Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Savaging Women (and Men)

The festering scab of our rape epidemic has been ripped off (again), revealing the festering flesh underneath. Women and girls snatched off the street and held in chains for years as sex slaves; predators talking their way into the homes of struggling single mothers for access to their children; male soldiers and defense contractors raping their female and male fellow soldiers habitually and for sport with impunity; women, men, boys and girls trafficked around the world because they are cheaper and more profitable than drugs with lower overhead and fewer turf wars – and the demand is inexhaustible.

We are horrified by and seemingly inured to violence: sexual violence; domestic violence; gun violence. The sleeping behemoth of righteous indignation is shaking off its slumber as the  parents of murdered children find allies in their fellow citizens and in some of their representatives to address one factor in the sea of madness, nearly unfettered access to guns including military grade weapons and high capacity magazines that can turn any shooting into a slaughter.

The consumption of women’s and girl’s bodies for the sex-power-rage gratification of men is prehistoric and perennial. It is biblical. But it is not godly. No longer “just” a tool of  warring armies – although still very much so – the daily reduction of women of women and girls to  tubes of flesh to which and for which some men will do anything is a horror that must be decried and ended.

We cannot legislate our way out of rape culture any more than we can out of gun culture, although legislation has an irreplaceable part to play in transforming our society that must not be abandoned or surrendered.

We are broken at the basic human level, but not not past the hope of repair. That is the irrepressible hope that dogs me, hounds me, stalks me. We have it within our capacity to change, ourselves and our world. We begin with what we tell ourselves about ourselves and each other. We continue by rejecting and correcting messages objectify and commodify people, women, girls, boys and men. We shine the light of day and the light of God on sexual violence in our homes, churches, temples, mosques, schools, military, and streets. We teach men and boys not to rape, that they have no right to the flesh of women and girls or boys and men. We stop blaming the victims of sexual violence for the crimes against others against them. We stop accepting rape and torture as the price of doing business or consequence of living in certain neighborhoods, countries or anywhere else in this world.

It is not enough for good men not to rape. It is not enough for people of faith to condemn atrocities after the fact. We must nurture human dignity in each child, each adult; teach and model manhood that is not based on conquest or dominion. The savages among us are savaging the illusion of civilization. No amount of digital technology can prevent the deployment of a weaponized penis yet technological advances and innovations further rape and trafficking. It is far past time to target men and boys  and our rape-normative culture with messages of transformation. You are not savages. We will not be savaged.

The time has come for rape-culture to be buried in a grave from which it will never rise again.

13 Responses

  1. Cean James

    It is also important that we name women who are raping boys. Antwone Fisher’s story is more common than we know. Boys who are raped by women tend to be even more silent, suffering from an extreme amount of guilt. They also need to know that it is not their fault and help is available.

    13 May 2013 at 12:09 pm

  2. Susan Burns

    I have not been able to ascertain through your blogging if you are an evolutionist. Are you?

    13 May 2013 at 12:38 pm

  3. Wil

    Susan Burns, how and why does that matter and what does it have to do with rape culture?

    13 May 2013 at 1:15 pm

    • Susan Burns

      Sorry to sound off-topic. If you are not an evolutionist, then my opinions might offend and I just want to be careful. Looking at rape culture through the lens of evolution might be offensive if that is not your working theory. I don’t want to sound insensitive.

      13 May 2013 at 2:52 pm

  4. Wil

    Yes I believe in evolution. But evolutionary impulses are subject to moral imperative. Regardless of the role rape has played in the development of the species, we are no longer discussing pre-rational primitive animals.

    13 May 2013 at 3:17 pm

  5. Susan Burns

    In other sexually dimorphic primates, the female has no choice but to submit to the alpha male. My original comment was going to be that it is amazing that females have evolved sexual desire. Why would our species need it if propagation was the responsibility of the largest male? Also, rape is a tool of war so it would seem that in some circumstances, males feel entitled to rape. Is it their reward for risking death? The alpha primate protects his harem and any new female joining the troupe must submit sexually. Is power the same as entitlement and does war have a different moral imperative than peace?

