Shaming and Blaming: Rape Denial as Religious Crisis

The comments on my Huffington Post piece, “Bill Cosby: Rape, Gender, and Serial Rape Denial”  have not been as bad as I expected.

Of course, I expected very little in the way of affirmation of my argument. But still…

Is there a shift going on? I wonder. Yes, there are the ‘we need to see concrete evidence’ type of soft denials, but there is less women-blaming than I imagined there would be. Of course, after 42 women have gone public with accusations against Bill Cosby for sexual assault over many years, the ‘they’re making it all up’ defenders of Cosby have little ground to stand on.

But if we really want to stop serial rape, it is absolutely critical to increasingly keep the attention on the alleged offender. The Cosby accusations bear a marked resemblance to the statistics on how many campus rapes are committed by serial rapists, as I note in an earlier Huffington Post piece, “The Hunting Ground: Stop Victim Blaming and End Campus Rape.”

The comments on The Christian Left were characteristically thoughtful and compassionate. I engaged a discussion about betrayal and trust.

There is a deep religious issue at stake in victim blaming and shaming. It is a profound betrayal of women as human beings, and it often precipitates a religious crisis for them.

I believe the two most basic religious questions are: “What can I trust?” and “Am I alone?” The immoral failure of our society is that women, as is especially clear in the case of acquaintance rape, find they cannot trust someone they thought they knew, and then they find they are not trusted when they try to report and they are often isolated and left alone. They are shamed and blamed for the violence committed against them.

The religious crisis, however, should be when many people of faith and people of humanist values do not believe women when they report rape, and when they are shamed and blamed, and asked to justify trying to report a crime.

Why is the attention not focused, to a great extent, on the alleged rapist?  Who gets the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ and who is disbelieved?

We have to ask ourselves this hard question: why are so many women still left alone in their pain and grief?

Now that’s a religious crisis.

1 thought on “Shaming and Blaming: Rape Denial as Religious Crisis

  1. Thank you so much for this. Any woman can tell you that the sense of grief, betrayal, and religious crisis–and the pain of de facto bystander complicity–is compounded when sexual boundaries are crossed via clergy sexual misconduct. Almost always, it is the target and not the perpetrator who is expelled out of the body of Christ like an offending splinter because it is her disclosure, not the offender’s predatory behavior, that fellow church members have decided has made them uncomfortable and is threatening their good feelings around their worship space and congregational identity.

    With a “secular” sexual assault, the losses and stresses I incurred by doing the right thing (for myself, and for any future women) by going to civil authorities were nowhere near as grievous and spiritually devastating as what has unfolded as the result of asking a few members of a church leadership board to hear my story of some grossly inappropriate “pastoral care” by a very elderly retired clergy member in their tiny, supposedly progressive congregation, just so that I could have witnesses among leadership of what happened as a condition of what it would take for me to feel comfortable returning to worship beside him. (I never even asked for consequences for him.)


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