How Daughters Are Talking To Their Fathers About Sexual Assault
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Survivors of sexual assault are sharing their stories, many for the first time. Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse has been getting a steady stream of them in her inbox. And her latest column has the headline "Dear Dads: Your Daughters Told Me About Their Assault. This Is Why They Never Told You." Many people have been sharing this column online, and I spoke with Monica Hesse about it earlier today.
MONICA HESSE: I, like a lot of journalists probably today, had been getting a lot of survivors wanting to share their stories of sexual assault. And what was notable to me is how many of them had a common thread of the one person I've never told is my dad. I don't think he could handle this.
SHAPIRO: And what did they tell you about the reasons they never told their father?
HESSE: Some women said I'm afraid to tell my father because I know he would kill the man who attacked me, and I'm worried he would go to jail. Some women said I've never seen my father cry, and I know that if I told him, this would make him cry. Some women did say I'm afraid my father wouldn't believe me, and that's a whole different strain. But a lot of them were really more I think he would believe me, but I'm afraid it would just destroy him. He thinks it's his job to protect me, and he would feel like he failed.
SHAPIRO: Is it only fathers, or are people concerned about telling their mothers as well?
HESSE: I did get responses from people concerned about telling their mothers, but I think often survivors are putting their parents in different categories. A lot of women said I told my mother and learned that she had been a victim, too. Or I told my mother because I thought she would understand what it's like to walk through the world as a young woman. And so they were really afraid that their fathers in particular wouldn't understand on the same level or might feel squeamish or embarrassed to be talking about these kinds of things.
SHAPIRO: You write that a lot of taboos in this area exist because women don't want to make men uncomfortable with lady pain. Explain what you mean by that.
HESSE: You know, just think about tropes in sitcoms where the dad is sent to buy a pack of Kotex for his daughters or his wife. And it's presented as the most humiliating, embarrassing journey to the grocery store that he can ever make. We do that with menstruation. We do that with breastfeeding. All of these things that happen on a woman's body are seen as being really embarrassing and inappropriate to talk about. And I think that that exists on a spectrum. We're afraid to talk about sexual assault because it falls on this spectrum of gross or uncomfortable things that happen to women.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about some of the responses that you've had to this column since it was published this week?
HESSE: Yeah. I've received more than 500 emails in the past 24 hours. But if you don't mind, I'll just read you my favorite response.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, please.
HESSE: (Reading) Dear Monica, thank you for sharing these stories. I was very moved by them because I'd never even thought of asking those questions. I shared your column with my wife of 40 years and asked her had this ever happened to her. And she told me a story of herself at 10. I just listened and inside I broiled. I asked her, should I ask my daughters? And she said, do you think you're ready? I didn't answer, but I'll do it soon - not today but the next time I see them. Right now, though, I'll have a couple of drinks, and I'll think. I hope I can be of some comfort. Semper Fi.
HESSE: So I've gotten a lot of emails like that - a lot of emails from dads who are good dads. They're just really trying to think about what it means to be a good dad. I've gotten a lot of emails from men who say I always told my daughter if anyone tries to hurt you, I'll murder them. And now I'm rethinking, was that the right message to send? Because what if that kept her silent because she didn't want me to go to jail for murdering someone?
HESSE: So I think that these are conversations that have just been happening in secret for a really long time, and good men are trying to figure out how to be a part of those conversations and how to be a comfort in them.
SHAPIRO: Is part of your argument also that it's important for daughters to tell their fathers about this so that they have a better understanding of what women go through?
HESSE: I think so. I really do. And a lot of the feedback that I've been getting are women who are talking to their dads for the first time because of what we're hearing in the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings because their fathers have said something like, I'm really moved by her testimony, but I just don't believe it because if it had really happened, she would have told her parents when it happened. And it's causing women to say, Dad, it happened to me. It happened to me three years ago, five years ago, 20 years ago, and I didn't tell you. And here's why I didn't tell you. So if you're a father and you have assumptions of how a victim should behave or whether someone would or would not have told someone, I think it's really meaningful to hear from women in your life that you're close to who have said, I grew up in your house, you love me more than anyone, and I never told you, and this is why.
SHAPIRO: Monica Hesse is a Washington Post columnist, and her new novel out this week is called "The War Outside." Thanks so much for joining us today.
HESSE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.