A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape

Dear Boys,

Some really horrible things happened to someone who could be
one of your friends, and it was done by some people who could be your friends.
You're 11 and almost-8 now, so the incident that made me write this letter isn't something you've heard about, but this stuff keeps happening, unfortunately. So I need to talk to you about it.

First of all, I know we talk all the time about how special your
bodies are, and how you’re the only one who gets to decide what to do with your
body. I’ve never made you put anything in your mouth that you didn’t want
to, or touch anyone you didn’t want to, or talk to anyone you didn’t want to,
because I wanted you to understand that you and you alone control your
boundaries. We worked on blowing a kiss so you could show that you liked
someone without having to touch them, and high fives if you were ok touching
them but only with your hand. We talked all the time about not letting people
tell you that what you wanted was wrong or that they knew better, and that you
should always always tell your dad or grandma or me if anyone makes you feel
uncomfortable.

And we talk all the time about making sure that if you’re
touching someone else that they want you to be touching them. That if they say “No”
you have to stop right away (even if it’s just fake-punching your brother) and
that even if they aren’t saying “No” you need to make sure they’re still
enjoying it. You know how sometimes you like to be tickled and sometimes you
don’t? Well, everyone’s like that, so even if they liked it when you did it
yesterday, you should still make sure they really want you to today, whatever
kind of touching it is.

Now I’m going to talk about sex. I know you know “how it
works” because we’ve been talking about it ever since you two were little,
since before you could read, and you know all about sperm and eggs and penises
and vaginas and vulvas and orgasms and condoms and all that. And I know I told
you it feels good and you had a hard time seeing how that could be true but
took my word for it. Well, the thing I didn’t tell you is that it feels
unbelievably amazing when you’re doing it with someone who really wants to be
doing it with you. Like, better than popcorn followed by ice cream, or a Supah
Ninjas marathon, or two snow days in a row. You know how excited I get when I get a
new pair of shoes? It’s like 500 times better than that, when the person you’re
doing it with is so excited to be doing it with you that they start asking you
for it.

This is what I want you to wait for. I want you to wait to
have sex until the person you’re with asks you for it. Tells you they need you
now, and that they can’t wait, and they want it. Calls you by your name and
asks for it.

If you’re ever in a situation in which someone is asking
you for it and you don’t want to have sex with that person, don’t do it. And if
you’re ever in a situation in which you want to have sex but the other person
doesn’t ask you for it, don’t do it. It’s only good if you both want it, and can
tell each other you want it, and are sure you both want it. Otherwise someone’s
going to get hurt. And romance is weird enough without hurting other people
when you can stop yourself (and you can always stop yourself–that goes along
with having opposable thumbs).

This letter is almost over but this next part is
super-important: Not everyone you know has been taught all the stuff we’ve talked
about. You are going to know people, and maybe even be friends with people, who
think it’s ok to hurt other people in a lot of ways. One of those ways is sex.
I know you’re going to hear other boys say things about girls, or sometimes about
other boys, that means they don’t care about those girls’ feelings or bodies.
When you do, I need you to step in. All you have to do is say something like, “Dude,
that’s not cool” or something that lets the person saying something nasty know
that it’s not ok. Remember that everyone wants to fit in. If you can take
control of the mood in the room by letting them know nasty talk isn’t ok, they’ll
stop so they don’t look like an idiot.

Remember how we talk all the time about how we’re the people
who help, who fix things when there’s a problem or someone’s in trouble? You
may get the chance to do that someday. Because those boys who say nasty things
about girls may actually do something to those girls. If you are ever anywhere
where boys start hurting a girl, or touching her in any way that she doesn’t
want, you need to step in. If she’s asleep or drunk or passed out or drugged
and can’t say “no,” you need to step in. Remember, it’s not good unless both
people can say they want it. If a girl isn’t saying anything, that doesn’t mean
she wants it. If she isn’t saying specifically that she wants it, then it’s
wrong.

Here’s how you should step in:

1. If it’s safe for you to say something, say something. In
a loud, commanding voice, tell the guy who’s doing it to stop, and make sure he
knows it’s not ok and he can’t be an asshole (sorry to curse, but by the time
you’re in this situation you’ll be cursing, too). Then help the girl get to
someplace safe, and call her parents. (Even if she thinks she’s going to get in
trouble, call her parents. If they’re mad at her, I can talk to them and take
care of it.)

2. If it’s not safe for you to say something, leave the room
quietly and calmly and call me. I do not care if you’re someplace you’re not
supposed to be, or not the place you told me you were, or in Canada or
someplace that would normally get you in a lot of trouble. You get immunity if
you’re calling for help. My phone is always on, and it does not matter what
time of day or night it is. If I don’t pick up right away, call your dad, and
the same immunity rules apply. Call one of us and give us the address of where
you are and we will come help. Then hang up and call 911. Tell them the address
and that there’s an assault going on. They might want you to stay on the line
with them until the police get there.

3. Even if you don't like the girl, step in. Even if she's been mean to you or snobby, or someone told you she did something you think is gross. No matter what she did, no one should hurt her. If you step in, the next day you can go back to hating her. If you don't step in, well, how are you any different from the loser who's hurting her? You know who you are. Step in.

4. Do not worry that everyone will hate you if you stop the
cool kids from doing something. Stopping someone from hurting another person
makes you a hero. This is what you’re here to do. And if there are people who
don’t like it, screw them. Your dad and I will do anything it takes to make
sure that anyone who doesn’t like your being a hero stays away from you and
keeps their mouths shut.

We have been practicing for this for a long time, for being
the ones who help.  Remember when we were
in the middle of the knife fight on the subway and we got the other mom and kid
out of the way? Remember when we helped my friend move away from her scary
husband? Remember all those times we took pictures of those freaky dudes
staring at the little kids at the playground? We’ve been practicing to step in and
help someone else. You can do it. I have faith in you.

Love,

Mom

149 thoughts on “A Letter To My Sons About Stopping Rape”

  1. You’ve been practicing for this for a long time,and I think you’ve made Carnegie Hall. Makes me cry and sends chills. Everyone should copy.

