How the #MeToo movement is changing the way mothers and daughters talk about sexual assault

We sat down with mothers and daughters and asked them to have a candid conversation about sexual harassment. 

Over the past year, a growing conversation about sexual harassment has erupted.

To explore how this conversation has changed, generation to generation, we asked mothers and daughters about how they were raised to talk, react and take action when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.

Liz and Terrie

Liz Cotone’s daughter is only 6, but she is already learning about consent. Liz, 42, and her mother, Terrie Rosengren, 70, talk about how to teach children to ask permission, laying the groundwork for understanding autonomy over one’s body.

Liz Cotone, 42, is a screenwriter who lives with her husband and 6-year-old daughter in Canyon Country, Calif. Terrie Rosengren, 70, is a retired high school math teacher from Rye, N.Y.

It’s not about sex. It’s using the differences in our gender for power.”


Ahleea and Denise

Denise Zama, 57, was sexually harassed at a very young age, and she never told her parents what happened to her. But when her daughter, Ahleea Zama, 31, was sexually assaulted in high school, the two processed their experiences together.

Ahleea Zama, 31, recently graduated from Loyola Marymount University with an MFA in screenwriting and producing. Denise Zama, 57, is a business owner with a background in early childhood education.

You want to know what could you have done differently.... You try to protect your children the best you can. But at the same time you have to be free to grow.”


Samantha and Ellen

When Samantha Gordon, 21, first talked to her mother about being sexually assaulted, Ellen Gordon, 53, asked her if she had been drinking. Years later, they discuss that conversation, and Ellen explains how she adjusts her behavior to appear less “bossy” as a woman in a professional setting.

Samantha Gordon, 21, is a junior at Hamilton College studying government. Ellen Gordon, 53, works at an investment management company, where she is responsible for recommending investments within healthcare and utilities industries for mutual fund strategies.

I think we grew up with very different understandings and expectations of assaults.”


Tessa and Jayne

Since someone slipped a roofie in her drink, Tessa Petrich, 32, has become more aware of the common threats she must face as a woman, including walking down dark hallways and putting down her drink at parties. She and her mother, Jayne Petrich, 59, discuss the role women play in keeping themselves safe.

Tessa Petrich, 32, is a coach and organizer who works with primarily female entrepreneurs. Jayne Petrich, 59, is a school nurse in Long Beach. She raised Tessa as a single mother.

I think it’s like well and good to spend a lot of time thinking about how I can protect myself. But that feels like such a freaking waste of my time.”


Ariana and Maggie

Growing up, it was customary for Ariana “Diosa” Zertuche, 24, to kiss and hug family members, but she had never discussed the idea of consent. She and her mother, Maggie Zertuche, 62, explore how complex relationships and the taboos of discussing sex make it difficult for women in their family to come forward.

Ariana “Diosa” Zertuche, 24, is an executive administrative assistant at Mercedes Diaz Homes in Whittier. She also co-hosts a podcast, Locatora Radio, which explores issues related to gender, race, and sexuality. Her mother, Maggie Zertuche, 62, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and moved to the United States when she was 5 years old. She now works as a Spanish interpreter.

We shouldn’t only be talking about sex when it’s sexual violence. We have to talk about sex when it’s positive.”