By Lisa Barr
As an author/journalist/blogger, I have had the great honor of meeting incredible women writers along my journey who inspire me, mentor me, push me to do better. USA TODAY bestselling author Rochelle B. Weinstein is one of those women. A Mom/Writer/Activist, she’s my kinda girl. Her books are realistic fiction but ALWAYS include an important takeaway. Her latest novel, Somebody’s Daughter, a provocative tale of a close-knit family torn apart by Sexual Cyber Assault, launches today.
Rochelle joins us at GIRLilla Warfare to discuss her novel, parenting, and how to handle Sexual Cyber Harassment if it should happen to your teenager:
GW: Rochelle, you are a mom of twin high school boys and interestingly, you flip-flopped and wrote this tale about twin high school GIRLS — why? As a Mom of three daughters, I have to say, you truly captured ‘Girl Drama’ and were on point relating to mother-daughter bonding issues. Discuss why you decided to go this route, and what you learned through your personal research.
The old switcheroo! Thank you, Lisa, and the inspirational women at GIRLilla Warfare for having me here. What a great question. For starters, I wrote from the mother/daughter perspective because these relationships are bursting with feelings and deep-seated emotions (and my sons would have disowned me had I written the story any other way). As moms, our reactions to our children’s behavior are often deeply rooted in history. We tend to mine our own experiences, shaped by how we grew up, our parents’ perceptions/reactions to us, and the ‘voices’ in our heads that followed us through childhood. The mother/daughter relationship can be both tenuous and magical, and sometimes, we stand to learn a lot if we listen to our children and not our own inner critics.
As a writer, I try to challenge myself creatively. Writers write what they know, but they also write what they wish for themselves in the world. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an analyzer of human behavior. I was the mom on class trips observing the interactions, the Girl Drama, offering advice, and providing a sounding board. My closest girlfriends with daughters have shared their worst fears and greatest triumphs in raising their daughters. I wanted to portray a mother-daughter relationship that many of us want and don’t have.
GW: This story is my nightmare … my daughters being exposed on social networking with NO TAKE-BACKS. Why is this topic so relevant?
Digital technology is at its peak right now. For this generation, life sans cell phones, computers, and social media does not exist. And since the laws haven’t caught up to the technology, there aren’t always way to keep our children/teens safe. A few years ago, my state, Florida, enacted a law specifically combatting online sexual harassment, but it didn’t include images shared via texting (sexting). Sexting is a big one. Other laws can be used, like harassment laws—or if the victim is a minor, child porn laws, but without specific laws, this generation is at risk. Interestingly, your state, Illinois, has stronger laws making this a felony, and ultimately, these laws protect victimized individuals and initiate a deterrent effect. Conversely, if your child is the perpetrator, there’s no ‘take back’ either, and being a minor won’t protect them from criminal proceedings.
In short, without regulation or full consequences, the online sharing can be dangerous and long-lasting.
GW: And if a naked image or video of your son or daughter DOES get Out There, what recourse do we have as parents?
This area of the law is still so new and there are multiple factors involved when pressing charges or having material taken offline. In researching Somebody’s Daughter, I worked closely with Elisa D’Amico, co-founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project along with her contacts over at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. These organizations were created to advocate for victims of revenge porn and sexual cyber-harassment. As parents, there are steps to take to combat the reach and the person(s) who filmed or posted the images. Questions to ask include: Did you agree to the image? Was it taken surreptitiously? Who was the photographer/videographer? Do you know who uploaded? (Often, they can be separate individuals.) What platform or website was the material posted to? Was it a text or a website? Many if not most have processes to seek removal, quickly and fairly simply.
Parents/victims must decide how far they’re willing to go. I’ve seen cases where families try to settle the issue independent of law enforcement, while others demand criminal punishment. Law enforcement works closely with online sites and can get images/videos of minors taken down, but once they hit the Dark Web (the underground) it can be almost impossible to delete. And when I say how far do you want this to go, there are teenagers who have had to register as sex offenders for life for these crimes; they are serving jail time. It’s a tough call to make because teenagers are notorious for making mistakes at a time in their lives when they should be afforded a do-over. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the crime and the long-term effects make that prohibitive.
GW: Have you seen first hand or through friends, how a photo/video can break up/challenge a family, divide friendships, as it had in Somebody’s Daughter?
Unfortunately, variations of this nightmare have cropped up all around me. And because of that, I have been guilty of judging both the parents and the kids. I’ve seen friendships and families torn apart with blame and anger, and it’s heartbreaking.
As I delved deeper inside the topic, there was a nagging thought that kept playing over and over again: This can happen to me … this can happen to any of us.
And it does. It may not be a sexting scandal, it can be your child at the center of any town scandal/gossip, you know, the waves that break through our communities and suddenly we’re all experts and quietly judging. While online sharing is potentially damaging and dangerous and a hot topic for today’s teens and parents, I really wanted to focus less on the spectacle and more on another relevant theme: Parents, we’re all in this together. We’re all doing our best. How would we want the neighbors to react to our teenager’s screw-up? That’s how we need to behave. Choosing sides and turning our backs hurts. The next time it might be your kid, and I can assure you, you’d want the world to be a lot kinder.
