(Content note: rape culture; child sexual assault.)
Rape culture is the term we use to describe a society in which sexual aggressors are excused and even justified, while victims are silenced and often blamed for their own victimization. It’s a culture in which the emphasis is on trying to “teach” women how not to be victimized rather than on teaching men not to victimize women.
Today we’re talking about how a recent trial illustrates this idea and what it shows us about Christian culture.
Rape culture objectifies women and reduces them to sex objects–all while claiming it exalts them and pretends it adores them for everything but their potential to gratify men. It compares women to hunks of meat and men to sharks, insists that women make their clothing and makeup choices solely for men’s viewing pleasure, and considers street harassment the normal, inevitable, and reasonable price women must pay for their unspeakable crime of being Female in Public.
Rape culture only knows of one way to stop the victimization of women: to cover them up to the point where they are half-blinded, literally, by a thick veil, to limit their movement and educational opportunities, and to keep them as ignorant about sex and their bodies as possible. It takes as gospel truth the idea that if women follow all their labyrinthine, shifting, and purely subjective rules, then they will never be harmed.
So by definition, any woman who does get harmed was obviously not following all the rules.
When (not if) veiled, ignorant, sharply-limited, nearly-housebound women still get raped and victimized, rape culture will find a way to blame these women for their own victimization, rather than the people who abused them.
And toxic Christianity, that variant of the religion where ultra-right-wing conservative Christians hang out, is so dedicated to maintaining and preserving rape culture that sometimes I think the idea must be engraved on the plaque in the secret supervillain lair where their biggest leaders meet.
Indeed, if we drew a Venn diagram of ultraconservative Christianity and of people who support the ideas found in rape culture, we’d find a damn-near-total overlap. So-called “modesty” and “purity” standards of dress and behavior in fundagelical churches are nothing more than attempts to police women’s sexuality–all of it laced with threats about what harm awaits women, especially young and pretty women, who do not comply. The abstinence-only mis-education favored by fundagelicals encourages students to see sexually-active women as less deserving of protection from their communities, while virginal women are presented as more desirable as marriage partners. Rape victims get accused of somehow encouraging or provoking their attackers and sometimes are even forced to publicly apologize for their own assaults.
I wrote briefly about the various ways that fundagelical communities deliberately use the threat of rape to control women–it’s ugly, and it’s absolutely pervasive. Once women are sufficiently terrorized into compliance, then fundagelical leaders, parents, and other authority figures offer up their “modesty standards” as a method of avoiding the fate these leaders have threatened women with.
Why they’re wrong.
Jesus is certainly not making fundagelical men less likely to rape women, any more than the Giant Invisible Pink Unicorn is.
To the contrary.
I say that because I couldn’t possibly deliberately create an environment 100% guaranteed to result in a serious sexual assault problem more effectively than conservative Christian leaders have here.
This society teaches its adherents that a man’s sex drive is totally uncontrollable without the help of Jesus (who, again, is clearly not actually lifting a finger to do anything tangible for anyone), but that a man’s “sin nature” will cause him to disobey his religion’s rules no matter how fervent he is. Every transgression of Christianity’s rules is seen as equally serious as any other–which means that rape is as heinous as, say, fibbing on MyFitnessPal about your breakfast.
Consent is demonized. “God” (meaning ministers, of course, who claim they speak for “God”) owns all humans generally and men own women specifically, so rape is treated more like a theft of property (from men like fathers, brothers, husbands, etc., who are expected to guard their women’s sexual “purity” with care and diligence) than it is a violation of another human being’s self-sovereignty. Indeed, women are entirely stripped of both their voices and power in this paradigm, since they are supposed to not need either since they are sooooo well-protected–which ensures that their cries for justice will not be heard.
