Last week two letters have gone viral across the internet. The subject of both is the rapist, Brock Turner. Firstly, the profound and deeply moving victim statement was published. In the 12-page letter, the woman Brock Turner raped shares some of the many ways he hurt her and has forever changed her life in immeasurable, painful ways. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me,” the woman says. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.” She talks about the impact of the criminal justice system and courageously stands with all women who have been subjected to rape and sexual abuse.
The second letter was from Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father. It is as angry-making as the other letter is heart wrenching. Dan Turner describes his son’s choice to rape a woman as “twenty minutes of action” and laments his son’s lack interest in pretzels and steak as evidence that his son should not be punished harshly. The judge chose to go against all guidance and give Brock Turner an extremely light sentence with only six months in county jail (rather than the recommended 6 years in prison). Even as much of the Western world is outraged by Dan Turner’s letter, it seems the judge was taking Turner’s sentiments into consideration in sentencing Brock Turner.
As Christians, how should we respond to this case? What should be our interaction with it? Should we focus on mothering and Jesus as the only answer, as Ann Voskamp has? Or is there more to it?
Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that there are experts who are responding to sexual violence in a Western context and Christians are rarely the experts. Christians claiming expertise are currently describing the choice of men to sexually assault as women “fall victim to sexual violence” and most efforts in the Christian world to address male violence against women doesn’t name the agent for fear of appearing “anti-men”.
Guess what people? Men are the majority perpetrators of sexual violence. This is a fact. It is not anti-men.
The reason men are the perpetrators of sexual violence is not because men are innately bad. As Christians we understand that the Fall has resulted in sin coming into the world. This means that each person has the capacity to choose great evil, but also this means they have the ability to do great good. Not only did the Fall result in personal sin becoming a reality for human existence. It also ushered in the principalities and powers of evil in the unseen world.
The consequences of sin are listed in Genesis 3. Pain in child birth; women will be dominated by men; men will struggle with the pressures of trying to provide in a world that makes it almost impossible. Yet eventually, the serpent’s head will be crushed. These are not God’s best plan for humanity, we already messed that up. They are the consequences of sin.
Patriarchy is one of the powers and principalities that we must be fighting against. This is perhaps where Christians could start. Rather than leaping to the conclusion that we must end sexual violence, perhaps we could start by acknowledging and dealing with our own complicity in sexual violence.
When one of the most shared Christian response about Brock Turner’s choice to rape infers that it is a mother’s responsibility to act in ways that stop a boy becoming a rapist, we have a problem. Yes, Jesus models a different way, but asserting that Christianity has the answer when many women and men who have rejected Jesus because patriarchy has so deeply infected the church that we are the staunchest purveyors of it? In their rejection of the patriarchal-Jesus aren’t they more effectively seeking to end sexual violence than the many Christians who promote the toxic blend of purity culture and restrictive gender roles?
How do we declare Jesus as the answer to sexual violence when so many who bear his name are contributing to the problem?
This image from Make the Link explains how sexual violence exists in a pyramid propped up by sexism, the objectification of women, traditional gender roles and rigid stereotypes for women and men:
Christians, this is where we start. Not at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom. We must examine how our own lives and choices are contributing to a society where a man’s disinterest in pretzels is of more concern than the all-pervasive damage he has done to a woman. It is easier to issue the rallying cry “fight sexual violence” at Christian summer festivals than it is to examine the ways those festivals continue to promote purity culture, sexual shame and a lack of women on the platform. It is easier to be horrified at the crimes “out there” than to recognise that a patriarchal God is still the dominant God worshipped by many of our brothers and sisters.
Let us start at the bottom of the pyramid and recognise we are not the experts. Let us begin supporting experts like Rape Crisis, NAPAC, Object, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Nia, AVA. Because until then Jesus may be saying to us, “Woe to you Christianity. You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.”