July 09, 2014

Blaming Victims:
Why won't fundamentalist Christian universities support rape victims?

"He confirmed my worst nightmare--it was something I had done, it was something about me, it was my fault."

Can you imagine being the person that inspired those words from a rape victim? Can you imagine being coldhearted enough that you can make a victim of sexual assault feel like they are at fault for their own attack?

I can't.

And yet, in conservative fundamentalist communities around the nation, this is a common experience. Women, reared to believe from before they even truly understood that they have a responsibility to the men around them, to protect them from lust and temptation, find victimization difficult enough--only to then be re-traumatized by the spiritual system they expect to turn to for comfort, support and hope.

There's a storm brewing here, my friends. That storm is centered on fundamentalist Christian colleges around our nation, and how they are handling allegations of sexual assault.

Because these schools do not accept federal money, they are not bound by Title IX.

But this is causing significant heartbreak for victims of sexual assault on these campuses, who can find themselves caught up in internal investigations. Chandler Carney cites an example:
"Patrick Henry College in Virginia is one right-wing private Christian school that prides itself on not accepting any assistance from the government in order to not comply with Federal regulations aimed at student safety, education or financial assistance. The school’s website states that “in order to safeguard our distinctly Christian worldview, we do not accept or participate in government funding.” 
The Dean of Patrick Henry College, Sandra Corbitt, has taken it upon herself to conduct investigations, as many other unqualified administrators have done at fundamentalist universities. One victim remembers Corbitt stating that “it’s my job to poke holes in your story. I have to make sure that you’re not lying to me…I don’t think you’re wholly innocent in this situation.”
"I don't think you're wholly innocent in this situation"--really? Yes, really.

Think Progress cites another example from Bob Jones University:
"Katie Landry, who was raped by a coworker several times during the summer before she started attending Bob Jones, didn’t tell anyone about her assault for several years. She was deeply ashamed and failed most of her classes her first year of school. When she eventually sought counseling, the dean of students told her that “we have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.” 
“He confirmed my worst nightmare — it was something I had done, it was something about me, it was my fault,” Landry said in an interview with Al Jazeera’s program America Tonight. The dean also asked her if she had done anything “impure” or smoked pot." 
You may recognize Ms. Landry's quote at the start of the second paragraph. No, I didn't create that. I merely borrowed it from Landry's experience. Yes, someone actually said that to a sexual assault victim. Someone that the victim was supposed to be able to trust...actually said that.

It's easy to see how this fits into a fundamentalist worldview. In fundamentalism, the Bible is interpreted literally, and women suffer by this association. Eve ate the first bite. She handed it to Adam. Adam sinned because of her influence. He may have been the one who chose to sin--silly Eve! she was just tricked--but it was because of the influence of the woman. Because of that moment, woman is cursed. Part of the curse, in fact, is that men will rule over her.

So women are innately, fundamentally flawed.

Combine this very basic doctrinal tenet with the idea that men are lustful creatures, drawn to temptation, and you have the idea of Christian modesty in a nutshell. Modesty beseeches you to please, think of others when you dress--especially poor struggling men who can't help but look at you as a sexual object. Please, ladies, don't be a stumbling block, they are begging you, please, put your boobs away. You just don't understand the power that you have.

To take it a step further, Carney points out:
The logic, or lack there of, goes as follows: A man’s temptation to sexually assault or rape is seen as natural in a world full of temptation. 
In light of this, what do we truly expect from fundamentalist colleges with no outside oversight? Do we expect them to approach this from a place of compassion? They are--they are feeling compassion for someone a sinner. We may see a rape victim. These people don't. They see someone who was truly complicit in their own victimization.

 There's also been some talk of how the culture of "forgive and forget" helps aid and abet sex offenders--even if you accept that a student is raped, it's still the responsibility of the student to forgive a truly remorseful attacker, even as Christ forgave their sins. Once forgiven, it's not to be brought up by the community whatsoever. It's as far as the East is from the West.

The idea that colleges would stoop to this level is heartbreaking, but it highlights an important truth. There is a level of misogyny inherent in the fundamentalist movement that is like nothing most of us have ever seen. It continues to bristle and fight back as feminism pushes for equality for women--equality that challenges so many basic tenets of its worldview.

"Live and let live" is a great axiom, and I believe it. But I'll admit--it gets difficult in light of these misogynistic tendencies. I don't see how fundamentalism can adapt around them.

Hopefully they'll surprise me.

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