A Father-Son Talk About Rape and Rehtaeh Parsons

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How can we help prevent sexual assault in the future? Teach every child not to rape. Zach Rosenberg and his son are starting early.

“Because that’s rape,” I answered, matter-of-factly.

“What’s rape?” my four year-old son asked as he lined strawberries along the edge of his plate, the breeze outside pushing through our windows as the blinds scratched against the window sills. We could hear the sounds of his cartoons pouring around the corner from the living room. My son never looked up as I explained, in simple terms, why it isn’t right to force yourself onto someone else.

I always wonder if I’m speaking over my four year old’s head. My wife used to tell me that I spoke to my god daughter, and then our own son, like they were teenagers—no baby talk, no funny voices. Real talk. We now attribute that as one of the reasons our son forms oddly complex sentences and ideas, but hey, we’re also just proud parents.

But this was the first time I’d breached the topic of rape with my son.

It wasn’t rape that we were really talking about per se. By definitions, it was probably sexual assault, but I strangely felt more comfortable using the R-word than the S-word with my son.

Here’s how it all started: you know how preschoolers think they’ve got a girlfriend or boyfriend at school? And if the families know each other, it becomes the (*cough*) moms’ obsession to get them to hold hands, hug and kiss? Well, our son has always been very physically loving to his mother and I, which we adore. Nothing’s better than my son hugging and kissing me. But I never really like the idea of kids kissing each other. They’re playing house; they’re copying what they see everywhere. And sometimes, they’re fulfilling the wishes of parents who scramble for their iPhones to take adorbs Facebook photos. Innocent, right?

Before lunch that day, my son told me that his girlfriend was no longer his friend. It was her idea, he insisted. I let it go for a while, as he told me about his new friend (another girl) and how they were going to get married. I told my son to just be friends. We sat down at the table and as he eyed his strawberries, holding each one up in the midday light, he said again that his girlfriend didn’t want to be his friend.

“Why doesn’t she want to be your friend?”

“She didn’t like that I kissed her,” my son says, pushing his index finger into the middle of a strawberry.

“Well, did you ask her first? Or did you just try to kiss her?” He looks up and takes a bite, nonchalantly saying within a shrug “I just tried.”

“Oh, well, dude, you can’t do that,” I say, thinking this will end here.

“Why not?”

That was when I dropped the R-word.

After I explain, the world is still the same. The cartoons are still on, the strawberries are still lined up on his plate. My wife is still out doing an errand. Nothing’s changed, except I’ve started a meaningful conversation about rape with my son. He’s four, but he understands right and wrong. Kids just want to mimic their parents; my son sees me kiss my wife whenever I get it in my head to do so, and sees that she welcomes it. So, he, in turn, thinks that he can kiss the girl that the whole school staff had confirmed one day to my wife and I was his girlfriend.

Later, I know, we’ll be having deeper conversations about sexual assault and rape. Part of being a man is respecting women. This isn’t a feminism thing or a men’s rights violation. My son is already interested in girls as girlfriends and wives (no, really, he dropped this one on me later that day). He doesn’t know about sex, but he knows about kissing and hugging. And that’s our entry point into the conversation. Glen Canning recently made a statement about his daughter Rehtaeh Parsons. She was a Canadian teen who was raped and bullied until she hung herself. She lived through it, but was hospitalized and died  Canning’s letter, “Rehtaeh Parsons Was My Daughter” is a tough read. He mourns a wonderful father-daughter relationship, cut short. He wonders how the Canadian police can’t find enough evidence for the case, while the perpetrators have traded photos around the school that prompted other boys to send lewd texts to Rehtaeh and girls to call her terrible names.

Canning says his daughter was disappointed to death; “the court system in Nova Scotia,” says Canning, “was just going to rape her all over again with indifference to her suffering and the damage this did to her.”

My heart hurts for Canning and Rehtaeh’s mother. And as a father of a son, I don’t know how I could raise a daughter and have to tell her one day to “be careful” as she left for a party or a friend’s house. I don’t know how I could understand why I’d be buying her pepper spray “just in case,” knowing that if if it came down to it, it would likely be turned on her by an attacker. I’m not cut out for raising a girl with headlines like the ones telling Rehtaeh Parsons’ story.

Rape has been all over the headlines lately, and because of that, on my mind lately. During the long and arduous Steubenville rape case, a mom blogger friend of mine had written an article I was sure I’d hate based on the title alone. Eve Vawter’s piece, “It’s Official, Rape Is No Longer A Girl Problem, It’s A Boy Problem. So Shut Up About Girls ‘Preventing’ Rape,” discusses the dystopian reality we’re in where men rape but we educate women on how to not get raped.

While the reported and accepted statistics show that men are more often the aggressors in sexual assault, we see few classes for men about, frankly, not raping. We see plenty of women’s self-defense and rape prevention classes. When I first read Vawter’s piece, I was infuriated. As a dad blogger and a mild nightwatchman for men’s rights, I immediately take offense to sweeping generalizations and dogmatic misandry. But as I read more, I got past my own feelings. I thought back to the last time I was in an organized group that was telling men, directly, not to rape women.

High school.

It was part of the then-evolving “Becoming a Man” class at my all-boys, Catholic high school. A mix of religious, morality and sexuality topics rolled into one class, it fielded the topic of respecting women, and the decisions to make if you were to ever have doubts about a woman’s willingness to engage in sexual activity. My best friend actually ended up teaching the class years later, and now at a different (charter) school, says he still fields the rape topic with his male students. “Ethics should be taught across the board,” he told me, adding, “rape is a crime of power not passion—so we teach it as a manifestation of tyrannical behavior.”

Now here’s something that will really bake your noodle: three priests from my old Catholic high school were accused of sexual abuse. At least one admitted guilt, and another had been arrested years later for assaulting a boy at a bus stop. I’ll just leave that there.

Convicted Steubenville rapist Ma’lik Richmond’s lawyer is planning to appeal the guilty verdict because – he says – at 16 years old, his client’s brain isn’t fully developed, and as such, he might not understand that rape is wrong.

My son, all of four years old, is chewing his last strawberry mouthful as I finish my definition of rape and sexual assault, and my explanation of why forcing himself onto a girl—even his “girlfriend”, even just a kiss—is wrong. He gets it. His brain is far from fully-developed, but he nods as my sentence trails off and my hands fall back down to the table. “Okay, daddy. I won’t do it anymore,” he says. He slides off of his chair and gallops back to his cartoons.

I know my son didn’t rape his preschool ex-”girlfriend.” And in all liklihood, he didn’t sexually assault her either. But when she let him know that she didn’t like him kissing her, it opened up our first conversation on the topic. And though I’m not completely sure I’m speaking on his level, I know I’d rather speak to him now so he knows that this is a topic between us. The rougher road lies ahead, but I’ve paved the first block and that’s what matters.



Also read:

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Consent, Ages 1-21

A Letter to My Son About Consent


Photo courtesy of the author


About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.


  1. Tom Brechlin says:

    Heck, I’m still struggling with a 4 year old having an “ex-girlfriend” which means they must have had a boyfriend girlfriend relationship for a while….. ¼ of his life maybe = 1 year?

    What about teaching a child about “friendships” … how many people are so against a little boy innocently kissing a little girl but have nothing to say about his having an “ex-girlfriend?” I can only speak to where I live, boy/girlfriends are not acceptable. How about starting there? Ohhhh, isn’t it cute, they’re boy/girl friends …. Holding hand and ooooops, he tried to kiss her ..SHE didn’t want THAT… ding ding ding, …. Sexual abuse and maybe rape? Nice setting for a 4 year old who more then likely still likes a light on in his room when he goes to bed at night. Maybe there is a book out there, “The ABC’s on preschool dating do’s and don’t” Learn letters and appropriate dating techniques.

    This is all making me nuts. I’m going over to my 3 ½ year old grandsons house for dinner tonight. I can’t even imagine this conversation with him.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      By the way, Tom, I actually really agree with you about the problematic nature of calling boy/girl friendships with small children “girlfriends” or “boyfriends”. I think our society has put this weird romanticized notion on children for too long, and it has affected the way we see people of different genders.

      I’m not criticizing Zach, I’m just making a general statement about society. I wrote about this in my post The Healthy Sex Talk, too.

      They really are all just friendships. Even if they have “special feelings” for one boy or one girl, they’re still just friendships.

      • I think it’s weird when adults are romanticising children’s relationships. I think it’s actually quite natural when it’s kids imitating adult relationships…and I think there’s a big difference. I had “boyfriends” when I was in grade school (yes, even as young as Zach’s kid), in large part because that’s what I saw in adults. Kids imitate adults; it’s part of how they learn.

        If anything, the fact that kids imitate adults by having opposite-sex “boyfriends” and “girlfriends,” says a hell of a lot about how focused adults are on romantic relationships…and a lack of opposite-sex friendships (as well as a lack of visible same-sex romantic relationships).

    • “I’m going over to my 3 ½ year old grandsons house for dinner tonight. I can’t even imagine this conversation with him.”

