Part eighteen of a series by Joy Pedrow Skarka
Rape culture is so pervasive it can feel unconquerable. Most women have a story in which she or a friend have experienced some form of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment. There are, however, lots of steps we can take to create a more just world.
What can we do?
Educate yourself and others. As part of “doing justice” (Micah 6:8), we must seek to advocate for victims. Our world will continue to perpetuate rape culture unless we challenge its precepts and help people understand what causes it and how to prevent it. Rape culture needs to be confronted at the dinner table, from the pulpit, in youth group curricula, in school curricula, as part of police training programs, in public awareness literature, in legislation, in art, in counseling, during sentencing…. Elaine Skorkey in Scars across Humanity asserts that all of these can contribute to changing rape culture.
Speak up. Address sexual violence. If you see rape culture in action, speak out against it. Talk about race, privilege, and power in your social interactions and from the pulpit. God calls us to defend, protect and rescue the weak and powerless. If you see someone being harassed or attacked, step in and ask how you can help without putting your safety in jeopardy. If you need to intervene but cannot safely do so, call the police.
Assume a posture of believing the victim. Research consistently shows that 92–98 percent of sexual assault accusers tell the truth, yet we fail to believe victims because we have a misplaced trust in powerful men and institutions. Statistics tell us that we worry more about someone enduring false accusations than we do about victims being disbelieved, despite the evidence. We more often believe the high-profile person over the less powerful person. Women fear coming forward because, historically, their stories have been discounted. If they finally do come forward, they are not believed. And such a reaction causes other victims to stay quiet; thus, the cycle continues, silencing women. Research has shown that one of the greatest ways to help a victim recover from rape is to have the pain and experience validated. Have a posture of believing the victim, affirming that the experience was a crime, and that coming forward and sharing their story matters.
Don’t victim-blame. When a victim tells of abuse or assault, don’t ask questions such as “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you lead him on?” If you must ask anything, ask, “Are you okay?” “How can I serve you?”
Report it. In certain situations, such as in a context of foster parenting or if a minor is involved, if someone does something illegal (e.g., rape, child porn), you have an obligation to report it to the police. To report it, we must understand what constitutes abuse and harassment.
Learn the laws and know when you are required to report. Reporting abuse will not harm the name of Jesus nor the gospel more than covering up will. In reality, excusing rapists and silencing victims actually shame the gospel. Jesus never would have silenced or shamed anyone, especially when he often called out the religious Pharisees and lifted up the marginalized, abused, and hurting. The apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians to do the opposite of covering sin: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
Churches should be safe environments where men and women can come for hope, help, and healing. The body of Christ should be where healthy brother/sister relationships are modeled. Creating safety and opportunity for victims is an integral part of ministry, a form of standing with the powerless. Yet for many the church does not feel like a safe place. So believers must affirm models of men and women in friendship, community, and collaboration. Leaders need to look for ways to create opportunities for women to have a voice. Men in power need to ask: Where in the church are women’s voices lacking? Where can men better partner with women? Where can we better model mutual respect rather than unnecessary segregation and fear? And how can we create systems of accountability where the powerful cannot prey on those with less power?
Christian brothers, step up.Rape culture is not a woman problem. It’s a human problem. It’s a justice issue. Refuse to retreat behind the #BillyGraham rule for “safety.” Instead, learn how to have healthy friendships with women and take responsibility.
Educate young people. Rather than promoting a “boys will be boys” mentality, train young men to respect women. Show neighborhood guys, youth group guys, and your own sons, nephews and godsons how to respect women and girls and teach them about healthy boundaries. Explain to your daughters that everyone should respect their bodies. When they go to school, educate them about rape. If you are a husband, love your wife sacrificially (see Eph. 5:25) and grant her honor (1 Pet. 3:7) as an example to your children of how to treat another or be treated.
Delay giving children cell phones, and encourage others to do the same. Once a child has a phone, he or she has immediate access to pornography, which can lead to trauma, addiction, and perpetuating rape culture. A child who has been watching porn since he or she was four years old has been training the brain and body for sexual perversion and learning to take pleasure in it. Once kids have phones, keep up to date on all the options for controlling use, including internet filters and blockers.
Develop and teach a theology of women. What messages do we preach on women in the Bible? Does our theology and teaching victim-blame and wrongly sexualize women? While many women in the Bible have historically been treated as vixens (e.g., Bathsheba, Tamar, the woman of Samaria), Jesus elevated and dignified women. We must look to Jesus as our example of how to treat women. Paul, also, praised women as ministry partners (see Rom. 16). Like him, we must model healthy male/female relationships, changing the way society—including the church—views gender and sexuality. We must teach a biblical view of sexuality for single and married people. Jesus refused to treat women as inferior to men or objectify them. His followers must do likewise.
Raise up women leaders. According to Robert Saucy and Judith TenElshof, authors of Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective, women were historically involved in early-church leadership. Yet, especially since the third century, females have often been left out of spaces where they are needed. In many churches, women lack opportunities to use their voices. Yet God designed male and female for partnership (Gen. 1:29). So, a healthy church will invite women into the upper levels of leadership. Encourage women to sit in on meetings and to share opinions and insights. Challenge women to serve on committees and teams. Incorporate them into counseling teams. Invest in and train up young women with leadership potential. Model how men, instead of avoiding women, can act like the brothers and sisters they are.
Create a game plan and tell the church. Every church needs a plan for when a victim comes forward and shares an abuse story. What are the first steps to help the victim? With whom will the victim share his or her story? When do you involve authorities, investigations, and elders? If the victim is a woman, should she have to face an all-male elder board? And if so, who will advocate for her? To whom will you report the crime? Share your arrangements publicly with the church leadership and members.
Respond to victims in love. When someone shares an abuse story with you, respond with love, empathy, and concern. As mentioned, assume a posture of belief. Empathize with the victims and say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. How are you feeling? What can I do to help you begin healing?” Know of the best resources in your area to help victims find healing. For example, have a list of recommended counselors, support groups, and doctors available.
Seek justice. In many sexual assault situations, we tend to emphasize forgiving the perpetrator over seeking help for the victim; churches tend to protect priests and pastors instead of advocate for victims. Often justice is completely missing from the equation. As mentioned, both forgiveness and justice are biblical concepts that need addressing in abusive situations. Jacob and Rachael Denhollander, wrote, “When forgiveness is seen as the opposite of justice, despair ensues. In this way, forgiveness becomes another means of abuse—shutting the victim out, denying the rightness of their cry for justice, and heaping further shame.”We cannot simply focus on forgiveness. God is both a forgiving God and a just God. When survivors of abuse doubt whether God cares about the evil that was done to them, the Denhollanders say to point to the Cross. Encourage victims to see where God incarnate suffered, and say, “This is how much it matters.” Help victims look to the cross to see how much God cares about seeking justice.
If you have read this series because you’ve experienced rape, my heart breaks for our shared experience. I would love to pray with you or offer support in any way that I can. Please send me an e-mail at info at joypedrow.com. Also, please check out the final post in this series. Part 20 is a list of compiled resources. If you read this series to learn about rape culture, may God use you to help end such violence and free women from shame. I also encourage you to check out the final post and browse the resources listed. Join me in putting an end to rape culture.
Denhollander, “Justice: The Foundation of a Christian Approach to Abuse,” presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 13, 2018, Denver, Colorado.