Today’s phone-in discussion uncovered the possibility that there could be far more rape victims in our churches than perhaps we realise, either because the victims are afraid of the reaction they will get if they share their story or simply because they don’t know who to turn to. For instance, a survey suggested that around a third of Brits believe that if a woman behaves flirtatiously or dresses provocatively then she is partially or fully to blame if she gets raped. Given this extraordinary finding, I asked the Woman to Woman listeners for their thoughts on the matter.
Miriam Virgo is a Christian police officer who described herself on-air as a ‘multiple rape victim’. She has heard these hurtful comments first-hand and has directly experienced sympathy levels wane once people realise she has been raped more than once: assuming she must be doing something wrong to have been taken advantage so many times - whether that be dressing inappropriately or talking to men in a flirtatious way - people in her family and at church apparently tried to make her take responsibility for her part in the rape. Now she has been through therapy and received prayer ministry, Miriam doesn’t think the comments impact her so much. Instead she chooses to focus on mentoring young women who have been raped too, and on her heart is the need for the Church in the UK to equip people so that they can help out victims like herself. Speaking in sad tones, she confided: ‘I have not been helped at all by those in the Church’.
She believes rape is still a taboo topic for Christians to talk about, and an ‘embarrassing’ thing for people to admit to – ensuring that very few stories come out into the open. Looking positively to the future she recommended that churches consider that they do have an important role to play in the recovery process of rape victims.
Natalie Collins, a gender justice specialist, was concerned that we shouldn’t blame victims of rape, emphasising that they are ‘never to blame’. The idea that the clothing choice of a woman would act as an invitation or enticement to a predator horrified her, and she was adamant that ‘sexual assault is not related to what someone wears, it’s about the choice of somebody to violate another human being’.
...a woman should be able to walk down the street naked and not expect somebody to interfere with her body
In a radical statement, Natalie passionately expressed that she felt ‘a woman should be able to walk down the street naked and not expect somebody to interfere with her body.’ She also sympathised with Miriam’s comments about the embarrassment element of confiding rape to members of the church, and suggested that there is still a shame culture in our churches.
Lloyd is a Premier Christian Radio listener who has worked in security, including nightclubs. Having witnessed a lot of women ‘dress provocatively, get drunk and fall over men’, he offered his thoughts based on some of these things he’s seen: ‘Some men cannot control themselves as well as others, so when women are vulnerable and half naked, I’ve seen fights break out’. He believes there is a direct link between the way a woman dresses and the likelihood that she will be taken advantage of, quoting a preacher he once heard saying “If it’s not for sale, why is it on display?”.
In general it was the men listening to the show who were quick to say that the way a woman dresses is a key factor in men attacking them, with ‘Colin’ suggesting that women cover up if they don’t want any unwanted attention from men. Patricia agreed with them saying, ‘if we dress in sexy clothes we put a stumbling block in front of our brothers’.
Perhaps the most moving comment came towards the end of the show when a 71 year-old Christian woman phoned up to share that a couple of years ago she was raped in her home by a friend’s husband who had popped round to help her out with something. In tears, she shared the story and how she hadn’t told anyone until today about what she had been through, but that she would now be seeking help. Her message was simple: ‘it’s not just scantily clad young women who get raped’.