A Letter to my Son About Rape

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women.”

I don’t know if it’s a new quote, but it’s been popular since the allegations–yes, I have to use that word, even though we all know the stories are true–against Harvey Weinstein came to light.

I have a three-year-old son.

For one year of his life, I wrote him letters from my life on the road; something to give him at a future date. I would complete a show, and then head back to my hotel room to put thoughts to paper.

Sometimes I would write about what we did during the week; other times I would tell stories from my life. And then there were the times I wrote about what was happening in the world around me.

In 2016, I wrote about convicted rapist Brock Turner.

I was disgusted by the way the courts gave him a slap on the wrist, and how his family moved to protect him and completely ignore the pain he caused his victim.

At the time, I mistakenly thought the Brock Turner case would turn the tide when it came to how we handled rape in society; the idea we might actually put the focus on men not raping women, as opposed to just apologizing after the fact.

I was wrong.

Now it’s 2017, and Harvey Weinstein’s past has finally caught up to him.

I don’t know if I have much hope that it will lead to a discussion on men behaving better, but it might. Either way, the idea men need to be taught better values and respect systems starts at home.

I am a father. My son is my responsibility.

This letter is only one of many I wrote to him, but it is probably the most brutal. It also needs to be said to every son, because for far too long the topic of assault, rape, and abuse have been brushed under the rug.

The letter is as follows:

June 25

Hey Buddy…

I am in Dubuque, Iowa.

There is no way to ease into things, so I will state outright that this letter is going to be rough, and messy.

A few weeks ago, an event rocked the country. Since then, I’ve been trying to digest what happened—to come to terms with the planet we live on in order to help guide you as a person.

A young man in California raped a young woman and was then given the lightest prison sentence possible as punishment. The judge failed in his duty to protect women from sexual predators, and instead worried about the consequences the man might face having an assault charge on his record.

Read that again, if you have to.

The judge put the needs of a rapist above those of his victim and society as a whole.

The judge failed to hand down requisite punishment, which both failed to protect women from this individual rapist, but also sent a horrific message to other sexual predators: what you’re doing isn’t so bad. Go ahead. If you’re caught, you’ll get a slap on the wrist.

The man was convicted of rape; let there be no confusion. He was arrested, tried, and found guilty. Which means he should have gone to prison for many years. When you inflict violence upon another person, you should be removed from civilization. During the course of sentencing deliberation, however, the rapist’s father wrote a letter asking for clemency. The father said his poor little boy would be forever damaged by the verdict, which was punishment enough for his actions.

I am outraged and disgusted by the lack of punishment, and more so by the actions of that man’s father.

That father failed his son.

There was no thought in the rapist’s head telling him what he was doing was wrong. There was no parental figure, no voice of authority, no moral compass that prevented him from damaging another human being. The fact that father was worried more about his son’s punishment than his son’s victim shows you exactly what kind of person we’re dealing with. In order to be a complete human being you need empathy. You need a sense of right and wrong, and the ability to square your shoulders and accept responsibility for your actions. You need to be the exact opposite of the rapist, and his father.

Let me tell you a story.

I haven’t thought of this in… God, probably fifteen years. Some of the details have been lost in the gray matter of my mind, but the important actions remain.

I was in my twenties, probably about the same age as the rapist I’ve been talking about. I was driving to a friend’s house. It was autumn—October or November—it was late at night, and it was cold. I was on a rural road, out in the middle of proverbial nowhere, when I came across a teenage girl walking on the side of the road. She wasn’t wearing a coat, and had her arms wrapped around herself trying to maintain a sense of warmth.

I immediately pulled over and asked if she needed a ride. She was drunk, and happily hopped into my car.

Her house was a ten-minute drive—which would have been a hell of a walk—and during our trip she explained that she had gotten into a fight with her boyfriend at a party and stormed off.

I got her home; she said “Thanks” and stumbled inside.

And that was that.

While my exterior was calm, from the moment I saw her until the moment she exited my car, the only thought screaming inside my head was: What if it wasn’t ME that had driven by?

What if someone horrible had driven by? What if someone who had evil thoughts had picked her up? She got in the first car door that opened, and it worked out well for her. If someone awful had scooped her up, that girl would have become what is known as a “statistic.” Even though I am not religious by any means, the thought thank God I came across her first remained inside my mind for several hours after the event.

I bring this up, because in life, you will be presented with situations.

Maybe a girl you like will get drunk and pass out in your bed. Maybe you’ll attain a position of power where you can take advantage of people. Maybe you’ll come across someone incapacitated and in need of a ride home.

In those situations, you will be defined as a person. Will you act honorably, or will you do harm?

It never crossed my mind to take advantage of that girl. Is it because of how I’m wired, or my upbringing? I don’t know. I don’t know what makes one person normal and another awful. I never got a talking to about how to treat women; I never got a sex talk from my parents, and I don’t remember when I learned what rape was. I think that according to societal norms back then, it was something you didn’t talk about. It was just assumed that you don’t assault, hurt, or rape women.

There are those who like to glorify the past—to create a false narrative of what was, and shout, “Back in my day, we didn’t have to discuss rape. We didn’t do things like that.”

Not true.

It’s specifically because of the lack of dialogue that rape occurs, and we can no longer continue down the path of silence. It is in silence we allow problems to fester and actions to continue.

So.

Here we are.

I am a father, and you are my son. It falls square on my shoulders to educate you. The only way to end rape is to raise good boys that become good men. As you are only two years old, I envision you growing up to be a young man with morals. But I know it’s my job to instill ethics in you, not just assume that you will understand non-consensual sex is wrong. I have to lay it out for you.

No means no.

That might read as overly simple, but it’s a solid truth. There is no way around it. If a woman says “Stop,” you stop. It doesn’t matter how far along you are in a relationship or even the process. If you are in the middle of consensual sex and she changes her mind and says “Stop,” you pull out. End of discussion. If you put your arm around her and she says “No,” you stop. End of discussion. “No” and “Stop” are to be taken at face value; there are no variables here. Also: if someone is incoherent—too drunk or on drugs—they cannot give consent.

Look, this might seem intimidating, and possibly scary. Maybe it should be. I don’t know. People like absolutes, and I wish I had every answer. But I don’t. And there’s nothing I can do about that.

I don’t want you to enter into the world of dating full of fear; I don’t want you to hold back from having fun because you have my nagging voice inside your head every time you talk to a girl.

But I know that every rapist had one thing in common: a father that failed him.

I will not fail you.

Love,

Dad

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