On this Valentine’s Day, I hope the single women do not feel like they are less than — particularly where safety is involved.
Over a decade ago, back when I worked at a college newspaper, all the editors had a meeting to discuss the way we were going to cover an alleged sexual assault case. The paper had initially reported it by naming the supposed rapist and leaving the supposed victim unnamed, as is standard procedure for sexual assault cases. However, there appeared to be some serious flaws in the story, and it was looking like a probable, though not absolute, false accusation. Honestly, I don’t remember the precise details of the case, but the question on the table was, in reporting these newest developments, if we named her or not. The guy writing the story really wanted to. He argued his case, and I could see his point: it wasn’t fair that he should be named as a possible rapist if she wasn’t getting named as a possible liar. We put it to a vote. The vote was tied. I was the last to vote, because, apparently, I was the most torn.
In the end, I voted against naming her. I couldn’t really explain why. At that point, I was fairly conservative (never kissed anyone, never been drunk, voted Republican) and would not have called myself a feminist.
I know why now. Because teaching her a lesson in public humiliation seemed far less important than preserving a code of ethics designed to keep victims of sexual assault safe.
In grad school, I joined up with a few people to start a writer’s group. One essay really stuck with me. A friend of mine was writing about how he had been falsely accused of touching his stepsister inappropriately, although apparently the accusations evaporated before things progressed too far. He wrote about his sexual paranoia following this, about how years afterwards he would repeatedly ask his girlfriend, to her great annoyance, “is this Ok, are you sure you want to do this?” He wrote about how another woman he knew had been raped, but didn’t want to report it because she was afraid. He wrote about his turmoil over this. How, he asked, do you make it safe enough for women to report rape in a culture where already a girl can ruin a boy’s life merely by saying “he touched me”?
This question bothered me because it did not seem to have a very good answer. Or, potentially, any answer.
This question took on new shape as my female friends began to tell me, in strange bare-souled moments, about things that had happened to them. One conservative girl told me about how, as a young teenager, she fell asleep in a friend’s den and awoke to find an older man on top of her, about how she tried to scream, about how much it hurt. About how she told no one, because she’d had one beer and thus thought it was her fault. About how her whole life changed for the worse after, and her frustrated parents assumed it was hormonal. Another conservative girl told me about an attempted rape she’d fought off, terrified and also silent. She didn’t accuse the guy either. Meanwhile, I was traveling the world, developing tactics to try to keep men like this at bay, dressing in ugly clothing, swearing like a sailor at them in a loud voice, physically pushing one man at a bus stop off of me. It worked, but none of them got in trouble, and the ugly dressing did not stop the ugly behavior. I considered myself lucky that nothing worse happened, and, indeed, the worst things were always done closer to home by people I knew and trusted — and they got away with it too.
At this point, extrapolating based on the stories of women I know and trust, I’d guess that maybe one in five women reports sexual assault to police. And that’s basically just the beginning of their journey towards justice. Obviously, my sample size is limited. But national statistics are only slightly better. In certain religious and cultural environments, those statistics can actually be much worse.
Women have a lot to lose by saying they were raped, even if it’s true and they can prove it — which in itself can be difficult, short of witnesses (which is unlikely) or DNA evidence, which needs to be gathered immediately and can be itself invasive and potentially traumatizing. Women similarly have a lot to lose by saying they were abused by domestic partners — even apart from the financial repercussions, it’s humiliating to admit that you married someone who mistreats you; it makes you look like a silly moron. It’s endlessly frustrating to try to convince people that a man who parades himself around like a saint is anything but. In domestic violence as well as rape cases, the victim is nearly always prodded by somebody about their bad choices, raked over the coals for this skirt or that turn of phrase. You provoked him. Of course we’re not excusing him, if in fact you are telling the truth, which you haven’t proven yet, but you really need to be focusing on your own sins.
Oftentimes, when a woman comes to her conservative community and says, “my husband is hurting me” or “this man coerced me into sex,” she’s told that, well, the leadership can’t pick sides, and if she was really telling the truth, she would have already done X, Y or Z differently. “Many women lie about this and play the victim,” say the leaders of these conservative communities sagely, “so we can’t just believe what you tell us.” So, feeling as if she’s been accused of lying and as if she has nowhere to turn, this woman will go home to her abusive husband, or back to her church-run school or workplace where her rapist hangs out. She’s reached out and gotten nothing. By refusing to pick sides, the leaders have picked sides. They’ve chosen not to believe her and not to take her concern seriously.
The other women who see this take note, and may not even take the first step of trying to get help.
Nowhere is this more evident than when someone like Doug Wilson says that women are tacitly agreeing on the propriety of rape by shrugging off male protection. Now, it is often this very “male protection” that does the damage — which Doug knows, as he is familiar with husbands and fathers in his congregation who have acted in physically or sexually violent ways (and not just the ones who have made it out into the news, clearly). Doug himself is not acting as a larger “male protector” and encouraging these women to leave their fathers/husbands for the protection of his home — not if the men are loyal to Doug.
Notice also that Doug discusses the “propriety of rape,” specifically, although nobody “tacitly” agrees on the “propriety” of being raped by doing or not doing anything. In retrospect, Doug has tried to paint this as a warning sign: if women go wandering around in dark alleys without a manly man around to protect them, they shouldn’t be surprised if someone jumps out and grabs them from behind. But this is not actually what the sentence he wrote means.
Statistically, if you attend Christ Church and particularly if you board Wilson’s seminary or college students, your children have a high-ish likelihood of being molested or otherwise preyed on by adult men in completely inappropriate ways. Wilson knows this is true, because, as he’s so fond of saying, he “covers sin up for a living.” But even given this statistical chance of molestation, it would not be true if I claimed “people who attend Christ Church tacitly agree on the propriety of having their children raped.” See the difference now? Nobody “tacitly” agrees on the “propriety” of being raped by failing to do something, whether you fail to leave a church hosting known rapists or you fail to walk around with a man on your arm at all times.
But making statements such as these leads to all sorts of problematic conclusions. If you honestly believe that a woman who fails to wear appropriate clothing or find an appropriate chaperone is “tacitly” asking to be raped, then you also believe it’s partly her fault if a man picks up on this “tacit” communication and acts accordingly.
Let’s put this another way. By mouthing off in public, Doug Wilson tacitly agrees on the propriety of him getting murdered. This is how I know:
- Doug has stated that women who aren’t protected by men are tacitly agreeing on the propriety of being raped. Thus, he believes doing or not doing something that contributes to X = agreeing, tacitly or otherwise, that X will or should occur.
- Doug lives in a world where guns are freely available and where many of his friends and detractors are sure to own them.
- Doug lives in a world where arguments often result in physical escalation and where people defend their honor by violent means.
Please note that I personally do not believe Doug deserves to be murdered for mouthing off in public. But obviously Doug is throwing caution to the wind here, and he’s a blind idjit if he refuses to see the danger. When you argue with the way the world is, you may just find yourself bleeding profusely from a head wound. One can’t win against God’s design, which is why God cautions people to season their words with salt, and for pastors to be known for their good reputations.
And, naturally, me stating this publicly is in no way an endorsement of those who might interpret Doug’s tacit agreement as an invitation to enact upon him what he’s tacitly agreeing to. Doug is being foolish by mouthing off, but it would also be foolish for anyone to act on his mouthing off.
I’m so glad we cleared all that up.