A letter to my daughters — and my sons — about sexual assault

My beloved,

You are precious to me. My girls, you are vulnerable souls and fierce warriors. My boys, you are strong and protective, loyal and kind.

You are not however perfect. I would never place that burden on you. You are afraid, sometimes too concerned with the opinions of others, and you are prideful— you want to think you are unbreakable and invulnerable, that you got this life thing down.

photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

photo by Chip Smodevilla/Getty Images

These imperfections are part of what I love about you, but they are also dangerous vulnerabilities.

Men and women you know, friends, family members, have in the past two weeks cheered a national shaming of rape survivors. They shame for the same reason rapists rape, because they believe it gives them power.

They have blamed rape victims for the way they dress, for being drunk, for “putting themselves in a situation” to be raped. These people have even said they deserved it. I can’t convey to you how evil this is.

There is no “situation you put yourself in” that will ever make it ok for you to be harmed.

God, I hope you never have or ever will be sexually assaulted.

My daughters, I have given you practical advice. Don’t set your drink down. Be aware of your surroundings, never be alone with someone you don’t know and trust. Be alert to men plying you with alcohol and to their motives.

I have not suggest where to go if you need help, or stressed enough that you can trust my unconditional love, that there are people everywhere who will not judge you, or that you never have to be ashamed. You are beautiful spirits, the lights of my life. My hope is that you find people who light your life in the same way. It’s a father’s job to show his daughters what they deserve from a partner. I hope I have shown that you deserve respect, tenderness, love and safety.

My sons, I’m not sure I told you the most important thing.

Dont rape!

I don’t believe you would ever do anything so horrendous, but as I see people whom I thought I knew and loved joining the frenzy against survivors, I realize this is a more complicated command than you might think.

You may find yourself in a situation where a drunk girl seems compliant, it may even be your girlfriend—or wife—and suddenly what was black and white becomes gray. Or you may need to stand up and refuse to be a passive if unwilling accomplice to others.

You may have heard the expression, “No means no” as a standard for consent.

I call you to more.

“Yes means yes!”

That must be your code. An absolute, clear and uncoerced “Yes!”

But here is where it gets even trickier. You cannot stand by and watch other men do anything beneath your own code. Don’t turn your back on a woman in danger. Don’t let the repugnant stories and jokes about women go unchallenged, or tolerate the shaming  by shameless people.

It is often harder to stand up to your friends—and family— than your enemies.

But you must. Losing a friend or angering a family member is a small sacrifice for demanding respect for someone who could be your sister, your mother or step-mother, a cousin, friend or the love of your life. I have not been a perfect father. I have put you in harms away. I have been selfish. And most of your life I have not demonstrated the warmth and intimacy a man should show a woman. I have been given a second chance with your stepmother and I hope you are paying attention.

560DDB79-C7CC-4F33-B240-EDAFC2F7743FAround 35 years ago I was at a lake outside Maryville, Mo., I was 17, drunk, and staring in disbelief as a group of Northwest Missouri State University students tried to coerce an extremely inebriated girl into a “train,” a word that is supposed to make gang rape sound like it isn’t gang rape. I recall waiting for the right moment to step in and say stop, but the girl wasn’t giving in and I was scared. I like to believe I would have done the right thing.  But it was a long time ago. I’m not sure.

Make no mistake, if I did not ultimately  step in and stop them, I would have been party to rape.  The responsibility for that would not go away because “it was a long time ago” as we constantly hear from rape apologists. It would be a permanent blight on my character.

I was rescued from potential cowardice by a young lady, the girl’s friend, who waded into the pack of drooling men, and yelled, “Leave her the fuck alone!”

She gently spoke to her friend, helped her off the ground and took her away.

The circle of  men, and I use that only in the biological sense, flung up their arms and stomped away like petulant boys.

My dear sons, don’t lose your moral compass in  a moment that could devastate a woman’s life and define yours. Train each day by choosing to respect every woman you encounter. Make amends when you falter.

My dear daughters, surround yourselves with friends like that young lady at the lake—both male and female—who won’t hesitate like I did to wade in and protect you.

Please pay attention right now to what is happening in our country. Women, rape survivors, with the same decency and resilience I see in you, are rising up, casting off shame for the armor of purpose, righteousness, and power. Become swept up in this wave.

People who ignore and scoff at them,  who don’t listen and believe them, people who shame them,  do so at their peril.

I love you.


RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800-656-HOPE


The hotline offers:

  • Confidential support from a trained staff member
  • Support finding a local health facility that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
  • Someone to help you talk through what happened
  • Local resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
  • Referrals for long term support in your area
  • Information about the laws in your community
  • Basic information about medical concerns

Also visit the Website of Planned Parenthood



Marriage isn’t only about sex

Hypothetical question: What if there was no sex in marriage? (Yes,  I know, in some marriages this is true) Would the religious people opposing gay marriage be so angry about the Supreme Court’s recent decision’s advancing the rights of marriage equality. Admit it, gay sex, especially between two men, creeps a lot of people out. And rather than just admit it, they shroud it in words, usually religious, and blame God and tradition for their own squeamishness. I think the answer is that gay marriage without sex would bore the hell out of the religious right.

Now, if there was no sex in marriage, let me ask, would the other side, LGBT advocates, still be fighting with same fervor for the right to marriage equality? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

My hypothetical is of course ridiculous. Sex is at the heart of marriage. It is the most beautiful thing we are and the most destructive. It comes from the same place as our spirituality, our compassion, and unfortunately our desire to dominate.

Our sexuality, given generously and with abandonment of self-will, can be a shared experience of the divine. In my own marriage sex is an expression of trust, acceptance and joy where words too often fail.

But marriage isn’t all sex.

To hear gay marriage opponents talk you would think that marriage equality advocates are simply fighting for the right to have sex. You hear expressions like, keep what you do in the bedroom, or the old wonder of creativity, “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” which is of course an obvious reference to where body parts fit during sex. In fact, the only people talking about sex in this debate are opponents of gay marriage, and their fixation borders on obsession. Sad, but I would be far more respectful of a person who said gay sex gives him the willies than this straw man argument that it will destroy marriage as we know it, an institution that by all statistics is failing miserably under the good Christian guidance of heterosexuals over the past 2,000 years. It is, as is often the case in these situations, a cultural problem, not a legal one.

I hate to break it to the religious right, but sex is going on all over the place, marriage not withstanding. If gay people want to have sex they will have sex. They want marriage.

They want government rights of other married couples, some as simple as filing joint tax returns.

They want the right to sit at the bedside of their dying spouse in a hospital.

They want an institution of intimacy, love and commitment to strive for when they are young and struggling with their sexuality, just like the rest of us. Perhaps with that in place fewer gay teenagers will seek out the confusion and fear of dangerous promiscuity or worse, kill themselves.

And of course they want sex.

Or as my wife calls it, making love.