My open letter to the editor for SAAM 2014

This blog post was originally developed for my dear friend at the Resource Sharing Project, who was collecting editorials to submit to Iowa newspapers. When I asked if I could also share it here, she said "Send it to every paper and blog across the land!" With that in mind, if you do decide to share it, please connect back to the source and give credit to Ali Mailen Perrotto and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

To the editor,

We call my daughter “Smooch” because we’re sure that by the time she’s a year old she’ll have gotten 10 trillion kisses. In fact, “Ten Trillion Kisses!” was our loving the new baby mantra when we brought her home to meet the whole family. By the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, she’ll be 11 months old. I’m pretty sure that we’re near our mark.

This year, April means something extra special to me. I’m almost a year into being a mom and each day I remember something else that I have to make sure I do to help end sexual violence in the world where my baby girl lives. Any parents who read this know that this is on top of all of the other things you’re trying to remember in the cloud of sleep deprivation. I too am guilty of forgetting the diaper bag and leaving the (blessed) coffee pot on when tearing out of the house on a typical Tuesday. Still, I need to remember to do a few more things. It’s the least I can do.

My sexual violence prevention work starts at home. In my family, with my partner, raising my child, I make the decision to have conversations with the people who know and love Smooch as much as I do. I talk about my decision to use the proper names for all of her body parts. I don’t think she’ll learn to say vagina by the end of April, but I do think she’ll always feel comfortable naming and discussing her body as she grows up.

Her dad and I have had breakfast table discussions about how common it is for even very young children to rub their genitals in a soothing way. We’ve talked about the difference between healthy childhood sexual development and when behaviors start to become concerning. We have these discussions now because we always want to show Smooch that we’re comfortable with whatever questions she has and ready to help her figure out life and relationships. We want to be able to identify early warning signs of sexual abuse if that should ever occur.

When friends talk about Smooch growing up and marrying their little boys, I make it a point to say that she might want to grow up and marry their daughters instead. I never want my Smooch to feel shame for who she is or who she loves.

As per the recommendation of her pediatrician, we don’t turn on the TV during her waking hours. Balance that with the fact that I’m already thinking about the media she will consume one day. How will I explain the Disney princesses’ need to get married and live happily ever after? What about the princess that decides to go to college and start a rewarding career instead? Why are there so many more boys on TV than girls? Why are most characters thin, white, young, and attractive?

As she continues to grow, I will keep having discussions with her that help to build a healthy, resilient child. I want Smooch to grow up in a world where she is valued for so much more than her sexuality. At the same time, I want to have all of the tools she needs to grow into a sexually healthy adult.

I’m thankful for the information and resources provided for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. They have helped me to learn about the conversations to have, and how to even get them started. Learn more at nsvrc.org/saam. I know you love your children enough to help build a world free of sexual violence. These are conversations we need to get there. This April, “It’s time…to talk about it. Your voice. Our Future. Prevent Sexual Violence.”

This is my second blog post in a series on the intersections of feminism, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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