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Friday 18 August 2017

How Not to Respond to a Rape Victim

Imagine you are a sixteen year old girl, you’re a bit wild and don’t mind taking risks because you like to have fun. Which means you are a pretty normal teenager. You’re interested in boys and the kind of boys you probably should date, you know the nice guys, the kind that can be dropped a million hints and still won’t ask you out, aren’t really approaching you. So, when an older guy you do find attractive approaches you, well you respond. Only it turns out he is a scumbag. After dating him for a while he decides that you are going to have sex with him and when you say no, because you are a Christian girl and you want to wait till marriage, he forces you into his bedroom violently, then forces you on his bed and rapes you. Now this is a true story a young woman shared with me recently. So what happened from here?

What you would hope had happened is that this young girl was able to go to her parents or her church, share what happened, and get the right kind of advice and help. Which would be along these lines: let’s collect every bit of evidence we have, call the police on the way to the hospital and do everything we can to protect you, and bring the violent mongrel to justice so that we can stop him from doing this again. This is what should have happened, or at least something like this.

Instead this young woman kept it all to herself for a number of days, even though she had a bruised face, because she was more afraid of how her family and her church would respond that she was of bearing this tragic burden herself. My brothers and sisters in the church, this should not be.

After a few days she finally shared with one family member what had happened? The response: ‘What were you wearing?’ This is the response, this! I was shocked when I heard that someone would actually say this. How could someone ever say this to someone they care about who has just been raped?

The advice she did get was to go speak to someone at her church? So how did that go? The response there was even less helpful. She was told those oh so wonderful words too many Christians have been told by another Christian who hasn’t got a clue: “Just pray about it.” She told this person, who was a significant female leader in the church, that she was forced into having sex. Instead of recognizing that here was a young girl who had been raped sitting in front of her who needed an adult to help her, this woman told her to pray about it! I know saying, “Pray about it” sounds really spiritual and pastoral and caring, but frankly more often than not this is Christian code for, “I don’t know what to do, or what to say, so I am going to just pass the football here.” Jesus never said just pray about it when someone has sinned against you, he never said that. He said take action (Matt 18). Sadly, this young woman took action and her church failed her.

You know what else she got from this Christian woman who was a leader in her church? Judgement, lots of judgement. In fact, she got judgement from almost every person she spoke to. Comments like well you shouldn’t have been dating him, to what were you wearing, through to unhelpful advice that showed a complete lack of care for her. Sadly, the unhelpful responses she received caused her to go even further down a bad path, which thankfully she didn’t stay on for too long.

So why did she get responses like this? Well when she was telling me this I asked her that exact question and what she said was pretty straight up: too much of the church sucks at talking about sex. I am not the first person to bring this up, many other wonderful leaders are seeking to address this. But the reason why I am writing this blog now is because this still hasn’t changed a whole lot, and it needs to. Why? Because the Church’s lack of ability to address this topic well all too often is leading to young people getting hurt and too many others making terrible decisions.

This young girl’s parents had never taught her about sex, her church which composed most of her free time never talked about it, except to say don’t do it. Indeed often when this topic came up at this church parents took off, running away with their kids to avoid those services and meetings. This is not how it should be. No matter how much we want to shelter our children, this world is going to come crashing down on them in one way or another eventually, and if you haven’t properly prepared them, but have just stuck your head in the sand hoping they’ll manage, well then its more than likely that something terrible is going to happen to your child in this arena. Even if you home school them and keep them away from every possible avenue of encountering sex, one day they will grow up and encounter the world without you. Though this young woman’s parents wanted to shelter her because they cared for he, what they actually did was fail her. Because her church was too afraid to offend people and talk about sex frankly, the church also failed her. It’s just that simple.

We can’t avoid the topic of sex, otherwise we are going to have more tragic stories like this young woman’s. If she had been educated on this issue properly then she may have never been in a situation where she had to navigate the sexual maze with nothing but her own intuition about what was safe and what wasn’t. If her church had spoken more frankly about sex then maybe she would not have got such terrible responses from the people she went to, all of which were in the church. I mean come on, how can anyone with a proper understanding on what the Bible teaches about sex and grace, ever think that it was right to judge her like this? How many other young women are too afraid to come forward and talk about how they have been abused because they fear being judged?

This is not how anyone should have ever responded to a young woman who has been raped, especially in the church. What she should have received instantly was compassion, because Christ would have us be compassionate to the downtrodden (Matt 9:36). She should have also received understanding, because she was the victim, not the perpetrator. She should have immediately known that the leadership in the church were going to act on her behalf, and help her take steps to get protection and justice. She should have known that they would do all that they could do to keep her safe from the mongrel who had harmed her. She should have also known that this church was going to do all it could to educate their young people how to navigate the world of sex, because it is real and they will encounter it one day. It is better for our children to encounter it armed with good information, rather than be thrown to the wolves to work it all out for themselves.

Let me finish this blog post with insight from the Proverbs. Look at what David taught to Solomon, and then Solomon in turn passed on to his children:

“5 My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
    turn your ear to my words of insight,
2 that you may maintain discretion
    and your lips may preserve knowledge.
3 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
4 but in the end she is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
6 She gives no thought to the way of life;
    her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it.”
(Proverbs 5:1-6).

But when did he start teaching this to him? Well Solomon tells us:

“4 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
    pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
    so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
    still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,
    “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
    keep my commands, and you will live.”
(Proverbs 4:1-4).

David taught this to Solomon when he was still tender in his mother’s eyes. In other word’s at a tender young age. This is significant. The Bible teaches us to have difficult conversations about the nature of the world with our children from a young age. To prepare them, to help them be wise.

Let’s follow the wisdom of the Proverbs both in the Christian home and in the church to appropriately teach our children from a young age how to protect themselves and think safely about sex. They will encounter issues in this world, let’s make sure they are well armed to face them. Let’s also make sure they do not fear our judgement when either they stuff up or someone harms them. Like Jesus did in his day, we should respond to those who have been sexually exploited with grace and mercy, and help them find the refuge and help they need.