As many of you know, my seventeen-year-old daughter, Eden, is no stranger to bullying. Since first grade, she’s experienced the full spectrum: exclusion, cyberbullying, and physical assault. She was excused from pictures at her own birthday party, ate alone in bathrooms at lunch, and she was harassed by two adult women after she released her first novel for "riding her mom's coattails" and was called a "slut". She still finds reasons to smile.
Eden is your typical theater nerd. She loves playing Xbox and volleyball. She is competitive, and dorky, and gives people who hurt her more chances than she should. She's also beautiful, musically talented, athletic, and has dimples deep enough to poke your finger in. I told her in first grade she would have to develop a thick skin, because she has all the makings of a perfect target. I've also taught her to not accept the garbage her peers spew at her, or to allow others to treat her less-than to make themselves feel better.
We’ve talked about it, strategized and re-strategized, explained, and cried. We’ve ignored, confronted, lashed out, and pressed charges. It's a problem that the word bullying has been confused and diluted. The label is issued when someone has a dissenting opinion on the Internet. I've been called a bully for standing up for myself and my daughter online. Bullying is no longer taken seriously, so we've stopped calling it bullying, and refer to it for what it really is: harassment and assault. It wasn’t until today that I realized the true problem with harassment and assault, and it begins and ends with parents and schools.
Several months ago, Eden began a platonic friendship with a boy. He expressed feelings for her that she didn’t reciprocate, and through cyberbullying, shooting off fireworks at and urinating on our home, he let her know that was not acceptable to him.
Last Friday, we received a text message from Eden stating that this same boy had shoved her so hard she dropped the things she was carrying. No one in the hall spoke out against it. No one confronted him. We called the school, and were directed by an automated system to the counselor’s voicemail. I called again, and was directed to the office manager’s voicemail. I called again, directed to the athletic director’s voicemail. I called again, and again, and again. After six attempts, without speaking with a single employee of Steamboat Springs High School, my husband and I chose to go to the school.
We stood at the front desk for ten minutes before anyone knew we were there, and it wasn’t until a student alerted the office staff we were present were we able to ask to speak to the principal. We explained our daughter had been assaulted in the hallway. The principal let us know he had a quick meeting with two students first, and then he would call us back. Keep in mind, I used these exact words: “A boy assaulted my daughter in the hallway today.”
Ten minutes later, we were in the principal’s office. The first thing I told him was that we were there because we’d called the school six times with no answer, and had yet to receive a response from anyone I’d left messages for. This was half an hour after my last message was left.
He had nothing to say about the lack of response from the school, and we moved on to the backstory of Eden and the boy who assaulted her. I expressed my concern that the boy’s behavior was clearly escalating, and the principal asked us a series of questions. He told us he would look at the camera system, speak with the school police officer, and get back with us.
Fast forward to Monday at 3:49 PM. I get my first call from someone I’d left a message for—the school counselor. She tells me she tried to get an update from administration before our call, but they were in a meeting. I explained to her what had happened, and was floored by her response.
My mouth fell open. After everything I’d told her—the cyberbullying, that Eden had expressed firmly, when he’d tried to come into our home during a party, that he wasn’t welcome—the counselor’s response was to find Eden’s involvement and responsibility in the scenario. I imagined this boy shoving Eden, and Eden calling after him, “Hey! You know, that really made me uncomfortable!”
I wanted to ask her if she had daughters, if she had common sense, if she realized how utterly asinine her response was. Keep in mind, she’d had three full days to respond to the assault. I opened my mouth to tell her, “So if I come to the school and shove you, it’s a gray area because I wasn’t aware it would make you uncomfortable?” But, I didn’t.
Instead, I asked, “Are you saying this boy shoved her because he wasn’t aware doing so would make her uncomfortable?”
She explained that some boys think it’s flirting. She said she wanted to make sure Eden has the tools beyond high school to make it clear to someone that their behavior isn’t acceptable to her.
Ladies and gentleman, make no mistake: this is rape culture. It’s not a PC term created by liberals. It’s happening, and it’s being perpetuated by the schools where our daughters and sons spend most of their day. If someone shoved you at work, would this be the response of your boss? HR? No. This is not how the world works, so explain to me how this response is a tool to help Eden function better in adult society. This is giving the assaulter a pass, while questioning the victim’s role in the situation. This is victim blaming … of my daughter … after she was assaulted … to my face.
My daughter is going to school with this boy today, and, to my knowledge, this has not been addressed with him at all. We weren’t updated (that nothing has been done) until after school. What message does this send? We're asking parents to better equip their daughters on how to make it clear they don’t wish to be assaulted by a boy, or it should just be expected.
I can’t say it any other way: this is complete bullshit. The reason this boy has gone eighteen years without considering there would be repercussions for shoving a girl in the hallway with hundreds of students to witness is because he has experienced none. But, let’s figure out why he did it. Surely he was provoked or ignorant, and it’s the responsibility of his victims to educate him. His parents didn't, so the schools defer to the victim. Did she make it clear before he shoved her that she doesn’t enjoy being shoved? I guess she should wear a sign to school as a disclaimer, so if a boy assaults her, he will know well in advance that it’s not okay.
I don’t remember much of the conversation after that. I was so confused and livid that I offered one-word answers until we hung up so I didn’t let my temper do the talking for me.
If you haven’t told your sons that girls don’t enjoy being assaulted, please do so. If my daughter meets your son in college and she doesn’t make it clear beforehand, I don’t want her to end up beaten or raped behind a dumpster because she was unconscious and couldn’t educate him on basic humanity. If we’re relying on victims to relay ahead of time they prefer not to be victimized, no wonder our schools are churning out Brock Turners who seem genuinely surprised when they’re finally held accountable for their behavior—and even then, they go unpunished. How can anyone ask why girls don’t come forward sooner, or at all? We have the answer. If you’re asking, you are part of the problem.
Eden will keep smiling, but it shouldn't be in spite of her gender. Being a woman shouldn't be something she has to survive and navigate. Our sons should know it's not their right to lay hands on our daughters, and the first question we ask shouldn't be, "What did you do to deserve this?" It should be, "Where did we fail this boy that he thinks there are no consequences?" Our outrage at Brock Turner's actions and consequences did nothing. It's time to trade our outrage for action.