As you begin reading the words below, I’m going to ask you to join me in doing something very difficult: let’s leave our political baggage at the door. We all have our biases that are hard to shake off, but I’m hoping we can engage in this conversation not as members of political parties but as members of the human race. And, if you’re here as a Christian, as a member of the Kingdom of God.
There’s been a lot of talk about fear lately surrounding the #MeToo movement, and there seem to be two competing concerns:
- fear (particularly by women) of being sexually harassed or assaulted
- fear (particularly by men) of being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault
With a growing list of celebrities, politicians, and pastors (yes, #ChurchToo) being accused of sexual misconduct, some have suggested that this is actually a very scary time to be a man. In fact, recent polls have reflected this concern. One survey regarding the impact of the #MeToo movement indicated that 31% of Americans think “women falsely claiming sexual harassment/assault” is a major problem. Another poll showed that the majority (57%) of people are equally concerned about those who could be falsely accused as they are those who could be assaulted; 17% were more concerned for women, while 15% were more concerned for men.
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Is it indeed a scary time for men? Is it equally as likely that men be falsely accused as that women could be sexually assaulted? (Although not the focus of this article, men are also victims of sexual assault, and are more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape) What impact is the #MeToo movement having on our world and in our churches? As these questions intersect with our faith, how can we respond in a way that reflects our desire to embody Christ’s love?
Let’s look at the numbers. Many of you have probably seen this viral graphic:
I read about the numbers it represents and the critiques here and here, as well as researching other data and information. To the best of my ability, leaning towards the most optimistic assessment of all the numbers here is what I found:
- The percentage of unreported rapes is between 54-90%.
- Out of 100 reported rapes, on average:
- 30 face trial
- 15 are jailed
- 7 are false accusations
This means even if the #MeToo movement really does increase the chance of false accusations – even if it doubles – it would still be less than the number of reported cases where the rapist goes to jail. And that is still comparing mere accusations to actual jail time. In order for false accusations to turn into a comparable number of false imprisonments, there would have to be at least eight times as many false reports! This is deeply troubling to me.
Even more troubling is that in spite of these numbers, we’re still talking about being equally or more concerned that men will be falsely accused than that women will be raped. We’re wondering if the good we’re gaining for women from #MeToo might not be worth the bad potentially caused to men by it. As a result of this fear of a possible increase in false accusations, we (especially men) are trying to draw a limiting line rather than extend a compassionate hand.
As a whole, we are a society of men more willing to allow women to be raped and to suffer without justice than to run the fractionally small risk that we might possibly be falsely accused. If that is what it means to be a man, it truly is a scary time.
To be clear, there are a few things that I am definitely not saying. I’m not saying that false accusations aren’t moral and legal crimes. False accusations can and do destroy lives. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t follow due process or be thorough in investigations of these matters. On the contrary, we should be doing all we can to ensure justice is done.
However, we do not live in a culture of such justice. We have created a culture where most rapes are never reported, which shouldn’t be surprising, given that even when rape survivors do report, they’re often faced with sexist and abusive practices of the police, as well as victim-blaming tactics within the court system. As long as a rape survivor can be discredited because of her sexual history, or what she was wearing, or how much she had to drink, we are in essence saying there are situations where men are free from personal responsibility and women can deserve to be raped. This is sickeningly unacceptable.
There is much that needs to be done in the police and legal system to correct these wrongs. But before we can get there, we have to take a look at our own ways of thinking and ask how we might be fueling the horrific wrongs we see playing out on the streets and in the courtrooms. We have to create a culture in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and churches where women feel safe and trusted to speak out about being sexually harassed and assaulted without facing victim-blaming and perpetrator-excusing responses.
I want to specifically address men for a moment. It is easy for us to say (and even truly believe) that we are against rape, but too often our actions and our voices are used to create an environment where rape culture prevails. A prominent example of this is claiming the fear of increased false accusations as a result of the #MeToo movement. In doing so we, directly and indirectly, silence those survivors who could be reporting real rapists.
No one wants more false accusations. There is a possibility, however, that in encouraging a culture where more women are safe to report real cases, chances of false ones may also increase. As men, and especially as Christian men, I feel this is a chance we must be willing to take. The risk of increased false accusations is infinitesimally small compared to the potential protection and prevention we could provide to society. To shrink back for fear of possible harm to ourselves (whether personally or socially) and stand by while others suffer as a result is not something we can continue to do if we truly hope to embody the life of self-sacrificing love Jesus calls us to live.
I believe that you, just like me, want to live more like Jesus. When I ask myself what Jesus would do, I don’t have to look far before I find powerful statements from those who knew him best, like “Be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19) and a call to love “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus could have used his position to his own advantage, but instead, he used his privilege to uplift those who were abused in society, including empowering women in healthy, life-giving ways. Furthermore, he used his privilege to humbly take the role of a sacrificial servant, “becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
His death, interestingly, came as a result of false accusations. Instead of arguing about the unfairness of his situation, he gladly took those accusations (and more) upon himself for the greater good of those who suffer unjustly and (amazingly!) also for those who cause suffering.
I want to love like that. I want to be willing to lay down my life (or my perspectives or my reputation or my security) in order to love others better. I pray you will join me in continuing to learn and understand how we can better relate to those who see the world through a different lens, how we can love our enemies, and how we can uplift and empower the oppressed in our world with the love of Jesus.