I will not teach my daughter how to avoid being raped

Guest post by David Weisberg

As a dad, there are a lot of lessons I look forward to teaching my daughter. Lessons in being kind, lessons in the importance of education, lessons on how to improve the world around us, and many more along life’s path. However, there is one thing I will never teach my daughter…

I will not teach my daughter how to avoid being raped.

I cannot teach her this lesson for a simple reason — my daughter, and girls everywhere, cannot learn “how to not get raped,” because being raped is not something the victim holds any control over. To teach her that she can avoid being raped, makes a fraction of the responsibility of being raped owned by her. My daughter owns none of this risk.

Only one person is responsible for any rape — the rapist.

Instead, will teach her this…

I will warn my daughter

I will warn her of some dangerous situations, and some actions of others to be leary of. I will warn her that some people will take advantage of people unable to defend themselves, and that some people are capable of terrible things. The problem is she cannot stop these people… all she can do is be aware.

I will teach her to be aware

For now, I can be aware for her. (It’s heartbreaking that I even have to at her age.) However, as my daughter gets older, she has to be aware. I will not be there all the time to protect her. She will have to be aware at every party she goes to. She will have to be aware on long walks home, especially if she is alone. Sometimes she even will even have be aware in the places she will feel most comfortable. And she will have to be aware of people she thinks are friends, but are really looking for opportunities to betray her trust.

I will teach her about consent

Since I cannot teach my daughter not to be raped, please teach your sons, and, of course, ALL kids, about consent. That “no” means “no.” And, furthermore, the absence of “yes,” is a “no.” That “no” is not a negotiation or a game. That, of course, being told “no” could hurt their feelings, and it could damage their pride. I promise that they will recover. However, that “no” is a person’s right — it’s a barrier that one can put up whenever someone needs to. Please teach them that barrier is never to be crossed under any circumstances.

And parents of sons, please teach them one simple concept…

That my daughter is their equal. She is a person with her own goals, dreams, desires, feelings, likes, and dislikes. Teach them that she doesn’t owe anyone anything other than a common politeness we should all have for each other. Teach your boys grow up to be men that can be counted on if someone needs help — not a vulture looking to feed off the temporarily helpless. And teach them that women are going to be his friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, and in some situations more than that.

Then hopefully we won’t have a future where we even have to warn our daughter about rape.

Comments on I will not teach my daughter how to avoid being raped

  1. I honestly have mixed feelings about this article as a mother of a son. Though I think some good points are made, it bothers me when women are always associated with potential victim and men as potential aggressor. Men can and are raped too. We don’t even have accurate statistics since there is such shame associated with it, even more than for women. Also though a woman is less likely to physically over power a man she can still take advantage of a drunk guy, she can still coerce him. And this is only looking at straight relationships, men can take advantage of other men and women of other women. I hope you teach your daughter to not be an aggressor as well since although we tend to only want to think of our children as the innocent ones, every person when they come into this world has an equal potential for good and evil.

    • Hello Aimee,

      I wrote this article, and I absolutely agree with you. My original of this article included a disclaimer about this exact point, and that I am not belittling or ignoring male victims. However, for readability reasons I left it off the final draft I submitted. I do agree that victims of all genders are equally important.

      That being said, I only have a daughter, and even with the most overestimated statistics of male rape victims, women are far more likely to be victims. Thank you for reading.

      • Thank you David for both responding to my comment and also writing the article. You are correct that women are more often raped,however, it is an important issue to me that rape is something that crosses genders/sexuality since men being raped is so often ignored or even worse treated as a joke. I think that rape in general was such a taboo topic for many years we are just now at a point where we are trying as a society to try and dismantle some of the root causes of consent violations. I appreciated this article for not only your perspective but that it also strikes me as a call to parents and other adults that may play important roles in the lives of children to think about ways we can not only protect them from predators but also make them advocates for consent.

