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Families and #MeToo

By Aaron Saufley

The #MeToo posts flooding social media have crushed my heart. Women have shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault, uniting together and speaking for those who feel they cannot do so.

My daughter wrote one of those posts. She is #MeToo.

She was assaulted during a church youth group trip. The harasser was another student she considered a friend. She was scared, scarred, and shamed. We believed her and assured her that that we weren't mad at her, and that we would do everything we could to help her recover. We spoke with church leadership and encouraged them to take steps to try and prevent this from happening to someone else.

I wish I could rewind time and erase her experience and pain. But I'm grateful that my daughter has become stronger through this ordeal. Beauty, however, has bloomed from her hurt. She advocates for the broken, the downtrodden, and those on the fringe. She has developed a deeper heart for Jesus. But this only happened because we were willing to address this issue together as a family. That's what we must do if we are to denormalize harassment and abusive behavior.

Parents, breaking the cycle of sexual harassment begins by talking about it with our sons and daughters. My wife and I have worked hard to cultivate trust with our girls so that they're comfortable confiding in us. In fact, this article would not have been published if my daughter hadn't given me permission. She had no hesitation in me writing it because she wants to spare other women from what she's experienced. Our sons are still very young, but I do my best to model what respecting and honoring women looks like through my relationship with their mom and their sisters.

Here are some suggestions for starting the conversation:

Parents of daughters:

  • Talk about what to do when this happens. Let's assume this is not an "if." It is a "when." Discuss with your daughters exactly what they should do if they find themselves in a situation where they face imminent sexual assault or harassment — say "no" forcefully, walk away, excuse yourself and tell someone immediately, scream, whatever it takes to get away from the harasser. 
  • Keep communication open. Build an environment of trust so that your daughter will feel comfortable talking to you about what's good in life, what's hard, and confiding in you should something happen. It will take work, especially if you have been more passive in your communication in their early years. But it is vital if you want your daughters to trust you enough to come to you if something happens. And when something happens…
  • Believe her. Do not assume she's being dramatic. Do not ignore her. Believe her.
  • Get her into counseling. My daughter benefited greatly from therapy. What she talked about remained confidential. She only told me what she wanted me to know from her sessions. Victims of sexual assault need a safe place to talk and be heard from someone professionally equipped to deal with sexual trauma.
  • Speak up. Don't let it slide. Pursue it with whomever you must — school administrators, church staff, work supervisors or human resources department should this happen at a job, and law enforcement if necessary.
  • Model how to respectfully treat women. Dads, show your girls how a man should behave. Demonstrate this in how you speak to their mother and how you interact with them. Show and tell them what to look for when it's time to date. Encourage them to refuse to settle. And tell future suitors exactly what you expect — and that's for them to respect your daughters.
  • Reassure her of her value. She is not her experience. She is a beautiful daughter of God, who infinitely values them. Continue to speak love into her life, especially during times of hurt and doubt.

Parents of sons:

  • Model respect of women. Dads, if we talk down to the women in our lives or make objects of women, our sons will mimic us later in life. Learning respect includes discussing the harmful effects of pornography and monitoring our sons' online activity.
  • Teach them to respect a woman's mind, spirit, and body. This is rule #1 for any guy who wants to date any of my daughters — and it is a deal breaker. If I find out that a guy does not do this, I reserve the right to end the relationship until she is of age to be out on her own. Yeah, that sounds tough. But I've talked with my daughter about this for years, she understands this and is fine with it. 
  • Never, ever be that parent who says, "My son would never do that." Parents, if this is your default response to criticism of your children, you are absolutely, unequivocally fooling yourselves and are part of the problem. My children know that in the Court of Dad, they are guilty until proven innocent. If someone tells me they did something, I assume they did until it is proven otherwise.

Any boy who wants to date my daughter must ask my permission, and he will know that he must earn my respect by respecting my daughter. My daughter's boyfriend has done those things because his parents insisted that he do them. He has gone the extra mile to show me that he values my daughter's mind and spirit, and he respects her body. That doesn't mean I now assume nothing could ever happen. It means that he has my trust until he gives me a reason not to. And my daughter will let me know if he does.

It's past time for our "boys will be boys" culture to stop. It's a cop out and it is just plain wrong. Boys need to take responsibility for their words and actions. And it begins with us doing better and showing the next generation of men how to be better.

Because our daughters deserve better.

Aaron Saufley is husband to Laura and dad to five super-awesome kids. He is a hospice chaplain who also leads a racially and economically diverse house church in Greenville, NC. He loves cinema, root beer, the Chicago Bears, and all things Jesus. He has written a couple books: The Jumbo Shrimp Gospel and Deep Roots (Vol. 1) — a reflection on Psalms 1-41.


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Posted October 20, 2017