      Which is precisely the problem. We shelter children too much in this culture…so much that before we realise it, children have become adults who still don’t quite understand how to interact with the “opposite sex.” My parents are actually quite conservative when it comes to sex, but I had the big “sex talk” with my mother when I was 5-years old. It didn’t traumatize me. It was just one more piece of information I had. More importantly, when I was about 6, or so I had a friend who told me in a hushed whisper in the girl’s restroom, that her mother had been raped. If you all think children aren’t picking up on these words (like rape), and concepts like understanding when it’s deemed socially acceptable to violate another person’s bodily autonomy, you’re sadly mistaken. Kids aren’t idiots.

  2. I think everyone’s hate directed to Zach because he used the word “rape,” is pretty telling. Our culture hates the word so much, we’ve made it taboo…we can’t even talk about it. Zach started a conversation with his child explaining that unwanted sexual touching is rape, and a bunch of people read that and think Zach has accused his child of being a rapist. The fact that Zach dared to speak about this taboo subject with his child causes people to fear for the psychological well-being of his kid. Zach didn’t punish his child, or publicly shame his child. He didn’t beat him, or yell at him, or accuse him of anything. He had a conversation…that’s all…a very important conversation.

    Everyone here remember all the articles here at GMP (including my two) that talk about how rapists are people…how “average” people commit rape? That’s precisely what Zach is teaching his son by talking to him about this. Rapists aren’t the boogeymen…and rape isn’t a swear word that means “bad thing evil people do.” He’s demystified it. He’s given it form and shape and meaning. And keeping in mind his child is 4-years-old, I think it’s a bit young to start delving into all the nuance of various rape situations. Discussing the problematic ways our society has defined rape, versus sexual assault, versus acquaintance rape, etc…all that probably would go over Zach’s kid’s head.

    If his son had hit a child and then been asking questions about why that other kid didn’t like him any more, I would expect Zach to do the same thing. And just about any other parent would do the same thing. He’d explain that hitting isn’t okay, that it’s assault and a violating of the other person’s body. That his child needs to “keep your hands to yourself,” and so on. The situation Zach described is NO DIFFERENT. The fact that so many people here think that young boys giving young girls unwanted attention (and violating their personal space without permission) is “fine,” is what I find most troubling. It’s very much not “fine.”

  3. Thank you for this piece. It was a brave exploration of the difficult but vital conversations that we need to be having with young boys and men. Try, if you can, to ignore the hate. You are working hard to introduce your son to some vital conversations about sexual violence, and I admire you for that. Regardless of what some of the haters may say, yes, we DO need to teach men not to rape. We need to teach ALL people not to commit sexual violence, but there’s no way around it: men commit the vast majority of sexual assault, so we need to start young teaching men to breakdown rape culture and toxic masculinity.

    • Try, if you can, to ignore the hate.

      That should be easy, for those who are already so practiced at ignoring criticism of “Rape Culture”.

    • Agreed Jamie. This little child didn’t rape anyone, no. But the action of acting physically on someone without consent especially in gendered relationships is important to discuss. Parents have a huge long slog ahead of them. We’ll make mistakes in how we discuss sex and consent and assault, mostly because no one has taught us how.

      I try to keep this quote in mind all the time when I think about people and bodies and how I work/play/interact with people.
      ““Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.”
      Immanuel Kant ”

      This is hard to do and it often means giving up things we want in lieu of having that other person be a subject not an object, but I think the more we could teach that, the better.

  4. Placing concepts of extreme violence and gender judgements on a four-year old is wrong and unnecessary. Any psychologist will tell you that boys and girls kissing each other is a healthy and natural process of socialization. Violence is violence. Affection is affection. Equating one with the other is morally wrong and pandering to alarmists. Next thing, he’ll be telling his daughter that looking at what boys have between their legs is molestation. Something that is unwelcome is not rape. Call it what it is, not what he fears it could become if his son turns out to be one of the few kids who grow up to be a violent offender. Otherwise he will grow up avoiding what he fears rather than having a healthy attitude about his own and others sexuality. The church has had a similar approach to child rearing with fear. And it has kept many a therapist in business.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      The problem is that what ONE person considers to be “affection” could be violence to another.

      We have heard stories from a number of men about women who raped men by envelopment, then said they did it (despite hearing a “no”) because they felt it was sexy, and that it was necessary for them to have sex in order to bond.

      To those women, “affection” turned to rape of a man.

      That’s the problem. OF COURSE Zach knows his son didn’t rape the girl. He even says it in the piece. And of course he knows it came from a place of affection for his ex “girlfriend” at school.

      But I think what matters here is that Zach is teaching his son that his affection/love/need for a kiss shouldn’t take precedent over the girl’s need for autonomy.

      I wish it were as simple as “affection” vs “violence” but what seems okay to one partner is too often violence to the other. And Zach doesn’t necessarily believe this was violence, but he is saying that the conversation HAS TO start about consent, even at this age.

      • If a father wants to have a discussion with his son about consent then he should use the word consent not the word rape. There is nothing healthy about telling a four-year-old boy he raped a girl when he didn’t.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          What’s important to note is that *in this piece* Zach admits he used the wrong word and the point of the post was about opening up a discussion about consent and how much of a struggle it can be to have these discussions, but how necessary they are.

      • That’s the problem. OF COURSE Zach knows his son didn’t rape the girl. He even says it in the piece.

        He also said in the piece that the reason he gave his son for it being wrong to not want to be friends with the girl because she didn’t want to be kissed was “Because that’s rape.” That is the problem, and many commenters have said so specifically, while still agreeing that it would be good to teach a lesson about not touching people (or playing with them) in ways they don’t want to be touched (or played with).

        Although Zach says later in the piece that he doesn’t think his son raped the girl, the theme of his piece is how he’s patting himself on the back for having told his sone it was rape, and how others might learn from his example to get this consent discussion going and prevent future rapists. Any nuanced message was left unexpressed, according to the piece, so that doesn’t save it. I think it’s not that hard to see how wrong this conversation went (despite good intentions) if you picture the little boy going back to school and apologizing for what he’s done to the girl, as many parents also teach their kids to do. “I’m sorry I raped you.” Or to a teacher who might have broken up the unwanted kissing play: “I’m sorry I raped Sally.”

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Marcus, he is talking about how is glad he introduced the subject, and also saying that it’s a hard subject and he may have used the wrong word.

          Both exist at the same time. You don’t have to choose one or the other.

      • It’s simple. Very simple. For something to be violent it must be forced. If you hold someone’s hands down while you kiss them then it is violence. If you walk up to someone and peck them on the cheek then it is not violence. If so, then I know about two dozen women who have ‘raped’ me in the past decade by showing me affection.

        The over riding problem with this man is his assumption that all men are violent and capable of rape. He then applies this highly sexist and hateful attitude on to his son. If he really cared about his son he would teach him that humans are capable of violence and he should protect himself. He should teach his son that no girl, no boy, no man, no woman is allowed to violate him sexually. Teach him to respect and protect himself then teach him to apply the same rule in how he treats all others. He should be making his son the top priority. Not be letting hateful dogma determine how he rears his son. It’s called prejudice. And it’s ugly.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          You’re actually really wrong about violence requiring force.

          Steubenville required no force. But that was rape.

          It may not be violence, per your definition, but it can certainly be violating. And it is assault.

          No, not for Zach’s child, but as he gets bigger it will be. And I want my kids to know that no one ever had the right to touch them unless they want to be touched. The end.

        • I’m reminded of an article I read recently about moral violence, specifically with the example of the violence in a hug. From that article:

          “I was watching a documentary about Iraq with a friend of mine (not a veteran). Midway through the piece, a short video clip was shown of two soldiers searching an Iraqi home…Then one of the soldiers, clad in body armor, sunglasses, and an automatic rifle, feeling in an amorous mood I suppose, leaned toward a young Iraqi man in the living room and gave him a hug. The Iraqi submitted with limp arms and an unenthusiastic smile…

          …The trouble is that no matter how that Iraqi man felt about the hug, there’s nothing he could have done to stop it. He couldn’t say no to the hug. And there was no one who could help him. Nobody at all could stop that American soldier from hugging that Iraqi man—and you could see in their faces, they both knew it. That’s what an occupation looks like. And that’s the harm in a hug.”


          • People don’t want to know that all actions involve language and meaning. Or they don’t want to believe it. They’ll say, “What’s he complaining about it’s a hug.” But it’s a symbol, right? So much more then that.

  5. Adam McPhee says:

    When I was four a lot of my aunts wanted to give me kisses and I didn’t like it when they did and clearly expressed this. Was I passed around like currency and regularly raped by my aunts? My grandma was a regular offender too. Zach, do you think I have a potential lawsuit on my hands?

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Adam, I have written numerous times about how children should NEVER be forced to kiss our touch anybody.

      I believe your bodily autonomy, as a child, WAS violated by your aunts and grandmother. But the INTENTION wasn’t to harm you. It may have been to embarrass you a bit, and that’s really troubling too.

      I cannot figure out how all these people who want men to be protected from sexual violence with the same fervor that women are, come to GMP and say things like what you’re saying. Why shouldn’t you, Adam, have been protected from this type of bodily violation? Because you were a boy?

      What if your uncles had passed around your sister like that? What if your sister had said “NO! I don’t like this!”? Would they have forced her to be kissed by your uncles. Hell no! Not in any functional family.

      But here you are, I’m assuming an advocate for men’s rights if not an MRA, saying to me, “what happened to me was okay!” and I”m saying back to you, “Switch the genders here. Is it still okay?”

