Todd Akin's Teachable Moment

"What is rape, mom?" My 12 year-old daughter asked.
08/27/2012 11:14 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2012
FILE - This Aug. 28, 2001 file photos shows Congressman Todd Akin on a tour of the St. Charles area, meeting with some area l
FILE - This Aug. 28, 2001 file photos shows Congressman Todd Akin on a tour of the St. Charles area, meeting with some area leaders, left, Daniel V. Brungard, Board President and alderman, Ward 3, of the City of O'Fallon and Tom Dunne, right, CEO of Fred Weber, at the clubhouse at Winghaven in O'Fallon, Mo. Until this week, Rep. Todd Akin was virtually unknown beyond his district, associated more with his deep religious convictions than any legislative achievements. Long before his comments about women's bodies and "legitimate rape" made him a flashpoint in the fall campaign, this congressional backbencher was a favorite among home-schooling organizations and conservative church groups. (AP photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Larry Williams)

"What is rape, mom?" My 12 year-old daughter asked as I got back in the car following a very quick pet store pick-up.

"Where did you hear about rape?" I asked, trying to recover from the jolt and buy a little more time to formulate my answer.

"Oh, on the radio just now."

And so thanks to Mr. Akin and the subsequent media explosion, I had to accelerate my journey into the discussion of women's rights with my young daughter.

While I had anticipated this topic and we'd had our age-appropriate sexuality chats since she was 8, I was truly grateful for the sage words of parenting expert Betsy Brown Braun who advised me years earlier: "Answer your kids' questions when they ask, honestly and in words they can understand".

So I went to work! Specifically our discussion focused on:

  1. Understanding the debate in the context of our political system -- letting her weigh-in and presenting both sides' arguments respectfully.
  2. Separating the issue of whether it is right or wrong to terminate a pregnancy, and think about who should have the right to make that decision?
  3. That rape is the worst form of violence -- it's a forced and traumatic sexual act.
  4. That unlike what Mr. Akin expressed -- rape is black and white -- there are no shades of gray here. The terms "forcible rape" or "legitimate rape" have entered the national conversation in the context of politics, not facts.
  5. Yes, you can get pregnant when raped.
  6. That sadly, it can be perpetrated by someone you know and trust.
  7. To always remember that "no" means "no" -- period.

She listened and asked a few more questions, still processing it all in her brain. And while she was doing this, I was moved by her proud acceptance that the world can be a cruel place. Her fairy tale childhood was somehow over.

After all, she will be a teen this year -- a fact that fills me with both fear and excitement.

What will she do with her knowledge? I don't know.

What exactly does she believe is right or wrong? I am not really sure.

But I do know that she's more empowered to make decisions about her own life and fight for what she believes is right.

Still I wonder... How would you approach the question? Share your thoughts here with us.