Sometimes when everyone is talking about the same news story, we at TTC feel at a loss — not about what to say so much as about how to speak in a way that contributes something more than just one more note in a cacophony of public opinion.
In a world so wired and interconnected,
our anxious hearts are pummeled by
an endless barrage of troubling news.
We are daily aware of more grief, O Lord,
than we can rightly consider,
of more suffering and scandal
than we can respond to, of more
hostility, hatred, horror, and injustice
than we can engage with compassion.1
Sometimes we choose not to add our voices, sometimes just for our own sanity’s sake. But other times we know that not to speak would itself be an act of violence. Not to speak would only add to the great evil that is “the appalling silence of the good.”
And so here I sit, 2:30 am, staring at my computer, struggling to say something worthy of the calling we have received.
Current studies suggest 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have lived (and regularly relive) the horror of sexual violence.
And yet, the patterns with which society at large continues to respond to sexual violence demonstrates just how much we continue to fail — fundamentally fail — to understand the very nature of sexual assault, let alone its lasting consequences.
We’ve seen nearly all of the following myths perpetrated just within the past 78 hours. Some of them are blatantly sexist. Some of them are fair-minded. They’re all myths.
“False accusations happen all the time.”
“The courtroom is the best way to get justice/know the truth.”
“Real rape victims report it right away.”
“A woman or man who doesn’t want it will fight it.”
“Women who are legitimately raped can’t get pregnant.”8
“Every powerful man has experienced a false accusation.”
“A young man’s future shouldn’t be ruined because of one mistake.”
“An established man’s success shouldn’t be ruined because of one mistake.”
“A good man’s name is being ruined.”
“Look at what she was wearing.”
“Look at what she was drinking.”
“Look, she likes sex.”
“Why didn’t she run?”
“Why didn’t she scream?”
“Why was she there in the first place?”
“Boys will be boys.”
All these responses to sexual violence boil down to just two:
- We don’t believe you.
- We believe you, but we don’t care.
At this point, with all the good information readily available to help us shatter these myths, it seems almost willful, our ignorance.
But that’s the power of social narrative. Which is why, as has been said over and over and over again, listening — really listening — to survivors’ accounts of abuse is so vital. And we are free to listen from a starting position of openness (rather than skepticism) because we have decades of research to help us combat myths about sexual violence with truth.
There are specific patterns that identify the behavioral and situational factors of every facet of sexual assault. We know what patterns true accusations fit into. We know what patterns false accusations fall into. We don’t have to (and we really should stop) assuming an accusation — and the person making it — is guilty until proven innocent.
There are patterns of behavior among the falsely accused. There are patterns of behavior among the justly accused. Are there outliers to these patterns? Sure. But we don’t have to, nor should we, replace one form of blind faith (or lack of faith) for another.
I am grateful for those women and men speaking up, speaking out, and speaking on behalf of those whose voices have for far too long been systemically disrespected, discarded, and disregarded.
Large-scale change is long and slow, but it moves just a little bit faster as more of us decide to speak and act in faith (rather than from fear). When I am discouraged about the long arc of justice, I remember the God Who Hears. Hagar, Tamar, Joseph, Rahab, Bathsheba. The woman at the well, the woman in the dirt, the woman on the floor, the eunuch on the road.
A Litany of Commitment
As a community of faith we will not forget those who are hurting. We will listen carefully. We understand there are those among us who suffer in silence. And so…
We will not further silence our neighbor with platitudes or should-haves.
We commit to hold their pain gently.
We know we must continue to challenge the power dynamics in our world that make abuse prevalent, even when these dynamics and systems benefit us.
We will not worship ideas or institutions.
We will love God and love our neighbor above all else.
We struggle to understand how the world can be so broken, but we will not let this deter us from seeking justice.
We will not cease praying for your Kingdom come.
We commit ourselves to the journey ahead. Our friends will walk alone no longer.
If you’re a survivor in need of support, I know this past week might have been especially burdensome for you. RAINN offers a comprehensive set of resources and a 24/7 Helpline.
- “A Liturgy for Those Flooded by too Much Information.” Every Moment Holy: New Liturgies for Daily Life. Douglass Kaine McKelvey.
- She — shame. oil on canvass. Maga Fabler.
- “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Ephesians 4:1 & 14-15, NIV.
- Statistics About Sexual Violence, National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
- National Statistics on Sexual Violence, Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
- “Myths About Sexual Assault.” BBC Future. Linda Geddes.
- “Male Rape Survivors and Victim Blaming.” The Good Man Project. James A. Landrith.
- “Sexual Violence Myths & Facts.” Our Resilience.
- “What Rape Culture Sounds Like.” Women’s March MN.
- “How to Listen to Women When They Share Their Stories of Sexual Assault.” Mel Magazine. Bridget Phetasy.
- “What I Learned from Listening to Sexual Assault Survivors.” TTC. Sharyl West Loeung.
- “The Truth About False Rape Accusations.” Quartz Magazine. Sandra Newman.
- “Prayers for Survivors: A Liturgy in Protest of Sexual Violence.” Strong Women Write.
- RAINN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.