Girls are taught a lot about rape.
As if rape were something we could prevent on our own, we’re told by well-intentioned mothers to never walk alone at night, to never get in the car with strange men and to never wear skimpy clothes in public.
And my mom told me that if, God forbid, I ever was raped that I should under no circumstances be ashamed to tell her.
But what do you do when it’s not rape?
This is the question explored in Racialicious editor Latoya Peterson’s essay, “The Not-Rape Epidemic” in the book “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape,” which also includes an essay by yours truly.
If you’re not sure what “not-rape” is, Peterson breaks it down:
Not rape was being pressured into losing your virginity in a swimming pool pump room to keep your older boyfriend happy.
Not rape was waking up in the middle of the night to find a trusted family friend in bed with you – and having nightmares about something that you can’t remember during the daylight hours.
Not rape was having your mother’s boyfriends ask you for sexual favors.
Not rape was feeling the same group of boys grope you between classes, day after day after day.
Not rape was being twelve years old, having a “boyfriend” who was twenty-four and trading sex for free rides, pocket money, Reeboks, and a place to stay when your mother was tripping.
Sadly, most of us have experienced not-rape. And when these things happened to us we didn’t know what do because we figured no crime was committed, because we thought no one would believe us or because we feared the consequences if someone did.
There’s nothing we can do to change what’s happened to us in the past but there are things we can do to help the girls in our lives.
Peterson said we must give girls the tools they need to defend themselves against sexual predators. We need to give them the words they need to describe what has happened to them, words like sexual assault, statutory rape and coercion, she said.
We need to teach them that dating an older man will not make them cooler and that older men can’t rescue them from their parents. We also need to encourage teen boys to help keep their female friends away from predators, Peterson recommended.
But Peterson concludes that it’s the small things — like just paying attention and letting girls know they can talk to us without fear of judgment — that could help the most in the fight against the not-rape epidemic.