    • Yes, I acknowledge its a tangent, but as the parent of four boys and the partner of someone who was violated at his own party, please ALSO teach your daughter about consent and that (no matter what comedies and sitcoms say) not all guys want it all the time from everyone. That when a guy is so drunk he has to stop to throw up, he’s probably too drunk to understand what’s going on or who he’s with. That his “no” and “stop” or “I’m too drunk for this” are not invalidated by an erection. I know you said to teach all kids that no means no, but I think it’s important to specifically teach the counter message about how guys view sex, because the “always with anyone” message is SO pervasive their “no” becomes easy to ignore and their silence is so easily taken for a yes.

      Teach your daughter that she also has the power to violate consent and a responsibility not to.


  2. Thoughts and feels about adding “I will teach her to defend herself” to this article? It’s something I go back and forth on.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I’m not saying not to teach basic self defense. My point is more that if we teach girls how to “avoid” being raped, we are creating a partial ownership of the crime. That is what we need to break from. God-forbid something like this happened to my daughter, the last thing I want her to be thinking in her head is “If only I had…”. It’s important to remove that semblance of guilt for both recovery and prevention reasons.

      Thank you for reading.

    • Agreed. I think teaching self-defense and how to be aware of potential dangers are just as important as knowing what consent is. Every individual’s safety is their responsibility, and while we don’t want our daughters taking partial ownership of crimes committed against them, we should teach our daughters to take ownership of their safety rather than teach them to rely on men not to rape them. There will always be people who a) don’t care whether or not a woman consents; b) aren’t able to differentiate between consent and lack of consent because of some kind of mental defect; c) are under the influence of some kind of substance that alters their perception of reality. Criminals exist. Predators exist. Refusing to equip women to protect themselves simply because they shouldn’t have to is crippling.

      • I don’ think anyone is refusing to equip them so much as reframing why and what they are equipping them for. You should learn how to watch for and try to defend against an attacker. But you should never feel like you are responsible for his success in attacking you because you should have been stronger or more vigilant. Ideally, you should be capable of fighting off an attacker, but you are not obligated to. Even if you freeze up in fear and can’t say or do ANYTHING, its still not you fault. You are under no moral imperative to be aware or fight back. THEY do have a moral imperative to not attack you, whether you’re an easy victim or not.

  3. Beautiful reflexion.

    However, passively waiting for others to take responsability for their own actions is not something I am comfortable instilling in my girl. You are a victim only if you let yourself become one. Even if you have been violated or survived circumstances outside your control. You can keep your head high even if shit happened.

    I will not teach her to avoid being raped.

    But I will teach her to defend herself and communicate.

  4. I’m married to the writer of this article, and am the mother of the daughter written about in this post. I think it is worth noteing that our collective discomfort with this switch in perspective between teaching a child to avoid being raped, and warning them to be careful and teaching them to be aware, shows how enculturated victim blaming is in our society.

  5. I agree with the posters that point out that there seems to be something massive missing without including “I will teach her safety precautions to take” and “I will teach her to defend herself.” I mean, you aren’t responsible for a drunk driver who rams into your car, and you certainly want to be aware of road hazards, but the basic precaution of wearing a seat belt is still something you can actually *do* to mitigate some risks without taking on the responsibility for being victimized.

      • There’s a difference between “aware” and “warning” versus “taking precautions” in my book.

        I can be aware that there are drunk drivers out on the road. Someone can warn me that driving around when the bars close means I’m more likely to encounter them. But “taking precautions” is taking action, not just being in possession of the knowledge that there are drunk drivers out there and one of them could hit me and it wouldn’t be my fault. I can take precautions to avoid being hit by drunk drivers (wear my seatbelt, wait until all the drunks make their way to Denny’s before hitting the road, drive out of my way to avoid the bar district, etc) without taking the responsibility for what they do to me.

