I have often wondered why it is so easy to fall into victim blaming. I have never understood why victims are drug through the mud. This reaction happens in society and within the church, which should be the safest place to share our burdens without being cast aside. When a sexual assault victim comes forward and tells their story years later, they are asked why they didn’t report it at the time, why they hid it or even questioned about their motivation for sharing now. When a person reports being raped, they are often asked if they were sober, why they were alone and questions such as what were they wearing or if there was anything they think they could have done differently to prevent the attack. When a domestic violence victim shares their story, they are asked why they haven’t left yet. Since the responses are pretty similar from society and the church, I wonder why. Aren’t we called to respond differently than the world?
Society responds with victim blaming because it is easier than facing the ugly truth. Rape culture is not only the socially acceptable norm but also encouraged by the entertainment industry, advertising industry and mass media. I could spend hours on my soapbox about the detrimental effects of pornography on all of this but I want to focus on the Christian perspective. Job gives us great examples of victim blaming and how God deals with it. How do we as Christians today encourage victim blaming? By responding with automated Christian band-aid responses, by giving our youth mixed messages and by not addressing problems within the church.
The worldly view is that people get what they deserve and they deserve what they get. As Christians, we don’t have to believe that. We can take comfort in the fact that God doesn’t give us what we deserve (THANK GOD!) and that He has a plan for everything. Being a Christian doesn’t ensure that we will have a stress free, perfect life. Being a Christian gives us the confidence that we can endure those trials because we are not alone, that God is our strength and our source of comfort. Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey frequently throws the Proverbs dagger that the righteous are prosperous and that poor people are lazy. Well meaning Christians often tell their peers to pray harder and to have more faith when facing tough circumstances. When we say this to people, it can be misunderstood that their lack of faith is why they are struggling. People may internalize this and convince themselves that they don’t believe enough or they don’t have enough faith and that this is the source of their trouble. That may not be what we mean when we say those “encouraging” things but it is often what is heard. I think most of us are guilty of using well meaning, automated Christian responses. We intend to direct people to God as a source of comfort, peace and encouragement but sometimes we actually push them further away. Unknowingly, we are encouraging the victim blaming mentality by using these words as a Christian band aid to all problems. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here...We should absolutely encourage people to pray and to have faith, but we must do so in a way that does not imply that their lack of faith or prayer is to blame.
Girls are given mixed messages from a young age. Society emphasizes that beauty, sexiness and power are the keys to happiness. Parents teach their daughters to dress modestly to avoid causing boys to look at them or to prevent people from judging them. We reinforce that as they grow up and become women. We encourage the gold standard that it is “inappropriate” to meet with someone of the opposite sex without your spouse being present. While these seem like harmless messages, they perpetuate the victim blaming mentality. It’s as if we are telling them that they are responsible for a man’s reaction if they didn’t dress conservatively. That someone might get the wrong idea about them (gasp) if seen with another man or that meeting someone at a coffee shop to discuss ministry might open the door for someone to be tempted…..that somehow these reactions are our fault as women. There is a difference between teaching our daughters to respect their body, encouraging them to want to dress in a way that honors their body and teaching them that they have to dress to protect themselves from others. We should be able to walk down the street naked without getting assaulted because our bodies belong to us and we are not responsible for someone else’s reaction to our appearance. Not that I am encouraging that…..but the point is if someone can’t control themselves around a person of the opposite sex THAT is the problem. We must raise up our children to respect themselves and others equally. We must teach them that all humans deserve equal respect. Just as Jesus himself told us…. Love God, love yourself and love others.
Churches don’t like to talk about problems within the church. If a scandal happens, it is kept as quiet as possible so that damage is minimalized. This is one of few areas where Christians in church are great at keeping secrets. If someone is violated, harassed or assaulted by someone in a leadership role, the congregation has a right to know of the danger...not for gossip purposes but for their own protection or so that they can make an informed decision about who their children are around. Of course, after due diligence and investigation is done. When old scandals are found out about years later, it does more damage than if it had been addressed openly and honestly from the beginning. Why are things kept hidden? Shame, embarrassment, and fear. Unfortunately, the shame, embarrassment and fear is most often regarding the offender and their family. Isn’t it strange that the church would be afraid of how the congregation reacts to the family? Shouldn’t we know that our church is full of love and grace? Therefore the family should be loved as we come together and support the victim. Yes, the family might be asked to leave the church if it is a severe incident or a behavior pattern. At a minimum, the offender shouldn’t be engaging with the victim or ever alone with anyone in the church and others in leadership should know to stay alert to prevent anything else. If they go to another church, the pastor should have a discussion with the next pastor. I know it’s tricky and awkward but it can and should be done. Offenders can bounce from church to church because no one wants to tarnish their reputation or get in their business. While this may or may not be direct victim blaming, it definitely causes the victim to feel like the outcast when the offender isn’t addressed and they still see them at church or district wide events.
The last few months, time after time I see victims coming forward and getting attacked for doing so. Now, people are even questioning why kids didn’t speak out about a school shooter. Are you kidding me??? When will it end? When will we come together and stop blaming victims? Why isn’t our reaction as Christians vastly different than society’s? What can we do to change not only the church’s response but society’s as well?
Read the book of Job again and see what God has to say about the victim blaming Job endured (especially Job 42:7-8)...let’s discuss in the comments below.