sexual violence

A woman holds up her hand. Image courtesy Kamira/

A woman holds up her hand. Image courtesy Kamira/

The fact that the journalistic “scandal” got more public attention than the original story should give us pause. And the narrative that is playing out in the story’s wake — the one that says the college campus rape crisis is nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by the left — is disturbing.  

Catherine Woodiwiss 10-06-2014

Even after the Ray Rice video, churches are in denial about sexual violence. 

Catherine Woodiwiss 09-09-2014
A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

A woman walking on sand. Image courtesy Nikolay Bassov/

This week, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of star runningback Ray Rice after video of Rice beating his then-fiancée Janay emerged online. Rice had previously been suspended for two games for the assault. With the release of the video, media scrutiny swiftly turned to his now-wife, speculating over why she would marry her abuser.

Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager and blogger, had a different response. Herself a survivor of domestic abuse, Gooden began tweeting of her own experiences, each one a vulnerable explanation: #WhyIStayed.

Gooden wrote, “I can't speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay? … Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through the process. ...I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope.” 

We would all do well to listen. Some of the most powerful tweets below.

Attendees of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Creative Commons image courtesy Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Religious leaders from across Africa and England came together Wednesday to discuss the role clergy should play in preventing and responding to sexual violence.

The panel was part of the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-chaired by Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Jolie made an unannounced appearance before the event, causing attendance to surge and preventing several dozen participants from entering the crowded conference room.

In a pre-recorded video message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby started the session by describing some of the positive developments he observed firsthand on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Historically there has been a culture of impunity,” he said. “Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely and saying that rape and sexual violence in war is absolutely unacceptable and will result in consequences.”

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

Sandi Villarreal 04-29-2014

Today Vice President Joe Biden announced a series of new initiatives aimed at addressing sexual violence on college campuses and launched — a website that pools campus reporting data and points both students and school officials to sexual assault resources.

The administration is also releasing the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which was established in January.

Under Title IX, college campuses that receive federal funding are already required to take steps to prevent sexual assault on campus and respond promptly when sexual assault is reported. Further, the Clery Act requires those that receive funding to report their crime statistics and provide policies for prevention. The website will be a central repository for these reports and clarify for students their rights under the Clery Act and Title IX.

What is unclear, however, is what has changed for Christian college campuses and other private institutions.

Rebecca Kraybill 03-13-2014

@Steenfox started a conversation about sexual violence on Twitter.

Pink princess pajamas. Jeans and a t-shirt. Sweatpants and a baggy sweater.

When Twitter user Christina Fox (@Steenfox) asked her followers, “What were you wearing when you were assaulted?” some answered with these clothes.

Fox prompted the question after reading a story about a 60-year-old woman who was raped by her grandson.

Jim Wallis 02-13-2014
Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, our annual reminder to celebrate the love we share in our lives. While many may be struggling through aisles of candy hearts and bunches of roses, I invite you to flip this day of mandatory public expressions of love on its head.

What if, along with romantic dinners and expensive chocolates, we celebrated those we love by committing ourselves against sexual and domestic violence? This Valentine’s Day, or V-Day, Sojourners is joining with One Billion Rising to speak out on violence against women — the most hidden injustice in our world. We speak out because one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. That’s one in three women in my family, in my circle of friends, in my workplace — and in my church.

We speak out because we want a different reality for our daughters.

We speak out because our Christian faith tells us to lift up the voices others would silence.

And we speak out because we must rally our church leaders to commit themselves to do the same.

Suzanne Ross 02-07-2014
Woman in church, fztommy /

Woman in church, fztommy /

Sojourners is offering an important opportunity for Christian churches to examine their attitudes towards women. Following up on an article by Michelle A. Gonzalez entitled Breaking the Habits of Machismo,Gonzalez and Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, will conduct a live video discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 12 to “discuss what the Bible really says to encourage, affirm, and empower women and girls in their call to be leaders.”

Judging from Gonzalez’s article, this conversation will focus on what it means to affirm that both men and women are created in God’s image. She begins her article with the Common English Bible translation of Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” Though she points to important changes taking place in Christianity today, Gonzalez traces the legacy of Christian thinking on womanhood that has elevated men and devalued women, instilling “habits of machismo” in our churches and our culture that are difficult to break.

But break them we must, Gonzalez argues, if we want to free both our theology and our practice from “male-oriented power structures.” Amen, sister. Because this is about more than equal employment opportunities for women in church administrative structures, of whether we are allowed to “preach, lead from the altar, celebrate communion, administer rites, pastor congregations, or teach.” What’s at stake in this conversation is whether Christians — and I think this is a call to American Christians in particular — whether American Christians are willing to dismantle a long-held justification for violence against women, not just in our country, but around the world. Gonzalez herself points out that patriarchal “attitudes can lead to greater violence against women, such as we see in the increasing exploitation and attacks on young women and how social media is used to perpetuate and document these horrific acts,” but this is her only nod to the issue of gender-based violence. Let’s add to the picture a look at the violence perpetrated by men against female bodies that has become to typify conflict zones around the world.

