Excerpts from a real conversation with my daughter…
When a grown man who has no relation to you or your parents wants to hang out and talk with you instead of the other adults, that’s a problem. When you told me he asked for your birthday to put in his phone, I knew we needed to have a really big chat. I’m not saying that man is a predator. But if you should come across a predator and I’m not around, I want you to be equipped to protect yourself.
If you tell him when your birthday is, you won’t be surprised when he wants to do something for your birthday. I had an aunt who married a not-so-great guy. Nobody seemed to catch onto that for a long time. I remember him slipping his hand down the back of my pants whenever he hugged me, starting when I was five years old. I was too young to know it wasn’t okay—and it happened for years. But I lacked the confidence to say anything. So he continued to get away with it.
[Years later, at age 17, Lockwood ended up alone in that uncle’s office while printing a document. He poured a drink and insisted she take it.]
My uncle then started asking me if I had any sexual fantasies. I didn’t think to call for my parents because I felt confused about the lines between right and wrong where he was concerned. I didn’t know how to stop him—my words certainly weren’t working.
It was textbook predatory behavior. He never touched me in a private place. But he stood behind me and said if I couldn’t think of a sexual fantasy, he would help me think of one. I remained still, scared out of my mind. He touched the back of my neck—and like everything else he had done, things started in a safe place and escalated. Then the printer stopped. I jumped up, grabbed the papers and ran.
For the first two weeks after it happened, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t focus on anything in school. I knew I had to tell my parents—but that didn’t make me feel better. Hearing my dad say, “I feel like I failed you as a father” made me wish I had never said anything to either of them.
[Years later, when Lockwood was 18, she attended a competition at which her mother was a coach. She was invited to attend a party in the hotel room of a family acquaintance. As a teenager she had avoided this person because he made her uncomfortable.]
I thought, “What can go wrong in a hotel room full of friends and other people I know?” So I went with my friend and we agreed we wouldn’t leave without each other. I wasn’t driving, so I couldn’t see the harm in having a drink. He [the acquaintance] handed me a glass. And that was the last I remember of the party. My friend got scared and left.
I don’t remember much, but I know he took me to his bed. I wanted to scream, but nothing would come out. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move. When I woke up in the morning and had control over my body, I ran out the door and found my friend in the hall. “I think he raped me.” I have no idea why I said think. I knew.
But nothing could have prepared me for her reaction. She said, “You can’t accuse someone of something like that. You could ruin his life.”
Instead, it ruined my life. At least for a while. I couldn’t sleep for weeks. And given what had happened with my uncle, I felt like I couldn’t tell my parents. Over time, the impact lessened, but the suppressed pain didn’t feel better until years later when I started to share my story with friends.
If you should ever find yourself being assaulted or abused by anyone, you can tell me. In fact, you can tell me if you merely feel uncomfortable around someone. I will believe you. And if something should happen, the only one responsible will be the one who committed the crime. It would never be your fault.
I wish that I had known the “rules” when I was your age and followed them. You’re never allowed to be in a room with an adult with the door closed. If you state the rules and someone doesn’t respect them, they are likely wanting to cause you harm. And never should you let someone make you a drink—I want you to be responsible for what you are putting in your body.
But I will gladly keep those experiences that made me wiser and experienced enough to be protective of you so you’ll never have to experience them yourself.
This letter was edited for length by the Front Porch. The full version can be read at erinlockwood.com. Lockwood has recently published her fourth novel.