      No. It’s not.

      Should they got to jail for doing it? No! But we absolutely *have to* change our culture that says that children’s bodies don’t deserve autonomy. That both boys AND girls have a right to say “NO” and have that honored.

      That both boys and girls learn that before they kiss someone, they should ask permission in some way.

      Because every child deserves that, and our entire culture needs to change in order to give them that.

  6. Zach,

    I have a lot of respect for you as a person and father, but I also don’t agree with Your “that’s rape” logic. We live in a world of collapsing innocence, but a four year old kissing a four year old is still just that. I think by labeling a truly innocent act as rape you risk tainting the diabolical nature of rape and sexual assault in your son’s mind and subverting your message. There’s no way he can understand evil like that now. And now he is probably confused with respect to his feelings which he doesn’t fully understand and this larger societal issue which he also doesn’t understand.

    I would have started with the basics of interpersonal boundaries, and how to begin to figure out what they are with your internal monologue about rape are current events and impending future important talks.

    But there’s as much space between a kiss and rape as hitting and torture when you’re four years old.

    I also don’t believe the it will scar your kid or your relationship, just confuse him. You are a good, loving, active father and that allows you a lot of latitude. To think that this does irreparable long term to your son shows ignorance of the larger context of you as a person and father.

    Just say 16 Hail Marys and meet me in the rectory…


  7. Zach, I’m struggling very hard to keep my terms delicate about the content in this article. I’m a Clinical Professor of Psychology, so I’m going to (rightfully or not) claim a bit more expertise than a random person with internet. We know, or at least I sincerely hope we know, that young children stealing a kiss on the playground is not rape.

    You describe your son’s disappointment in being rejected, follow up by telling him he’s a rapist, then continue in the article to describe a tragic even where an innocent girl was raped and bullied to death. The narrative flow indicates that in your mind, one could lead to the other.

    I will tell you, with mountains of empirical evidence to support this, that it does not. The interpersonal exploration you son engaged in is a natural, normal, and necessary part of growing up. We all want acceptance. We all experience rejection. When you compound that schoolyard rejection by responding not with empathy, but comparing him to people who engage in the most sociopathic behaviors, you are sacrificing your son’s well-being on the altar of your own issues and ideology.

    To compare a very normative preschool interaction with assault and rape does not help educate a child, it serves to impart your own issues. Those issues will become generationally transmitted, just as surely as your discomfort and distortion of the topic was transmitted to you via some previous mechanism.
    What your son was seeking was empathy, comfort, and guidance on how to deal with rejection. What he received was more rejection and gut-wrenching shame from the most important man in his life.

    You want your son to grow in to a good man. Your gender politics are important to you. I get that. But you’ve run the risk of letting it become more important to you than your own child – by allowing hyperbole to eclipse empathy. I’ve seen this happen with other topics many, many times in my career. The outcome is never good. Never what was intended.

    • Mostly_123 says:

      I see where you’re coming from Dr. G., and frankly (as a layman) I think that your analysis makes a lot of sense. Sometimes it’s difficult (and frustrating to not be able) to articulate WHY something strikes one as off the mark: Thank-you for taking the time to un-parcel all of that there, Dr. G. 

  8. wellokaythen says:

    A response from a nonparent, so make of that what you will:

    The rape conversation over strawberries seemed like a good moment to try to bring up empathy or the Golden Rule as well. Your son has probably had moments where another kid tried to do something to him and he didn’t like it. (Maybe another girl tried to kiss him and he didn’t like it?) He might have understood even better if he could register that she felt just the way that he did when this other kid did it to him. (I know, I know, “their brains aren’t developed” and “they don’t have a theory of mind yet,” but it’s worth a shot at least.) He may not be able to understand WHY it’s wrong, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.

    It seems like “rape” is too strong a word and too much too soon. It seems a little odd to me to teach him about rape but avoid the word “sex.”

  9. john schtoll says:

    Which country do you live in, because this page shows stats for all scandinaviaian countries and all of them MEN are murdered more than women These stats are from 2012


  10. AnthonyZarat says:

    Before you pat yourself on the back for what you did to your son, you should read this:


    Then you can appologtize to your son for making him less safe in a misguided attempt to make people you don’t know safe from him.

  11. Hi Archy

    This woman has survived a life threatening  relationship because she learned what can trigger a dangerous man.

    In some situations you speak up,in others you are smart!

    I my country MORE WOMEN than men are MURDERED every year. We call this phenomena in Scandinavia “partner murder”. What triggers these men seems to be when they realize they are not loved,not wanted,not desired. Rejection. She want to leave,or has left him. 
    When this is the reality you live in, you do not feel it is your job to educate men in situations where you feel threatened.

    • “I my country MORE WOMEN than men are MURDERED every year. ”

      Then your murder rate must be low as heck if your random-stranger murder rate is zero.

      It’s a well-known fact that men represent 30-40% of DV murder victims, and 70-80% of all murder victims for the vast majority of nations.

      • Hi Schala

        You are right. The murder rate here is low.
        But Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre changed the statistics when he killed 77 persons one afternoon. He saved one person in his killings,a man. His explanation was:” I saw myself”.

        And some say it is unfair to say more women than men are murdered. It is about 52% to 48%.
        It can be described as  similar.
        Some also say that  the murder rate of women here are not larger than in other similar countries,BUT the rate of males killed are lower than other places.

        Why is this so? I am not qualified to explain this phenomena.  
        Some countries have unusually high rates of murder,others have surprisingly low rates.

        This leveling out of murder rates of men  and women seems to be a trend in many societies with high equality between the sexes.

        • Your country is severely different to the rest of the world. Men die 4-6x more in violence than women. That point aside you raise a good point about speaking out, but isn’t that more for intimate partners and not strangers?

    • John Schtoll says:

      Just checked the stats on the countries that makes up Scandinavia. None of them have women being murdered more than men.

      Where did you get your stats

  12. Joseph Robertson says:

    I find it sickening that the author is explaining a false situation of rape to his son and then gloating about his achievement over the internet. “Dude,” you’re going to traumatize your child and potentially ruin his future. Sure, it’s not a bad thing to tell your children what’s right and wrong, but kissing a girl isn’t considered rape! He’s 4 years old, for heaven’s sake! Give the kid a break. Sure, what he did wasn’t right, but there’s no reason to put inappropriate labels on things that don’t need them. I’m not generally one to tell parents how to treat their children, but you have to back off a little. Don’t get all worked up, your 4-year old son isn’t a rapist.

    • Jeremy Cuvelier says:

      I agree with you Joseph, the kid is $##$ing four years old. What ever happened to the innocence of childhood. Remember how little boys and girls used to pretend they were boyfriend/girlfriend even though they had no idea what the concept of coupling was.

      You taught your four year old son what rape was, way to go you idiot. So now every time he even looks at a girl he’s going to think he’s a rapist or something? All you had to do was teach him that not all girls what to be kissed by a strange boy and only do it if she was his girlfriend or something like that.

      It’s people like you that get kids suspended for using a chick finger as a gun. Fuck society is going to shit real fast when you compare an innocent yet unwanted kiss of two four years old’s to rape.

  13. Hi Marcus Williams

    I both agree and disagree with you.

    But remember two things:
    * for centuries many cultures on this earth has made  their family’s honor be dependent on women’s bodies and sexuality.(( Excuse me for to being able to write this clearly.)) Think of honor cultures today where the family kills their women. It happens today also in Europe. And this is also still a part of our culture in the west. See C.Harkim Honey Money. I have not read her, but the book looks interesting. She writes about the suppression of female sexuality. Archy can take a trip and talk with her and report back to GMP. She is Australian  

    * experience with sexual trauma is a special trauma. All kinds of trauma are terrible don’t get me wrong. But when you look at the earlier experiences for persons that develops psychoses or show signs of  serious emotion distress,there is more often than not a history of abuse and sexual abuse.

    We should all treat each other with dignity and respect in any situation. But it is wise to specially sensitive to others when it comes to their body and sexuality.

    I can not express this well  in writing,but I hope you understand. Especially for women our BODY has a meaning that few men can grasp,unless this is their subject,like in psychiatry or social science. 

    For me this is the DEALBREAKER number one.

  14. Tom Brechlin says:

    When my kids were small and now with my grandkids, I’m suspect of ANYBODY who approaches me. Not that I think everyone is going to grab my kid but I always keep a firm hand on the cart and/or the kid. I’m not rude in fact I’m very cordial. It’s the kids part of this that bothers me.

    IN so far as wedding bands? My wife will totally admit that she bought the biggest one she could find so that women would know “he’s taken.”

    Wonder how people (guys) would respond if a man made such a comment, in front of you, to your wife? I know I would have an issue with it. But being 6’1” … doubt that any guy would say anything.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Well, my first instinct was to say, “My 6’3″ Serbian husband would not be pleased to hear you say that.” But that’s against the point. I just wanted to slip away from him.

      But yes, as my friends who know my husband said on Facebook when I told the story, “Smokey would f*@cking kill that guy.” (his nickname is Smokey, not his real name, just FYI.)

      He probably would have punched the guy unconscious if he’d heard it. But OF COURSE the guy would never have said it if I had a 6’3″ Serbian man with me 😉

      • wellokaythen says:

        PC language police here.

