When I was 18, I was sexually assaulted. It was early in my first year of college and I was attending a party off campus with a group of girls I barely knew. A man I didn’t know grabbed and groped me from behind, and when I broke free and tried to defend myself, he and his friends surrounded me. I was able to run out of the party and get a cab. I cried the whole way back to my dorm. I have to admit, even now, it feels foolish to call what happened to me sexual assault. It was 1999 and at 18, I just considered it a bad experience. I assumed it was part of being a woman. By the next morning, I had even decided I was lucky. It could have been worse. For so many women, it was so much worse.
The fact is, sexual assault is “any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent.” It can include rape, attempted rape, molestation, unwelcome touching, sexual harassment or threats. According to the Office of Women’s Health, “in the United States, nearly one in five women has been raped and almost half of women have experienced another type of sexual assault.”
This fall, my husband and I are expecting our third boy. When I found out he was a boy, I have to admit, a small part of me, was relieved. Though living as a Black man in American society has it’s own risks, I knew I’d never have to worry about them being ogled in the street as adolescents or insulted when they refused to reciprocate a stranger’s advances or be groped as college freshman at a party. I allowed myself to believe that sexual assault was a “girl problem” and not something my boys would have to worry about. Recent headlines have proved my comfort misguided again and again.
In many ways, there rests a greater onus on us, boy parents, to make sure the world is a safer place for our girls. We are obligated to teach our boys accountability, even when no one is holding them accountable. We are obligated to teach our boys about consent, about boundaries and about respect. Perhaps just as importantly, we are obligated to teach our boys not to be bystanders.
When people hear I am a mother of three boys, they use adjectives like “crazy” and “wild” to describe what my sons must be like. They depict my boys as “full of energy” and “hard to control.” While the energy level of my young boys is undeniable, I am always hesitant to wholeheartedly subscribe. There is this underlying idea that their gender somehow renders then irrational and unable to regulate their behavior. I realize this kind of thinking is what contributes to our society’s failure to place accountability on our sons. As if their masculinity makes them incapable of thought or reason. It’s the same line of thinking that calls a presidential candidates musings about sexual assault “locker room talk” or informs a system that calls a young college student’s vicious rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster “20 minutes of action.”
I realize now that my misguided idea that I could be “less” worried about my boys when it comes to sexual assault was dangerous. In many ways, there rests a greater onus on us, boy parents, to make sure the world is a safer place for our girls. We are obligated to teach our boys accountability, even when no one is holding them accountable. We are obligated to teach our boys about consent, about boundaries and about respect. We are obligated to teach our boys about self-control and responsibility. Perhaps just as importantly, we are obligated to teach our boys not to be bystanders. We live in a society permissive of the objectification of women and steeped heavily in the culture of rape. Especially in our communities. Not only do I want to raise men who never perpetuate these crimes, I want them to be the type of men who actively stand up against them.
Now, as a mother, over a decade since I ran from that party in tears, I can’t help but wonder what conversations the mother of the man who assaulted me had with him when he was a boy. What conversations the mothers of the men who stood idly by and witnessed my fear had with them. What examples their fathers set and how they treated the women around them. I can’t help but wonder if it would have made a difference in the man they chose to be. If it would have spared me the stain of their memory. I know our children ultimately become adults with free will. They will inevitably make choices that are contrary to the lessons we have taught them. However, their free will doesn’t negate our obligation to try. We all bear the burden of changing the way women are viewed in this society. That task necessarily begins with doing a better job raising our boys.
About The Author
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.