Rape Culture Alive and Well

Rape Culture Alive and Well April 25, 2016
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It’s difficult for me when you use such language as “rape culture” to describe our faith.  I love our church and the gospel. And I know the last thing anyone in our church would want is for anyone to get raped. Why do you speak so negatively about our church?

Thank you for your question. First of all I love our church and the gospel of Jesus Christ as well.  Second of all, I’m not describing our “faith” – I am describing our culture. I see those things as very different.

I know “rape culture” is strong language – yet, unfortunately it fits by the definitions of what this terminology means. We are not the worst of cultures out there, of course – but we must be willing to look in the mirror and call ourselves out so that we can improve and stop harming victims when, I agree with you, that’s not at all what we want to be about. We have apostles just in the last decade referring to women as “walking pornography” if immodestly dressed (I believe this was Oaks). Ted Callister said that women can “expect to get the type of man they dress for.” And then we have way too many reported stories of adult and adolescent women finding themselves in positions of “repentance” after reporting some level of sexual abuse. These are just a few examples. Looking to definitions of what “rape culture” means: “Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm of some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these… Rape myths, victim blaming, and trivialization of rape have been found to be positively correlated with racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, religious intolerance, and other forms of discrimination.”  We objectify women when we tell them to cover themselves in certain ways. We victim blame by a lot of the messages we give about avoiding certain situations that could lead to rape (you were drunk, you were wearing sexy clothes, you were in the wrong place) – instead of putting the entire weight of the crime on the perpetrator. We ignore that most of sexual assault happens without any “risk-taking” behavior by the victim before hand.  We deny or systematically ignore that abuse/assault/rape happens within an LDS context. We speak to women about “rape avoidance” at much higher rates than we speak to men about sexual consent. I could go on. There are entire college courses that go into the complexities of how we participate in “rape culture.” And it’s not just our church. It’s other denominations and US culture at large. And most of it is about misconceptions many of us don’t even know we have. That’s why education is so important – and why BYU should know better. With such a strong emphasis these days on helping universities and their students have better processes in these situations, it’s surprising that BYU is so far behind the mark on this one. And the tragedy, is that many women and girls internalize these messages in a way that make them feel unsafe to disclose what has happened to them. And THIS is what we must all be focused on. How do we make it as EASY as possible to report sexual violence and how do we make it as EASY as possible for women (and men) in that position to get the help and resources they need.

I am going to share a letter that was sent to me by a member of the Chandler, Arizona stake just this month.  This is the YW Stake Presidency justifying why they have gone to a “no shorts” policy in their stake for youth activities. I received this from a mother who is incredibly concerned as to how these types of cultural interpretations (that have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ) are going to affect both her daughters and sons.  I’d like to pose a challenge to my readers: in the comment section, point out what messages in this letter contribute to the rape culture we find in our LDS wards, stakes and general membership. I’d also like to hear how you think this type of policy might actually get in the way of teens wanting to attend church activities, invite their friends, understand the actual principles of the gospel, etc.

Dear YW Presidents,

Regarding wearing shorts to mutual activities: The mutual attire policy comes from the Chandler South Stake Presidency. They have observed that a policy like this makes things so much easier than having to decide how short is too short. They have also observed that behavior tends to improve when youth are in pants rather than shorts because they focus on the activity and not on the outfit. The Stake Presidency suggests if youth come in shorts, especially straight from sports activities, that they bring either a change of clothes or throw sweat pants on over. The same guidelines apply to adults. The Stake Presidency explained to me that similar to the temple garment, the way our youth dress is often an outward indicator of their inner commitment to and love for the Savior. They also mentioned that the last thing our YM need is the enticement of girls in short shorts. Many of our younger girls don’t fully understand the impact their dress can have on boys (for good or for detriment). Your Bishop can decide when shorts are permissible for sporting type activities so please discuss this with him. Gratefully, the Holy Ghost will direct us all to know what to say and do in love as individual circumstances arise. I know you love these girls and want them to attend mutual, feel the love of the Lord and continue on the covenant path He has designed for His children. I also testify that the Lord will bless the girls and us as women and leaders in His church, for following the direction given to us by our Stake Presidency. Please contact me with any questions you may have and thank you for being patient with me. With sincere love…

Great article addressing these same issues by Stephanie Lauritzen in the Salt Lake Tribune Op-ed section.

Rape Culture is pervasive, ingrained and extends well beyond BYU

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex InfoPodcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.

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