Rape is not one of those things that the mother of two adolescent daughters wants to think about. But recently the news has been full of stories of young women coming forward to say they were raped at major universities, first Baylor and now Stanford. I’ve been compelled to think about how best to talk to my girls about it.
My Family Has a Responsibility to Talk About Rape
My husband and I watched the documentary The Hunting Ground about the incidents of sexual assault on college campuses and I was struck by how many of the victims did not tell their parents after they were raped. Shame, fear, or not wanting to cause their parents pain led the women to not share the trauma they’d experienced with their moms and dads.
I hated the thought of those kids not having their mom or dad to comfort them, to hold them, and to tell them it was going to be ok.
As soon as I could, I told both of my girls, “When you go to college, or even before then, if you’re raped or sexually assaulted, I want you to tell me and your dad right away. I don’t care what time it is, or how far away you live. And I don’t care if you were drinking or went somewhere sketchy or did something stupid. Please, just tell us.”
As their parents we are deeply and profoundly invested in the wellbeing of our girls. We will be for the rest of their lives. If something of this magnitude happens to them, we want to know. We also have conversations with them about consent and how to protect themselves. If we had boys, we’d be doing the same thing from a different angle. Shame, fear, or not wanting to cause parents pain kept women from sharing their trauma Click To Tweet
Your Church Has a Responsibility to Talk About Rape
Our family responsibility leads us to talk about rape with our girls, even when it’s uncomfortable. A friend of mine is fond of quoting Psalm 68:6, “God sets the lonely in families.” Churches are spiritual families.
We are responsible for each other’s wellbeing spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. Victims of sexual assault are sitting in our churches every week. For people who live far from their families, or have difficult relationships, the church can offer a safe place to talk about rape and process trauma whether it has happened to them, a family member, or a friend.
What can churches do? As a family, the church has a responsibility to teach about rape. Click To Tweet
Like in any family, churches can teach the people who are part of their local communities a number of things. Here are five conversations you can have in your church about rape.
Teach How Bodies Matter
Our bodies matter and what we do with our bodies matter. God created our bodies, and the Incarnation teaches us that part of being like Christ means having a physical body. Honoring our bodies, and the bodies of other people, means respecting each person’s boundaries and desires for physical touch – that includes everything from hugs on Sunday morning to sexual contact.
Include Talking About Sex and Sexual Assault in Discipleship
Support families as they disciple their kids into their teens and early adulthood. Kids who grow up in churches are having sex before they’re married whether or not parents, pastors, and youth leaders want to admit it. Conversations about sex should start early and include everything from the ideal of waiting until marriage, to what consent means, to how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault.
Make Space for Shame-Free Storytelling
Create safe spaces where victims of sexual assault can process their story without fear of shame, blame, or unsolicited advice. Both women as well as men are victims of rape and sexual assault. Rather than making them feel ashamed or at fault, church families can provide comfort and care while making sure the victim gets whatever professional help they need, whether it’s medical attention or counseling for trauma from a rape hours or years ago.
Remind People About Their Imago Dei
We can remind those who’ve been raped or assaulted of their identity as God’s precious and beloved children. By telling them who and whose they are, we are helping to undo the damage done by the rape. The victim of the Stanford rapist had this to say, “You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was “unconscious intoxicated woman”, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster…” As God’s family, we have the job of telling sexual assault victims the truth about who they are. They are deeply loved by God. They are precious. They are not merely bodies to be used for another person’s pleasure or power trip. God’s heart breaks for them and with them. We can show them God’s love with our actions as we come alongside them, sit with them, cry with them, and wait as long as it takes for them to relearn their identities.
Teach Forgiveness Without Minimizing
Perpetrators of sexual assault are also people who are made in God’s image. We must not minimize sin. Yet, we must forgive. So much depends on the circumstances of the crime and whether the perpetrator is truly repentant and reformed. However, holding before our community the difficult work of loving even those who are difficult to love is following in the footsteps of Jesus. As God’s family, this is what we’re called to do.
The church has the opportunity to offer sanctuary, healing, and belonging to women and men who feel alone, afraid, and like no one believes them after they’ve been sexually assaulted. May we, God’s family, be the people whose phones ring when someone has been raped, no matter what time it is, no matter how far away, no matter how sketchy the circumstances were, because we offer love, listening, and hope for reclaiming one’s identity.