Fundagelical culture teaches men that they are entitled to the bodies of the women who belong to them, as well as those of any women who do not behave well enough to merit their community’s protection. This sense of entitlement is why conservative Christian men seem so strangely confused about and resentful of laws criminalizing marital rape, and why at least one fundagelical lawmaker thinks that if abortion is legalized, meaning on his home planet that if women can engage in unapproved sex with no
punishment from them, er, their god “consequences” (which is about the only reason why fundagelicals think women get abortions), then rape should be totally legal too since women who have unapproved sex fall well outside society’s protective arms.
Last, Christians generally are taught that dangerous emotions like lust and anger must be denied and hand-waved away with Jesus Power–which means that the only way to deal with them is to remove from sight all temptations and bottle up the emotions themselves. So men are never taught how to deal with strong negative emotions and impulses. Their solution is to abdicate all responsibility for their own behavior. That abdication means that women’s strategy for escaping violence and sexual assault at men’s hands must become, by necessity, finding some way to never provoke those feelings in any way in men, meaning that they are held responsible for the emotions, actions, and impulses of every single man around themselves, including total strangers.
But if the men around them start thinking that their environments or fee-fees are not sufficiently safeguarded, then all bets are off.
Amazingly, Christians totally can’t understand why sex assault and child abuse scandals keep erupting in their ranks. Mostly they blame demons for it, or say that evil feminism or evil-lutionism is what’s causing it. Their solution is magical thinking–prayer–which must be nice for them as it means they don’t actually have to change anything they’re doing or teaching.
I don’t think demons are necessary, though. I don’t see how this system, as it’s set up, could produce anything different than what we’re seeing.
Now we’re ready to meet Pastor G.Geronimo Aguilar, “Pastor G,” was until recently the pastor of the Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) in Richmond, Virginia.* The ROC, which is now known as the Celebration Church and Outreach Ministry, was founded in 2001 by Mr. Aguilar. Very quickly the church began to grow under his very charismatic leadership, though it came under suspicion for being a cult (link contains tons of other headlines about Mr. Aguilar’s many transgressions). Like most non-denominational churches, it’s basically Southern Baptist in doctrine and culture, and its flashy, muscular, tanned, shaved-headed pastor quickly took it to megachurch status.
In 2013, his gravy train ended when two young women came forward to accuse him of sexually assaulting them in the 1990s when he stayed with their family in Texas before heading for Virginia; the abuse lasted for a year and began when they were, respectively, 11 and 13. During one of his assaults on the younger girl during his time in Texas, her parents walked in on him in mid-assault. They immediately reported him to the police, giving statements which included his confession to them. All in all, four women ended up bringing various accusations against him. His wife testified about the other affairs he’d had with his personal assistant, a babysitter, a sister-in-law, and even the wife of a church board member. And like we’ve seen often in fundagelical men, his “pro-life” posturing certainly did not apply to one woman he impregnated.
“Pastor G” clearly found it easy to both hide his illicit desires and to find victims.
After a shocking trial, he was found guilty in June, and just got sentenced to 40 years in prison for charges of aggravated sexual assault against the older girl. Similar charges are still pending for his assaults on the younger girl.
Here’s why I’m telling you all this.
If all I wanted to write about was Geronimo Aguilar, I’d have had my hands full. His case is a perfect example of how rape culture goes so seriously wrong. But this story is more about his uncle Mel Aguilar, who insisted his nephew should be released from jail because, as he said, “Christians are the only people who shoot their wounded.” It was tacky, willfully obtuse, and disturbing all by itself, not to mention a rather strong display of his ignorance about our criminal justice system.
Then Mel Aguilar topped himself:
“How do we know that the hartlet didn’t lead him?” questioned Pastor G’s uncle, Mel Aguilar. “That’s my question too. I don’t know that she didn’t lead him.”
I’m guessing that “hartlet” is either the reporter mis-hearing a word or else the trendy new Christianese for “harlot.” I only found it in one other place: here in this misspelling-laced lyric sheet, which is from a Christian singer regarding a woman who “went from a loyal wife to a hartlet.” (I hope he’s a better singer than he is a lyricist, and I hope someone lets him know that non-Christians can totally hear him too.)