  2. This moves me so much!! As two sisters, a “letter” from our mom to us was very different, more on the lines of “protect yourself because there are a lot of beasts out there”. But as a mom of a son, this is exactly what I wish every mother would tell their sons. I don’t know if I ever will be quite as eloquent or clear as you are, but I now know how to approach this when my son is old enough.One question though – at what age did you start talking to your boys about their bodies and sex and in general the physical touch? Just wondering when would be the right time for me to initiate this type of conversation.

  3. Sonal, I started talking to them about their bodies from the very beginning. People in NYC would want to reach out and touch their faces even when they were in a carrier on me! So I started reinforcing verbally to them before they could even talk that they never had to let anyone touch them that they didn’t know or want to, and we started blowing kisses instead of touching people when they could, maybe around a year or so.

  4. Awesome. Thank you for this. You are a role model for me as I raise my boys. Thank you for (often) giving me words to use with them.

  5. Add: If someone is asking for it, but he or she is looking incapacitated by alcohol, drugs or anything else – don’t do it. It is not technically or legally rape, but it can be pretty close.

  6. Magda, this is wonderful. Thank you — the tips at the end, in particular, and your rule about immunity if you need help will be adapted for my 6 and 3 year olds immediately!

  7. I am so glad you are raising boys! I hope I can also communicate to my girls that they are helpers, and they can help other girls, and boys, but I am hopeful that they will meet boys and girls raised by mothers like you.

  8. Wonderful piece! It makes me think of how proud we all were of my niece when she stepped in to stop a gay bashing. She was just a month or two into her freshman year of high school, and one day she rounded a corner and came across two football players beating the c*^p out of a boy simply because he was gay. She didn’t think twice, but immediately stepped into the middle, got up in the face of the guy throwing the most punches, and loudly and forcefully told him to stop. (Granted, it helps that she’s 5’10” and kind of punk in her appearance, but still a brave move.) She attracted the attention of a teacher, who was able to intervene. Later, she rather sheepishly admitted to her mom that she’d used some curse words when confronting the bully, and she was relieved when mom said she was cool with that. You’re raising your boys to have that same sense of justice and empathy that makes my niece such an amazing young woman.

  9. I have 3 girls. I hope the boys they hang out with are helpers too and have learned these things.I really like the idea in general about teaching our kids to be helpers. My oldest is not a natural leader (as I am) so I can’t use the same approach of “be a leader” that my mom used with me because it just terrifies her and goes against her natural nature. But she’s a helper by nature, so using that phrase with her would bring about the positive result I’m looking for. Thank you!

  10. I agree with you on most of the things your letter says, but I have trouble with the enthusiastic description about sex.My mother told me the same about sex (she talked The Talk very often, too often for my liking), how amazing wonderful it is and blah blah until I could no longer stand it. When it was my time to be sexual active, I was very disappointed in sex, as it was blown up so much by my mother.
    I tell my daughters that sex is different for everybody. Some like it very much and want it all he time, others not so much. I also tell them that you have to learn sex, and that it is different with every new person.
    I don’t want to put pressure on them to like sex, as in our families there are some people who you could describe as asexual.

  11. Excellent piece and one which i look forward to sharing. One friendly suggestion: Boys are also victims, far more than I think we realize. Might you consider editing/tweaking this most powerful letter to make it clearer that we should speak out whenever someone is being victimized, regardless of who or why and that boys can be victims too? (I tell you, some of what my students have reported to me re: what happens in the context of organized sports just chills me. And it too, is so very wrong. We need to socialize our young people to speak up when it happens.) best, jeanne

  12. Wonderful piece. Thank you for sharing. Two weeks ago, I saw a “game” on my 17-yr old nephew’s FB page where you think of your favorite band, and then substitute the word “rape” for one of the words in the band’s name (Rape Maiden or Iron Rape was the example given). Thousands had commented. I sent my nephew a private msg telling him how wrong this type of game is. He hasn’t spoken to me in two weeks. I will be forwarding this piece to my brother so they can talk about it. Thanks again.

  13. Moxie, question: I’ve got a baby boy who I’m planning to teach the whole “your body, your choices” ethos. But one thing has me stumped: when it comes to medical care, it really isn’t up to them what happens to their bodies. Much as I dislike thinking of it this way, I can imagine my boy as a 2-year old who adamantly chants, “No shot, no shot!”, but this would not move me at all when it comes to the immunizations he needs. When he’s older, he’ll be able to understand stuff like, “This might hurt now, but it needs to happen,” but I can’t imagine he’ll be able to wrap his little head around that till he’s school-aged. How do you teach “your body, your choices” while still enforcing (sometimes painful) medical care??

  14. @Marissa – I think it’s pretty straight forward. Even small kids can understand that they have autonomy most of the times but that some things are non-negotiable. The doctors’ office isn’t the only situation – they also cannot break away from you and run across the street. They have to wear their car seats. Their diaper needs to be changed. All of these are situations in which they may be man-handled against their will. I think if you explain the rule to them (simply and clearly) then they get it, and get the difference between someone kissing them and someone giving them a shot. Believe me, I had to help physically restrain my toddler while he screamed & struggled as he got stitches. It felt terrible to take away all his autonomy, but it wasn’t a choice type deal.

  15. @Marissa – Actually, a 2-year-old can begin to understand the idea “This might hurt now, but it needs to happen” about the immunizations that protect us all. There is a wonderful children’s show on PBS called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” for children ages 2 to 4+. My kids, who are 3 and 5, recently watched a great episode on this very topic called “Daniel Gets a Shot” —http://schedule.wttw.com/episodes/258106/Daniel-Tigers-Neighborhood/Daniel-Gets-A-Shot/A-Stormy-Night/
    There is also a fabulous episode on “Be a Vegetable Taster” that got my kids to ask to try some new foods. TV gets a bad rap on the internets, but current research shows that educational programming, such as age-appropriate PBS shows like “DTN”, has been shown to help curb aggressive behaviors in at-risk boys.

