“For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
-John F. Kennedy
“Why are we training girls how not to get raped but not teaching boys not to rape?”
-Kappa Alpha Fraternity member
My Dear Readers,
Father’s Day should be a positive and happy memory for those of us who are honored to be called Dad (or Daddy, DaDa, Pops, Old Man, etc.) As a father, the day reminds me to work towards transforming this world in a better place—something that I think of as my responsibility to my children.
Now that Father’s Day 2016 has passed, I want to share with you a letter I received from a father who is tormented by the fact that his daughter was sexually exploited and victimized at the age of twelve. While it is important that we honor the father’s suffering as described in the letter, it is also essential for us to remain focused on the trauma, pain, and recovery of this young woman.
No female either child, adolescent or adult should have to endure such an experience. Sadly, however, such experiences are becoming more and more common.
In the United States, there are approximately 150 million women, epidemiological data indicates that of this, 68 million women will be victimized over the course of their lives.
- 1 in 4 females in the United States will be a victim of either sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect, being the offspring of a parent who has depression, or substance abuse.
- 12% of women are likely to be raped at some point in their lives.
- If the female is in the military, this rate could jump to 50%
- Domestic violence occurs once every 15 seconds in the United States.
- The epidemiological data indicates that 38% of women will be repeatedly victimized.
Beneath these horrendous statistics, however, lie the very real and very human stories of those who have survived these assaults, and those who are charged with helping their loved ones to heal.
Below is such a story…
Dear Dr. Kane,
As I begin to prepare to celebrate Father’s Day with my two children, Todd (age 16,) and Brittany (age 13,) (NOTE: Names have been changed for their protection), I am painfully aware that my daughter was inappropriately touched in a sexual manner by a stranger while she waited for a bus that would take her to school. I came across this information while browsing through one of her old journals.
My wife has already screamed at me for reading her journal, but kids today are so secretive– how else would I know what’s going on in her life? When I confronted her about what happened, she became extremely upset. She said that she told her friends, but didn’t want to tell me because she was afraid of how I would react, and that I wouldn’t allow her to ride the bus anymore.
I am livid. I am her father, and I have the right to know these things. She may not consider what happened to her to be molestation, but I do—and it is my responsibility to protect her from harm.
So, I’m going to protect her. She can no longer ride the public bus. Her mother and I will simply drive her to whatever activities she wants to attend. I will have her brother serve as an escort for social outings. I will develop a check-in policy that will ensure that she is safe.
This upsets my family, but we are African-American; as the head of the house, I expect them to follow the structure that I am laying down.
My wife has suggested that I write and seek feedback from you. I am doing so, but my mind is already made up.
-Not Budging, Seattle WA
My Dear Sir,
First, please accept my sincere regrets as to what happened to your daughter. Second, although you say that your mind is made up, I will assume that since you have taken the crucial step of writing to me, you are open to dialogue and you are willing to listen.
To put it bluntly, the very next actions you take may decide the psychological impact this incident has on your daughter for the rest of her life and whether your family will be able to remain together.
You have justified your intrusion into your daughter’s private writings, your limitation of her access to travel outside your purview and the restructuring of the family’s comings and goings by claiming that you are “the protector” and the head of the household. However, you are assuming this role simply because of your own pain and anguish under the concept of male privilege.
Male privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individual as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. Here’s how I see you asserting your male privilege in this situation:
Reading your daughter’s journal
Your daughter may have utilized the journal as a way to work through the aftermath of the traumatic incident she experienced. That journal was a source of healing and protection for her, and by reading it without her consent, you have violated her for a second time. In essence, because of your actions, your daughter experienced the traumatic event once again.
Limiting your daughter’s travel
Your daughter will not see this as you protecting her. Instead, she will see this as you punishing her for being victimized. Essentially, you are telling her that if she hadn’t been where she was, this would not have happened. This is a disservice to your daughter because it makes her responsible for what happened to her, when it is not her fault at all. As a result, this reinforces any negative self-concept she may have.
Your daughter may start keeping secrets
Your daughter may feel that you are punishing her for not sharing information with you that was traumatic and extremely overwhelming for her. Instead, she chose to share with close friends who provided comfort to her. Once again, she is being re-victimized, this time by her father.
Sacrificing personal freedoms
There appears to be no input from the other family members, who now have to change their routines or plans to provide the “protection” that you now deem necessary for your daughter. Essentially, you are sacrificing their personal freedoms to “protect” the “victim.”
You seem to be concerned about the impact on the family’s image if your daughter’s experience is made public. By prioritizing image over the psychological wellness of your daughter, you may be further de-stabilizing the family, particularly as your daughter realizes that all of these changes are because of her.
Acknowledge and accept responsibility for reading the journal. Extend the gift of an apology and seek forgiveness for your actions.
Encourage your daughter to engage in an assessment to determine whether further counseling is warranted.
Consider family counseling focused on understanding the rights of adolescents in decision making and activities that may impact their lives.
Consider marital counseling focused on transforming the structure from a traditional male-headed household to a shared partnership.
Consider individual psychotherapy for yourself focused on processing your own feelings of powerlessness associated with your daughter’s sexual assault.
There are two victims here: a 12-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on her way to school, and her father, who is trapped in his status of male privilege.
Every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual place in the social hierarchy, but nonetheless, every man, simply by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege. We make the mistake of viewing these adverse experiences as challenges to our own roles, and instead of providing comfort to those we love, we instead assert control so that it makes us feel better about where we stand in the situation.
As fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands, we must want to utilize our privilege to advocate for change. We must not accept the status quo without demanding the change that others deserve in order to live without fear of abuse.
Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…