Women learn at an early age to live with fear of violence—at home, at school, in the workplace, on the street. This awareness is something we all share even though our ways of coping with it may differ.
I live in a parched place. In east Tennessee, it has only rained 3 times in the last 4 months. This relentless heat and drought are palpable every day. So also on this political landscape: the heat of hateful rhetoric and the drought of substantive discussion of the serious issues. Facing the weeks ahead, I turn to Jeremiah 17.
This is what Rape Culture looks like—Donald Trump’s “locker room” chat that was recorded and is now before us. I am not as offended by the lewdness of his comments as I am by his aggression and his assumption of entitlement to women...
I recently preached at my home church on the issue of justice for survivors of sexual or domestic violence. During my sermon, a member of the congregation got up and left. Obviously I didn’t know why. I called and emailed the next day just to check in. Her first response was that the sermon triggered some very old memories and she just needed to leave. But the next day, she emailed and said that really what happened was that “you are the first person I have ever heard exhibit understanding and compassion for people who have had these experiences.”
I’m probably not alone in feeling the need for some good news, so I'm happy to share this: In a welcome development, three groups of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis have issued a proclamation addressing child sexual abuse. Over 300 rabbis from the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University have signed the proclamation which outlines in detail their response to the suicides of members of the Orthodox community who were victims of child sexual abuse.
The Board and Staff of FaithTrust Institute want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the outstanding responses we’ve read to the rape case at Stanford over the last few days. The media attention has been extraordinary, as have the comments and reflection on social media. Perhaps it's because of the powerful statement read by the survivor in court, which she addressed directly to the perpetrator, Brock Turner. (Note: If you haven’t already read this, be mindful that it is painful, powerful, and graphic. It may be difficult to read.) Or perhaps it was because the perpetrator was a college athlete from a prestigious university. Or maybe it was the blind entitlement and callousness of the letter written by the perpetrator’s father, which stood in stark contrast to the heart-wrenching pain expressed in the letter that the victim of this crime read in court.
There has been a recent spate of attempts to reverse progressive laws protecting people of all genders from discrimination. These include the repeal of laws in North Carolina requiring restrooms to be accessible to transgender people, the so-called ‘Potty Law’ HB2. Some of the proponents of repealing these laws are faith communities believing the Bible only accounts for two genders, male and female. The Bible’s Five Books of Moses (Torah) passed down over the millennia speaks to our origins and how we define ourselves, even in modern times. The Chapter Gen. 24:14, 16, and 28, called ‘Life of Sarah’ is one of them.
Madi Barney, a student at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah, reported being raped off campus to the Provo, Utah, police. She did not report it to the university and did not want them to know. But a police officer shared the report with the university and they have gone after her for violating the “Honor Code” of the university. The Code prohibits students from inviting members of the opposite sex into their rooms, mandates chastity and modest dress and no drugs or alcohol. Barney has been told that she cannot register for future classes at the school.
This might sound like the start of a bad joke: What do a theologian (John Howard Yoder) and a comedian (Bill Cosby) have in common? More than you might imagine—and I’m not laughing. Both were major figures in their fields. Both were widely regarded and respected, even adored by many. Both were powerful men with a sense of entitlement. With impunity, both sexually abused scores of young women who trusted them for years. Both were shielded by their peers and colleagues from any meaningful accountability.
What is it that people don’t understand about consent in sexual relationships? Evidently a lot, given the staggering numbers of rapes in the military, on campuses, in marriages… and everywhere else. I remember a conversation I had with a young woman in a church youth group. She said that her boyfriend had asked her to have sex with him. She declined and didn’t give a reason. She just didn’t want to do that with him at that time. He didn’t force her to have sex; he ended the relationship. So even though he didn’t assault her, he punished her for saying “no, not now.” She didn’t want to end the relationship; she just didn’t want to have sex. It was a deal breaker for him.
A few years back there was a news article in California about the prosecution of a husband for marital rape of his wife. The wife had locked herself in the bedroom to protect herself from the abusive husband. He broke down the door and assaulted her. His defense at trial was that he was Roman Catholic and the church had taught him that once he married, he could have sex with his wife any time he chose; therefore his arrest for marital rape was a violation of his First Amendment right to exercise religion.
Last Friday marked the opening of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about rape on American college campuses, in which students share painful testimonies about sexual violation and frustrated hopes for justice. The film highlights the serious human toll resulting from the fact that roughly one in five women faces sexual assault during her college years... “The Hunting Ground” comes at an important moment in the public conversation about the epidemic of campus sexual assault in this country. While the movement to raise awareness about widespread sexual victimization of college women has continued to gain momentum, the countermovement that has emerged is fierce.
“As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults.” I will tell you exactly what will go wrong. Here’s how it will go. Undergrad Sally is given a handgun by her parents on her birthday. Sally attends an abbreviated gun safety class which includes target practice. Sally now carries her gun in her backpack on campus. She says she feels safer. Two possible scenarios:
“From Peaceful Homes to a Peaceful World” is the theme of 16 Days. Take a moment to reflect on where we would be if the vibrant, curious girls of the world had been able to develop and grow as God intended. Imagine the things they could have accomplished had they been spared their suffering. Celebrate the amazing things we have accomplished, despite it all.
Perhaps this is all we can do now. The story of the kidnapping of hundreds of Christian and Muslim school girls in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram has outraged the entire world. And the misuse of Islam by Boko Haram leaders to justify their actions, claiming they are being directed by Allah, only magnifies the outrage. Boko Haram using the name of Islam in this way is like the Ku Klux Klan or Fred Phelps using Christianity to propel their actions of hate and violence.
The invisible war of sexual assault of female and male military personnel by their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines continues even as the U.S. Senate holds hearings and presses for substantive changes in the way cases of sexual assault are handled. The Academy Award nominated documentary tells the story of survivors of rape and of an institution long on rhetoric and short on change.
The recent song, “Accidental Racist,” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J got me thinking about how one accidentally oppresses other people. As a white woman raised in the South, I’ve heard the angst expressed before. I just don’t buy it. Yet it inspired me to write another version.
As I have continued to ponder and worry about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case which I blogged about last week, I came across a two very interesting pieces. First is an open letter from Melissa Harris-Perry to the survivor of the Steubenville rape: “Dear Steubenville Survivor, I Believe You.” It is written from one survivor to another in appreciation for the courage of the young woman in coming forward in spite of knowing the response she would get. Please listen to it.
The fact that two teenage football players raped an intoxicated teenager is bad enough. They have now been convicted of their crimes. But the additional fact that other teens not only watched and did not intervene to help the victim but also took photos which they then broadcast with social media is even more disturbing.
The New York Times is right on this one. If politicians are serious about fixing the perception that they don’t understand or care about women, they would do well to move quickly to pass the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immediately.