        What difference does it make that he’s Serbian? Are men with Southeastern European heritage supposed to be scarier than others? If he were African American would you point that out as well? Slavic immigrants to the U.S. have faced numerous forms of discrimination and outright racism against them. In the nineteenth century, to be Serbian American was to be nonwhite. Think about how many Eastern Europeans in our TV shows and movies are anything besides prostitutes or organized crime figures: virtually none.

      • So your husband is known for violence? Punching him out would be far far worse than his comments to you. Not to mention a single punch can and HAS killed before so he could be up on manslaughter charges if not murder and not see his wife and kids for many years.

        I wouldn’t hit someone for the comment, I’d say “Excuse me but that type of comment makes her very uncomfortable. If you want to hit on someone, check to see if they’re taken first and if they aren’t then use appropriate language and avoid sexual or body talk”. Or something like that. Jealousy + violent tendencies is one of the worst human trait combos in existence. And I am someone who could probably easily kill someone with my bare hands, but what’s the point? Why hurt them when they made a mistake? If it’s that serious the police will deal with it, if it’s a mistake then it’s better to give the benefit of a doubt. We do NOT make a polite n happy society when we treat everyone like a threat, negativity begets negativity, not to mention it sends a terrible role model to your children on how to deal with it.

        But hey wink away at the implied violence, I’m sure violence helps solve the worlds problems. That guy will really learn from being potentially killed.

        • wellokaythen says:

          Maybe she mentioned that her husband is Serbian because she thought the offending guy was a Bosnian Muslim. In his mind that might entail more than just run-of-the-mill violence but something truly terrifying.

  15. John Anderson says:

    Would you always ask your child for permission to kiss or hug him? Would you hold your wife to that standard? If not, why is their personal space less because their your child? That sounds like ownership. If you can’t say it’s always wrong to kiss or hug my child without explicit permission first, then you need to rethink your position.

    • Obviously with your own child or spouse you would be far more in tune with their body language and other cues, and should easily be able to tell when they are comfortable or uncomfortable with what you are doing on an ongoing basis. Naturally this does not mean that because of their ties to you, they consent by default.

  16. Has everyone gone crazy??? Seriously. We have to TEACH boys men/ not to rape?? A 16 year old’s brain might not grasp that rape is WRONG? Has everyone gone crazy??? Scary.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      When you have so many rapes/publicizing of rape on social media followed by social media? I’d say YES we need to teach people not to rape.

      Not just boys – but boys and girls, for both boy and girl victims.

      Trey Malone killed himself after he was sexually assaulted and didn’t get the support he needed. Amanda Todd, Steubenville, Rehtaeh, and this one yesterday in California whose name I do not know.

      It’s too much. We must teach active, enthusiastic consent, bodily empowerment, healthy sexuality, and boundaries.

      It’s a sad world, but that’s why we need to change it.

    • John Anderson says:

      There will always be the criminal element. There are some people who don’t care if they do something wrong. I grew up in a “working class”, tough, neighborhood. People who could fight or were willing to do violence were “respected”. People didn’t have economic power. Violence was a form of power. There are individuals called “wannabes”, who try to associate with gang members because they want the power and “respect” held by the gang. It’s not just rapes that get filmed. It’s also beatings.

      I’m half Asian and the neighborhood was mostly white when we first moved in. Some people didn’t want us there and were aggressive with their desire for us to leave. We were numerically disadvantaged so almost every Asian male in my age group took up martial arts and/or weight lifting. After several violent altercations our group was “respected” and people left us alone. A local street gang tried to recruit me because I’m half white. They thought I’d be the most likely to join and then they could recruit the others. It was a sign of “respect” that they sent two ladies to do it and not eight guys.

      I enjoyed the recruiting process, but didn’t join. One of them eventually told me a guy could just come back with a gun. I asked her if he his was cooler than my 9mm, which I no longer have. They pretty much left me alone. Years later one asked me if I was still on 39th and I asked him if he was still on 38th. That’s why I question those anti-violence programs to keep kids away from gangs. That’s all well and good, but how do you protect them when they say no to a gang?

      One major problem is they get “props” for the rape. It’s thought of something to be proud of and this seems to be supported by their community. How do you convince someone not to rape if having raped someone will make him “the man”?

  17. Leopardlady says:

    Thank you for such an insightful article. I work in the field of domestic violence, with women and children and I am so fed up with women being held responsible for abuse perpetrated against them. I believe our young people are the key to changing this. It is not about feminism or women being held above men, it is about basic human rights and we all deserve to be treated with respect. You are perfectly corrrect in observing how wrong it is that we have to teach girls how to avoid being raped or assaulted. The conversation should be about how to have respectful healthy relationships.

    • John Anderson says:

      “I work in the field of domestic violence”

      That brings up an interesting point. When a woman is allegedly raped, we’re told that looking at anything she did is victim blaming and we should never blame the victim, but in cases where women kill their husbands, victim blaming is not only allowed; it’s given it’s own name, battered women’s syndrome.

  18. An excellent lesson, well done sir! If more parents would take the time to talk to their kids as the thinking, feeling little people they are, the world would be a better place. Thanks for sharing your story!

  19. The issue is not just sex or touching (hugging, kissing) but respect of self and others. And the truth is, the conversation about respect has to include everyone; it may be that using the word ‘rape’ with regard to a 4-year-old is overkill, but starting an ongoing discussion about what’s okay and what’s not goes a long, long way in life — for boys, girls, those for whom we don’t have categories, everyone.

    Thank you, Zach, for the effort to get at something that is never really easy. The world clearly needs more of this sort of thing; however imperfectly we manage to do it, it must be done. No one is immune.

  20. I know my son didn’t rape his preschool ex-”girlfriend.” And in all liklihood, he didn’t sexually assault her either.

    And yet, it sounds like that’s exactly what you told him — that what he did was wrong because it was rape. That confuses the hell out of me, and I’m 43. I think it was great that you used this as an opportunity to talk about personal boundaries and why it’s important to respect them. However, I don’t see much value in treating something as rape that by any reasonable standard, *is not rape*, or teaching a kid that “rape” means doing something to someone that they didn’t like. Would you dream of talking to the little girl or her parents about this incident and calling it rape to them? I think such non-discriminating use of the term diminishes the severity of what actual rape is, and sets up the child with an incorrect definition they’ll just have to un-learn later, even though the underlying message you were teaching – don’t force physical affection on people – is a good one.

    • Part of this scene, which I may not have explained correctly, was me panicking and knowing I was using incorrect terms because 1) I talk over my son’s head often, and 2) the rape issue’s been on my mind recently because of all of the news. That created in me this odd “I’ve got to address this” feeling, however possibly mislabeled. Thank you for reading, though. I appreciate the input!

    • Technically he did sexually assault her, but since it’s children involved there is a huge amount of leeway because of intent, etc. If you kiss someone without their permission, it’s sexual assault afaik, or maybe physical assault depending on your local law. Trouble is the words are so loaded that it can induce heavy shame into someone since people don’t usually talk about severity where a kisswithoutconsent is called sexual assault, and so is sexually abusing someone who is unconscious.

  21. Thanks, Zach, for illustrating how simple it is to talk to kids about boundaries and bodies, even at an early age. It’s important for boys AND girls to learn to respect each other, and there are so many opportunities to teach them. I appreciate your post!

  22. As a Prevention Educator who travels throughout San Diego County speaking to children-adults (schools, juvenile halls, homeless shelters, etc…) about sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, and what a healthy relationship should actually look/sound/feel like, I appauld your understanding of the absolute importance of parents having conversations like these with their own children. Too often parents are afraid that communicating about these topics will be difficult and that their children will be uncomfortable with the seriousness. But what would be more difficult, having the conversation with the child BEFORE they become another statistic (survivor, perpetrator, or loved one of a survivor/perpetrator), or AFTER when the child is in need of counseling or counsel because the conversation was too difficult to be had?

    Thank you for starting the conversation with your son and following it up with this inspiring and educational piece. You are much appreciated… 🙂

  23. Totally dug this article. I think it’s interesting, and kind of frustrating, that this sort of conversation doesn’t happen more often. For some reason, we have this idea that a man physically invading a woman’s space to kiss her, uninvited, is somehow “romantic” or “just the way it is.”

    When I’ve spoken to others about how this is, actually, an invasion (and can be an assault when you’re dealing with adults)…the response I get sometimes is, “well how else would I approach her to kiss her?” And it’s like, the possibility of talking about it first hasn’t even crossed their minds. And it doesn’t have to be all clinical and unromantic. Something like, “I’ve wanted to kiss you all night,” or something at the end of a date, is pretty romantic, but still getting permission. Or, “this is going to sound kind of corny, but can I kiss you?” That’s sweet and a little self-effacing, and still getting permission first. Or if you’re against the whole verbal communication thing…really slowly leaning in, but being like hyper-aware of whether the person you’re attempting to kiss is into it or not….that’s perhaps less advisable unless you can read body language really well.

    But yeah…the idea that a man acts first, and acts questions later…that’s just so wrong.