GW: Let’s talk Sexual Cyber Harassment. What can parents do to educate our kids? Having sons, but researching the “girl” end of it … what advice would you give for both?
There are ways to protect yourself on the Internet. For children and adults, be keenly aware of your surroundings. Don’t share passwords and keep your devices locked. A simple answer would be: If you don’t want something going viral on the internet to a place you may have zero control over, don’t do it and especially don’t do it with someone you don’t know or trust. Drinking has a way of lowering our inhibitions, therefore I’d advise every mother of a son to have the conversation about consent and respect. Moreover, our sons should know when a girl needs help and when she is unable to make rational decisions. For moms of both sexes, I recommend an open conversation about the dangers and miscues associated with drinking/drugs which lead to risky behavior. Further, if you’re in a monogamous relationship and feel compelled to share nude photos with your partner, cover up distinguishing features—faces, birthmarks or tattoos. I’m not condoning these behaviors, merely providing ways to protect yourself. Like anything else—most people (especially teens) are going to do what they want, but there are ways to be safe. Imagine breaking up with someone you loved and trusted and becoming the victim of revenge porn. Be smart.
GW: You have tackled so many subjects in your books that deal with family, dysfunction, rising up from a fall … does this hit close to home for you? Are you writing from personal experience?
The sexual cyber harassment piece resonates with me, but it’s the judging and aftermath that really hits home. I have teenaged sons, and I’m sure I’ve been judged and ridiculed for their actions or mis-actions. My books lean toward realistic fiction with a relevant take away. For this novel, acceptance is key, and it threads its way through my life, not just my books.
GW: As a Mom raising sons who are about to start college … what do you tell your boys relating to consent etc? And what do they really ‘hear’ from you?
I’ve concluded that even ‘deaf ears’ can listen. Oftentimes, parents give up on the important conversations because they’re frustrated that their teens aren’t listening. Don’t fall into that trap. Your words matter and eventually stick. They hear you; they just might not acknowledge you. It is our hope that we’ve raised respectful young men who will take even a shred of what we’re saying with them. No means NO. Not maybe, not yes. And if she’s drunk, get her help—preferably a trusted friend. It’s a slippery slope today. I’m all for consent bracelets, apps, etc.
GW: In a world of Instant Gratification, Selfies, and ‘Romance is Dead’ — how do you see our kids coping intimately, privately, in a world where every moment is exploited? What can parents do to guide them?
This piece kills me. No surprise, I was a hopeless romantic in my younger years. The joy of getting a love note, that first kiss. This generation may never understand the thrill of a first date or the expectation and excitement of “getting to know you.” Digital communication lacks empathy and emotion, a literal screen inhibiting connection, and hiding behind screens and selfies is a concern. As parents, we need to be models for our kids. Recently, author Jane Green wrote an article about dining out and how nearby tables were packed with parents and kids all on their phones. It’s not okay. Dinner table conversations are some of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with your family. Talk to your kids; teach them to make eye contact and converse—deeply, openly. If they can’t do it with their first family, they’ll never be able to take it to their next relationship. Maybe it’s magical thinking, but I believe there is a way to incorporate technology into a healthy, loving relationship once emotional needs are met.
GW: One subject that you explored in the book is the dangers of a marriage NOT remaining a united front after their child’s cyber-sexual trauma — how dangerous is this to a relationship?
It’s very natural for mothers and fathers to disagree on this topic. Daughters are “Daddy’s little girls” and the stain of a cyber-sexual trauma hits a man where it hurts the most. The question lies in whether this is a fundamental difference that has the power to divide the marriage. I think it’s okay for there to be varying opinions, but without compromise or willingness to understand one another, differences can be dangerous.
GW: GIRLilla Warfare is all about empowerment and kindness, your book hits us exactly where we hurt … how can we change things, and what is the ONE key element, you want parents—particularly Moms—to come away with from Somebody’s Daughter.
Choose kindness. This parenting thing is hard. We’re all trying to figure it out as we go along. And finally, TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the dangers of social media. It’s here to stay so make it a safe, meaningful experience that THEY have control over.
GW: Okay, gotta ask, what’s next …
I’m so excited about my fifth novel, a love story set in the Florida Keys. Philip, Ben, and Charlotte take us on an emotional journey of friendship and betrayal—getting lost and finding themselves again—which is why the working title is This Is Not How It Ends. Get ready to UGLY CRY!
Thanks again, Lisa and the GIRLilla Girls! I loved being here.
Editor’s Note: Rochelle B. Weinstein is the USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction titles What We Leave Behind, The Mourning After, and Where We Fall. Before becoming a full-time writer, Rochelle worked in the music business, which, according to her sons, made her a lot cooler. She lives in Miami, Florida and is currently editing her fifth novel, This Is Not How It Ends, while writing her sixth. You can connect with Rochelle on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or on her website www.rochelleweinstein.com. Somebody’s Daughter is available here.