COMMENTARY: An open letter to the Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke

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It isn’t enough.

I want to be able to say: Thank you, Rex Huppke, for your lovely June 8 column in the Chicago Tribune: “What my sons will learn from the Brock Turner’s rape case at Stanford.”

But I am the mother of boys and I have to say: It just isn’t enough.

You are right that it’s important for all men to understand the consequences of rape.

And so it is important that you and your wife are saving a copy of the graphic letter written by the woman who was assaulted by Turner and read in court after he was found guilty of sexual assault.

I don’t want to diminish that because not enough people teach their boys about the soul-wrenching cost of sexual violence.

And you are a thoughtful man whose work I admire.

But this column made me scream: “No! No! No! This. Is. Not. Enough.”

It’s not enough to let your boys read about the pain, the anguish, the loss.

It’s not enough to read that they will now associate what should be an act of love and pleasure with violence.

It’s not enough to read about how someone can take away your body—and how people will look at you as though your actions, your clothes, your smile brought it all on. It’s your fault. You betrayed yourself.

To this day, I can’t smell onions without going back to a moment years ago.

I was alone. The man had been eating guacamole at his department’s Christmas party before he walked into the door of the pressroom at Chicago Police headquarters and suddenly laid himself on top of me, overpowering me, thrusting his tongue into my mouth, rendering me immobile and voiceless.

I didn’t know who he was. He never said a word. I knew only that he was drunk and smelled of onions and  had closed the door behind him. I could not stop anything. I could not say anything.

But I was lucky. He spent what seemed forever with his mouth over mine and pulling at my clothes before something inside him abruptly woke up.

He stood up and staggered out.

The smell of onions can bring tears to my eyes to this day, and it isn’t the chemical irritants.

I wonder: Will it happen to my stepdaughters? Will it happen to my nieces? Or has it happened and no one has said a word?

Depending on which study you consult, one in six — or one in four — women will be sexually assaulted. Either statistic is chilling enough. But the risks go up if you are young, a woman of color or a woman with a disability.

So, no, it isn’t enough to help boys and men understand the consequences of sexual assault.

That is only the start of it.

When my boys were old enough, I turned to Jackson Katz for advice. Writer, trainer, activist and great guy, he taught me that being a stand-up guy means a guy has to do more than just stand by.

As he wrote in his book The Macho Paradox: “Over 99 percent of sexual assault is perpetrated by men. Whether the victims are female or male. But we call it a women’s issue?”

Acting to stop sexual violence should be the concern of everyone.

And here’s what I told my boys years ago:

When you are old enough, a time will come—maybe some night at a party when everyone is drinking.

You might see a girl being led up the stairs or being fondled on a couch by one or several young men.

Your gut will tell you something is wrong here.

But this, my sons, is not a signal to step back.

It is a signal to step in: “Hey, guys, I think she’s going to throw up. Tell you what. I’ll get her home.”

You will likely face such a situation someday.

What will you say? Whom will you call? What actions will you take?

RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) has a number of suggestions on its website about how to step in and remain safe yourself.  (Click here.) as does Katz in the one-pager: “10 Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence.”

It isn’t enough to understand the pain and criminality of sexual assault.

You have to understand the responsibility to act, as well.

 

Susy Schultz is president of Public Narrative @Susys

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