Table of Contents
College Today acknowledges the excitement, anxiety, and relief of all when a daughter begins college. Although they, too, might have attended college, parents can’t assume that their rosy recollections of those years will be the experience of their daughters.
“It was her first choice school. She applied early decision and got in. It was like God himself reached down and gave his blessing and said you may go to this wonderful institution.”
The Big Picture puts individual stories into a larger context. The chapter provides a sense of how campus sexual assault has been viewed over time (for example, the first study of campus sexual assault was published in 1957) and describes the nature and scope today as best we know it.
How Families Work addresses the different ways that families function and how those functions can be challenged as well as reinforced when dealing with the crisis of a sexual assault. By the time they get to college, many students have dealt with other trying circumstances that shape who they are and how they deal with the world and an assault.
"Parenting is always hard. Parenting in the current environment, I think, is a little harder, it’s a little riskier. You don’t wanna make a bunch of steel-skinned children. You want them to be open and receptive and willing to experiment and try new things. Those are important things.”
So What Happened outlines the range of experiences that comprise sexual assault. These are stories that parents rarely hear. The chapter also describes the definitions and labels daughters give to their experiences, a process that likely shapes the conversations, if any, that follow.
“The next morning I woke up there and I ran out. I had blood and I was just so freaked out. But I wasn’t really sure what had happened. I just thought, oh, well, that was a shitty way to lose my virginity. I didn’t realize that what had happened was not consensual. It didn’t click back then.”
Giving and Getting the News talks about daughters’ decisions to tell or not tell a parent and the parent’s initial reaction, sometimes helpful and sometimes the source of additional stress. The interactions often involve some combination of blame, shame, and longing.
"I said he didn't punch you, you were not raped, and therefore it's not that big of a deal. And as I'm saying these words, I have horrific guilt – it's very painful. But that's what transpired at the time. She was very upset that she didn't get the family support that she needed..”
Fathers recognizes that fathers typically are a bit different than mothers in terms of helping a daughter deal with sexual assault. It was common for fathers to stay a bit on the periphery.
"We actually have not spoken about it....I'm kind of like the third person out and that doesn't bother me….But I have made it very clear to her that in no way did I feel that any of that was her fault....I don't know if I threw it to her as a joke or how I tried to open the conversation, but I made it known that, well, I think I said I wanted to go break his legs."
Mothers delves into the realities that the mother is the parent the girl is most likely to turn to and that mothering
is crucial to girls who have been sexually assaulted at college. Not
surprisingly, this chapter contains more complex emotional content
than the chapter about fathers.
"It really affected my mom in more ways than I expected. I couldn’t have predicted that. I don’t really know what it’s like to be a mother – to have to take care of someone and know that you can’t always be there to protect them. It really, really affected her. She just wasn’t herself for many months."
Campus Resources underscores that a student who has been victimized doesn't have to go it alone. Multiple people on campus can inform students of their options, serve as a sounding
board, support them in their choices, and provide services. There's much more than one office. But most students don't use these typically free and often confidential resources.
“I said, 'Somebody at that school has to know. I can’t send you back to that school without somebody knowing. We need help. . . . You’re supposed to take your exams this week and you’re not going to show up. They’re going to give you zeroes unless we have a valid reason. We’ve got to tell somebody.'"
Struggling and Problem Solving asserts that campus sexual assault is more than a single event. Daughters and parents deal with the event and its aftermath for an extended period, often negotiating and renegotiating their relationship in the process. No matter how good your parenting skills might be, you'll probably need to expand your repertoire.
“It gave me a lot of problems with my mom. I had problems with her before. I don't know why I decided to call her about it but I guess I thought that's what people do....And I was drinking just way too much. I think I felt, like, I just wanna be the happy girl that I was. And maybe if I'm really happy and really cool that it won't matter that this happened, and no one will know that I have this underlying problem.”
Look to Where You Want to Go emphasizes the importance of holding onto a long-term perspective. A sexual assault leaves jet trails. It will be part of your daughter’s life,
your life, and your family’s life to some extent from here on. Paradoxically,
it will be, as one mother said, “hard stuff to remember and
hard stuff to forget.”