    13 May 2013 at 4:09 pm

    • womenfirst

      Got any ideas for ending rape, Susan? Among humans with free will?

      13 May 2013 at 11:14 pm

      • I was listening to a congresswoman discuss the problem of rape in the military and she seems to have a solution. She advocated locking up men convicted of rape. I think this could lead to a dramatic lessening of incidents of rape – especially with availability of DNA testing. Apparently, the military has been trying to “educate” their way out of this problem. Appealing to self-interest is really the only way to achieve any meaningful change. It is interesting that since the onslaught of AIDs, rapists have been known to use condoms. Before AIDs, would they have worried about impregnating their victim? That is a behavioral change attributed to self-interest. The goal is for men (with free will) to come to the immediate conclusion that rape would cause themselves harm. Perhaps bringing back the widespread myth of vagina dentata would do the trick.

        14 May 2013 at 11:27 am

        • Wil

          Prison is a consequence in the military and the civilian worlds. But the issue is more complex due the the abysmally low rates of conviction in the understandably low rate of reports. There is tremendous stigma in each camp and issues around evidence collection and preservation in the military in addition to the current practice of having charges/allegation adjudicated in the command structure which is counterproductive. What’s needed in both contexts is aggressive ant-rape education targeting men as potential rapists, not the standard don’t-get-raped education: don’t walk alone, or wear that or leave your drink exposed.

          14 May 2013 at 11:35 am

          • Anti-rape education sends the message that rapists are not aware that what they are doing is wrong. Men know they should not rape. It is time we allow them to mature and take responsibility for their actions. Besides, education is the present methodology and it is not working. It is the women who need education. We need to change the purity culture that says we are no better than chewed up gum if we are raped. Women need to undergo a paradigm shift away from the notion that our personhood is directly related to our vagina.

            I agree the adjudication needs to be taken out of the command structure.

            14 May 2013 at 1:06 pm

          • Wil

            Again, over simplistic. Issues of consent, legal age of consent, intoxication on the part of one or both parties, date rape, spousal rape in addition to serial predation require different levels of education. Some absolutely men know what they are doing and would be impervious to education. Others have no socialization or education in the law or ethics of consent. Anti-rape education is more than don’t rape. It is countering a culture of dehumanization, social, legal, moral, ethical issues and legal ramifications. And, men and boys and women and men are receiving a detailed and largely uncounted pro rape culture education: no mean yes, yes means anal, women always want it, women who dress like act like x want it. Women/wives/girlfriends don’t have the right to say no. That education is pervasive and effective. Saying they should no better is ineffective pedagogy. That’s not how education and transformation work. I agree with you about purity culture. Women are educated after a fashion; rape-prevention education centers around making yourself a less viable target – which shifts the rapist to a new target. I don’t maintain that all rape can be ended, but that rape culture as normative can be delegitimized which will have an impact on the number of rapes, prosecutions, convictions and climate for those involved and affected.

            14 May 2013 at 1:54 pm

  6. There was a 6% increase in sexual assaults between 2011 and 2013 in the military. This is after the educational methodology was implemented. If education was really a deterrent then the person most unlikely to commit a sexual assault would be the officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention program. He, however, assaulted a woman unknown to him. It was obvious by his mugshot that “no” meant “no” because of the deep fingernail gouges on his face. Reporting the sexual assault and prison time is the only thing that will stop a rapist which then becomes a deterrent for a would-be rapist.

    14 May 2013 at 3:32 pm

    • Wil

      One case doesn’t generalize to all. There is no single “educational methodology.” That some anti-sexual harassment efforts are being made doesn’t mean that they are optimal; that results are inadequate doesn’t mean scrap the whole program. The results reflect the curriculum and goals, which need to be revised as I have described in concert with other structural changes.

      14 May 2013 at 3:54 pm

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