Friday, September 21, 2018

Rape Culture

The accusations and hearing surrounding Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasely Ford are bringing up discussions of "rape culture," particularly with the potential for an ugly committee hearing on the accusations and the new deadline requirement for Ford send a copy of her prepared testimony and biography to the committee today for her to be able to testify at all.

"Rape culture" is a term coined in the 1970s to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.  It has been defined as a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women.  Under rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life and inevitable.  Rape culture includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, legal jargon, laws, words, and imagery, that make violence against women and sexual coercion seem so normal that people believe that rape is an inevitable outcome.  It's "just the way things are."  It's compounded by statements that "boys are only after one thing," "she was asking for it (by the way she dressed, looked, where she was, etc.)," that "she should never have been alone with a boy," or that if a guy tries hard enough, he can change a "No" to a "Yes."*

It's even worse when such statements are made by those that have the power to affect change.  The following infographic, compiled by the Women's March in Minnesota, reveals the insidiousness of the language used by our elected officials surrounding rape.

The comments are appalling for several reasons.  First, many of them reveal the reason we need better sex education in our schools, as they reveal a shocking lack of understanding of basic human biology.  Second, the idea that victims should "make the most" of this kind of violation is down-right despicable.  At least Texas had the sense to vote for Ann Richards over Clayton Williams after his comment/"joke". Finally, any assertion that it should be expected in any situation devalues both the men and women involved.  Especially for the assertion to be that women should have expected it when they served in the military.  It devalues the victims and it devalues all service men and women to say that they lack such basic control over themselves that rape is a natural outcome.

The biggest problem with such statements is what it does to those hearing them, particularly those who grow up hearing such statements on repeat.  The onus it puts on young women to make sure they are doing nothing to "entice" someone to rape them.  To make sure they don't dress a certain way, they aren't in certain locations, to never put their drink down, and on and on and on.  And the lowered expectations it places on young men that they will not be able to control their urges, but instead will be ruled by them.

We have to expect better of ourselves and we have to speak better of those elected on our behalf.  I pray that should this hearing go forward, it will not be a repeat of the Anita Hill testimony in the Clarence Thomas nomination process.

We have to change the way that we discuss sexual assault to remove any shifting of blame to the victim.  No more "what was she wearing," no more "should she have been there," no more "did she fight enough," no more language that insinuates the victim did any enticing or that the perpetrator is not solely responsible for their actions.  The only expectation that we should be having around rape is that no one should have sex without consent from the other party.  Period.

Please note, we can still have a vigorous prosecution and defense in rape cases to confirm accusations.  But it changes the line of questioning from a sort that downplays the accusations and nearly assumes the victim's partial responsibility for the assault to one that treats the accusations with the severity they deserve, confirm their validity, and assigns the blame squarely on the perpetrator.

And beyond changing the way we discuss sex and rape in society, this should also impact the way we discuss sex within the church.  Currently, there is a disconnect between the way the church discusses appropriate sex and the way the world discusses appropriate sex.

This is to be expected to a certain degree.  One would expect the church's view to be narrower than the world's at large.  However, what is actually occurring seems to be the two groups talking completely different languages, leading to an apples to  skateboards comparison.

To illustrate, society's view is to break sexual encounters down into consensual and non-consensual.  Under that general breakdown, consensual sex is generally always good and acceptable, non-consensual sex is always bad. That really becomes the primary consideration.  The configuration of the parties does not matter as much as consent.

The church's view eschews consent for appropriate and sinful.  Through the general (conservative) view of the church, the only appropriate sexual relation is between a married husband (male) and wife (female) specifically.  Anything else is sinful.

The disconnect in an image
The problem is that under the church's rubric, consent is not really a consideration and it can seem to place all manner of sexual issues on the same level.  Consent is somewhat assumed in the relation between a husband and a wife, but it is not specifically accounted for.  And that is where things get problematic.  The Bible does not speak specifically to the requirement of consent in the marriage relationship, but does speak to a denial of "martial duty"/sexual relations only by mutual consent (1 Corinthians 7:5).  Some have interpreted this passage to mean that marital rape cannot exist, and this has had an affect on the laws in our country.  Up to 1993, only seventeen states had laws on marital rape.  And while all states now have laws which account for and make marital rape illegal, eleven states treat marital rape differently from other sexual assault, some requiring higher standards of proof, threats of force, or carrying lesser penalties.

Regarding the variety of sexual sins being put on the same level, it can lead to such disparate treatment as we saw between the way many in the church and on the right responded to the Lena Dunham and Josh Duggar instances.  Lena Dunham was vilified for her discussion of her curiosity regarding her sisters body parts, while many stood behind Josh Duggar after his molestation accusations came forward because he was "forgiven."  The two issues were not of the same level, and deserved very different responses than they received. (Please note, I don't agree with the title of the link and think it goes too far not understanding godliness, and though a farther left leaning article, it brings up very good discussion on the disconnect above).

We need to change the churches categories.  To build off the charts above, I would propose at a bare minimum a version like the following which should be acceptable to even the most conservative of believers:

Scholars can and have quibbled over the line between Sinful Legal and Permissible, as there is much discussion about where that line goes.  That's an entirely separate discussion.

But we have to recognize the importance of consent and its role in all sexual relationships.  For the life of me, I will never understand the conservative opposition to this notion.  And yet, when ideas to combat rape culture like "Yes Means Yes" or affirmative consent are raised, they are met often with Conservative opposition.  It should be very easy for all to say that they are behind appropriate consensual sex.  Even for the church to affirm that the kind of sexual relations that are affirmed in scripture between husband and wife should be consensual.  To view the passage in 1 Corinthians (combined with many other passages) as requiring appropriate, loving, thoughtful care for each other and not allowing for one-sided demands of each other's bodies.

This really should be an easy topic for all parties to get behind.   And "rape culture" should be something that is in our power to change.

But we've got to start with how we discuss the issue ourselves.  For each of us to rid those thoughts of "what was she wearing" or "how was she provoking it."

So let's not make it another division.


* - An important note.  For the purposes of this rant, I've continually worked under the framework of a female victim of sexual assault and a male perpetrator.  I've done so partly because of the framework of the infographic and partly as the term "rape culture" came out of feminism and as a result of the particular culture we have the plays to these stereotypes.  Even in our most recognizable literature like To Kill A Mockingbird  or films like Anatomy of a Murder.  However, it is worth noting that beliefs and statements like "a woman cannot rape a man," "a man is always willing," or that when certain biological functions work that indicates willingness regardless what a man may say are likewise damaging to our society and further indicate a downplaying of sexual assault in our society.  These kinds of attitudes are why among female victims only 36% of rapes, 34% of attempted rapes, and 26% of sexual assaults are reported.  The percentages are lower among male victims.  We have to change for their sake.

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