Denis Mukwege 11-21-2013

Survivors of sexual violence need a voice and support. Chameleonseye/Shutterstock

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a public health emergency devastating its victims and their families physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Sexual violence is a horrific act that the perpetrator forgets, but the survivor does not, with the consequences continuing  – from the posttraumatic stress, to compromised health to the lower survival rates of her children.  And these crimes are not just occurring in areas of war and civil unrest. Rather, they are a part of deeply ingrained behavior in all levels society the entire world over. This year, the World Health Organization reported that 1 in 3 women globally will experience SGBV in her lifetime. Studies in the United States produced similar findings.

Rape is a war crime and can be an act of genocide. Yet we often do not respond adequately to it as a global society. For example, in my country, women impregnated by rape may pass HIV to their babies. Children born from rape may also suffer community rejection because of the atrocities of their conception. SGBV programs must take this dynamic into account.

SGBV requires a holistic response that does not forget the indirect victims of rape, the spouses and children of the victims and the community at large. We must remember that rape tears at the social fabric of communities because victims and their families often “lose” themselves. This is why the faith community is so important to this effort.

The faith community is a powerful agent of social change and possesses a founding principle of love and spirituality as well as the power and influence to lead individuals and communities to respond appropriately and effectively to SGBV. Faith leaders and their communities have immense power to reach all levels of society as well as a proven track record of leadership on such issues as poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Yet despite sexual violence’s being endemic the world over, leaving massive destruction in its wake, the faith community has remained virtually silent on this issue and sometimes has even perpetuated the stigma and discrimination of SGBV survivors.

Tim Townsend 10-07-2013
Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Kristen Leslie, (left), a professor at Eden Theological Seminary. Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Kristen Leslie began her 2003 book, When Violence Is No Stranger, with a verse from Psalms, a nod to her training as a theologian.

“It is not enemies who taunt me — I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me — I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend…”

The book’s subject was acquaintance rape, and it got the attention of a chaplain at the Air Force Academy. The school was then reeling from a Pentagon report indicating that 7 percent of its cadets reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape. Nearly 90 percent of the perpetrators were their own classmates.

Leslie, now a professor of pastoral theology and care at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., was invited to Colorado to consult with academy leaders on how to train Air Force chaplains to deal with sexualized violence on campus.

Now, a decade later, the U.S. Navy has come knocking.

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian from Liberty Universtiy School of Law speaks during a panel Thursday. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

The Christian mission field “is a magnet” for sex abusers, Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse said Thursday to a room of journalists.

While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, ”I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference. But it’s harder to track.

“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,”  said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.

Catherine Woodiwiss 07-08-2013

A young couple holds hands. Photo courtesy Peter Bernik/

Unfortunately, sexual violence on college campuses is a widespread reality. As many as 20-25 percent of women will face attempted or completed assault over the course of their college tenure. Contrary to popular myths about “stranger-danger,” 9-in-10 of those victims will know their attacker.

Catherine Thiemann 06-12-2013
Young pastor with Bible silhouette, Africa Studio /

Young pastor with Bible silhouette, Africa Studio /

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

"From the beginning …" began my pastor, rising slowly from his armchair. With his next words, he broke my world apart. From the beginning, he had been attracted to me as a woman. From the beginning, his interest in me had been personal. He told me the reasons why, and then he said these words: "If we were both single, and if I weren't your pastor, we'd be going out to dinner." He paused a long beat. “And we’d see where it went from there." 

Were my pastor's words an act of sexual violence?

When we hear the words "sexual violence," we may envision a forcible rape or a sexual act with a person incapable of consent. Many of us would consider unwanted groping or uninvited embraces to be acts of sexual violence. Some of us would include "consensual" sex between persons of different rank, because we understand that power disparity makes meaningful consent impossible. But what about the manipulative behavior that gives rise to the delusion of consent? Was my pastor's not-quite-a-proposition an act of sexual violence? Could a lingering handshake, a compliment on spiritual gifts, or an offer of pastoral support be acts of sexual violence? Most of us would say no. And most of us would be missing the boat.

Cynthia Lapp 05-29-2013
Church doors,  thanunkorn /

Church doors, thanunkorn /

We have learned from the crisis at Penn State University and other incidents that have gained national attention that it is not only religious authorities that turn a blind eye to abuses of power. The educational, legal, social service, and policing systems are broken when it comes to protecting children, and others who are vulnerable, from abuse.

Lest we forget our history and think that this is a uniquely 20th and 21st century problem, we need only turn to the Bible. In II Samuel, we are reminded that abuses of power, lust, and rage have always been part of the human experience.

An incident described II Samuel happens not in a religious or educational institution but in a family. It is not an isolated incident; it does not develop out of thin air. It is a case of “like father, like son.” Amnon’s father is King David, who in II Samuel 11, sees Bathsheba bathing and uses his power to have her brought to him so that he may “lay” with her.