  16. this is a great post that i will pass along to the kids in my sex ed class.@Maureen in many states being asleep, drunk etc is considered unable to consent and therefore it is rape. I think the FBI definition also reflects this. regardless of the legal definition, too, it is vital to teach boys–and girls–that some classes of people cannot consent and therefore it is always rape. Children, animals, people who are drunk/high, people who are asleep, and people with some forms of cognitive disabilities cannot consent.
    We also need to teach the concept of “enthusiastic consent” e.g. waiting to hear yes instead of waiting to hear no.
    Finally, I strongly suggest tht anyone interested in these issues find your local Unitarian Universalist church. We have a program called Our Whole Lives that teaches comprehensive, research based sex ed. It is a truly amazing program. The main class is for 7-9th grades (just 8th graders at big enough churches, small churches may have mixed grade classes) but OWL is usually offered at different levels. We teach not only about contraception, STIs, etc but also relationship and decision making skills, peer pressure etc, all in a very safe and supportive environment with specially trained teachers. We talk a lot about consent, rape, abuse etc. Our kids LOVE this class. We usually see teenagers happy to show up at church at 9am on a Sunday! It is a really life changing class and most churches will happily take non UU kids.
    Also this: http://canyourelate.org/2011/05/24/rape-prevention-tips/

  17. I’m saving this for when I have kids, hopefully soon. One of my concerns as I ready myself to be a parent is addressing exactly these sorts of things and preparing my children to be independent, and healthy with appropriate boundaries – but still ready and willing to help others in need. Cried a lot while reading it and just passed it on to my fiance

  18. This was beautiful and very well written. Thank you. I have a 14yr old son and 7yr old daughter and have been trying to teach them about these issues their whole lives. I plan on printing this letter for my son to read- as a starting point for conversation. I think the personal responsibility message is huge, but I love how you have brought the idea of stepping in when you see a wrong being committed. We always think of the negative influences other kids can have on our kids, but if we give our kids the tools, they can become positive influences on the lives of their peers. Thank you, and I hope this continues to be shared.

  19. Thank you for this. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, and thank you so, SO much for talking to your kids about this and helping to make the future a better one. I hope to someday see a world in which every single person’s life is full of role models who do the same.

  20. *Love* so much of what you said. It’s spot on, but agree with the PPs about the too-broad breadth of stepping in. Having also lived in and around NYC for many, many years, I tell my kids to call 911 FIRST, then try to think on your feet. My dear friend lost her son to a hold-up in a bodega–he tried to step in instead of calling the police.Help, yes, but always be careful and don’t put anyone’s life at risk. What if YOU had been stabbed and killed when you intervened in the knife fight? What impact would that have had on your family, especially on your young children who would have witnessed their mom being attacked? What would their ensuing life be like without you?

  21. Thanks Moxie. As a woman, a mother of a boy and a feminist, I loved reading this letter. I’ve stashed a copy away for when the time comes in our family.

  22. I love that you’re teaching your kids to step up, but could you explain the logic of having them call you or LOD first and 911 second?Am ignoring the troll, perfect illustration of certain things though he is.

  23. Lovely all round. You omit suggesting your boys ask for sex – they are to wait for other to ask. Its important we all feel ok to ask, and are prepared to listen to and observe any answer. Well done 🙂

  24. Typing with gentle tears rolling and a heart expanding! Having the talk with my son & daughters! Sharing with my friends!

  25. Great letter– I just wish you had told them to call 911 FIRST and then to call you. If a woman is being raped, every second counts… and the cops can get there faster (don’t have to obey traffic laws) and have better training for this situation.

  26. Lovely — will be sharing.For posters with younger children asking about boundaries, the book “I Said No!” is written from a young boy’s perspective and does a nice job talking about what parts of their bodies are private and how to assert themselves if anyone wants to touch them, bribe them, etc., including one of their friends. If kids are secure and understand boundaries with respect to themselves (especially how to discuss those boundaries), it can be easier for them to understand respecting the boundaries of others — at least, it gives us as parents a vocabulary and base with which to discuss such things, which is helpful too.
    http://www.bouldenpublishing.com/prodinfo.asp?number=076496

  27. Thank you for writing this. I have two little boys. One of them was adopted. He was conceived as a result of rape. I want nothing more than for them to understand how vitally important it is to respect both women and themselves, even when others do not.

  28. Thank you so much for sharing this and for raising your kids in such a great way. I have shared this letter on my FB page @Limitless Living and asked them to share as well.Thanks again for a great post.

  29. Excelent letter. Although I must say that I’m not a fan of the implication that your male friends are the only potential perpetrators of rape (even if the victim is a male as well). All the power and support in the world to the cause. I just think that when you’re informing someone about it, it should be mentioned that it’s a two way street. And denying the possibility of a male being raped by a female is just as ignorant as thinking that just because the other person doesn’t say “no” aloud means it’s alright to continue.This is definately something parents should not hesitate to discuss with their children (be they male or female).

  30. To those asking “why not call 911 first and then your mother?” I’d think it’s because of the strong likelihood that 911 will want the kid to stay on the line. A good option might be “Text mom where you are, what is happening and that you are calling 911, and then call 911.” That would be faster and still serve the purpose of the kid, who is a juvenile, having a parent arrive to be present when things begin to shake out with the cops and he might need to be giving statements or acting as a witness.

  31. Wonderful letter. May I ad that this letter also needs to from their father. We need good men to be role models; to say to their sons and all sons that treating women – ANYONE – with anything less than respect is unacceptable; that it diminishes them as men and as human beings. We need to stop the madness. As the father of two girls and a boy, I can assure you I will be reading this letter to them all.

  32. Rowan Badger, I considered that, but I don’t see that a valid reason. Yes, I expect her son would have to stay on the line, but I would think that while on the line he could ask them to call his parents.

  33. I was loving this up until “Then help the girl get to someplace safe, and call her parents. (Even if she thinks she’s going to get in trouble, call her parents. If they’re mad at her, I can talk to them and take care of it.)” Because I’ve had a friend who could not safely tell her parents after she was raped because in her house there was a very real chance of being badly harmed by said parents for “asking for it.”It’s so hard, even when we try our very best and mean so well, it’s easy to miss the mark. But you can’t say “listen to girls,” and “only you get to decide who you talk to or touch” in one sentence and then go on to imply that you know better than the girl as to whether talking to her parents would be the right thing. The instructions imply that’s it’s important to coerce a potential victim into handling the situation away you’ve decided far ahead of time will always be right.
    Still, I love the intention behind this. I hope you’ll consider more in depth the implications of that aspect.