    • Trouble is with asking there are women who say they want a man to just DO IT and not ask, so it can confuse some guys. I think by default we should ask though to avoid these issues. There is a poster on the GMP who said he just up n kissed his future wife at the airport and that worked out fine. There is probably a lot of body language going on that is meant to signal it’s ok to kiss, trouble is not everyone sends the right body language nor everyone can read it 100% accurately so there are times where shit gets mixed up. Verbal consent needs to be made sexy again, if I were making a movie I’d definitely include it to try get more n more people doing it. I said to my partner “You can touch this” “Wanna kiss”, etc, every new thing we did I asked, and made damn sure it was all ok. Funnily enough she was actually the one to initiate stuff without asking.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        It worked out for him (this is Marcus who did that) because he had an established relationship with his future wife. They hadn’t kissed yet, but they had expressed romantic feelings and he may not have had express permission (which would be ideal) but he had implicit permission, which is better than no permission at all.

        • Ahh, apologies, I thought that was before the romantic feelings were set. I’ve seen people at bars, etc just up n kiss with no asking and wondered wtf. I have a fair idea of when it’s ok to kiss (both leaning in is a giveaway I guess) but I couldn’t for the life of me ever want to fuck that up and make someone uncomfortable, so I ask. But then I am someone that resists hugging others without asking cuz of the same reason and usually let them hug me first. I’ve had female friends touch my arm, my leg in a friendly manner and thought to myself wow they’re ballsy, I wouldn’t consider doing the same but that’s probably because I was largely untouched during adolescent and adulthood and don’t have enough experience to accurately gauge when it’s ok to touch someone on the arm or whatever.

          To me it appears there is an element of taking risk, the risk of touching my friend on the arm is probably very low but as I didn’t get it much during my development years I am quite insecure about it. I notice this far more with the guys than the girls, it’s only ever been girls that would touch each other or other guys mostly (cept when guys were drunk, hugging each other, saying they love each other). This is especially hard on shy guys I think, human touch is meant to be quite natural and very bonding especially amongst people courting. I do wonder how often someone thinks they have implicit permission but has misread the other person?

          • John Anderson says:

            I’m uncomfortable with sexually aggressive women probably because I’ve had bad experiences with them in the past. It makes me uncomfortable when I’m unnecessarily touched and it makes me more conscious of when it happens. Women will touch your arm, back, or shoulder when talking with you a lot more often than I believe most guys suspect. Women also seem to use more “terms of endearment” with strangers like sweetie or honey when talking to men than men when talking to women. I never appreciated that either, but don’t think it’s problematic enough to complain about. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

  24. Teresita says:

    Plus we should address the media and sex access over magazines and Internet that imprint and facilitate the objectification of the female gender and the consequent of violence against genders that comes from this.

  25. Thanks, Zach, for putting into words so exactly what I am feeling about this whole issue. Rehtaeh’s death, as horrible and impossible for any parent to imagine for their own children, must not be in vain.

  26. I don’t think trying to kiss a girl is rape or even sexual assault.

    “He looks up and takes a bite, nonchalantly saying within a shrug “I just tried.”

    Perfect. I just tried. That is exactly how it should be. And he got rejected. Its not rape or sexual assault. Its the way normal sexual relations have worked for millions of years and still work throughout the whole world. You just try. Its exactly how one of the guys I admire most in the world described his first kiss with his current wife. He went on a date with her and he just went for the kiss. He knew if it would be reciprocated. It was. And now they are married and expecting.

    To me that story was romantic. But for the author its rape.

    • It’s disturbing the number of people who think it’s okay to accuse a 4 year old of being a rapist. Even the author admits the word isn’t accurate. WTF?

      • When I was 6 another classmate touched me and a group of us then ending up playing doctor. It was considered sexual assault even though at the time I wasn’t bothered by it and seemed harmless to me. I’ve been punched by friends too and not had it bother me, assault is still assault so kissing someone without consent is assault but it may not have the damaging effect as other instances of that. It’s all pretty subjective.

  27. Tom Brechlin says:

    Sad to think that the skunk on Loony Tunes was sexually assaulting that poor female cat that always seemed to get a white stripe painted on her back. But in today’s standards and definitions, he was sexually assaulting her.

    Also sad to think that pre-schoolers have to be educated on such issues. Reality is that many small boys have been suspended from schools for what they perceived as innocent behaviors.

    I struggle with a 4 year old having a girlfriend. Did you go into detail as to what a girl/boy friend vs a friend who happens to be a female means?

    • Yes, Pepe le Pew was harassing the cat. And the old Mickey Mouse cartoons were wicked racist. Just because something was considered “normal” and “fine” back in the day, doesn’t mean it actually was normal and fine.

      And just because a boy (or girl) perceives their behaviour as innocent, doesn’t mean it actually was innocent. When I once playfully hit a friend of mine as a kid, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. That doesn’t mean hitting her wasn’t wrong.

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        Tom, I think you’ll get this when I tell you this story:

        Two days ago I was in a Starbucks in our nice little suburb, with my kids who are both quite small (two boys).

        A guy said something normal and friendly to me about my kids’ hot cocoa and I smiled and replied to him very pleasantly then turned away a bit. Not to ignore him, he seemed nice, but because I had never met him and we were done talking.

        I heard him say, under his breath (sort of), “Pretty mommy.”

        I ignored it.

        As we were leaving, he looked straight at my kids and said, “Bye boys! Take care of Pretty Mommy for me!” in a friendly voice. It still creeped my kids out, but they said, “okay” sort of automatically.

        When we got out of the coffee shop, I said to them that the man had no right to say that about me, especially to them. Even though it seemed nice, it made me feel really uncomfortable. They understood.

        So this seems pretty obviously wrong due to the fact that I am a married woman with two boys. But it would have been inappropriate regardless. It made me feel unsafe, despite the fact that he was friendly and not menacing. It still FELT menacing. And it creeped my kids out.

        If this guy had just kept it friendly, non sexual, not “romantic”, I would’ve walked away thinking nothing bad.

        But why did he have the right to tell me “Pretty Mommy”? Why did he feel that was okay? What gave him the right to make me feel that way? It’s NOT flattering. I’ve never had a woman tell me something like that is flattering.

        And having a guy follow you all over the place and try to kiss you, etc, is harassment and stalking. Luckily the guy the other day wasn’t that, but it’s something that needs to change.

        • I don’t disbelieve anything you are saying nor questioning your feelings on this matter but I’d like to understand them better if you don’t mind, otherwise ignore this comment.

          Do you think that your internal ideas of what he was coloured your interpretation of the threat, as in is it possible he was trying to compliment and be nice or was he seriously acting creepy that a lot of others would feel creeped out by? Also was it just the wedding ring that indicated you were married? Reason I ask is would there be other women who would smile and enjoy such a compliment? If so then that would reinforce his “right” or feeling that it was ok.

          What exactly was menacing about it? I can guess but I am looking to understand the inner feelings of threat more. As you say he was friendly so I am at a loss to understand where the threat is? Was their body language going on implying a threat, was it how he said pretty mommy, or was it the words themselves?

          I am someone who is extremely perceptive to body language, I’ve had people tell me often I am a good judge of character, as a kid my mother noticed I picked up instantly my cousin’s husband was “bad” as I said to her when I met him (he abused the shit out of her physically). I get this inner feeling that something is off, usually a subtle tone of their voice or their face has this strange but abusive feeling of it similar to abusive people in my past. I am guessing not everyone has this feeling so much if I am particularly special at judging character but I have also noticed that I do get a strange feeling around people who remind me of past bullies but probably aren’t actually bullies themselves. When I use to walk past people in my early adulthood and hear a group of people laughing I assumed they were laughing at me or when someone looks at you and looks annoyed I thought they were annoyed at me until a therapist told me the important lesson that most people walking in the street are too busy worrying about themselves to worry about you. Reason I say this is that my internal compass isn’t 100% accurate on first meeting people, I was around for more than a minute of facetime with that abusive husband of my cousin.

          Is it possible that past experiences with men were tripping your internal compass and that he may have not been bad at all? My guess is no since your kids also picked up on something but you said he was acting friendly, to me my guess is that he was unaware that his actions were threatening or bad. Spotting a married woman for instance isn’t too easy unless you really take a look at her ring finger which can be difficult if she is carrying something or is holding her child.

          Trust your instinct though as it’s there for a reason, don’t let this dissaude you from making assessments of people. I merely want to learn more about human interactions and what triggers off instincts. I know in the past I have probably done it as my natural voice can be quite loud n boisterous, and my physical size (6’6, large) is also very intimidating so in school I was making much smaller females in my grade feel a lil nervous and didn’t understand why until I learned that my posture, size, vocal tones can be extremely dominant without meaning to. And as someone who is very interested in making sure others feel safe, any info to avoid making someone feel uncomfy is very much appreciated since being uncomfortable will majorly fuckup any chance I have of getting more friends and also I just hate the fact that being a large male can be scary to some so I try to minimize my presence. I think it’d be beneficial for people to learn this in school, it’s especially handy for gaining a relationship and being aware of your presence is a great asset.

          My guess as to why he said pretty mommy was he was hitting on you, pure n simple. Not sure if he felt there was a right to say it, like I don’t have the right to say hello to someone on the street but taking that chance is largely expected of men to initiate a relationship. He was probably unaware you were taken if you weren’t with your husband, I don’t think I know any other man who looks at the ring finger and it’s something I am trying to train myself to do. The optimist in me says he was probably unaware of his presence being threatening, the pessismist says he knew and didn’t care. Impossible to know without knowing his brain, I hope he is the former because guys n girls like that can actually learn whereas the latter are the scary ones.

