#MeToo. Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Bill Hybells. Now the Brett Kavanaugh case. The daily news is littered with sexual assault and harassment accusations. You’ve seen them. You’ve been surprised by them. Hopefully, you’ve been horrified by them. And even more so, I pray you’ve been moved to action.
As people of faith, if we aren’t talking about sexual assault, then what are we talking about? It’s negligent to not speak on the matter. Women and men are being harmed while we remain silent. I find that completely unacceptable.
That’s why I’m intentionally responding, both personally and as a faith leader.
We have a very straightforward policy at Sojourn. Sexual assault and the things that lead to sexual assault are not welcome. It has no place in our community or the broader world. That’s a standard of behavior that begins with ME and ripples out to everyone else in our community.
Here are my thoughts on how we respond to sexual assault. Many of these will be directed towards men because they are the main perpetuators of this issue.
1. Tell your story.
As the #MeToo movement has shown, telling your story is powerful. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Most men don’t experience the world the same when it comes to this issue. That’s why it’s so impactful when women bravely share what it’s like being a woman. I can honestly say I’ve never feared being sexually assaulted. And not because I’m some kind of tough guy—it’s just the world I live in as an average man.
NOTE: This is not to diminish men who have been assaulted, abused, or harassed. Assault in and of itself is not gender specific. We are all potential targets. I simply mean men typically do not have to alter their day-to-day lives due to the potential threat of an assault (i.e. running only in daylight, carrying pepper spray, hurrying to get in/out of a parking garage, etc.)
If you are a survivor and are in a place where you can share your story, male or female, please do. I hope that it will be a healing experience for you. Your story can be used to help create a world where sexual assault no longer exists. Thank you for being brave in sharing. On the other hand, there is absolutely no shame in not sharing something so personal.
2. Stop looking at pornography.
Porn normalizes rape and abuse. It also normalizes the objectification of bodies—both women’s and men’s. You are more than your sexual organs and sex is more than physical. The porn industry drives the demand for sexual exploitation. Furthermore, fighting against porn doesn’t make you some kind of sexual prude either! There are large bodies of research (both Christian and secular) showing the negative effects of pornography. Check out Fight The New Drug’swebsite for more resources.
NOTE: This is a step for both men and women. There is an increasing number of women who use pornography regularly.
It’s important for men to reflect on how they think about and interact with women. Men: think about all the words you associate with the word femininity. If you’re an average man (and willing to be truthful) then you most likely thought of one of these: weak, emotional, or naive. Many of the insults men use against one another are related to calling them a woman. This sends a message loud and clear: being a woman is bad. Avoid being a woman.
These are just a few ways language shapes our reality and how we socialize assault in men and women. I’m thankful for the training I’ve been given to reflect and change in this area. We are all a work in progress. A helpful book written by a mentor of mine is Am I Sleeping With the Enemy?
4. Speak out.
Use your influence to create change. Speak out in your personal relationships, through your social media, in groups you participate in, etc. I’m leveraging this blog to influence change in my circles. I also use my role as a campus ministry leader to create a community where sexual assault is not welcome. Where are the places you have influence?
If you’re a man in particular, we need you to speak out. Some men will only listen to other men. That’s just the reality of the situation. Use your influence for the good of the people around you.
Faith leaders in particular, will you stand against sexual assault with us?
5. Help people heal.
Help support and love the people around you. Someone you know has experienced this. Believe them when they open up to you. Listen. Empathize. Weep. Help them find resources for healing. Additionally, create communities of healing. People heal through communities of relationships. God designed us in that way and has chosen to work in our world through relationships.