  34. All I have to say is WOW, that is an amazing letter, and has brought tears to my eyes and hope that my children will one day do the same thing to help others in need

  35. I don’t agree with the part about calling the girl’s parents. Not every parent is a good parent, and some girls may be abused at home and calling her parents and reporting her whereabouts may end up doing more harm. Beautiful letter though!

  36. Have mom or dad determine whether it is okay to call the girl’s parents would be a tweak I would add, also. Because yes, there are parents who would make the daughter’s life far worse (including physically).I’d also include (and have included) the fact that girls may be prone to manipulating to get the same results, rather than using force, so a guy can end up being coerced by inappropriate emotional pressure or when under the influence or otherwise not able to give legal consent. Guys often manipulate or use emotional leverage to get verbal consent, too. Just because she (or he) says it, doesn’t mean it is consent – under duress doesn’t qualify as consent. We talked about consent being ongoing, active, and revocable (that is, if you change your mind, that counts as removal of consent. It’s not a one-time thing.)
    And YAY! for the mention of the (UU/UCC) OWL program, which is fantastic. My 11 yr old boy is in the younger age group now (at the UCC near us – UCC and UU churches will merge classes to get a good class size, so if you don’t have a UU church nearby, try UCC churches – and your organization regardless of church, community, whatever, can also purchase the curriculum, it has no religion in it except in an entirely optional additional section). My 15 year old was in the middle-school age group last year. Both have found it slightly embarrassing, but also useful and important.
    This letter was a good nudge for another conversation on the subject with my boys. So while we’re right there with you, it’s still good to hear it in the community, as a reminder to refresh the discussion again (and again, and again!).

  37. This is brave and helpful. Thank you for posting this. As the mom of a 16-yr-old boy, I suspect that the just-can’t-wait parts about really, really enjoying it would embarrass him to death and make communication between us a bit more difficult rather than easier. For my purposes, I’d need to tone that part down.But overall, I applaud you for talking with your boys about bodies and appropriate touch from a young age — we have, too. And now that my little boy towers above me (and out-weighs me, too), I’ve been talking to him about how to be respectful of women and our experience of the world, in terms of his own physical presence (and language, too, of course).
    Lauren, mom of a mensch-in-the-works

  38. This means alot. I was rape when I was younger and I wish some one would of step in and stopped it now 20 plus yrs later having 3 girls of MY own. Wnt wish this on any one.so thank u your letter was a pick me up TO NO that there r mom’s out there that care enough not only about your boys but about the other person TO.

  39. I cheered. I honestly cheered. My son is almost 2. I really hope that this isn’t necessary when he’s older, but I think it will be. I think it will always be necessary to remind people that there are limits and boundaries and they shouldn’t be crossed…and that you have every responsibility to step in and help others. Thank you for being that mom, the one who teaches her children these things and who will always be there for them.

  40. Beautiful but call authorities first NOT mom and dad…. Could very quickly put the “hero” and said parents in legal trouble

  41. When I talk to my 12-year-old son about this stuff — and I do — I’m intensely aware of a paradox: I am making him very uncomfortable by bringing these things up, while trying to get the point across that it’s not ok to do things that make someone else uncomfortable. I would love to hear your practical advice about this.

  42. Thank you for writing this, it is wonderful. This is how I hope to raise my children when I have them.I do agree with PP who talked about how sex is not always wonderful for everyone. There are sexual issues and dysfunctions people deal with that make sex awkward, uncomfortable or painful at times. Something that could be added is that if the person asks to stop sex at any time, for any reason, there needs to be a full stop.

  43. It makes my day that there are parents like you out there. I can only hope there are enough like you, who purposefully raise heroes instead of apathetic bystanders (or worse, perpetrators) to counteract the assholes out there.Your children are incredibly lucky to have you for a parent.

  44. Great Letter Moxie,Giving and teaching our children the skills necessary to make good judgment calls, behave in a socially acceptable manner and be respectful of others, begins at home at a very early age, using age appropriate methods, lessons and language. You have written in clear language, how previous generations of parents used to raise their children … I am one of those taught in this fashion. After reading your letter (twice!) and the comments posted by others, and making a couple of observations, I think it important to add my own comments.
    1) The vast majority of the responses come from women. I find nothing wrong with that, as it was a link on my daughters Facebook page that brought me to your ‘letter’.
    2) The vast majority of respondents support the teachings you ascribe, to which I agree and as I stated above, using age appropriate methods and language.
    3) All parents know (or quickly learn) that no matter how many times the lesson is spoken, it is oft times not learned until it is experienced first hand (e.g. learning to walk, ride bike, climb over the couch … you will fall; touching your new infant brother or sister gently, or punching little Jimmy’s arm real hard… they will scream; etc.)
    3) Urging our children to take action (step-in, call home, call 911…) when they see someone being wronged is an important lesson. Teaching them the proper type of action to take is every bit as important. Maybe in person you have spoken about this, but I don’t think you put enough emphasis on the need for their own personal safety. Unless your 11 and 8 year old’s grow into large strong teens and eventually young men, and can present an intimidating presence, their verbal action no matter how stern, will likely be insufficient and may bring about personal injury. I think there was only one other mention of this safety issue, but it is important to note.
    Don’t get me wrong on this point. I know well the intimidation factor of a booming voice, and the importance of physical protection skills required to back up that commanding tone. It would be wise to include defensive and offensive skills in their development tool kit.
    In closing, I want to say that your boys are lucky to have you as their Mom, as are the boys of all the other women who’ve responded here, supporting the same developmental philosophies to guide their boys to always do the right thing. You all have my support and gratitude for working to teach your children the most important aspects of humanity: respect, judgment and proper behavior toward others.
    Best to All Y’all

  45. Here’s a post that really resonated with me as a woman… how social norms of interactions between girls and boys are so messed up that “normal” things could be happening that you can’t even see as wrong until it’s too late… this woman’s story really all seemed so normal and true and it’s some of these less obvious power plays that need to be stopped before they get too far. I want to make sure my boys read this story when they’re old enough. http://herbsandhags.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-i-became-rape-victim.html?m=1

  46. I see you subscribe to the new fad: Boys NEED to be taught not to rape (implicit in that statement is that unless they’re taught not to rape ALL men are rapists). Thanks for outing yourself as one of those people, you sure know how to logically get your point across (that last part was sarcasm).-Mark