        • While yes, precautions are important on an individual level, most of the problem being addressed in this article is cultural. My wearing a seat belt or not will certainly impact the degree to which I am injured by a drunk driver slamming into my car, but literally no one will say that my lack of seat belt wearing *caused* the impact in the first place. It’s the drunk’s fault for hitting me, even if I had no restraints on while listening to loud music in a sketcy area at 1am. Any of those actions might be considered unwise, but they won’t automatically be blamed for the existence of the drunk driver. Thus we are able to teach seat belt safety without it getting tangled up in victim blaming.

          However, at a cultural level we absolutely conflate “seat belt wearing” (traveling in groups, not walking at night, only wearing certain clothes, fancy date-rape-drug-detecting nail polish, self defense classes…) with a responsibility to prevent ever being attacked. If only she hadn’t gone out dancing. Or worn that top. Or trusted her friend. Or or or.

          Do you see? The cultural narrative MUST shift away from this reflexive victim blaming. Once that happens, then yes we can teach sensible precautions while simultaneously acknowledging that regardless of behavior, it is not the victim’s fault that the attacker existed.

          • So I’m not really sure what you’re getting at here, can you expound on it please? Because when I’m reading this, it sounds like you’re arguing that the whole cultural narrative has to change before we can teach individuals about the precautions they can take to reduce risk, otherwise we’re promoting victim-blaming. And that makes little sense so I must be misinterpreting something somewhere.

            The OP is talking about what he’s going to teach his daughter about rape. That’s part of the process of changing the narrative yes, but it’s what he’s teaching her individual to individual. And if in this one-on-one conversation “It’s not your fault but here are some things you can do to stay safe” doesn’t come up then that’s a disservice.

  6. The Stanford victim wrote in her letter, “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.” A commenter pointed out that when we teach women especially how to avoid being raped by what they wear, how they act, where they go, not drinking, etc, we are basically saying “rape is going to happen, and he’s how to make sure it happens to someone else instead of you”. And that’s condoning it.

    I had never thought about that before. It was eye opening.

  7. As the survivor of an attempted rape, I commend you for writing this article. Thank you so much.

    One other thing I would like to point out is the myth that you can avoid rape by interacting with strangers. My rapist was the boy I was dating at the time, and he did it because he was pissed that I wasn’t ready to have sex with him yet. If I have any children, I will tell them to only have sex when they are ready and if their partners give their consent.

  8. This is drawing a thin line between “not being responsible for the actions of others” and “not being responsible for my own safety”. Aren’t we still responsible for avoiding dangerous situations, even if we’re not responsible for what causes those situations to be dangerous? Why do we all learn to not get between a mother bear and her cubs if none of us are responsible for how a mother bear protects her offspring? Why do we teach children to not take candy from strangers if children are not responsible for being abducted?

    • The problem is, for women, *all* situations are potentially dangerous when it comes to rape. There’s no way to avoid them entirely, not if we want to be alive in a world where rape is a daily fact of life. Even cloistered nuns and little babies have been raped, and most rapes happen at the hands of people women already know, in places they had felt safe in before.

      We shouldn’t go out of our way to make ourselves vulnerable in situations where we don’t have control over most of the variables, yes, but there’s a distinction worth making between being aware and cautious (as the author advocates) and thinking that avoidance of “risky situations” is the best solution to the problem (both individually and on a societal level).

  9. Thank you for writing this!

    @the conversation, There is a difference between being aware and being responsible.

    A woman can dress in a way that may be provocative by societal norms. She should be aware that she is dressing provocatively (this is a very vague term btw) but she shouldn’t have to expect to be raped.

    A woman could wear a thong bikini in a mall in downtown and yeah, she’ll get the evil eye, but she shouldn’t get it any harder than that guy who wears socks with sandals – and neither the woman or the man should be raped or be made to feel that the rape was a result of their fashion choices.

    @Derek, Rapists are not wild mother bears. Women are not children. Wild mother bears and children cannot give or refuse consent.

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