          • Joanna Schroeder says:

            When I told Julie about it the other day, she felt he was definitely trying to intimidate me.

            But I was there, he definitely thought he was being very charming. He was smiling, he wasn’t in my space. He just didn’t realize that when you tell a stranger that she is pretty not once, but twice (because the first time you got no answer), and you went through her kids, that it sets up a power imbalance.

            What am I supposed to do?

            It made me uncomfortable, because my BODY, my physical appearance, are not up for being discussed. Particularly not with my children.

            If we were friends, yes, that’s something different. I still think it’d be pretty inappropriate (because if we were friends he’d know I was married -btw i was wearing two gold wedding bands on my wedding finger, not that it should matter.) But at least we’d be established so that I could say, “Alright, that’s enough and joke it off.” But I don’t know that this guy isn’t a stalker. Isn’t a creep. Isn’t going to hurt me or my kids. He was bigger than me by a full foot. He could’ve followed me to my car. I don’t know. It happens all the time and I’ve been stalked by an “admirer” and I’ve been stalked by a hater. Both. I know how it feels.

            This guy doesn’t know that I’ve been stalked (two restraining orders, two different men). But *every person* should assume that the person you’re speaking with has been stalked, raped, sexually assaulted, etc. Because it’s better to air on the side of not making people uncomfortable.

            Here are some things you generally can say to someone:

            “Cool shirt.”

            “How do you like the new iPhone?” (if s/he is holding a new iPhone of course)

            “This line is crazy long”

            “This weather sucks, doesn’t it?”

            Etc. Neutral. Things you’d say to a person you’re not hitting on. See how s/he reacts. Do they turn away? Do they ignore you? Do they smile, turn toward you, keep chatting?

            If all signs are good that they like you, then keep talking. If they are shutting you down, don’t. I know it’s grey area. I know it’s tough. But start friendly and see what happens. If it really goes well, ask them out. When you’re on a date, tell her/him they’re attractive/beautiful/hot. Because then you know at least they’re on the same page as you.

            And simply do not talk about a woman’s beauty, sexuality, sexiness, or sexual acts you want to do with her if you don’t know her.

            And leave people’s kids alone.

            • But *every person* should assume that the person you’re speaking with has been stalked, raped, sexually assaulted, etc. Because it’s better to air on the side of not making people uncomfortable.

              No. So much no.

              Here’s the thing: *your* reaction to this sort of situation is reasonable, based on *your* experience. Who wouldn’t be edgy when they think strangers are hitting on them, having been stalked at least twice, and working in a job the entails thinking and talking about Rape Culture on a near-daily basis? Of course you’re going to be creeped out. However, that doesn’t make it the world’s fault that you’re creeped out, or the world’s problem to solve. Triggers seem external because that’s where they seem to come from, but the traumas that make triggers out of otherwise innocuous things or actions are internal, and no external accommodations can fix them. If you had been raped by a guy in a red hat, it would be understandable if guys in red hats automatically freaked you out, but that wouldn’t make it reasonable to think men need to be taught not to wear red hats, no matter how many other women you could find who share the same trigger.

              When you admonish everyone to assume that *everyone* has been stalked, raped, assaulted, etc., that “et cetera” part is impractically long, because it really has to include all traumas or trigger-able stressors, not just the ones that you’ve been affected by. It would include things like been in an accident, recently lost a loved one, survived a natural disaster, has cancer, nearly drowned, is bankrupt, is recently divorced, is unemployed, just found out their fifth fertility treatment failed again, and on and on and on. Any of these circumstances are ones in which otherwise innocuous behavior and small chat can land with painful effect. For example, consider:

              * “Cool shirt.” …to someone who was bullied extensively about how they dressed and thinks you’re making fun of him.

              * “How do you like the new iPhone?” …to someone who was fixating intently on it hoping that would be an obvious cue they don’t want to be talked to, and thinks talking to people without eye contact first is rapey.

              * “This line is crazy long”… to someone struggling with mental illness who thinks slang like “crazy” stigmatizes mental illness.

              * “This weather sucks, doesn’t it?”… to someone who only came to the area to seek refuge from a tornado/hurricane/flood that destroyed their home.

              If you really want to err on the side of not making people uncomfortable, there is literally no safe subject. I think what is reasonable is to keep things rather bland with strangers, backing off if you sense discomfort, and then when it comes to people you *do* know, to make a reasonable effort to steer clear of or be sensitive to known areas of trauma or stress. But assuming everyone you talk to has endured every possible trauma as a way of identifying what kind of small talk is safe? Impossible, even if you try really hard.

              • You raise some good points. Popular pretty people use to be my trigger, especially when they laughed because of previous bullying in highschool but I can’t expect them to stop it. I think in Joanna’s case the guy needed to stop the second time and definitely not involve the kids, the first “pretty mummy” should have told him it didn’t work.

                Just how much should we expect society to cater to our comfort though? Call me pretty and I’ll probably die of shock and not mind it, call Joanna that and it will probably creep her out, I have friends on either side who may feel creeped out or who may just simply light up like xmas in the face with those cutesy happy feelings so it can swing both positively or negatively.

                “If you really want to err on the side of not making people uncomfortable, there is literally no safe subject. I think what is reasonable is to keep things rather bland with strangers, backing off if you sense discomfort, and then when it comes to people you *do* know, to make a reasonable effort to steer clear of or be sensitive to known areas of trauma or stress. But assuming everyone you talk to has endured every possible trauma as a way of identifying what kind of small talk is safe? Impossible, even if you try really hard.”

                Very very good point. There are common things to avoid like “nice tits” which will probably creep most women out, but is pretty seen as bad for most women? Learning to spot discomfort would be great and just keep in mind that it’s impossible to never cause discomfort but what you do after that is what truly matters. Don’t be an ass and speak of taboo topics willy nilly to everyone, things like black/morbid humor will probably offend many people (probably make me laugh though cuz it’s one of the ways I deal with life). It’s impossible for especially attractive women to NEVER cause me discomfort because quite frankly I get nervous around them as I am a pretty damn shy guy at the moment and beauty can be intimidating for some silly reason, I also feel discomfort around most strangers too due to previous bullying n abuse, but I don’t expect them to change their behaviour except just act polite and don’t be an asshole. I’d say if you cause discomfort to someone, take their advice, try understand what you did wrong but don’t beat yourself up over it unless you did some major bad shit like harassing them. Try the one thing, the first chat as Joanna says, if it fails then move on. I give people some leeway but there is a point where it’s just too much and I’ll leave. But I can’t really fault others who say hi to me for making me uncomfy, I can however fault them for persisting like the guy in Joanna’s experience did just like I fault the asshole sales people that won’t take no for an answer or those people that literally walk in front of you and block your way handing you flyers on election day to vote for who they want whom got an angry “F OFF” from me when they got WAY into my personal space. Do that shit to some people and you’re liable to end up with a punch in the face because a stranger in your personal space shoving shit in your face can be extremely threatening especially to those with traumatic histories.

              • Tom Brechlin says:

                Marcus, it’s unfortunately where we’ve come in society. As I said to Joanna, her being uncomfortable means that perhaps there was more to this other then the comment “pretty mommy” alone. Could be body language, the look on his face or something else about the situation that made her uncomfortable.

                As a frequent patron of Starbucks, I find it to be a very social place and I’ve never been in the store where people aren’t socializing. It could be that the guy Joanna was referring to and his statement had no ulterior motives but as I said, there was something that made her uncomfortable other then just the words.

              • I hear what you’re saying about triggers but this?

                But *every person* should assume that the person you’re speaking with has been stalked, raped, sexually assaulted, etc. Because it’s better to air on the side of not making people uncomfortable.

                Is sadly true. When one in 4 women are assaulted (sexually) before the age of 18, it is better to air on the side of caution when approaching a woman one doesn’t know.

                If we had better numbers about the men who’ve been assaulted, we could address that topic too. As it is I believe the numbers are probably roughly the same especially if we take into account same gender assaults. So in short, sucky as it is, when approaching anyone unknown, it is best to remain respectful and non sexual until and unless a relationship of some sort developes.

                Just my 2 cents.

                • Joanna Schroeder says:

                  I think the 1 in 6 number for male abuse/assault survivors is a good one and that’s a hugely significant number, too.

                  My guidelines are general, but they are helpful. You’re significantly less likely to offend someone by asking about their phone than by saying, “I want ot lick your legs” or “Take care of your pretty mommy for me” to their kids.

                  Play the odds if you want to talk to someone, and be thoughtful. You can’t anticipate all the triggers a person could have, but you could follow the general rules of politeness as a first step.

                  • John Anderson says:

                    @ Joanna

                    “Play the odds if you want to talk to someone, and be thoughtful. ”

                    That’s the problem right there. We need reasons to treat each other with respect and kindness. If we all get into the habit of treating everyone respectfully not just because they might be a survivor, but because they’re a person, the world is much better off.

