***Trigger warning: I will be discussing sexual assault and sexual consent in a non-graphic way. If this triggers you in an unhelpful way please be kind to yourself and click away.
I binge watched 13 Reasons Why on Netflix this week. I literally could not stop watching this show or thinking about it.
Late last night I finished the last episode and this morning I still find myself shaken by the show.
I know it was a fictional story and a lot of BIG THINGS happened to a small group of people, but I believe there was a lot of truth in that fiction. You see for many years I had the privilege of ministering to teenagers. I went on retreats where I comforted young people as they talked and cried about being cyber-bullied. I cried myself when two different young people I love died in two different senseless accidents. I stayed up nights worrying about who might be drinking too much or smoking pot regularly. There are a lot of things you deal with when you are a teenager and when you love a teenager.
But there is one topic that is stuck in my mind this morning, so much so that I have to write about it.
And that topic is consent.
You see not only have I ministered to teenagers but I have been a young woman myself. So I know what it feels like to have random people grab your body parts without your permission. I know what it feels like to have boyfriends push you to do things you don’t really want to do. I do not know what it is like to be raped, acquaintance raped, or otherwise.
Notice I didn’t preface that statement with “by the grace of God” or any other qualifier because frankly I think I just got lucky. I made plenty of not-so-wise choices that led to me being in precarious situations where I could have easily been raped. And I have friends that were acquaintance raped when they made much better choices and were in seemingly safer situations than I sometimes put myself in.
So the whole issue of rape terrifies me a little because not only have I been a young woman and ministered to young women, but now I am raising a young woman. My daughter will start high school next year and though she is a “good girl,” part of me is scared to death for what will happen to her in the next ten or so years.
Because as much I tell her never to accept a red solo cup from a guy and encourage her to always stick with a female friend when out in public, I know I can’t keep her safe. Because as much as I tell her to choose to be with the guys who treat you well and stay away from the ones who don’t, I know I cannot always control who she will be around and how they will treat her.
I cannot force the young men in her life to respect her and treat her with the kindness and dignity that she deserves. I cannot prevent those she encounters, male or female, from crossing boundaries she did not want crossed by force.
I can only tell her that whatever happens to her I will always love and cherish her. That she can come to me with any story, any situation, and I will always be on her side. That I will always help her see her way through. That she is never alone no matter what she faces because she will always, always have me.
And here is the other thing I can do,
I can talk to my son who is now also a teenager about what consent looks like.
About how you never hurt another person or pressure them to do something they do not want to do. About how, for God’s sake, you never force yourself on another person in any way, no matter what.
Only how do you explain these things to a boy who is still afraid of girls?
The only thing that came to mind this morning in my 13 Reasons Why-induced hangover was to tell him about his Dad.
You see for all practical purposes I married Clay Jensen. And I thank God every day I am lucky enough to spend my life with a good, decent guy. Even if like Hannah I don’t always deserve him.
So maybe the best thing I can do to teach my son how treat someone you are in a relationship with is to tell him (and his sister) what it was like to date their dad.
How his Dad told me on the first date that he usually asked girls if it was okay to kiss them before he actually gave them a kiss. I laughed at him at the time, because God knows no one else had ever done that for me. But now I realize how amazing that was. How he was making very sure that I consented to even this small intimate act he wanted to engage in with me.
I can tell them how their Dad always treated me with respect, never pushing me to do something I didn’t want to do, always looking after my well being as much as and sometimes even more than his own.
For you see consent is about the little things as well as the big things. Consent starts small and follows through to the end.
Consent lasts through 20 years of marriage during which that good and decent boy has turned into of one the best and most decent men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Treating not only me, but everyone he meets with the same kindness and respect. Never crossing a boundary that didn’t want to be crossed, never hurting another.
You see when I was a young girl some well-meaning adult told me during a sex talk at a youth group meeting that “boys could not help” how they acted around girls. A boy’s hormones made him “out of control” and always seeking one thing. And it was my job to stop them from taking out their desires on me. And if I failed in those attempts? Well, they never answered that question. So I guess I just assumed that it was a part of being a girl. That is was my fault for not being vigilant enough.
But 20 years later I know different.
Boys and men are totally capable of controlling their actions around women. And they should be expected to do so. They should make sure whomever they are engaging in sexual acts with is always in total consent.
Be a Clay Jensen. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is this okay?” Always stop when someone changes their mind and tells you it isn’t. Hold the other guys in your life accountable to these same principals, and look out for the girls around you. Show the world there are still good and decent men out there. God knows we need them.