If my guess is correct, then it sure looks like this guy is calling a 13-year-old girl a harlot.
Mel Aguilar is positive that this child could meaningfully consent to sex with a man who was about twice her age and more or less her spiritual authority. He needs the question of her possible wrongdoing answered before he’ll absolve her of blame and accept that the assault on her was actually entirely his nephew’s fault. Above all, the owner of an almighty penis must be given benefit of the doubt. Women are only protected if they behave totally perfectly; if they are thought to be acting out, then they lose the protection of their communities and become fair game for attack.** Remember, if any woman, even a little girl, is assaulted, then by definition she clearly must have done something wrong. Before he’ll ever side against a man who committed a sexual assault, he needs to know what that man’s victim did to deserve it.
People like Mel Aguilar are, thankfully, a dying breed. Most people will look at the horseshit he spewed, froth instantly at the mouth, and wish they could scream in his face that THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD CHILDREN ARE NOT TO BLAME FOR THEIR OWN ASSAULTS, EVER, and that nobody can or should be able to cause a growed-up man to lose control–or even that “losing control” is ever an adequate reason to assault or abuse anyone. They might also even wonder why a religion that claims that its adherents are more moral people than non-believers are, that it is headed and inhabited by a living god who is the ultimate morality-giver and judge, and that they live under a threat of eternal torture if they disobey this god’s demands, produces so many people like Geronimo Aguilar and his uncle.
There’s lots more info about the Aguilar sentencing/trial/etc on this Facebook page hosted by the journalist who attended it all. There, among other things, we learn that someone who wrote the judge a glowing letter of support for “Pastor G” is, himself, a convicted child molester, probably his mentor Jack Schaap (10/13, 1:33pm), that Geronimo Aguilar kept the people living in the ROC’s charity homes freezing cold in the winter and fed them disgusting, moldy food while living in a $700k “parsonage” himself (10/13, 1:29pm), and that Mel Aguilar said, “shame on those women” for their accusations against his nephew because their pursuit of justice against his nephew is just “not Christian.” (10/13, 9:30am). Oh, and “Pastor G” had some seriously champagne taste. Real class acts, the lot of them.
One reason that a strong separation of church and state works so well for the United States is that because we know that faith in Jesus does not in and of itself produce a lawful, harmonious society, we can pass laws protecting children and enforcing the rules of consent–since Christianity seems patently unable to manage either one after 2000 years of existence.
You’ll be glad to know that the prosecution wasn’t having any of Mel Aguilar’s self-serving deflections at all. When one of the state’s lawyers asked Mel Aguilar if he could agree that society really needs to incarcerate a person who assaulted children like Geronimo Aguilar had, “Mel Aguilar said he did not know if he could agree with that.”
I’m totally sure he didn’t!
Well, his agreement is no longer required.
Or requested. Or desired.
And it’s his own fault it isn’t.
The only bright side to any of this case is that increasingly, people are seeing that we cannot expect fundagelicals to do the right thing in serious situations like child sexual assault, and that their judgment is extremely untrustworthy–in large part because of how locked-up they are in their adherence to rape culture.
But oh, what a terrible price society must pay to learn that lesson.
* The Richmond Outreach Center Recovery Group, incidentally, is a group devoted to helping those abused by the ROC’s ministry and to bringing those abusers to justice.
** LGBTQ people fall far outside the pseudo-protection of rape culture simply by existing. Because of the story I’m tying to this explanation, I’m focusing on male-on-female cis/het assaults, but assaults on LGB folks are about as common as those on straight folks, while assaults on transgender folks are way more common than those on cisgender folks. Also, the many men who are themselves victimized are terrified of speaking up about it because rape culture teaches that men who are victimized are extra-blameworthy and extra-not-masculine.