sexual assault

Sandi Villarreal 02-10-2016

Candlelight vigil in front of the Albritton House on the Baylor University campus on Feb. 8. by Shehan Jeyarajah

On Feb. 9, the day after more than 200 Baylor students, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered in front of university President Ken Starr’s campus residence for a candlelight vigil honoring the community’s sexual assault survivors, Starr released a statement on the school’s website saying, “We hear you loud and clear.”

Starr was not present for the vigil — according to an inquiry to the media communications office, he was in Washington, D.C., on university business.

His brief statement read: “You want us to continue to improve. And you want definitive, responsible actions after we receive the insights and recommendations from Pepper Hamilton. You have my word on both.”

Sandi Villarreal 02-08-2016
Baylor University

Baylor University, by Danny Huizinga /

A group of Baylor University students and alumni will gather for a candlelight vigil outside university President Ken Starr’s home on Feb. 8 in an effort to urge changes to how the school handles sexual assault.

The vigil is being organized by Stefanie Mundhenk, a recent graduate who described her own experience through the school’s Title IX process in her personal blog. Mundhenk’s account — coupled with a recent ESPN report accusing the school of mishandling cases of sexual assault by Baylor football players, and subsequent CBS Sports commentary calling on President Ken Starr to “stop stonewalling” about the rape cases — sparked outrage among Baylor alumni, many of whom responded in an open letter to the university administration over the weekend. Since the open letter was shared on Saturday, the list of signatories has risen from 50 to more than 1,300.

Greg Williams 02-01-2016
Asking for it: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture- and What We Can Do About It

IN THE COURSE of a few months in the past year, I learned that three women and men close to me had been sexually assaulted—as children and as adults. Hearing their stories broke me out of many of the lies surrounding rape that I had fallen into without even realizing it.

Kate Harding’s Asking for It attacks the same lies and misconceptions. She explores how we, as a culture, embrace myths surrounding rape and sexual assault. Theoretically, we think of rape as a terrible crime that takes away people’s right to choose what to do with their bodies—but practically we have trouble believing that it actually happens, or if it does that it is really that bad. We joke about rape, we believe it is caused by women acting like “sluts,” or act like the only kinds of rape that really matter are those in which a white woman is attacked by a brown man. We normalize assault and minimize it.

We have built a society and criminal justice system that protect abusers and place the responsibility on women to avoid being assaulted rather than on men to not attack.

Sadly, none of this is surprising, but Harding’s exploration of these familiar truths is biting and unrelenting.

She is offensive at times, but about things we should be offended about. When I recoil at her describing a rape by saying he “put his dick in her,” I realize how much I should be disgusted by the assault itself. We can numb ourselves by using clinical language to talk about rape and sexual assault, but Harding refuses to give us distance from the violence of these attacks.

Harding suggests practical changes that we can make—such as educating our kids, reforming our criminal justice system, and changing our language. These practical measures consist of the minimum on which we all ought to agree: My conservative friends, together with my progressive ones, can agree that rape jokes are offensive, hurt people, and contribute to a society in which people are more easily hurt. As Harding notes, even when we have radically different ideas about the proper scope of sexual activity, we should all agree that clear consent is necessary for a healthy sexual relationship.

the Web Editors 01-21-2016

Daniel Holtzclaw after 18 guilty verdicts were read. Screenshot via @BillSchammert/Twitter

The former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw has been sentenced to 263 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting eight women and girls. Holtzclaw, who is white and Japanese, intentionally sought out black women in poor areas as his victims.

the Web Editors 12-30-2015

Image via /

Bill Cosby has been charged for sexual assault, reports the Los Angeles Times. The charge — of aggravated indecent assault, against alleged victim Andrea Constand in 2004 — comes with an arrest warrant. Though Cosby's decades of assault came to light in a high-profile series of revelations this year, this is the first time criminal charges have been filed against the comedian. He is expected to be arraigned at 4 p.m. on Dec. 30. 

Ryan Hammill 10-28-2015

Image via  /

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.”

Caroline Barnett 09-23-2015

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.

Sandi Villarreal 08-10-2015
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.

Brittni Jones 05-05-2015

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...

Kaeley McEvoy 04-28-2015
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.

