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I know exactly what I need to tell my sons about rape

Brian Farnham

Dear sons,

With Father’s Day nearly upon us, I thought it might be a good time to talk to you about rape.

Now, you might not immediately guess what the connection is between fatherhood and the subject of rape, especially since all three of you are under 8. But thanks to a horrifying story currently in the news (and a father in that story who is giving all fathers a bad name), it’s never been more clear to me that the two are — or at least should be — connected.

More: Parents should be teaching kids about consent, not defending rape

You boys are a little young to hear about this story — what the father said or the horrific thing his son did — so really, this letter is for you to read when you’re a bit older. But you will read it. I will make you read it. And by that time, you and I will have already discussed — many, many times — the more important subject at the heart of this issue. That subject is respecting women.

But here is what I want to put on the record now, as your father, for you to read when you’re old enough to start thinking and feeling sexual things about girls: Rape is wrong.

Hopefully having read that, you’re a little embarrassed the old man wrote something so face-palmingly obvious. Something you wouldn’t even think of doing. I still want you to hear me say it.

I’m making sure to state the obvious to you guys, because it occurs to me that Brock Turner’s dad almost certainly never said it to him. Stating the obvious is not enough to teach anyone anything, but it’s where you should start. It’s where a father (or a mother, for that matter) should start. From there, a father needs to keep talking.

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This boy in the news, Brock Turner — he raped a girl. And despite the fact that he’s apparently smart and talented and got into an Ivy League school, based on his disgustingly remorse-free stance, it seems clear that he somehow doesn’t understand what rape is. That ignorance does not absolve him of guilt or responsibility for what he has done. But if it’s true, part of the blame for his pathetic obliviousness lies with his dad. And I’ll tell you what — based on the statement his dad made to the court, I don’t think he understands what rape is either.

You want to know what rape is? This is rape.

These 7,000 words explain it far better than I ever could. You all will read these words. I will make you. And then we’ll talk about it. I’ll ask you questions and encourage you to ask your own. That conversation will be a single link in the chain of a bigger dialogue that I want to stretch evenly across your adolescence and anchor you in the right way to think about and act around women.

I want to close this letter by confessing that I’m not writing it just for you guys. I’m writing it for your sister too. I want you guys to remember, when you’re out there in the difficult, sexually charged world of teenage parties and hormonal, judgment-light tests of life’s limits, your sister is out there too. And in that world, she is going to encounter Brock Turners.

Boys whose fathers didn’t spell out for them, in embarrassingly obvious terms, that rape is wrong, and who didn’t try to bring them along over time, discussion by discussion, to a deep-seated, second-nature respect for the opposite gender. These boys will look at your sister and see nothing but meat.

More: Whether you’re putting the husband or the kids first, you’re doing it wrong

How your sister can avoid those kinds of boys or protect herself generally — those are subjects for a different letter, a letter for her. All I want you guys to think about is yourselves. Ask yourself, as often as possible, what you think is right and wrong when it comes to how you treat women. Ask yourself if you understand what rape is.

And if you feel unsure of the answers, let’s talk.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

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