                    My brother had gone to a park to shoot some hoops. Three guys walked up to him and they decided to have a 2 on 2. He got into an altercation with one guy over a foul. Next thing you know he’s fighting 3 guys. 30 seconds later 3 guys on the ground. They were cool with him after that and they played B Ball again.

                    One day I went to the park to deliver a message from one of his friends. As I approached, I could hear the 3 guys talking crap about me. My brother (who doesn’t look like me at all) asked them what are you doing that’s my brother. They started apologizing to him. He told them I don’t care. I just thought you guys would want to know that he knows how to fight. Then my brother walked away and stood by the basket support.

                    Those guys got real quiet especially since I was ignoring them. I thought my brother put them up to it. They thought I was ignoring them because I didn’t perceive them as a threat (I didn’t). They could assume that everyone knows a martial art, but it would be better to not need a reason to treat others with respect and courtesy.

                • “So in short, sucky as it is, when approaching anyone unknown, it is best to remain respectful and non sexual until and unless a relationship of some sort developes. ”

                  Do you mean sexual as in asking out for a date or just talking about sex? If the former then there is conflicting advice though when some women complain of a man being her friend to get to date her. How do you avoid her feeling like you were only friends because you were interested in dating her if you can’t ask her out?

                  • Joanna Schroeder says:

                    I think you can ask for a date, respectfully, if she/he seems interested.

                    That’s different from, “You’re so hot”.

                    I could handle being asked out straight-forwardly way better than being told I’m hot or something.

                    • Right. The flat out commentary about my body or face indicates to me a lack of social skill, boundaries and understanding of communication not to mention nuance.

                    • I think commenting about your appearance to your kids was really f’d up. I disagree that Joanna’s experience or frame of reference had anything to do with it. You leave the kid out of it and you just pas up the opportunity to flirt if a child is present. Simple.

                      As to assuming past trauma, I’m not ready to go there, mainly because you can avoid treating someone poorly without any such assumption. Assume the person you’re interested in is a healthy, functioning, multifaceted person and you’ll avoid the same pitfalls you avoid by assuming they’re terribly damaged.

                      For reasons

            • “But I was there, he definitely thought he was being very charming. He was smiling, he wasn’t in my space. He just didn’t realize that when you tell a stranger that she is pretty not once, but twice (because the first time you got no answer), and you went through her kids, that it sets up a power imbalance.”
              Good point. I don’t think many people realize it. After the first time he should have realized it wasn’t gonna work n move on.

              “What am I supposed to do?”
              Keep yourself and your kids safe first n foremost, if you wanted to confront him I’d suggest politely and with a nice voice that you were with your kids and you appreciate he took the effort to compliment you but you dislike compliments on your body as they make you uncomfy..or something like that. People like that I think need to be told as you say he probably thought he was charming and figured it was all a-ok, he probably would have been shocked it made you uncomfy. If he’s got any decency he’d be apologizing and adjusting his behaviour too.

              “This guy doesn’t know that I’ve been stalked (two restraining orders, two different men). But *every person* should assume that the person you’re speaking with has been stalked, raped, sexually assaulted, etc. Because it’s better to air on the side of not making people uncomfortable.”
              I usually just think of everyone has being potentially like that so I try my best not to make people uncomfy. After reading comments like yours online it just further makes me aware that even a simple compliment can backfire bigtime cuz of that unknown factor. I think most guys if they were made aware of this would be horrified, I know that if I had said a compliment to someone and they were uncomfy from me I would feel like a monster and be immensely sorry. Although for me I am probably so nervous of it that I don’t even bother saying hello or talking to new people much because of that, but it helps to know which topics are safer. I guess as Marcus goes into it more it becomes tricky, just how aware do you have to be of comfort. I am probably on the extreme where I am missing out of new friendships over both the rejection fear/insecurity + the hyper-alertness to discomfort. Part of why I asked about your experience was to learn what to avoid, so thank-you for that. I am guessing that it’s impossible to avoid making someone uncomfy, hell I get uncomfy just by people around but I do think being aware of it can help reduce that and also let us communicate to people in a more friendly, less threatening manner.

              “And leave people’s kids alone.”
              Indeed. I wouldn’t be hitting on a woman when she has her kids around, wouldn’t feel right.

              • John Anderson says:

                I think she did the right thing by ignoring it. He might think she’s trying to embarrass him in a public place and it may not end well.

              • Hi Archy

                I could wrote for hours about this subject,but let me be brief:

                If you meet a women and want to establish contact then do NOT start with talking about her looks!
                Relate to her as a person.
                The beautiful ones know already that they are beautiful,they have been told so all their life.
                A man that see them as a person,will be more interesting.

                And remember that lots of persons with exceptionally good looks are as vulnerable and fragile as the rest of us. Many are very insecure.

                When you are in a relationship then you can praise her beauty every day.

            • Tom Brechlin says:

              Joanna, what struck me in what you said is that you were uncomfortable. That’s an instinct that I feel people should listen to. You don’t appear to be the type of person who walks around suspect of every person you encounter. I think your instincts were right.

            • PursuitAce says:

              It looks like we’ve reached the point where the only safe interaction between strangers is no interaction. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I broke my own rule and looked to have a thirty second conversation with a young women about her nursing career. She took off like I was just about to commit an assault. A few months earlier I was walking a building and checking into each office to get information for future insurance sales. In one office I had just finished talking to a young receptionist and was reviewing some of the pictures and displays on the wall of the company. After a minute the young women asked me if I was leaving soon because I was making her feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what was bothering her, but I know it wasn’t my thousand dollar suit. My general rule is never to directly look at or initiate conversation with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe George Clooney and Brad Pitt can get away with it, but I’ve already been identified by the entire gender as a predator. There must be a Facebook page for this somewhere. I know I always sound extreme to people, but it works for me. Maybe we could all just give it a try for a day. We could call it …, well I don’t know what to call it, pick a name.
              Oh, and if anyone ever wondered, my screen name has nothing to do with the art of seduction. It’s just a tip of the digital hat to the American pilots of WW1.

              • Many women today seem to be trained to be fearful, that fear triggered whenever a man is around that they don’t know. The downside of reporting the rape statistics so heavily is that whilst we raise awareness of rape we also raise awareness of the RISK of rape and so it elevates women’s fears. This makes it difficult to see men as friendly when you’re constantly bombarded with RAPE RAPE RAPE, STRANGER DANGER, men will rape you!!! since early childhood.

              • I’ve been that young (female) receptionist in a large building full of different offices, and yes, it was weird and worrying when strange people (but mostly men) would wander into your space and try to chat to you, asking questions about the company, etc. (Not to say you were doing that, but you were a stranger in a space where you didn’t need to be — from the point of view of me-as-receptionist, you don’t need to visit the office to do research, you are more likely casing the place for a future robbery! And I’m the first ‘line of defense’!)

                • Tom Brechlin says:

                  Paula, why would you take a job that you would feel so much discomfort? Personally, I would struggle with you as an employee in that people who walk in the door can detect such discomfort. You are the first impression for the company and people who walk into that office don’t see that you’re not on top your game, the visitors, invited or not, could easily be turned off.

                  You’re a receptionist, it’s not your job to determine if someone “needs” to be there or not. Not knowing the company you represented, if they had ANY sales and marketing goals, “Cold canvassing” qualifying potential business is important to their growth. What it comes down to is that you were/are against that which your own company may rely on for growth.

                  If interacting with “strange” people bothers you, I would highly suggest a job that you wouldn’t be required to interact with as you say “strange” people. My background is in sales, marketing and development and yes, what these (mostly men) are doing is what is expected of them.

                • PursuitAce says:

                  Wow, now I’m a creep and a criminal. Am I good or what?
                  No, what I really am is the guy who would risk life and limb if it was ever needed to save this young woman, and then walk away without waiting for a thank you. Some of those old patriarchy memes die hard. Get it, “Die Hard”? Well somewhere Bruce Willis is laughing…

              • Sorry, but the “thousand dollar suit” comment says it all. It says, “They should like me, and they’re wrong to NOT like me, because I am wearing a suit. They owe me approval.”. They don’t. It’s actually a turn-off if you wear it in a way that says “Wearing this suit makes me better than you”.

                And the comment about scoping out a building for future insurance sales doesn’t help. That’s creepy behavior. It’s being in a place where you were not invited and are not wanted, and expecting people to welcome you there.

                About the nursing career conversation – what was the context? Did you already know her? Was it appropriate for you to bring up her career? How did you even know she was a nurse? Your comment about her being a “young woman” is telling. Did you really want only a “30-second conversation”, or did you inappropriately expect much more than that?

                And your final comment about your screen name, where you refer to the “art of seduction”, is creepy. It implies that seduction is something you practice and use like a tool on people. Just be genuine and honest, and the seduction happens naturally. It doesn’t have to be an art. It just has to be real.

                Realizing that your behavior is creepy is a first step. You don’t want to be creepy, right? So work on learning what is appropriate social behavior, and how to read when people may be uncomfortable BEFORE they actually have to say it.

                • There is nothing creepy about the art of seduction, and btw seduction varies on culture so IT IS AN ART. WTF. He also said his name was NOT about that, but about ww1 fighter pilots. He may have mentioned his suit because an office building is more likely to have people in suits vs “street” clothing. Nice assumptions though…

            • John Anderson says:

              @ Joanna

              “and you went through her kids, that it sets up a power imbalance.”

