So much for a light-hearted blog about family life! I’m very much a discovery writer and it often leads me down the path unexpected. I write for the same reason I read – to turn the page and find out what happens next. At writers group this week, I wrote a poem that gave me this week’s topic. (I will share it but please bear in mind I am no great poet – it’s something I do sometimes).
Anyone who dares to read the appalling comments under LGBTQ news articles will know that there are many people who struggle to grasp the concept of consenting adults. My view is that if you’re over eighteen and agree to a sexual encounter or to be objectified it’s none of my business.
As parents my husband and I started teaching our children consent from tiny babies. When we massaged them we would rub our hands together and ask them did they want a rub. Even at only a few months old they either reacted with excitement or made it clear they weren’t in the mood.
I’m an affectionate, huggy type but I’ve ended up with a daughter who doesn’t like touch. We’re at opposite ends of the hug spectrum. Banana Bug has always been self sufficient. She hated cosleeping and only liked slinging outside the house because people talked to her more in the sling than they did in the pram. At home she preferred to sit in a chair and watch what we were doing rather than be held. I learned early on that alone in a dark room she would cry for a moment or two then sleep whereas if I held her she’d cry for hours. Now she’s twelve we have a compromise – she will hug me on my birthday and at Christmas. It’s so hard as a parent not to hold a child tight when they’re distressed but she needs space to deal with things. (Her brothers love their cuddles although my nine year old is pretending he doesn’t at the moment) And one day I will find someone to knit me substitute daughter that I can hug. Aside from her touch issues she is a fab kid and I wouldn’t swap her.
But the rules are simple in our home, unless someone is in danger you only touch another when you have consent to do so. Play fighting becomes fighting as soon as one party wants to stop.
A recent viral news story about the Stanford Rapist produced a victim statement so powerful that it’s hard to read:
Here is the news story and that victim statement in full. I agree with the senator that this statement deserves to be amplified. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that his parents could not grasp that their son’s twenty minutes of “fun” had given Emily Doe a life sentence. He got away with six months in prison and will no longer be allowed to compete for the US swimming team at the Olympics.
I’m one of the one in four women and I have a story. I was fifteen and there was a soldier with PTSD. He wasn’t long back from Iraq. It was in a ladies toilet and he held a glass to my mouth and pinned me to a wall. There was no way to fight back or even scream. That man’s actions have not defined me but he has left a lifetime mark that has not be erased. I appreciate he could not help himself and was in a bad place but so was my life at the time.
Far worse for me has always been the police reaction afterwards. The man that attacked me went on to physically batter two other women, throwing one through a plate glass hotel reception. I was not anyone’s priority. My mother had been one of the women attacked and was not in a fit state to stand up for me.
The police said I’d been too drunk to be a reliable witness and I’d been provocatively dressed. They were not going to take it further. Whilst I was more drunk than a fifteen year old should have been, I was wearing a man’s shirt and a pair of trousers… but should it matter? Do I have to justify it? I was fifteen and was not a consenting adult. He knew my age. His sentence for beating two women and his “assault” on me? A £150 fine.
In 2009 I wrote a story for NaNoWriMo about a man being raped by a woman and some of the stories I received by email were beyond heartbreaking. As hard as it was for me to speak up about my experiences it is far harder for a man. None of the men I talked to then had ever come forward and in many places a woman raping a man is not seen as a crime or will be treated as sexual assault. One thing I am sure of is that we do not know the extent of these crimes as the ones that make up the crime figures are exceptions rather than the rule
My poem uses the traditional pronouns but that’s because it was inspired by a picture of a boy and girl, and the story of the Stanford Rapist. Rape is about victims and perpetrators the gender of either is immaterial.
The news story was still very much on mind when we were given the challenge of writing a poem based on a photograph. I chose one of two children at school. The girl looked straight at the camera with a determined expression whereas the boy was looking away, fed up:
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
at her pigtail
under the desk
“I said stop that.”
“It’s only because he likes you, Tilly.”
at her pigtail.
“Leave me alone.”
under the table.
“I said leave me alone.”
"I’ll be with you in a minute, Tilly."
at her pigtail
“I’m warning you.”
under the table
“Stop it. I’m warning you.”
Her cry for help is ignored.
at her pigtail
“I warned you.”
under the table.
“Oh Billy, you’re bleeding.”
“Tilly! How could you?”
She learns he has the right to pester
He learns she has no right to fight him off
she said leave me alone
she passed out
two Swedes dragged him off
he gets a six month sentence.
In twenty minutes
she gets a life sentence
on a pigtail
“Stop that. Miss?”
“Billy stop that. Now!”
There’s never another twenty minutes.
The Kimlin Family