Every 107 seconds, another American becomes a victim of sexual assault, with an average of 293,066 victims of rape and assault every year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. 1 out of every 6 American women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. However daunting, these statistics are not inclusive for they do not take into account the cases that are not reported to the police, either out of shame or compulsive fear, for 32 out of 100 go unaccounted.
This is all part of what many have deemed “rape culture” to describe the social degradation of sexual ethics in America. A rape culture doesn’t mean that there are groups of people who actively promote sexual abuse — although that could be true. The term is more fundamental.
It’s about cultural values and norms that have become accepted in a way that justifies violence and blames the victim. We begin to think that rape is inevitable. Men will be men. Women will be victims. This is far more common than you might presume, both in secular and, unfortunately, in Christian communities.
So where is this rape culture?
It is in a Yale University fraternity promoting a slogan saying “No means yes! And yes means anal!”
It is in song lyrics like “Says she won’t but I bet she will.”
It is in the politicians who state that rape is “something that God intended to happen.”
It is in students at the Christian college Bob Jones who acknowledged cases of rape and were told to repent of the sin that caused the attack.
It is in a public health survey with the U.S. National Library of Medicine which found that “…exposure to sexually violent material correlated significantly with the belief that ‘rapists are normal’…and a consensus of ‘everybody does it’ and ‘this is the way that men act’…”
It is in rape jokes.
It is in a University of Florida school administrator’s interview response regarding the high numbers of gang rape occurring at colleges: “The men almost cannot say no, because if they do their masculinity will be in question.”
It is in the Esquire magazine editor’s comment that they use pictures of women as “ornamental” and “in the same way we provide pictures of cool cars.”
It is in letting athletes charged with rape off the hook for fear pressing charges would damage a sports career.
It is in the very existence of “Keep Calm and Rape A Lot” shirts.
It is in the fact that we live in a society saying don’t get raped instead of don’t rape.
The list could continue on and on.
We turn a deaf ear to the cry of our sister Tamar when we let instances of shaming and normalized assault go unaccounted for.
Sexual oppression still exists — and arguably the sadder truth is that such things are also existent in evangelical contexts, such as the example from Bob Jones. Christians are not immune to the strongholds of sexual exploitation and we would be foolish to assume that pornography, molestation, harassment and rape do not exist in our church congregations. All we have to do is look at examples like the Ashley Madison scandal to see Christians — even famous ones with reality TV shows — succumbing to the temptations of a fallen world.
Pastor and victim counselor Karen McClintock writes in Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations, “Individuals living with the pain of abuse are sitting among us in worship, at Bible studies, and in other activities. The ‘shhhh’ method has kept these victims and witnesses of their abuse silent…Those who are wounded by abuse are doubly wounded by silence.”
We are too quiet on the topic of abuse from the pulpit, living with disillusionment and disbelief that aggression could ever exist in our evangelical communities.
Individuals who have suffered abuse sit around us in small groups or choir pews. Maybe you or someone you know have been affected. When we claim these things don’t exist, we silence the victims and we live in denial. What often happens is that the response of outside parties is focused on what the vicim did wrong, insinuating that they are in some way responsible. One researcher found that people who “do not identify with the victim may receive a sense of security by distancing themselves from victims with their belief that the victim deserved it.”
But if we begin by recognizing the gravity of this issue and make steps to avoid the Blame and Shame approach to victim ministry, we can make great strides in the pursuit of social justice. If we first acknowledge the problem of a rape culture, we can make steps for change. May we speak out against injustice and continue to say no to “no means yes.”