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When was the first time… ??

Lina AbiRafeh

So this week I got on TikTok. Yes. Am I the last person to join?! Probably.

Here was my first blip:

Do you remember the first time that you were touched or spoken to in a way that made you uncomfortable? In a way that you didn’t consent to? I do. I was 7. Now I’m 47 and I’m still angry about it.

So why don’t you tell me your stories? I’m gonna put something together because I think that everyone needs to hear it, because it is about all of us. It’s everyone, everywhere, it’s all the time. And I’ve had enough.

And then the floodgates opened.

First time I remember, I was 3 … but it started at birth. I’m 41.

Had this little boy in the neighborhood that would punch me if I didn’t kiss him. It starts young.

I was 5. Now I’m 55 and I’m far more than pissed. Many times it starts at home.

I was 7 and this boy kept bothering me. He was kinda the definition of a nice guy. He would never leave me alone tho…

And so many more. How many stories do we need, I wonder? We often say “even one case is one too many” — I still believe that. But we also need a thousand — or a million — cases to ignite ourselves into action, it seems.

The stories wouldn’t stop coming in.

Around the same age. What I also feel sorry about, is how even when I was a lot older I still ‘let it happen’. Internalized the ‘it’s the victim’s fault’-rhetoric and was more worried about what would happen to me than him if anyone found out.

And so we say again, again, again: there’s only one person to blame here — that’s the perpetrator. No one else. Ever.

And just as I had finished posting on TikTok, a friend sent me this:

Omg perfect timing a guy just stopped while I was waiting to cross the street to make pussy licking gestures at me and i just yelled at him to leave women the fuck alone and stop being a disgusting impotent pervert.

And another one sent this:

I was 14 and working in an Italian restaurant with 3 other friends. The boss would frequently come downstairs from the attic with his trousers undone which made us all terribly uncomfortable. There would be the odd brush of the hand in inappropriate places and always finding excuses to stand pressed against us. One day I had written “maths homework” on my hand in pink pen. He came over, took my hand and slowly licked all over the writing. I was so shocked and terrified I stood rooted to the spot.

There’s something wrong with the world when EverySingleWoman has a story, right?!

I want to be constructive here, to provide ideas on how to teach consent, on talking to kids about safe vs unsafe touching. In a previous blog, I interviewed my now 8-year old niece to get her thoughts on what it means to be a girl or a boy.

My sister — her mother — explained to me that they started teaching her about consent from day one:

We started giving her the right messages from the very beginning. “Nobody can touch you,” we told her. On the first day of preschool… “nobody can touch you.” In kindergarten… “nobody can touch you.” Do mothers of sons say the same? I hope so. And do they also tell them it’s inappropriate to touch girls? No, they probably did not. So you’ve left it to me to have this conversation with her over and over and over for the rest of her life, because it’s always going to be her responsibility to manage her own security, and her fault if she doesn’t.

My niece responded:

[Boys and girls] are exactly the same and equal… we get the same respect and we need to get the same peace.

She gets it.

But still, I worry for young girls. I want to believe that my niece is far smarter than I was at age 8, but she is inheriting a fundamentally unequal world, one where her body and her rights are not her own.

What can we do?

We cannot make any assumptions about the availability and quality of sex education in schools. Actually, it’s probably safe to assume there’s not enough of it. At the same time, we need to teach children about their bodies — and about their agency. Conversations about personal responsibility, boundaries, harmful gender stereotypes, harassment have to start young. And have to start at home. And start young. Develop a vocabulary that is clear and consistent. Explore emotions — and normalize their expressions. Introduce consent in a relatable way — and discuss it often.

There’s research and evidence for this, of course. It’s critical for prevention — if we ever have any hope of prevention, that is.

What’s my point here?! There are more stories than we can manage. And yes it’s everyone, everywhere, all the damn time.

In response to that, someone wrote:

If it’s everyone everywhere all the time why even try to change it… I’m not saying it’s not wrong, I’m saying we can’t fix it.

And before I had a chance to respond, this rebuttal came flying in:

Are u kidding? Yeah u can by teaching people (mainly boys) from a young age about consent and just raising them right. Why should we just accept it?

Now… relax everyone. I’m not saying that this only happens to women and girls. But, damn, it happens to women and girls a whole lot more than it happens to men and boys. And this is a fact. We know it to be true from ample research and anecdotal evidence.

I decided to ask a few men the same question anyway.

Why are you asking me this weird question? One said.

Look, I get your point here, and I’m sure it’s happened to boys, but it hasn’t ever happened to me or to any men or boys that I know, another one explained.

I guess that’s where the church comes in, another man said. And he laughed.

Do you tell your son to be careful, to tell you if anything happens, to learn about consent, to understand the difference between safe and unsafe touching… and all that stuff? I asked a father of an 11-year old boy.

No, we didn’t. We told him to not keep secrets from us but that’s about it. If anything happens, I think he’ll tell me.

One man wrote to me with a vastly different response:

Your question really bothers me. Whenever I’ve seen anything like this, just like your answer, most women give an age younger than 10. The worst part is it’s someone who had regular access to them — uncle, older cousin, brother’s friend, parents’ friend, etc. It’s really sad and disgusting. Being a girl can be difficult.

So my story is about a girlfriend I had in high school. We started dating when she was 15. I later found out that her dad had been molesting her and her sister since she was 8. This was my first exposure to what rape is, and at my age (16), I had no idea what to do or say.

Want more stories?! No. Enough.

Listen, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the stories. I’m sickened by the stories. And I’m sick of having to share our stories over, over, over and to still not be believed.

Read the full piece here.

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