It is only two chapters later that we read that Amnon, David’s son, is tormented by the beauty of his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon does not have the authority that his father David has, so he must use trickery instead of sheer power to get what he wants. After Amnon violently “lays” with Tamar, he is filled with hatred for her and forces her to leave his sight. In doing this, he shames her even further.

The scandal is not just that Amnon violates Tamar and the law of Israel, but when Tamar cries and ritually mourns her pain and disgrace she is told to be quiet. Her brother Absalom tells her to stop brooding over the episode. And while Absalom and their father, King David, are angry with Amnon for what he has done to Tamar, neither David nor Absalom even talks to Amnon about it. David does not punish his beloved firstborn son.

Perhaps one positive thing we can say about this story is that Tamar has a name; she is not anonymous like so many other powerless women in biblical stories. Tamar is named and remembered.

Ruthie Dean 05-23-2013
Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos /

Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos /

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

I know now, what I wish I knew then. Only after speaking up, did I learn how common stories like mine are to women across the globe. I know the warning signs and have a clearer picture of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. I long for each of us to wrestle with the truth that we are never to blame — no matter how we dress, what we look like, or how much we’ve had to drink.

We never, ever deserve to have our bodies treated as objects of shame.

Tara Samples 05-21-2013
Jesus-like image hiding face, Elena Ray /

Jesus-like image hiding face, Elena Ray /

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

I first became aware of the realities of sexual abuse in the church at the tender age of five. I happened to look at the television screen and witnessed police officers escorting my hand-cuffed youth minister in front of a crowd of reporters screaming questions. The words “YOUTH PASTOR ABUSED CHILDREN” flashed across the television screen.

I was confused and scared. My family comforted and assured me that the pastor had only “hurt” teenage boys and that I was safe. The church hired a new minister and, on the surface, life seemed to resume to normal for our congregation. But as a child I had no idea of the effects of the abuse and its aftermath had on the survivors, their families, and our church community. Many families soon experienced disintegrating marriages, friendships were broken, and faith was lost. One survivor’s family had their home repeatedly vandalized and were forced to move hundreds of miles from our town to escape fellow believers who grew angry with them for filing a lawsuit against the perpetrator. 

Church leaders shunned media attention and feared “airing dirty laundry” in public, encouraging members to keep the experience a secret for the sake of the boys and church. As a child, and then a teenager, growing up in an otherwise loving, connected church, I never remember hearing church leaders address this aspect of our shared history in the open. To some of the survivors and the broken-hearted, the silence on this topic was welcome; to others it was deafening. While secrecy was the rule, the legacy of the abuse was real and active in the community. Rather than being cared for with dignity and love, the survivors and their families felt that they were a shameful secret to be whispered about and hidden. I learned as an adult that I was intimately connected with some of the survivors but never knew about their silent pain. I had no idea that I was a participant in a culture of silence and shame that often surrounds sexual abuse and is especially pronounced when boys are abused by men in the church. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 05-17-2013
Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank /

Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank /

Consider in the past year alone, America has wrestled over the injustice of forced vaginal probe ultrasounds. We have had our own deep cultural apathy revealed as the media tipped their sympathies toward the jocks that ripped a 16 year-old girl’s life and body through gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio – even as our nation gasped in horror at multiple reports of gang rapes of women in India. And over the past few weeks we have witnessed the unmasking of several U.S. military leaders, who were charged with duties to protect the women in their ranks, as they were revealed to be the very perpetrators themselves.

In Jim Wallis’ latest column, he writes, “It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged” and adds, “And it's time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.”

Will we do it? Will we take the step? Will we allow this holy wind that has blown the cover off of evil deeds done in the dark to rush through? Will we allow the cleansing waters of God to wash our society clean of practices — both private and public — that twist, maim and crush the image of God in more than half its population? Will we exercise the same courage that it took for those women at the first Pentecost to allow the spirit to move them into the public square and speak — testify, tell the truth, and prophesy? Will we repent from our silence?

Repentance begins in the heart. So, I must ask: “Will I repent of my silence — my safe silence?” Yes.

Jim Wallis 05-16-2013
Angel, umbertoleporini /

Angel, umbertoleporini /

Violence against women is the most prevalent and the most hidden injustice in our world today. From rape as a weapon of war, to human trafficking, to the attack of a young girl seeking an education, the treatment of women and girls across the globe is in a state of crisis.

And we don't even need to leave our own shores to encounter staggering statistics. Here in the U.S., 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime — a number that only jumps when you realize that 54 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. More than 1 in 3 women have experienced some kind of intimate partner violence. Sexual assaults in the U.S. military continue to rise — with an estimated 26,000 in 2012 alone — even as its leaders claim to be addressing the epidemic. 

As I lay out in my book On God’s Side, what has been missing from this narrative is the condemnation of these behaviors from other men, especially men in positions of power, authority, and influence — like those in our pulpits. In a section of that book, I say we need to establish a firm principle: the abuse of women by men will no longer be tolerated by other men. The voices of more men need to join the chorus to make that perfectly clear.

It's time for all people of faith to be outraged.

Catherine Woodiwiss 05-15-2013

A woman stands alone on the stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.