Chanté Dent 04-28-2015

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.

Kaeley McEvoy 04-27-2015
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.

the Web Editors 04-09-2015

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.

Tara Samples 02-16-2015
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. 

the Web Editors 12-19-2014

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.

the Web Editors 12-12-2014

1. Read the Torture Report
While its 525 pages — and disturbing subject matter — may cause you to opt for the news coverage and analysis, you can actually read the entire Torture Report yourself — even before Melville House Books ensures it’s on the shelves your local bookstore. Download now.

2. WATCH: John McCain’s Floor Speech on Torture
In case you do need some context on the importance of releasing this report, watch this floor statement by Arizona Sen. McCain, quite an authority on the matter. “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

3. Two Years Since Newtown: WATCH This Father’s Story
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six faculty and staff were killed. Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, 7, who was killed in the tragedy, tells his powerful story in this video. 

4. What MSU Protesters Are Really Fighting For
With all of the “controversy” over the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, it might be tempting to think that college campus sexual assault — and the mishandling of cases by college administrators — is not quite on the epidemic scale the piece made it out to be. (Y’know, kind of like when it’s cold outside and people say, “So much for ‘global warming!’” *facepalm*) But it’s not just one person’s story, and it’s not just UVA. Check out this piece to see what’s happening on another college campus.  


Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. Photo via David Gibson / RNS.

Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. Photo via David Gibson / RNS.

An outside watchdog group hired to investigate sex abuse claims at Bob Jones University issued its 300-page report on Dec. 11, concluding that the conservative Christian school responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.

Bob Jones, with about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, S.C., tapped Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.

Some of those students claimed they were victims on campus; others said they were dealing with child sexual abuse but received a poor reception from campus officials as they struggled with their past.

The school’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, discipline, and justice shaped how Bob Jones University responded to sexual assault, the report argues.

“As a result of the school’s poor responses, many of these students were deeply hurt and experienced further trauma,” a press release from GRACE states.

Phil Haslanger 06-25-2014

I thought at first that it was a fictional scene, conflating in one example some of the problems those of us in Christianity face when confronted with issues of domestic violence. The scene was set up as a call to rethink how we articulate our theology in areas like sacrifice and forgiveness and commitment and gender roles.

Here’s what I wrote in The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., that was posted on Sunday:

“A woman has been suffering physical abuse at the hands of her husband. She finally summons up the courage to talk to her pastor about it.

“His advice: First, you need to recognize that your suffering is like Jesus’ suffering. Next, you need to forgive like Jesus forgave. Then remember that you made a commitment to marry this man for life. He is the head of your family, so you need to make sure you are doing what he wants so as not to trigger his anger.

“And then an offer: Let me meet with the two of you and help you patch up your marriage.”

I described it as a fictional scenario. And then I heard this from a friend: “that was the response from my minster regarding my first husband 30 years ago ...”

I’d like to think that many pastors these days are a least a bit wiser both theologically and practically in how they deal with someone facing domestic violence. That’s reflected in a groundbreaking survey released last week by Sojourners at The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice.

QR Blog Editor 06-09-2014

In his opinon column published on June 6, George Will suggests that colleges have "become the victims of progressivism," blaming a proliferation of victims on government overreach. In his first paragraph, Will disregards the validity of sexual assult on campuses, as he says:

[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

In response to his article, survivors have taken to Twiter with #SurvivorPrivilege

Misogyny kills, by Jenna Pope at Unarmed Civilian /

Misogyny kills, by Jenna Pope at Unarmed Civilian /

To my fellow men,

I’m sure you are as heartbroken as I am about the killings at UC Santa Barbara by a troubled young man with a misogynistic manifesto. Heartbroken for the community, for the families who lost loved ones, and even for the young man who felt like there was no other way.

Now I’m not much of a “Tweeter” (is that the right word?), but I heard that a group of us has taken to defending ourselves on Twitter with the hashtag #NotAllMen. They want to say that that #NotAllMen sexually assault women. #NotAllMen expect a date to be reciprocated with sex. #NotAllMen harass women for the way they do or don’t look at us. They want to say that we’re not like those other people, that we respect women as equals, not demean them as prizes or products.

Who cares?