My child was sexually harassed on the school bus & the reality set in

January 9 2019 | Guest post by rebecca lane

Content warning: sexual harassment. Not ready for it today? No worries, head to safety!

My child sexually was harassed on the school bus & the reality set in
Photo by Jed Villejo

“So Young”

Yesterday should have been a normal day. It started off that way. But instead it became a first for my eldest daughter. My daughter asked a boy to stop using profanities, and instead, he used them more and more, especially directed at her. And then he threatened her, repeatedly.

Because the bus only makes specific stops, and none of them are unscheduled, my daughter had to wait for her stop, enduring the language and threats that were thrown at her.

When the bus did stop, she ran as fast as she could and into my arms. Her whole body shook with fear and anger. The bus pulled away and we stood there as she tried to find the words. It came out in bits and pieces. "___ said he'd kick me," as she gestured below her waist, in her private area. Finally, shaking she told me. "He said he'd kick me in the vagina."

I almost said, "Honey it happens to everyone. Someone always says something stupid like that. You just have to ignore it." Thankfully, something stopped me.

That was the day our daughter became the victim of sexually violent language. She is ten years old. The boy was twelve. She was riding the school bus home from fifth grade.

As I held her while she cried and I carefully plotted out what exactly I would say to the boy's mother and the bus driver, I grieved for my daughter. I almost said, "Honey it happens to everyone. Someone always says something stupid like that. You just have to ignore it." Thankfully, something stopped me.

I could list the times something had been said or done to me when I was in school. Boys snapped bra straps so much that girls started to walk back-to-back as if they were in battle. The boys kept score. Other nastier boys would whisper to any girl sitting near them to "Close your legs, you're making it smell like fish in here." Or there was the old stand by jeer, "What's wrong? You on your rag or something?"

I was not taught that this was sexual harassment. I was taught to ignore it. It was just the mean kids being mean or boys being boys, or better yet, "He is only doing that because he likes you." "Just ignore them" was the mantra my parents said; "Ignore them and they'll go away."

In church, I was taught to wear modest clothing, not because it was a way of showing respect for myself and God, but because we didn't want to tempt the boys into having dirty thoughts. The teachers were well-meaning I expect, but the message of modesty and their implementation was ridiculously skewed.

In a college acting class, which is notoriously a hands-on class, a professor looked the girls up and down each time they entered. "You have a body to die for," he would say. Another time he told a colleague of mine, "Well, we're not on campus, I'm not your professor right now." I took to wearing overalls and baggy shirts in his class, but I never thought to report him. He was just sleazy. How do you put into words that nothing had happened to you; he just looked at you the wrong way? Something about him just made your skin crawl.

The bronze statue, Fearless Girl, by Kristen Visbal that stands in Bowling Green Manhattan faces down the Charging Bull statue of Wall Street (and is now on the move). The girl is depicted as maybe ten years old, bold and proud. She isn't looking for a fight, but she's also not going to be scared off. She was to be a beacon of feminine empowerment. To see her staring down the Charging Bull is to see power in self, determination in the face of great odds.

Then on the evening of March 13, 2017, while onlookers had gathered to admire the statue, "some Wall Street finance broseph," walking by with his friends, stopped to grind and hump the statue. Of course someone took a picture. Several people I imagine took pictures. Then those photos flew across Facebook and Twitter. Within a couple of days, it had been shared 1500 times on Facebook. What came next was the Twitter storm and the comments.

The mayor of New York Bill DeBlasio tweeted, "This is rape culture."
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) March 11, 2017

Chirlane McClay New York City's first lady said,
Simulating sexual assault — especially on a statue of a very young girl — is not funny.
— Chirlane McCray (@NYCFirstLady) March 11, 2017

To render a female powerless, the offenders attack the very essence of a girl/woman's otherness, to make her more like him. He exerts authority, or ownership over her. Because honestly, he doesn't understand her. He is frightened of her. Even in insults to each other, weaker men are called "bitches" or "pussies." There is no respect. There is no tolerance. There is fear. There is a need to exert dominance. There is a need to destroy the "other."

This is a rape culture. Grab them by the pussy. Kick her in the vagina. To simulate a sex act on statue of a little girl — and it starts young.

This is a rape culture. Grab them by the pussy. Kick her in the vagina. To simulate a sex act on statue of a little girl — and it starts young.

Why you may wonder? Because, let's face it, women are strong. Girls are goddesses in training. If a girl has a strong mother, then the next generation will be as strong, if not more so. In Greg Mortenson's Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he says, "If you teach a boy, you educate an individual; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community."

