sexual assault

Bill Cosby and the Question of the Honorary Degree

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As sexual assault on college campuses became a national conversation in the U.S., dozens of women came forward with stories that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them — and in many cases, that he drugged and raped them.

In response, some colleges that awarded Cosby an honorary degree have rescinded the award. Fordham and Marquette were the first two to do it, but with Springfield College’s recent announcement this week that it was revoking the comedian’s honorary degree, that number has grown to 12.

Still, a majority of the schools that awarded him a degree — at least 60 — have not revoked the honor. Vulture contacted more than 40 of these schools and listed their responses on their site. Some colleges replied that they were currently having discussions about the matter, while others made statements similar to George Washington University’s:

“It has never been the university’s practice to rescind an honorary degree.”

Lady Gaga's New Video Shows the Reality of Campus Assault, and How We Can Help

Screenshot from 'Til It Happens to You'/YouTube

Unlike her previous music videos, known for their theatrics and intricate dance numbers, Lady Gaga’s new video “ Til It Happens to You” opens on a simple black and white shot of a college dorm. Like most dorms across the country, the walls are sparse cinderblock, the floors are tiled, and the desk and beds are made of heavily lacquered pinewood.

Like many dorms across the country, this set is the scene of multiple sexual assaults. More than one-in-five women are sexually assaulted or raped on college campuses each year. Lady Gaga’s video was made in conjunction with the documentary film on campus rape, The Hunting Ground, and the stories her video portrays are both unique in their details and disconcertingly familiar.

There are harrowing scenes to watch, but the video does not end on the nights of the assaults. Each survivor has to deal with the trauma in her own way. They pull away from their friends. One fears the bathroom and stops showering. The two friends are unable to talk about what happened and one drops out of school.

Shelter in the Storm

SV Production / Shutterstock

SV Production / Shutterstock

AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN passes the offering plate after listening to a sermon on Christian persecution in the early church—tales of torture and execution. A 19-year-old student—home for the summer from college, where her first experience at a fraternity party turned violent—listens to her childhood pastor recite the story of David and Bathsheba and David’s subsequent path to redemption. A mother placates her two children with Cheerios and raisins as she struggles through the exhortations to spousal submission, hiding bruised arms under long sleeves in the middle of July.

The Christian story is littered with trauma—from slavery (the Israelites in Egypt) to sexual assault and abuse (Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba) to the trauma of war (see: much of the Old Testament) to, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus and martyrdom of his disciples.

There is possibly no better resource for understanding the implications of and need for healing from trauma than faith communities pointing to the cross and Jesus’ answer to violence. Both the need and the opportunity are great. But perhaps too often Christians proclaim the message of Easter—victory and restoration—while skipping past the violence and trauma of Good Friday. Some theologies explain away that violence as a necessary component of ultimate salvation—but let’s get to the salvation part, okay?—leaving survivors of trauma who fill our Sunday pews without a touchstone for healing within the very communities that purport to be safe spaces.

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Lessons from a Sexual Assault Survivor

Woman walking through a tunnel into the light. Photo via mangojuicy /

Sometimes I wonder if anyone saw what was happening to me in that nightclub. I wonder if someone chose to ignore it or if they genuinely didn’t know what to do. I think these are common reactions when someone witnesses an assault or is faced with a situation that could result in one. As a bystander, there are some steps you can take to save yourself, your friends, or people around you...

What I Learned from 'The Hunting Ground:' I Am A Part of Rape Culture

Screenshot from 'The Hunting Ground' trailer.

Screenshot from 'The Hunting Ground' trailer.

During my freshman year of college, a girl who lived in my dorm was raped. It was during the first month of school. I didn’t know her well. As the rumors spread, I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, the blonde with the big boobs.”

I remember having a conversation with my friend about how nice the accused boy seemed. I remember that friend replying, “She did wear low cut shirts during orientation — makes sense she would start a rumor like that.”

The survivor transferred from my college the following semester.

During my senior year of college, my best friend was the president of his fraternity. During the fall semester, there was a reported case of rape that occurred with two males and one female in the basement during a party. All I remember is how stressed my friend was because, as president, he had to deal with the legal proceedings of the case. The case was closed without either of the men being prosecuted. I remember being upset because my favorite fraternity was put on probation (no parties on the weekend) for two months. I never knew the survivor.

The documentary The Hunting Ground taught me I was part of campus rape culture, and I didn’t even realize it. It is estimated that between 20 percent and 25 percent of women experience completed or attempted rape over the course of a college career. That means for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.

Healing the Brokenhearted: Help Prevent Sexual Violence

Stitched broken heart via zimmytws /

I would never want anyone to experience what I endured and my hope is that everyone will join the fight to help end sexual assault.