  47. Hi,I just read your beautiful letter and I was deeply moved. I am a forensic nurse who cares for victims of sexual violence. I also have the privelege of speaking to students about dating rights and responsibilities. You have done an amazing job of capturing the key points that I believe could lead to a true change in our culture. Thank you!!
    I want to ask a favor: I will be attending a conference on Ending Violence Against Women in 2 weeks. If you will allow, I would love to make copies of your letter and hand them out to the 1000+ attendees as an example of how to teach the concepts of bystander intervention to young children. If you would prefer I not use your exact words I will understand. I will still talk about you and this letter whenever I have a chance because I believe in writing it you have done something truly remarkable.
    Eileen Allen

  48. Good intention, but I fear this enforces several harmful and sexist stereotypes. A good moral base would cover all of these issues. But by playing on the woman’s love of shoes, scary husbands, crazy man with knife on subway just reinforces a male guilt and an understanding that women are weak. This is obviously a white middle class perspective. We should all be concerned bout abusing alcohol in this ultra repressed, turbo sexualized, all-permissible advertising, whore yourself society. Be good, people.

  49. @Moxie, while I resoundingly support your goals and agree with much of what you are trying to do here, there are parts with which I’m deeply uncomfortable. These include, as others have noted, the implicit message in your letter that only girls, but not boys, can ask for sex, that all “good” and/or consensual sex is always the “can’t wait for it” variety, and that all parents are — or can get “with the program.”Beyond that, something missing from this discussion is the deeply mixed message many of us (kids, teens, and adults included) get about sexuality. Perhaps some kids (your sons) can be fully protected from those messages, but their potential partners won’t all have been; as a college kid, I remember getting verbally harassed by my dorm mates not because I’d kissed a fellow student in public while dancing with him (oh the horror) but because I’d done so while sober: alcohol was what “nice girls” used (abused) in order to be able to say yes. That may have changed since the late 1980s when I went to college, but … I doubt it. The point isn’t that what you’ve written about the importance of sobriety to meaningful consent is wrong, but that the message so many of us (and yes, I am including adults here) get is so much more complicated than that, and as “it takes two,” at least one of whom may in fact be deeply ambivalent or unsure of what he or she wants, I think that awareness is important — and difficult to impart and to implement.
    Last but far from least, here’s a quick anecdote: a young male friend of mine left our medium-sized town and went to college in a big northeastern city. Walking back to his dorm late one night, he came across a man beating up a woman. Not only did he shout at the man, thereby getting involved in a physical fight, allowing the woman to get away, he assumed that having gotten away, the woman would call the police. She didn’t. My friend’s alive and fully functional today, thank goodness, and lost only his wallet and perhaps some naivete (plus suffering a lot of short-term bruising and, presumably, fear) in the altercation, but clearly there were assorted other possible outcomes to that event, many far more dire.
    Which is to say that confidence in one’s ability to make a difference, particularly taken together with the apparent inability of those of us who live in worlds where it seems plausible to claim that “If [her parents are] mad at her, I can talk to them and take care of it,” to accurately predict the range of reactions people will take (e.g. a woman who gets away from her attacker because he is now attacking someone else who intervened to help her will not necessarily call the police. Heck, motives aside, she may not even had had ready access to a working phone, a possibility that would never have crossed my friend’s mind) can be a very dangerous thing.

  50. Very well done…just one small worry in my mind… “in Canada”? Really? This gets people into big trouble? Other than forty below, and mosquitoes, and like that? What are we, the new Hell’s Kitchen or something? Tongue firmly in cheek here in case you wondered.Here’s to sons-that-aren’t-assholes; a campaign whose time has definitely come!

  51. It’s sad that there is no mention of actually waiting for someone to fall in love with before having sex. Since when is simply wanting it enough? This is part of the problem with today’s society. Our moral values are in the toilet. No mention of love or marriage? Definitely not the message I will be giving to my son.

  52. I am going to teach my sons to ignore the hateful concept of rape culture entirely and instead get them to focus on all sentient beings as worthy of respect.

  53. I love the way you gloss over males being raped. Seriously, those MRM arse hats just try to play the victim. How dare they. Men Cannot be raped, only the dominant can be rapists and women are not, at least for the moment. We are working hard for women to be dominant and run society.

  54. Awesome. This is exactly what I want to say to my boys.(Well except the stopping the knife fight–haven’t done that yet). Seriously, I feel that it is my responsibility to put 2 strong and respectful men into this world we live in. Thanks for adding to my tool belt.

  55. this is beautiful. stunning. perfect. i am sharing it with everyone i know. after i am done bawling, that is…

  56. Father here with a two month old son. Thanks for encapsulating how I’d like to raise him, and helping me find the words.It’s unfortunate the only male to comment on this so far has been a troll. Men need to be equal partners in the moral development of their children.

  57. This is the most amazing letter ever written. You are amazing. Thank you… not only for sharing this with your sons, but for raising them to be such great, caring people. AND for sharing this letter with the world.This is something every person, age 8 to age 80, needs to read.

  58. This is absolutely amazing. I will be sharing it with everyone I know, and saving it for when my 8 month old son is just a little bit older. Thank you for this.

  59. While I agree that people must step in to stop injustices if possible, I also believe suggesting/insinuating that all men are rapists is an injustice to half our society, at bestAnd why is a woman held accountable if she drinks and drives but others are responsible if she drinks and sexes?

  60. I am a Mum of a son. He’s only 2 but I set up an email address for him when he was born and I shall forward this to his email with some comments from me. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  61. Hello Moxie, I understand the context of this post and thank you so much for that. Nevertheless I was wondering, since we are talking about ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ whether just a few years from now, if a 14 or 15 year old girl asked your 15 year old son (by name) to have sex and he wanted it as well, if you would want him to go forward with it. What could FEEL 500 times better than a Batman marathon could lead to disease, pregnancy, abortion, etc. Ah, that we would raise our children to preserve the precious delight of sex within a committed relationship called marriage.

  62. Thank you so much for this. I am 28 and not a mother yet, but I feel like I just learnt so much about the right way to approach this conversation when the time comes. This post has really helped me feel some healing around the sad events in the media lately, and see a way forward for communities and individuals. THANK YOU. xxx

  63. P.S. In particular, this post helped me realise that in order to protect our children, we need to tell them the whole story, in a way that they can understand. And by protect, I mean not only – and most importantly – to protect a potential victim of abuse (male or female – I fully understand that you would feel it equally important to educate your sons on protecting other boys), but also to protect them from, for example, becoming a bystander who does not act to protect another, and regrets it.

