Shamed into Silence

Silencing Victims

The following article is just one of the examples of how a victim of sexual assault can feel silenced by the teachings of the Watchtower (WT) organisation. (I have highlighted in bold and numbered the quotes I will discuss).

According to the Bible at Deuteronomy 22:23-27, an Israelite engaged girl threatened with rape was required to scream. What is the position of a Christian woman today if faced with a similar situation? Is she to scream even if an attacker threatens her life with a weapon?-M. U., United States.

“According to God’s law an Israelite girl was under obligation to scream: ‘In case there happened to be a virgin girl engaged to a man, and a man actually found her in the city and lay down with her, you must also bring them both out to the gate of that city and pelt them with stones, and they must die, the girl for the reason that she did not scream in the city, and the man for the reason that he humiliated the wife of his fellow-man.’ If, however, the attack took place in a field and the woman screamed and thus tried to get away from the attacker, she was not to be stoned, since she was overpowered and there was no one to rescue her.-Deut. 22:23-27.

“But suppose the man had a weapon and threatened to kill the girl if she failed to lie down with him? These scriptures do not weaken the argument or alter the situation by citing any circumstance that would justify her in not screaming. It plainly says she should scream; hence, (1) oppose the attack regardless of the circumstances. (2) If she was overpowered and perhaps knocked unconscious and violated before help came in answer to her screams, she could not be held accountable. The thought of the scriptures apparently is that the girl’s screaming, by attracting neighborhood attention, would frighten off her assailant and would save her, even though he threatened her life for not quietly complying with his wishes and passionate desires.

“Such Scriptural precedents are applicable to Christians, who are under command, ‘Flee from fornication.’ (1 Cor. 6:18) (3) Thus if a Christian woman does not cry out and does not put forth every effort to flee, she would be viewed as consenting to the violation. (4) The Christian woman who wants to keep clean and obey God’s commandments, then, if faced with this situation today, needs to be courageous and to act on the suggestion made by the Scriptures and scream. (5) Actually this counsel is for her welfare; for, if she should submit to the man’s passionate wishes, she would not only be consenting to fornication or adultery, (6) but be plagued by the shame. There would be shame, not only from the repulsiveness of the experience, but of having been coerced into breaking God’s law by having sex connections with one other than a legal marriage mate. Not only that, but she might become an unwed mother, or she may contract a terrible disease from her morally debased attacker.”[a]

So, according to this Watchtower article:

  1. To ‘scream’ is to oppose the attack. It doesn’t mean that all you have to do is scream, it means that you should do all you can to oppose the attack. This would include saying “NO” firmly or opposing it in some other way.
  2. You are not held accountable if you are unconscious!! This implies that you may well be accountable if you are conscious?
  3. If you do not put forth every effort to flee from the situation then you are viewed as consenting. So if you are being raped and you do not resist or flee, then you consent and are guilty of fornication. Or, if you are being touched in an unclean way (sexually assaulted) and you do not flee from the situation or scream or yell “stop!” then you are viewed as consenting.
  4. If you want to remain clean in Gods eyes you should be courageous and scream / resist the attack. If you do not do this you are not courageous and you are not clean in Gods eyes or obeying him.
  5. So, if you “submit” i.e. do not scream/flee then you are guilty of fornication (a sin punishable by death in Gods eyes and a sin for which you can be disfellowshipped).
    You will feel shame. You should be ashamed that you have allowed someone to sexually assault you and you did not scream or flee. You should feel ashamed that you have broken Gods law on sex.

If this is not victim blaming and victim shaming then I don’t know what is?!?

silence

Also, this Watchtower article successfully silences a victim of sexual assault. The victim may have been too scared to resist the attack, or may have not had enough courage to scream or remove him/herself from the situation. The attacker may have successfully manipulated the situation so that the victim feels unable to flee or speak out. Upon reading an article like this the victim of the assault will feel ashamed and guilty. They will feel like they bear a measure of responsibility for what happened to them and this will probably silence them and stop them from having the courage to speak out or report the assault. There may be long-lasting feelings of guilt and shame that leads to depression, low self-worth, anxiety, eating disorders or even suicidal feelings.

Surely the point of the passage in Deuteronomy 22 is to highlight how strongly God views rape… a rapist is to be put to death immediately. The ‘screaming’ part was simply to establish the difference between consensual sex and rape. Nowadays we have forensic evidence and DNA, etc, to establish the facts, they did not have these advances in science at the time Deuteronomy was written. Hearing a woman ‘scream’ whilst having sex was the only way they could establish proof of rape in those days. The fact that Watchtower organisation use this one word ‘scream’ and take it so literally is what makes this article so damaging for someone who has been the victim of a sexual assault but for numerous reasons did not speak out about it or feel she was able to defend herself or flee from the attacker.

