I wish I’d heard yesterday, and what I wish I’d heard from your dad, was this: If they didn’t remember it happening, I wish they’d said, “I don’t remember that happening,” not, “I’m sure it didn’t happen.” I wish they had acknowledged that IF it did happen, it was just as hurtful as the person said it was. They could have said those things without admitting any fault. In your father’s case, I believe this would have spared him formal charges and allowed healing between him and his child.

If you did do it, own up to it and say you’re sorry. Expect consequences, and don’t blame anyone else for them. Ideally, make amends by understanding what may have lead you to behave that way and express what you learned. Don’t expect forgiveness. Do forgive yourself; shame is deadly.

You are worthy of love, and everyone is worthy of feeling safe.

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