If you ever find that you are a bystander, be bold and intervene for someone who is in danger of being sexually assaulted. Even when you are out with friends and familiar faces, do not let your guard down; unfortunately, 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.

You may find yourself in a situation where you see something that is not quite right.  Do not hesitate to step in. Ask questions if someone seems uncomfortable, and interrupt the situation. Show them that you care.Call for help if need be, but by all means, do not leave them alone. When you intervene, you help raise awareness and debunk myths about sexual assault.

If you know someone who has been sexually assaulted, listen to them and believe them. Your presence, boldness, and support can make all the difference.

Can Rape Jokes Help End Rape Culture?

Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff /

Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff /

Silverman makes a startling pronouncement: “We should have more rape jokes,” she says.

And if they're donw within the right framework, she’s totally right. Though rape jokes have traditionally been made at the expense of victims or used to normalize rape (for example, Daniel Tosh’s stand-up routine in which he imagines a rape victim laughing while being attacked), Silverman recognizes that humor can be a powerful tool for dismantling rape culture.

Silverman recently demonstrated the power of jokes aimed at rape culture when a recent photo she posted on Twitter went viral. The photo captured a list of “Rape Prevention Tips” for potential rapists. The list included lines like: “Carry a rape whistle. If you find you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.”

Of course, what makes this photo powerful is how it challenges the dangerous idea that the best way to prevent rape is to teach individuals to avoid getting raped; as Lyndsey Christofferson explains in “Blaming the Victim” (Sojourners, May 2015) this idea has weaseled its way into how Christians interpret biblical passages about sexual assault (Bathsheba, anyone?) as well as how we teach young people about modesty. Instead, Silverman’s photo points out that the best way to avoid rape is to teach people not to be rapists.

Weekly Wrap 4.10.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. ‘A Rape on Campus:’ What Went Wrong?

Columbia University’s Journalism school released its report detailing the journalistic failures of Rolling Stone’s viral story ‘A Rape on Campus,’ which initiated, and later may have stifled, an honest conversation about the prevalence rape on college campuses. Read the full report. “[Writer Sabrina Rubin] Erdely and her editors had hoped their investigation would sound an alarm about campus sexual assault and would challenge Virginia and other universities to do better. Instead, the magazine's failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”

2. The Courage of Bystanders Who Press ‘Record’

“Despite the fact that the world can now see Eric Garner being killed by an illegal chokehold — despite the fact that New York City Police Department banned chokeholds years ago — film of the incident did not result in the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, being charged. But thanks to the efforts of Ramsey Orta, who filmed Garner’s death, we know.”

3. Hope but Verify: The Iran Nuclear Framework

“House Speaker John Boehner recently said this about the broader instability in the Middle East: 'The world is starving for American leadership. But America has an anti-war president.' In the context of our faith — or even in the context of conservative ideals — is leadership that prevents war something to be maligned?”

4. How the Presidential Candidates Found Their Faith

“This season’s crop of presidential candidates reflects this country’s many contradictions in faith.” Newsweek explores the faith backgrounds of the apparent 2016 field so far.

Rape Culture Is Real

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/shutter

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/

The term "rape culture" is a sociological theory in which individuals who sexually harass and assault others are given a social license to do so, as they live in a society that makes excuses for perpetrators and blames victims for their own abuse. Feminist theorists often argue that rape culture beliefs are socialized into young men and women from childhood. Young men are socialized into beliefs that they have power and/or control and entitlement over others' bodies from a very young age. Likewise young women are socialized into believing they control men’s desire and lust via their clothing, behavior, and attractiveness. The theory of rape culture argues that these social beliefs facilitate sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual touch, sexual assault, and sexual objectification of others by reducing the stigma of engaging in unwanted sexual behavior and by increasing a since of entitlement from men towards women.

In Christian spheres of influence there has been an increasing focus — via Sojourners, Christians for Biblical Equality, and likeminded groups — to exposing how social beliefs, church leaders, and authoritarian theology has contributed to rape culture beliefs in the church and in the larger community. This focus comes in the midst of a media debate between social conservatives and social progressives about the very existence of rape culture. Inspired by conservative opposition to the recent publicity from the White House on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, this debate was further inflamed by the retraction of a Rolling Stone article about allegations of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. In response, it has become popular in recent months for conservative commentators to argue that there is no such thing as "rape culture."

This escalation of rhetorical debate is dangerous because it distracts from the real concern that rape culture theory was developed to address — that we help socialize dangerous behavior in children by our actions, inactions, and modeled beliefs. 

Weekly Wrap 12.19.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons 
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.

2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.

3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."

4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.