William Ross Wallace put it this way: "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is the Hand That Rules the World."

In India, the Gulabi Gang (also known as the Pink Sari Gang) acts as a kind of union for women in rural India. Membership is 500 rupees. In doing so, the group pools resources, some food and finances, making it possible for women needing to escape incestuous or abusive relationships to get out on their own. The loans from the group offer an alternative to the money lenders in the villages that charge an outrageous interest, which would almost certainly snare anyone into debt and plummet them further from self-sufficiency. Additionally, The Pink Brigade speaks out for abused women and has been pivotal in providing and pushing for prosecution of rapists and abusers. On the rare times when nothing is done, a group of angry women wearing pink saris and holding wooden batons in hand just may appear at the person's door.

Mother Earth. Gaia who came before the Titans in Greek mythology. Hera. Athena.

Women are strong. Women are different. Women are magical.

That we are still dealing with stupid boys who snap bra straps and threaten to kick girls in the vagina is unconscionable. This is no rite of passage. It's not part of being a girl or a woman. Boys being boys is not a permission slip for bad behavior. It's a cop-out.

So what did I tell our daughter?

I told her that she was brave. I told her he was wrong and that it was incredibly not okay and that we would be talking to the mother and the bus driver to take care of things. I told her that she was and is powerful. I told her to hold other people accountable for what they do, that this is no rite of passage. I told her that under no circumstances should she ever let herself be silenced. Stand up for yourself, and others. And most of all, embrace her otherness.

  1. My heart breaks for your sweet girl. You handled it well, but I hate that we have to handle these things.

    I’m a transgender man who grew up being told I was a girl and dealing with all that comes with it. Now I find myself a father to a beautiful daughter and it. is. hard. I know what sort of things she will probably have to endure when she starts school.

    Already, it is beginning: she goes to daycare with a bunch of boys, one of whom often hits her. My dad told her that boys pick on girls because they like them, just like he told me when I was getting bullied and bothered by boys on the bus to school. And we wonder why women have such a hard time leaving abusive relationships, when we literally teach them from childhood that abuse is a way of expressing affection/love?

    I can’t control the outside world or the people in it. But I can (and do!) work my ass off to make sure my kid has a safe environment at home where she can be herself, where she can retreat from the bullshit messages that our society pushes onto girls and women. It’s a hell of a responsibility but one I am proud to take on.

    • Hi Jay,
      Thanks so much for your comment. It broke my heart so deeply that I had to handle this, that something happened. A part of her innocence was lost that day, and it kills me.
      We have to be agents for change, and it sounds like you already are. 🙂 Just like you said, we wonder why it is so hard for women to leave abusive relationships, when in reality there has been some indoctrination of abuse as a form of love. It boggles my mind. There is so much work to do, so much to be undone.
      We as parents and as people around children have to be willing to make our homes, ourselves, safe places. We have to give them sanctuary from the BS, and give them permission to call it out, to fight against it, and to not be frightened of their power to destroy it.
      your whole post is lovely, I just want to say ditto 🙂
      It is a hard fight. It will be long. But it is so worth it.

      • I am so sorry she had to endure that. I also had a situation on the bus when i was in 9th grade they were not being very polite and put ky jelly in my hair and they all got suspended for sexual harassment. This was not just boys but girls as well, I felt so violated and disgusted. Parents need to teach their children better. I don't know where all this hate comes from but again I feel bad for her and I hope this isn't too traumatizing. I know it is going to leave its mark but I hope and pray it isn't too big of one that she can't overcome it.

  2. Thank you but that was so long ago. This situation is fresh for her I hope she is doing alright after this. My heart goes out to her and I wish her the strength and courage to overcome it.

  3. 45 years ago, I could have been Rebecca's daughter.

    Years later, one of my bosses (and please understand that this guy was as intimidating and confrontational as Mister Rogers) once advised me, "Don't get sad…get mad." The idea was that if you got mad, at least you were more likely to take charge of your situation, not be a victim of it.

    We do our daughters no favors by modeling and dwelling upon our own despair. Let us not pick the scabs of prior hurts. Instead, let us be righteous bad-ass broads who teach our young the coping skills they need, whether that's avoiding troublemakers, how to report through channels, verbal sparring, or how to throw a punch properly. (Yeah, it sometimes comes to that last one, unfortunately.)

    Less this:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Innocence_(painting)#/media/File%3AThe_Age_of_Innocence_-_Reynolds.jpg

    More this:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Can_Do_It!#/media/File%3AWe_Can_Do_It!.jpg

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