I sunk into bed sick to my stomach. I wasn’t sure I would be able to sleep. I had listened disinterestedly to the Bill Cosby case. I had felt upset when I heard the Harvey Weinstein case. It was a case within the church we discussed in Sabbath School that inspired me to start jotting notes down to formulate an article. However, this was more than I bargained for.
Being a journalist, I reached out to friends who had firsthand experience with sexual violence. I started doing my research, and there was one friend, in particular, I reached out to. She is probably the strongest person I know – a modern day Job. She struggles with a rare genetic bone marrow disease and recently suffered a medical disaster that should have left her paralyzed and mute.
She is a single mom whose daughter is the result of an act of sexual violence. That was the story I expected to hear, a story that wasn’t so fresh a wound. What poured forth was a story more horrendous than I could conjure in my imagination. Not her story, but her daughter’s story. Images of this strong little girl flashed across through my mind. She was also a cancer survivor. She adored my brother and stuck to him whenever they came over to the small group at our home. Perhaps this is the reason my brother only wants one little girl if he is ever to be a parent.
It was this little girl, who held a spot in my heart, who had been a victim of sexual violence. Worst yet, the perpetrator claimed to be a Christian – a church elder, pathfinder leader, and philanthropist. He was a close family friend, a person I looked up to and even slightly trusted. My friend and I wept together as she poured the raw story out to me.
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
This issue is overwhelmingly rampant, even in the church. Likely, you know someone who has gone through this experience. Unfortunately, we even perpetuate this behavior. Here are seven the of many myths we believe that fuel the fire of sexual violence.
Myth #1: She asked for it
Often, the first thing we do is blame the victim. We ask questions like: Did she want it? What was she wearing? Why didn’t she say, “no”? While we certainly should teach our girls to wear clothes and exhibit behaviors that command respect, this not enough protect them. In the case of this little girl, it doesn’t matter if she asked for it or not. He should not have done it. Even Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife when she “asked for it.” There is no excuse.
Myth #2: She’s asking for attention
Sometimes we revert to disbelief. Perhaps the girl is making things up. When the Weinstein case broke on the news, my grandmother turned to me and said, “They [women] just want money. Who would willingly expose themselves like that?” Most victims come forward because they don’t want anyone else to live through the horrors they experienced. Maybe they even want the perpetrator to get the help he needs. Often, they appear strong on the outside, yet behind closed doors, the pain is a crushing burden. This is a problem 1 in 5 women deal with. It is unlikely she made it up. Don’t make it harder. Shut up and listen.
Myth #3: She should have reported sooner
We often question why the victim didn’t tell her story sooner. What she has gone through is extremely painful. Often, she will be met with disbelief and even ridicule. Who in their right mind would want to deal with the corrupt judicial system where the perpetrator will more than likely be let free. It’s okay if she chooses to fight that battle when she feels strong enough. Yes, you may have questions. That’s okay, but listen and support first.
Myth #4: We need to protect the perpetrator
Unfortunately, we are often more quick to protect the perpetrator. Perhaps this person is an otherwise exemplary individual. They could be a pastor, a head elder, a community philanthropist, or a close family member or friend. Yet, the Bible clearly tells us: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, NLT). We should not dare be an accomplice to such wickedness. We may very well be “protecting” perpetrators from their own salvation and preventing the good God could have done through them.
God sent a prophet to rebuke David when he took Bathsheba by force. Jesus gently called out Simon when he looked down on Mary after leading her into sin. In the same way, we must work with the sinner effectively in a way to bring about repentance, yet protect the victim and the innocent.
While it’s possible someone could be falsely accused, you should not be afraid to engage in protective measures for the victim and other potential victims. Likewise, an honest man or woman should not fear a thorough investigation. They should welcome it, knowing it will protect other vulnerable brothers and sisters in Christ.
Myth #5: We can remain silent
Perhaps we aren’t guilty of shaming or silencing victims and survivors. Instead, we foster a more passive approach to undermining them – unproductive silence. In his TED talk, Jackson Katz insists sexual violence is not just a women’s issue. He calls men to interrupt the perverted thought patterns of other men that lead them to act out in horrifying ways.
I put this into practice with a Bible student I mentor. We were talking about the Biblical view of homosexuality, and he pronounced, “only a woman is the true object for sex.” I took a deep breath and interrupted him. I pointed out that God doesn’t want us to see women as objects for sex. I explained that sex was intended to be an unselfish, beautiful act. I insisted women should be treated with purity and protection. His response surprised me. “What wonderful biblical values! ….My God, you are so sweet!”
It won’t always be that easy. I challenge you to refuse to laugh at those sexist jokes. We may be afraid of ridicule or rejection, but encourage yourself for the cause of Christ. Like Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NLT).
Myth #6: We don’t have to empower women
Along with Hepatitis B and polio vaccinations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended empowering women to leadership and equal pay as solutions to the ever-growing epidemic of sexual violence against women. We know these solutions don’t solve the problem of selfishness, which continues to inspire the sin-riddled heart to prey on anything weaker than it. But that shouldn’t stop us from leading the charge in empowering women. We should be the first to do right by them and offer equal pay. We should be the first to mentor them in leadership positions. We should be the first to recognize them when they are used by God.
Just like we did for the women’s temperance movement. Just like we do for Religious Liberty. Yes, this world is not our home. Yet at the very least, the church should be a sanctuary in this chaotic world.
Like the Psalmist says, “Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed” (Psalms 82:3, NHEB). That is true religion.
Myth #7: It doesn’t matter what we believe about God
Just like the unmerciful servant showed through his actions what he truly believed about his benevolent master, we often harbor erroneous beliefs about God. If we see God as a being that maintains His position by brute force, we will desire to climb to the top like the evil creature in Isaiah, wanting the very place of God. We will have no qualms about trampling those in our way. Instead, we should look at the picture of God Jesus gives us. A God intently involved in the happiness and well-being of His creatures. A God who cares for the birds and dresses the wildflowers. A God who got on his knees to wash the disciples’ feet. We won’t be so quick to carelessly trample on the weak or argue about who is the greatest among us and who deserves what position.
Justice has not yet been served in the case of my friend’s daughter. The perpetrator is free to continue hurting others. Yet my friend shared how she’s seen a clearer picture of God through this difficult situation. She was able understand God’s pain. God sent his Son to earth to save us, and look how we treated Him. But even in her understanding God’s pain, she’ll still have to wrestle with the God who was able to prevent this heinous abuse, but didn’t. Perhaps another clear picture of God emerges when we consider He could have put an end to Christ’s suffering, as well, but didn’t.
Ellen White likens Jesus’ abusers to “wild beasts” filled with “satanic fury” saying, “The most [depraved] men engaged in infamous abuse of the Savior.” Stripped of his clothes and beaten beyond recognition, we can only imagine what kind of horror and violation Jesus must have lived through. If you are a victim or survivor of sexual violence, know Jesus has walked through your experience, too. Know He is still a God of justice who doesn’t remain silent nor question the validity of your pain.