  64. Can you please attach an image to this so that it can go onto Pinterest? This is too good to not share everywhere possible!

  65. @Christopher J Thompson, I was under the impression my car was an inanimate object and that men (and women, extending the point others have made that women can perpetrate, as well as be victims of, sexual assault) were sentient creatures possessed of a conscience and free will. Am I wrong about the latter?Also please rest assured that at least in my state if a sober person knowingly allows a drunk person to drive a car, the sober person can be held legally responsible for that.

  66. This is a fantastic change of pace from the usual garbage put on this site by self-congratulatory 22 year olds. Thank you.

  67. You are an amazing woman and mother! I salute you for the way you have raised your children, more people should have the privilige of living a life like that – so I started a movement.. One of its aims is to make this world a safer place for women but also for all beings on this planet.Its called the MyLife Movement and its about your life and improving it together in world unity!
    I’m going to be pushing for more families to read this letter and hopefully start teaching their children in the same way, but I will be expanding it to all beings.
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/MyLifeMovement

  68. Moxie,I am confused as to why you would only paint men / boys as the only perpetrators of sexual crimes.
    One look at the newspapers and pretty much everyday there is another ‘female teacher’ story making the rounds.
    Why is it a males sexual integrity is held in such low regard?
    Why is when you see a teacher student story it is always framed in such a way as to paint men as ‘monsters’ and women as a ‘seducer’?
    Why is there is very little action in regards to false rape accusers?
    I am sure you remember the Duke case where Crystal Gail Magnum falsely accused those boys of rape and when it was discovered that she was lying nothing was done to her?
    You do realize Crystal then went on to commit arson and murder of her boyfriend at the time right Moxie?
    Why is that society choose to ignore these studies and statistics;
    “* 2.1% of men reported forced vaginal sex compared to 1.6% of women in a relationship in the previous year. From: Predictors of Sexual Coersion. http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/ID45-PR45.pdf
    “*94% of sexually abused youth in correctional facilities reported being abused by female staff. From: Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities, 2008-09. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/svjfry09.pdf
    “* Among inmates reporting staff sexual misconduct, ~ 65% reported a female aggressor. From: Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/svpjri0809.pdf
    “* 50% of homeless youth reported being sexually abused by a female. From: It’s Not What You Think: Sexually Exploited Youth in British Columbia. http://www.nursing.ubc.ca/PDFs/ItsNotWhatYouThink.pdf
    Moxie, you are unfortunately half of the problem and only half of the solution.
    I pity your young sons, for in your eyes they are already the criminals.

  69. Sure, it sound noble and heroic, but this article is one-sided imo.What mainly bugs me is how you treat girls treating boys badly as tolerable (As shown in Step In point #3) while urging boys not to treat girls badly, even as to protect them from bad boys.
    What if your child sees a girl doing such things to a boy instead? Or do you believe it’s possible for a girl to sexually harass a boy?
    Also, would you tell your daughter to stand up for injustice the same way as your sons too?

  70. It’s not a feminist piece until a MRA shows up to demand “What about teh menz?”So that’s been done, fellas. You can go back to reddit now.

  71. @Slim! 🙂 🙂 :)So many new folks clearly haven’t been embedded long enough in the dialog, so don’t understand this is not a one-time conversation, a single event that will never be followed up, never discussed with nuance, challenged, or questioned on details by Moxie’s kids. If this was the only conversation Moxie ever had with her sons (note, she has no daughters, hence no letter to daughters!), then some of the ‘but but but what about X!’ comments might earn a ‘yes, this, too’ from me, even if they’re just footnotes in the larger conversation.
    But it’s not a one-time-event, or a PhD dissertation. It’s a centering point in an ongoing conversation that has already developed nuance and depth, experience, training, practice, consideration, listening, response. I wouldn’t know what to do with the knife fight, but I know Moxie actually knows procedure, so, yeah.
    I’ve used this letter as a prompt to do the same thing – a centering point, a place to gather the conversation back together, to refocus the many many strands of conversation we have had, over and over, on safety, health, sexuality, responsibility, community, action, courage, character, everything. They all weave through this point in time, and while this is just a single point where the threads gather, the whole grand tapestry is not captured in one conversation, or in one blog post, for that matter.
    I have had some good conversations with my eldest as a result of this letter, that I probably would have had in bits and chunks over time anyway, but it was a nice opportunity to chat in the car on the way to school, about something real-world and important, to reinforce the values, and let him show his understanding and values back, as well. So, my appreciation for making a really nice jumping off point, too.

  72. I have copied this and would like your permission to use it in parenting classes I teach to men about to be released from prison. This is probably not part of the culture they grew up with, but I find they are grateful for any ways to keep their kids from making the mistakes they made.Thanks. And if you cannot let me do this, I understand.
    Marcie Lightwood, BSW
    Parenting Educator

  73. I think the call-anytime immunity is really important, actually. Any combination of inexperience/intoxication/peer pressure can make someone doubt themselves and make it hard to call a spade a spade and go to the perceived extreme of calling 911. That goes for boys and girls. They should absolutely have carte blanche to call or text home and say “Mom/Dad, something weird and uncomfortable-making is going on here, what should I do?”

  74. Very moving piece, and glad you posted it. One could wish this level of specificity wasn’t necessary, having role-modeled self-and-other-respect for one’s children (both genders) from birth – but in this culture, where rape seems to be glorified, or funny, or in any way accepted as the norm, it seems to have become necessary.I don’t really want to digress from the core subject here, so I’ll just say that medical intervention-touching is not always appropriate either – given the murkiness of vaccine (and vaccine schedule) safety for infants and toddlers, you might want to pay attention when your kid screams “No shot, no shot!!”
    Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with your parenting, as regards the “okay touching” lessons, and commend you for the lucidity of this letter.
    Thank you.

