Women and Girls

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 / Shutterstock.com

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 / Flickr.com
Sarah Silverman, Photo by Jeff / Flickr.com

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.

Infertility and the Role of the Church

Background landscape by Alex_Po / Shutterstock.com
Background landscape by Alex_Po / Shutterstock.com

If you’re on social media and have a certain number of contacts of childbearing age, chances are good that there are times when it seems that every other post is announcing a pregnancy, the results of a gender-revealing ultrasound, or a birth.

Chances are also good that you don’t see many status updates about infertility, about the difficult “two-week wait” between ovulation and the time that a home test can announce an early pregnancy — or a woman’s monthly period can let her know that her wait isn’t over.

This week — April 19-25 — is National Infertility Awareness Week. For 2015, the theme is “You Are Not Alone.”

That’s an important message for people struggling with infertility.

“It’s a very private struggle,” one woman told me. “It’s a struggle not many people are privy to, so you put on a smile and act like all is well when really you’re in a constant state of grief.”

“It isn’t only about the second bedroom remaining empty or the ache of your empty arms when you see a friend cradling her newborn. Our culture — from our tax policies to our churches — revolve[s] around families with children. When people experience infertility, they grieve what’s missing from their personal lives and are also shut out from the social experience of parenthood,” says Ellen Painter Dollar, a writer who focuses on reproductive health and ethics.

Yet infertility affects more people than you might think: 1 in 8 — 7.4 million — U.S. women of childbearing age have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy to term. Infertility — defined clinically in male-female couples who don’t become pregnant after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse — is caused by many different factors and confluences of factors. Sometimes, perhaps as much as a third of the time, no identifiable cause can be found.

One Year Later, Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Missing

One year after the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by terror group Boko Haram, more than 200 kidnapped children remain missing. 

The kidnapping on April 15, 2014, provoked international outrage and a viral twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. Many prominent personalities — including First Lady Michelle Obama and comedian Ellen DeGeneres — joined the global outcry, prompting Nigeria to launch a military offensive against the group. Also in the last year, the U.S. military and others have offered Nigeria assistance in finding the children. 

But few children to date have escaped from what is widely counted among the most ruthless terror groups operating in North Africa.

According to NBC

"The Chibok girls were just one group of many, many others who have been kidnapped since last year," said Biu, a woman's rights activist and professor in Maiduguri, Nigeria. "I cannot say that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has made women and young girls in the northeast feel any safer."

While a few dozen of the Chibok girls have escaped Boko Haram captivity, more than 200 are still missing. To Biu, the international campaign to release the girls did little to bring them home — or stop countless others from being taken since.

Since then, NBC reports, Boko Haram's campaign of terror has continued "largely unabated." 

Read more here.

Blaming the Victim

Mindmo / Shutterstock
Mindmo / Shutterstock

WHEN I WAS 15, my church youth group was not a safe place. Like most youth groups, there were college-age volunteers who served as counselors and Bible study leaders.

One counselor, Paul, took it upon himself to constantly tell me I wore too much makeup, my clothes were too tight, and that I was a flirt. These actions took place in public for six months while other counselors and students watched and laughed. The interactions came to a head when he commented on my lipstick color and I snapped back at him. He grabbed me, forced me onto his lap, and told me I liked it.

At the time, I just thought Paul was creepy; I now recognize his behavior was sexual harassment. I also recognize that the other members of my youth group, including the leaders, saw his behavior and failed to intervene. Why did this happen? Both Paul’s behavior and the leaders’ silence belong to a larger set of attitudes in our culture—and churches—that allows sexual violence and sexual harassment to become normal, even expected, behaviors.

This set of attitudes is known as “rape culture.” When we fail to confront these toxic attitudes in our churches, we undermine our love for our neighbors, ignore the Bible, and misrepresent God as misogynistic.

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'The Mask You Live In': A Blessed Mess

From impossible standards of beauty generated by the fashion and make-up industry to the disproportionate number of women who are elected to political office, women and girls in America face a variety of obstacles in their journey of empowerment. But what also warrants attention are some of the less noticeable consequences when gender norms are so narrowly defined across the board. For instance, if we characterize women as submissive, emotional, or alluring beings, then what does it mean to be a man? And how might damaging myths and stereotypes about masculinity produce its own host of social ills?

These questions remain central to The Representation Project’s latest documentary The Mask You Live In, a film that ambitiously seeks to re-evaluate how masculinity is defined and expressed in America. According to director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, when mainstream culture views masculinity as a rejection of everything feminine, traits like kindness, healthy emotions, and constructive resolution of conflict become undervalued if not wholly disregarded for most men. Instead, the prevailing norms that young boys receive from their homes—as well as in movies, sports, and video games—push them to equate masculinity with domination, violence, stoicism, financial success, or sexual conquest.

