This week in Ireland, a man in his 20’s received a 7 year suspended sentence for repeatedly raping his live in girlfriend while she was sleeping. A suspended sentence. No jail time, no punishment to fit the crime. Sure, didn’t he admit what he had done. Sure doesn’t he have another girlfriend who testified in his defence. He is nothing but the perfect boyfriend, says she. Perfect, indeed.
I lay awake last night beside my boyfriend wondering what my life would be like if he did not understand the concept of consent. What if he did not know the meaning of the word? What if nobody taught him what it meant? What if he knew but didn’t care?
I tried to imagine what it would feel like to go through my days and my nights knowing that I was someone’s property, to do with as they pleased, whenever, wherever they so desired. The more I thought about it, the sadder I became.
What does anyone of us understand about consent? Did any of us have a class in school on the topic? Did any one of us have a parent sit us down when we first became interested in the opposite sex and teach us that this is the most important bit of it all? That consent has to come before everything that we decide to share with another person? Consent must come first. Did they? I doubt it. Nobody taught it to me.
I never knew that it was OK to say “NO”. Honestly, I didn’t. Nobody took the time to sit me down and explain what consent was. Nobody told me that if something didn’t feel right, if I did not want to do something, I had the right to walk away. To say, “No Thanks”, and to not be afraid of making someone angry, of not giving them what they want, of him writing disgusting things about you on the school bathroom wall, because that was his failing, that was his shortcomings, that they had nothing to do with me. That I was strong, I was entitled to say “NO”, and I should never, ever feel ashamed for this. Ever.
I wish they had.
I am a grown woman now, who has learned to say “NO”. It has taken years and even though it is uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone a lot of the times, I manage it. This may displease the person receiving my “NO”, but hey, call it the beauty of being middle aged, it is not as scary as it once seemed.
Imagine not being given the chance to say “NO”. Imagine being raped while you slept by your boyfriend with whom you share a home, a life. Seriously, try to imagine it. How utterly helpless would you feel? How confused, ashamed, angry, sad? How responsible? I know, right? You are thinking, “responsible”? How on earth should any of us feel responsible for something that we have no control over? Responsible for someone else’s violating actions? We didn’t consent. How are we the ones who should feel responsible?
How on earth can we not? We as women are taught how not to get raped.
Don’t wear “slutty” clothes.
Don’t drink too much.
Don’t walk home alone.
Don’t behave “suggestively”.
I could go on and on and on.
I have lost count of mothers whom I know that have sons yet blame the girls for “leading them on”, because they are arriving to the rugby club discos in short skirts. How very dare they, they cry! The girls are “aggressive”, the girls are the “problem”, poor Johnny is going to be lead astray and it will be the girls fault!
During conversations like this I find myself taking lots and lots and lots of deep breaths. Would it be easier to agree? Sure, it would. I am raising a teenage boy for goodness sake. I would love to blame the girls for his hours on snapchat and the hole in the ozone layer that he is making with his bloody Lynx spray, but what kind of a hypocrite would that make me? Nobody protected me when I was his age. I believed that if I said “NO”, I would be be blamed for drinking too many Ritz, sure wasn’t I drunk? Wasn’t I wearing a short skirt? Wasn’t I gagging for it? Wasn’t I just a slag?
Am I the only parent on the planet seeing the big ass elephant in the room all these years?? Surely I can’t be. Surely other parents can see that we are failing our daughters by not teaching them about consent but even more than that, we are failing our sons?! WE NEED TO TEACH OUR SONS ABOUT CONSENT. We are failing them time and time again when we pat ourselves on the back for giving them condoms, thinking we are being 21st century parents by being so “liberal”, but thinking nothing of what their understanding of a healthy relationship might look like, and believe you me, if you are not teaching them, they are learning it off every porn sight accessible to them on their phones, and from each other who have also learned it off another porn sight and on and on it goes.
We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our boys that real life is not what happens in the porn world. This exists only for a profit. It exploits and it hurts. Girls do not look like porn stars in real life, nor should they be expected to behave as such.
We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our girls that it is OK not to look like porn stars and it is OK not to feel like they have to act like one. This is where I believe we need to begin. This is where I believe the learning needs to come from. Not by teaching our girls how not to get raped, but by teaching all our kids about consent and demystifying our porn industry for the smoke and mirrors that it is and coming back to real, tangible, healthy relationships and how they and us, and everyone go about being in one.
Maybe this is how we protect ourselves from being in a relationship, loving someone, sharing a home with them and being repeatedly raped as we sleep. That guy didn’t know a damn thing about consent and his girlfriends life is forever changed by this fact.Nobody taught him that being in a relationship does not mean that he had the right over his girlfriends body. While she slept!!! I know for sure that I will not be a parent who does not teach my son about consent. This I believe is the corner stone for teaching him about what a relationship should be like and in keeping any women he chooses to share his life with as safe as he can.
All of us deserve to feel safe, respected, loved. This is the only way that I know how to achieve this. Lets start the conversation with our kids. Lets do more than the pill and a packet of condoms. Lets teach them about consent so that no person need ever feel unsafe in their bed, ever again.