  75. Hi! Some comments:1. This was written to MY SONS. Not the entire world of boys children, who I am not raising. So some of the specific things I know my sons will know already. And I have every reason to believe that they will both be over 6 feet tall and big by the time they’re out of middle school, so that was part of this.
    2. All you ludicrous men talking about “beta males” and how feminism is a blight, go away.
    3. Canada is where everyone here in Michigan goes to drink and party (it’s an hour away), so if my kids told me they were here but were really in Canada, yeah, that would be someplace they shouldn’t be. Otherwise I love Canada.
    4. I have had experiences with the police and with 911 that led me to ask my boys to call me first. You should certainly tell your own kids to call 911 first if that’s what feels right to you.
    5. Anyone who got that “all men are rapists” out of this should go back and read through it again. The whole point is that most men aren’t rapists, but kids need to be told specifically to intervene.
    6. Reprint and sharing info is in a post above this one–I made it into a PDF.
    Thank you all for reading it!

  76. Speaking as a male survivor of sexual abuse, it is both interesting and sad that your message to your sons is not about telling them that they have the right to say “no” to anyone touching their bodies, or that their “no” should be respected, or that girls and other boys should respect their personal boundaries. No, instead, your message is that they should step in to help girls, and apparently only girls, if any boys, and apparently only boys, do something wrong.That is such a bad message to send, and it truly sad to see a parent more concerned about teaching her sons not to be rapists rather than teaching them that no one has the right to rape them. The latter message does more to make people stand up because it teaches them that if you do not want it done to you, you should not do it others. Instead, you are teaching them their “no” is not as important as protecting girls.

  77. Seconding the person who suggested teaching your sons how to ask, appropriately and without pressuring, and being willing to take no for an answer. Too many young women are taught that asking for what they want is bad, and asking in a sexual situation makes them a slut. Particularly if you’re already in a situation of some intimacy, being able to ask, “Do you want me to do X?” can make a big difference.

  78. My important takeaway from your letter as a parent of daughters, has been the aspect of speaking up. Teaching our kids to speak up is so difficult in a culture where everyone wants everyone to like us. And as we come to rely more and more on technology to interact, and close ourselves off more from human interaction that doesn’t have to do with typing into a device, the whole idea of “I don’t want to get involved…” seems to grow larger as well.It maybe also stuck out to me because my eldest is deeply into the tattling stage and is currently being programmed to “mind her own business” at school. Every time she tells me she noticed a classmate breaking a rule, and spoke up about it, and was told to worry about herself, I try to reframe it for her and remind her “unless someone is getting hurt. You have to speak up if someone is getting hurt.”
    So thank you for your letter as it reassured me and reinvigorated my fight to have my kids be helpers, even if it means “tattling.” It was heartbreaking to read of the kids at that party who were sober and didn’t want to get involved.

  79. A sweet letter undermined by inadvertent sexism. You should have explained to them that the same principles of interaction apply vice versa, too. With the necessary changes:”1. If it’s safe for you to say something, say something. In a loud, commanding voice, tell the GUY/GIRL who’s doing it to stop, and make sure HE/SHE knows it’s not ok and HE/SHE can’t be an asshole (sorry to curse, but by the time you’re in this situation you’ll be cursing, too). Then help the GIRL/GUY get to someplace safe, and call HER/HIS parents. (Even if SHE/HE thinks SHE/HE’s going to get in trouble, call HER/HIS parents. If they’re mad at HER/HIM, I can talk to them and take care of it.)
    2. If it’s not safe for you to say something, leave the room quietly and calmly and call me. I do not care if you’re someplace you’re not supposed to be, or not the place you told me you were, or in Canada or someplace that would normally get you in a lot of trouble. You get immunity if you’re calling for help. My phone is always on, and it does not matter what time of day or night it is. If I don’t pick up right away, call your dad, and the same immunity rules apply. Call one of us and give us the address of where you are and we will come help. Then hang up and call 911. Tell them the address and that there’s an assault going on. They might want you to stay on the line with them until the police get there.
    3. Even if you don’t like the GIRL/GUY, step in. Even if SHE/HE’s been mean to you or snobby, or someone told you SHE/HE did something you think is gross. No matter what SHE/HE did, no one should hurt HER/HIM. If you step in, the next day you can go back to hating HER/HIM. If you don’t step in, well, how are you any different from the loser who’s hurting HER/HIM? You know who you are. Step in.
    4. Do not worry that everyone will hate you if you stop the cool kids from doing something. Stopping someone from hurting another person makes you a hero. This is what you’re here to do. And if there are people who don’t like it, screw them. Your dad and I will do anything it takes to make sure that anyone who doesn’t like your being a hero stays away from you and keeps their mouths shut.”

  80. If your sons ever witnesses a rape or are hanging around the kinds of people who have no problem with it, then they are in considerable danger themselves. Even if they are tall and muscular they are not invincible. Bullets and knives will harm them, and may be around if they hang out with the bad sorts you seem to expect them to.I hope they never end up in such a situation. Even if they do, their lives are not worth so little they should be expected to put themselves in the middle of a violent or potentially violent situation. It is their life, their choice as human beings of inherent value, and not to be taken for granted.
    It is disturbing to see how much people are glorifying raising boys to be “heroes”, sacrificial objects that put the safety of others before their own. It is not 1813, boys are not responsible for the safety of girls any more than they are responsible for making girl’s choices for them. To make them responsible for those they have no control over is regressive and objectifying.

  81. That is one of the most beautiful and moving letters I’ve ever read. Through the tears, I began to think about what I as a father should be teaching my two boys, ages 3 and 6 1/2.Thank you for sharing it. It is so important.
    Tatian

  82. As a male who tries to be an ally and a father of two young boys, this meant a lot.”Remember how we talk all the time about how we’re the people who help, who fix things when there’s a problem or someone’s in trouble?”
    This line sounds so familiar- both what we try to teach our kids and what my mother taught me. Really hit me. Thank you.

  83. Arnie, if you would like to post with your full real name and an actual email address, I’m happy to leave your trolling comments. Otherwise, I’m removing the comments that abuse my readers, me, and kids. Cheers.

  84. I love this, but I am wondering about the suggestion to call parents BEFORE 911? It just seems like 911 should be called first.

  85. Absolutely beautiful! I hope my 8-yr old daughter has the absolute pleasure of having boys/men like your sons in her life. This note brought me to tears. I can’t wait to share it with everybody I know.

