I have a 3-year-old son, so naturally I’m prone to worry. I worry he only consumes protein when it’s shaped like a dinosaur. I worry he’s not getting enough sleep, or time with friends, or time with me. I worry for the future too: whether he’ll enjoy school, how we’ll pay for college, and whether the planet will be habitable by the time he has kids.
Way, way, way down on the list of things I worry about: that he’ll be falsely accused of sexual assault one day. Apparently, I’m an outlier.
In the wake of the sexual assault allegations raised by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, however, that’s become a significant fear for many moms, according to Fox News host Martha MacCallum.
“I keep hearing from moms of sons, who fear that due process is dead and that if [Kavanaugh] goes down, it will set an unfair precedent where evidence is unnecessary,” she tweeted Friday, after the hearing where both Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary committee. The tweet has been liked more than 50,000 times.
No matter how you feel about Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford, let’s get one thing straight: It is exceedingly rare for men to be falsely accused of sexual assault. So rare, in fact, it is more likely that a boy will be sexually assaulted himself than falsely accused of the crime.
Just check out the jaw-dropping graphic below from The Enliven Project. Though some news outlets have pointed out problems with the specific data the chart relies on, the broad narrative is depressingly correct: Far more rapes are never reported than men are falsely accused. If you have a daughter and a son, it is far more likely your daughter will be a victim of a sexual assault than your son will be a victim of false reporting. This is simply and sadly the world we live in.
Admittedly, keeping track of false allegations is notoriously difficult. Experts estimate that somewhere between 2 to 10 percent of all reports of rape are false. And it is highly unlikely a false charge will end in prison time, Quartz reports. Since 1989, there have only been 52 cases where men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated because it turned out they were falsely accused. By comparison, 790 people were exonerated for murder.
False accusations are so rare precisely because of what happens to women who make rape allegations, especially against high-profile men. The world is rife with victim blaming, and they immediately come under intense scrutiny. Was she drinking? Was she out late at night? What was she wearing? Does she sleep around? Did she make poor choices? Women have very, very little to gain from naming their rapists—a small shot at justice—and often a lot to lose. Their reputation. Their career. Their privacy. Just look at Dr. Ford, who received death threats and had to uproot her family and go into hiding.
That’s one big reason why so many rapes go unreported—two out of three, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). If I had a daughter, I’d be terribly worried. (And I am worried—and furious—on behalf of little girls everywhere.) One in six American women have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape, and justice is unlikely for them. For every 310 rapes reported to the police, only six rapists will be incarcerated. Six. Rape kits go untested for decades, all across the United States.
We have to do better for our girls—by doing better with our boys.
I know I’m biased, but that’s why being the mom of a boy is so special. We have the opportunity to give girls a better world than the one we grew up in, by raising our sons to see women as equals, and to practice consent.
Yesterday evening I watched my son playing in the sandbox with a little girl around his age. He clearly coveted her Peppa Pig toys and kept angling closer and closer to the too-tempting figurines. In one of those rare moments of parenting pride, I watched as he asked her, “Can I play with that?” She didn’t understand English, but her body language spoke volumes: Back off, buddy. My son sent me an imploring look. “I asked her,” he said plaintively. “Did she say yes?” I responded. My son grinned sheepishly and went back to tooling around with his own toys.
Sure, I might be reading a bit much into your standard sandbox negotiations, but play is practice for adulthood, after all. Teaching my son to seek affirmative consent—yes, even when he’s 3—is just as important as teaching him to share his toys and cover his mouth when he coughs. He knows he must ask other kids when he wants a hug or a kiss. “Do you want to kiss goodbye?” He once asked one of his classmates before sharing a liplock. “Yes,” she said. I shared a bemused glance with the girl’s father. It was a perfect moment: innocent affection, sought and returned.
There will come a day, of course, when I won’t be around to monitor my son’s every affectionate interlude, nor do I want to. (Pass the eyeball bleach, please.) I can only hope the habits he is developing now—bolstered by conversations about the importance of enthusiastic, ongoing, affirmative consent when he’s older—will be so deeply ingrained, he won’t think twice about asking for a “yes,” and leaving when he hears a “no.”
This is a conversation, sadly, only about half of parents are having with their sons. According to a recent survey of teens by PerryUndem, only 53 percent of boys ages 14 to 19 say their parents have talked to them about how to tell if your partner is uncomfortable in a sexual situation. We can't be surprised when they instead pick up dubious notions of consent from "pick-up artists," pornography and locker-room whisper networks.
As a result, we should be a lot more worried about what we’re NOT saying to our sons, rather than what a woman might falsely say about them.
This article originally appeared in Working Mother.