The Strength of our Stories

Vintage Inscription. Photo by MyImages - Micha / Shutterstock

There is room and need for men’s stories in the narrative of ending violence against women.

In blending our separate and shared experiences we find common ground. Together they lead us to what Dr. King described as "the fierce urgency of now." Every action we take today will save others the pain and suffering that is in our collective past. We need to add male voices and stories to those of women who have been speaking out about violence for decades.

Today I work as a co-coordinator in Oregon for the We Will Speak Out campaign. Our goal is to bring faith communities into the movement to end domestic and gender-based violence. This not a women’s movement. It is a movement of all people of faith to speak up and speak out to end the use of power over women and children. It is a movement that walks with survivors in their healing journey. It is a movement that strives to live into Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The "Broken Silence" report commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health indicates that the main issue in keeping pastors from speaking out about sexual and gender-based violence is a lack of knowledge on the issue. By speaking our truth and sharing our history we provide both the common ground and urgency to take action—together and now.

Learning from Undaunted Women

Three figures forming a heart. Image by VectorFrenzy / Shutterstock

Sitting in Prajwala's small conference room adjacent to a chaotic market, I asked Sunitha where the strength came from to charge ahead into danger, violence, and sometimes even rejection by the women Prajwala served. I don't remember her exact words - but the gist was that the strength came not from herself, but from faith in her own experience of God. Not a God owned by some religious denomination, but the real One. That One who never let Sunitha down when it was time to pay the staff, deal with the mob, handle corrupt police, or remain resolute in the face of failure.

I have been blessed and humbled to have met these three women and remain inspired by what they do, particularly their commitment to empowering other women and girls. Sunitha told me to not just show up and feel sorry. Send money if you are inclined, but most importantly, speak about sexual slavery and trafficking to everyone you know. Don't allow anyone to pretend it isn't going on in your own community. Only when all men are vocal about this and intolerant of any abuse of women will things improve.

I pray that I may develop a sliver of the courage Anna, Anna, and Sunitha model.

Rape Culture on College Campuses: Advice for Survivors

arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com
2014 rally in remembrance of the 2012 gang rape in India. arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever blamed yourself for some horrible thing that happened to you? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45, I immediately started to wonder what I had done to cause my body to betray me like that. Maybe I’d eaten the wrong foods or not taken good enough care of my health – I know it wasn’t exactly logical, but I needed to find a cause and “me, myself, and I” turned out to be a convenient target. Thank God that my pastor, now of blessed memory, responded forcefully. “Don’t even go there,” he said, shutting me down before I’d gotten more than a few words out of my mouth. “You are not to blame.” He told me that bad things happen sometimes for no good reason and I should focus on my healing and not waste energy blaming myself. That was that for me. I trusted him so much that I stopped blaming myself right then and there.

A Culture of Victim Blaming

What does this have to do with victims of rape on college campuses? Rape is a really, really bad thing and rape victims desperately want to understand why this awful thing happened to them. The news coming out of college campuses seems full of accusations and rumors of college women being victimized by their classmates. Just as I did after my cancer diagnosis, victims can make the same mistake I did and blame themselves. It doesn’t help that too often the response they get from the culture around them blames them too. The term “rape culture” is being used because it conveys that the problem of rape is compounded after the assault when victim suffering is denied and perpetrators excused. What rape victims need – especially young, vulnerable college-age women – is a response as forceful and believable to them as my pastor’s was for me. To their credit, college campuses are wrestling with finding the right combination of policies and responses to convey loud and clear, “You are not to blame.”

Counseling services and the formation of student support groups on campus have gone a long way toward removing the stigma of blame from victims. And many campuses have for years honored the risk of post-traumatic responses by including so-called “trigger warnings” on syllabuses. These warnings alert students to reading assignments, movies, or discussions that might trigger a post-traumatic response. Students can choose to opt out of those classes and/or assignments, which goes a long way toward honoring their stories and demonstrating concern for their wounds. Survivor groups have also reacted strongly when other types of triggers are not acknowledged appropriately by the university. For example, a debate on the Brown University campus about the term “rape culture” included one panelist who was likely to criticize the term, which ignited protests from a student group seeking to make the campus a safe place for rape victims. The university agreed to create a safe place on campus for victims to recover from the trauma of having their viewpoints “invalidated.”

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