  86. I have a number of issues with this text:1. It isn’t reasonalbe to say that a child never has to talk to someone she/he doesn’t want to talk to. What if that someone happens to be her/his teacher during an oral exam? Or a judge in a court of law? In the same way, if the police try to arrest your child, does your child have a right to resist that arrest because she/he has the right to never be touched unless she/he wants to be touched? And what if your child decides she/he doesn’t want a medical treatment she/he needs? The fact that you obviously have rules for where your children are allowed to go suggests that you don’t allow them to do exactly what they want.
    Finally, it’s hugely ironic that no one is allowed to tell your children that what they want is wrong, but your children are allowed to tell others that what they want is wrong (wanting to rape for exampel, or even just not caring about what happens to a certain other person).
    2. Is not wanting to touch someone you really like such a common problem that every child needs to have a strategy for how to handle that situationen (which by the way easily could be resolved by virtually anyone just saying something nice like “I like you”)? If you’re in to that kind of detail, then I can’t understand how you can promise you children that sex is the best thing ever. Far from all people think so. Some don’t like sex at all, and you have no idea if your children will be one of them.
    3. Why is this letter about men hurting women and not about people hurting people? By explicity saying that your children must step in when boys are hurting girls, you’re indirectly saying that they don’t have to step in when boys are hurting boys or when girls are hurting boys or girls. This is gender stereotyping that follows the views that women are fragile and need to be protected and that women are never violent or cruel. Even though it might not be meant as such, it reproduces the gender divide, which hurts women more than men in our society (people might feel protective towards those they percieve as weaker than themselves, but they’re loathe to put them in charge)

  87. This is wonderful. If every mother of boys told this to their sons rape would be a thing of the past. Thank you for being an amazing mother, woman and creating amazing men.

  88. This is wonderful. Please, though, remember to teach your boys that other boys can be victims too and that boys can need heroes too. Women are not the only victims! And they are not the “weaker sex” either. Males, females, and many people shades of in between or neither all deserve someone to stand up for them regardless of gender.

  89. i tried not to, but it was a reflex– i’m like bawling my eyes out right now. god bless you, god bless you soo soo much for teaching your sons to act in such a heroic way. you are amazing–because of people like you, the world has a potential chance at living in peace. <3

  90. I’m not a Dad, in fact, StumbleUpon brought me here….but, I tell you something, I’m sharing this…I am friends with plenty of mothers and I think they will appreciate this too.

  91. This so well written. As a young teenager, I was confused and often in situations where I was sexually out of my depth, and with boys and young men who had not been taught such things as you have taught your sons – and were equally as confused and out of their depth. I am in Ireland – but was very aware of Stuebenville and all the places everywhere where such things happen. WIth a feeling that had I been born in this age of social media and where young people are even more lost and confused and being fed very unhelpful messages – it could have been me. I have sought to find freedom for myself in it, and to find the very best messages to share with others about it. Messages that will bring more insight and more expansion in to the way I would like things to be. Your post is one of the best I have read so far. Thank you.

  92. From the depths of my soul, thank you. I am saving this to share with my sons and I wish my rapist had been raised this way. I hope some day all men are. Thank you.

  93. The link to this article was in a handout on sexuality and media given out to the parents in our sixth grade class. I’ve read the other comments, and clearly, I’m in the minority when I say that I find this letter to be inappropriate at best, and perhaps even harmful, for children aged seven and eleven. Hear me out.
    There are two points that I find particularly objectionable.
    While it’s never too early to introduce a child to the ideas of responsibility, respect and helping others (which ideally happens through modeling the behaviour in our own lives) , it’s quite another to put out to a young child the idea that people, perhaps even his friends, will intentionally do harmful things to someone and that he will be expected to be the "hero." That’s quite a lot for a kid who’s barely learned to tie his own shoes. Kids have to feel that the world is safe, and that the grown ups in charge know what they’re doing. Eventually, they’ll find out that the world is full of dangers and dangerous people, but if they’re told this too early, they grow up fearful and cynical. We may mistakenly think we’re being "realistic" and that we’re "preparing them," but this thinking is wrong. Education needs to come when a child can process and use the information being given. A seven year old isn’t likely to witness a rape, let alone be the hero who stops it, so what possible purpose can it serve to give him this information so early? It can only serve to scare and confuse him, make him question the integrity of every adult male he sees and dwell on things he is powerless to do anything about.
    The second part of the letter that I question is the "bedroom talk." I’ve never been accused of being shy or prudish, but I was appalled by the thought of children being told they should wait until their partners "tell them they need it, can’t wait for it" etc., That goes beyond the concept of consensus and into what two people say to each other in bed. As a mom, a woman and an educator, everything about that paragraph made me cringe. Again,it’s a question of age appropriateness. "Give it to me, I need it now" is pretty racy stuff for a kid who’s barely figured out what is means when he wakes up with an erection.
    Obviously, we should talk about rape with our children and students.
    Obviously education around the issue is important.
    It’s just a question of when.
    When my daughter, now twelve, was very young, she attended a pre-school where a well meaning young teacher told the children about fossil fuels, the pollution caused by cars, the state of our landfills, global warming etc. She thought she was educating them to be good little environmentalists (we were in Berkeley). But she neglected to consider that these children have no purchasing power; they aren’t the ones in their family buying or driving the cars, the plastic wrap, and so on. These little people had no place to put this information into practical use. My daughter was upset for weeks about the state of the planet, and every time we got in the car, on some level, she wondered why her mommy would do something so harmful to the planet.
    It’s a question of when.

  94. Wow. So that’s how it’s done: teaching both sides of consent from the earliest age. As a parent, I can see how this might be inconvenient at times–raising empowered children–but as a human I am lovin’ it.

  95. In early high school, my sister was drunk at a party and some assholes (as you called them) tried to take advantage of the fact. My family is still thankful for the guys who stepped in before anything could happen and called us to come get her. These guys weren’t her friends or anything, but they were clearly raised by parents like you. Thank you for giving other parents a model on how to talk to their sons about doing the right thing.

  96. Nice letter but brevity is the soul of powerful writing. If it takes you that long to instill respect towards women you’re oversaying your point. Your sons/audience probably tuned out paragraphs ago. Tighten it up and you’ll have a much more impactful and memorable piece.

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