              That reminds me of the rape scenario the instructor from FIGHT was re=enacting. The rapist asking about the tiny shoes.


              Maybe he thought if I get in good with the kids, mommy will like me. It might make sense if you had girls, but drooling over a boy’s mom is just going to make him uncomfortable. He was a boy once and should have known. I tend to agree with Julie (she’s usually right). It was intimidation. It’s a reminder that you have two small kids. Was there a reason to believe that you were a single mother?

              The first instance might have been friendly. Sometimes I’ll subconsciously verbalize something that pops into my head. I’ll usually whisper it also, but the second time. That leaves no doubt in my mind.

              • Joanna Schroeder says:

                Yeah, I tell you what…

                He definitely thought I’d like him more if he said something nice to my kids, in my interpretation at least. Interesting that you confirm Julie’s feelings.

                I actually wear two gold bands on my wedding ring finger, a thick one and a very thin one. I won’t buy diamonds, so it doesn’t have a rock, but I think they’re obviously wedding rings.

                Even I were a single mom, with no rings, that’d STILL be creepy as hell.

              • So, the things that set off my “intimidation” response? You had a regular exchange. He observed you with your kids.

                I heard him say, under his breath (sort of), “Pretty mommy.”

                This is just strange phrasing. Like, not “I think you are pretty” addressing you directly. Not “What a lovely woman” or “Now that’s a pretty mother” to himself, in reference to you, the woman, but he identified you as just “Pretty mommy” behind you and and under his breath but so that you could hear it.

                It’s an odd phrasing and, I think designed for you to hear it and be unsettled.

                At the end, he does the same thing. Not talking to you, “Have a nice day, and may I say, you are just lovely.” But using your children to get a message to you, while you are there and then using the phrase “take care of pretty mommy (object) for me” as if they were your protectors in his stead. Which is just weird. For him? So weird.

                If he’d said, take care of your pretty mommy it would have been less weird. Or, take care of each other, what a pretty family. Less weird. The entire thing was as if you weren’t really there and the phrasing of (adjective) (noun) as if it was your name is just strange.

                He may not have known it was weird? But it was weird. Would that he could be instructed in it’s weirdness and not do it again.

                And by intimidation I didn’t mean like it would leave you terrified, but that it would cause you to feel unsettled. And it did.

        • Ok, this is where I have a problem with some people. This man called you “Pretty Mommy” in a way that you felt was creepy and/or menacing. Did you, at any point, tell this man that he was bothering you? Did you tell him to stop? Did you tell him to keep his comments to himself? You said that you “walked away”. If you want this kind of behavior to stop happening to you, stand up and tell the offenders that you want it to stop. Every parent (myself included) tells their child to stand up to bullies and if the bullying persists, notify a teacher (authority figure). This same principle applies to your situation. Stand up for yourself to your offenders and tell them to stop. If they don’t, notify an authority figure (police). This will not only reinforce the message you teach kids about bullying, but it’ll teach your kids how not to talk to other people.

          Lastly, for the blogger, teaching your kid what rape is at 4 years old, is unacceptable, in my eyes. Why not just teach your kid not to touch anyone else and preserve a shred of their innocence?

          • Joanna Schroeder says:

            Maybe you don’t understand how it feels to be fearful. But the thing you do when you’re afraid is to get out of the situation safely, particularly when you’re with your kids.

            For me, I have been stalked and threatened with rape and other bodily harm by a man for standing up to him. Literally what you think I should do got me stalked, harassed, photographed without my permission. I had him arrested, he spent a week in lock up, had a gnarly restraining order, and went on to hurt someone else.

            As I was waiting to testify against him in the case where he hurt someone else, he died.

            Not that his death matters much, but it’s pretty easy to say “stand up for yourself!” when you’re not a 120lb woman with two tiny kids trailing along with her.

            • That’s the sad thing, if no one speaks up he won’t even know his behaviour is that bad and probably continues to do it now without realizing.

      • When I was in first grade, K. decided that he was going to marry me and he would chase me all around the schoolyard trying to kiss me…luckily, I was a very fast runner and had my girlfriend to help me get away from him…my GF and I would run breathless to our favorite schoolyard aide and beg her to help us….my friend would say: ” He’s gonna try to kiss her….and give her flowers…and a box of chocolates….Blachhhh!!” Mrs. K. would just smile at us while we clung to her and tease us: ” Well, that sounds nice, doesn’t it?” (while we made faces at each other…Mrs. K. obviously did not get it…!)…..

        One day, when I was least expecting it, K. and his gang of thuggy first grade comrades pinned me up against the school yard fence….a different boy holding each of my four limbs…then K. came in close and tried to kiss me while I furiously kicked and turned my head this way and that…I finally broke free and ran away…I can’t remember if he managed to kiss my ear or if whacked one of his thuggies…

        I must have blocked out this traumatic experience for the longest time until I started reading your stories….!

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        Heather, in the mind of a 4 year old, it IS innocent. I hate the fact that small children, generally boys, are denied their innocents because of a culture that’s made them perpetrators at such a young age. It’s odd to me that the discussion of rape was acceptable but no mention that a 4 year old have a “girlfriend” instead of a friend who happens to be a girl?

        So we educate little children because the warped tainted minds of the adults want to instill a fear in them, a fear that they as adults have manifested. Let children be children for crying out loud. Let them live with innocents, teach them general appropriate behaviors … but to speak of rape?

        “Yes, Pepe le Pew was harassing the cat. And the old Mickey Mouse cartoons were wicked racist. Just because something was considered “normal” and “fine” back in the day, doesn’t mean it actually was normal and fine.”

        It was and still is normal … it’s a CARTOON! Good gosh, listen to the music they play these days, the video games and you’re gonna look at old cartoons as “wicked?”

      • João Pedro Veiga says:

        “Yes, Pepe le Pew was harassing the cat.”

        I can’t believe someone actually wrote that Pepe Le Pew was harassing Penelope Pussycat. Are you for real when you use this term?! HARASSING?!?

        He is a cartoon character, for crying out loud! In cartoons actions are exaggerated for comic effect! Will you also tell me that Wile E. Coyote is a dangerous sociopath because he tries to kill the Road Runner and should therefore be in prison? Does Donald Duck suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder and should therefore be medicated? It’s like you people completely forgot the innocence of childhood. Get down from your ivory towers and join us, the common mortals!

        Oh my God, Pepe Le Pew an harasser?!?

        I don’t even……

        (Btw, as a Looney Tunes fanatic, I can guarantee you from personal experience – and this can be also verified in forums and conventions – that the fanbase of Pepe Le Pew is hugely comprised of females, young and old. I guess that tells you something about the appeal of his constant “harassing” to the average non-pseudo-intellectual victim-complexed female.)

      • I guess all those girls who tried to kiss me as a seventh grader were harassers.

  28. OP: ” Eve Vawter’s piece, “It’s Official, Rape Is No Longer A Girl Problem, It’s A Boy Problem. So Shut Up About Girls ‘Preventing’ Rape,” discusses the dystopian reality we’re in where men rape but we educate women on how to not get raped.”

    Too bad because I believe women should be taught about preventing rape since boys and men can be victims of female rapists along with teaching boys and men not to rape. This is true equality.

    OP, you make the mistake counntless others do when teaching their sons about rape. From what you’ve written it looks like you’re not even teaching your son about respecting himself and his boundaries so he can prevent himself from getting seriously hurt by girls and women, maybe even raped.

    Rape isn’t about female victims and male aggressors anymore. Except the media and society love to bury the other way around in the annals of limbo. It’s time we put a stop to that and practice REAL equality.

    • I actually am a firm believer in what you’re saying as well, and will be addressing it soon in another article. This wasn’t the place for it, as it would have confused my point and made the article even longer! But I thank you for the comment and I hope that when I put up my next piece about men being the victims of rape, that you return to read it.

      • Thank-you, I look forward to reading it. I have been trying to find an article by a parent teaching their daughter to not rape boys, etc, as ALL articles like this so far I’ve seen were teaching boys not to rape or harm girls.

      • Good. At least you’re willing to do it. Not many rise up to the occassion.

        Thank you.

      • Hold it, I just noticed this.

        OP: “This wasn’t the place for it, as it would have confused my point and made the article even longer!”

        How would addressing the whole confuse your point? If you want equality, you address the whole. Not restrict it to teaching boys solely to respect the boundaries and feelings of girls and women.

        There’s always a place for addressing this.

      • Greg Allan says:

        And just what are your qualifications to be writing about any victims of sexual assault?

    • I totally agree with you as well. While women rape men significantly less than the other way around, it does happen. And if headlines are any indication – the whole statutory rape situation with women aggressors against male youths is happening or at least being discovered & reported more frequently than ever. Whether its new I find debatable. I don’t think it’s new. I think men and boys are finally disclosing. Which is grand. As a society we realize the slut shaming women and girls go through is obviously devastating. But we’re mostly silent on the ridicule male victims go through. Historically it’s been so hard for males to come forward to get comfort, help, medical assistance and justice in large part due to the lack of support in place for male victims. Women rape. Women rape men, boys, girls and other women. We need to teach people not to rape, not teach people not to be raped period, full stop.