A woman threatened with rape at knife point, (as in the article, for example) may feel in that moment that she would rather be raped than murdered and she may choose that option as being the lesser of the two evils. Should a woman who survives such an evil attack and traumatic ordeal then be made to feel guilty and ashamed for the choice she made in a split-second, life threatening, highly stressful situation? How would a woman who had endured such a situation feel after reading this article? Not only has she somehow got to cope with the fact that she has been raped and narrowly escaped death, she now has to deal with the guilt and shame of disobeying her God and being labelled an adulterer/fornicator. A sinner and unclean.

Granted, the vast majority of women (or men) who read this article would never have been in this situation. However, the principle or message behind it is the same for a vast majority of situations, especially those that involve sexual assault or harassment.

It is only fair to point out that WT have since changed their teaching slightly and now say that a woman who has been raped is not guilty of fornication or adultery, however, they have not retracted this article or ever admitted they were wrong for printing it, or apologised to anyone adversely affected by its content. JWs view all literature as being spiritual food from God, they would not dismiss an article like this simply because it was written a long time ago. They wouldn’t view it as ‘out-of-date’ or old fashioned because they believe it to be advice from Jehovah, via the faithful and discreet slave, and just like the bible, that advice never goes out of date.

blame

For example, imagine a teenage girl is being sexually assaulted by an older male member of the congregation. Not violently raped, but subtly touched in private areas. The man is an Elder and he often arranges to work with the young girl on the house-to-house preaching work. JWs are taught to respect and obey the Elders. Whilst they are out of sight of the other members of the preaching group he touches her inappropriately, quite subtly and quickly, but most definitely on purpose. He touches her again quickly and subtly, but purposefully. This girl has been sexually assaulted by this man. She may feel bewildered and shocked and not know how to handle the situation. If it was subtle she may even think she has imagined it or it may be easier for her to convince herself it was accidental.

He arranges to work with her again, she wants to say no but doesn’t feel she really has a good reason, and it would cause a scene, and she reminds herself that he is an Elder and JWs are expected to respect the Elders and obey them. They are often told at meetings that Elders deserve “double honour” (1 Timothy 5:17). She is confused as she does not believe an Elder would behave this way, so she doubts herself. She thinks maybe it was just a mistake and she should give him another chance. It happens again, but she still feels so bewildered and confused that she says nothing. It continues to happen and gets more frequent and forceful. It gets to the point where the girl is absolutely convinced that it is not an accident and she now realises that it must stop. But how does she stop it now? Who will believe her that it has been going on for so long without her doing anything. What if she worries that people will think she consented to it, and that’s why she didn’t say anything? What if she worries that her attacker may say that he thought she liked it because she never told him to stop? What if she looks up information in the WT library and comes across this article?

Although she has not been raped she feels that the principle is still the same. She did not scream, she did not flee, she did not resist. What if she reads this article and it makes her feel like she has inadvertently consented to wrongdoing? What if she now believes, after reading this article, that she is also a sinner because she did not stop this from happening. What if she feels unclean in the eyes of her God for not obeying his command to ‘scream’ despite the consequences. What if she reads this article and it makes her feel weak, lacking in courage and ashamed of herself.

What would be the likelihood of this girl finding the courage to speak out about the abuse after reading an article like this?

JWs have very strict laws for sexual behaviour and strong sanctions for those that break the rules. If this young girl was in fear of being accused of consenting to inappropriate sexual behaviour and facing the consequences that would ensue, what is the likelihood of her confessing to this behaviour and thereby exposing the abuser and his crime?

sad

Articles like this one, of which there are many, not only inaccurately explain who is responsible for rape and sexual assault, but they also do significant psychological damage to a victim of these crimes who believe they are somehow to blame and feel ashamed, and worse of all, they silence victims. They feel too scared and ashamed to come forward with the information because they feel that they will somehow be held accountable for at least some of the sin.

The victims are blamed, shamed and silenced. And in so doing, the sinner and criminal is protected, his crime is diffused, the responsibility for his sinful crime is shared with his victim, and his disgusting secret is safe. Victims are abused by the perpetrator of the assault against them. And then they are abused again by the way the Organisation they trust and love feeds them inaccurate, unloving, emotionally damaging information and, as the icing on a poisonous cake, they wrap it all up as if it is from God himself. (JWs believe all literature produced is ‘spiritual food’ from God, provided by the “Faithful & Discreet Slave’ – The Governing Body.)

Victims cannot question, they cannot disagree or debate the information they are given. They have to just accept it. They were abused, but somehow it was partly their fault, they are just like Dinah (as discussed in my previous article) and need to bear a measure of responsibility for what happened to them. They are left feeling guilty and weak, worthless and ashamed.

Again I would ask who in fact should feel ashamed after reading this article? I would say it is the writers of it, and the ones responsible for allowing it to go to print, and all those who support the teachings in it. They should feel ashamed.

What if, even after reading all of these articles, you actually don’t feel like you are to blame for what happened to you? What if you find the courage to want to speak out about this and publicly expose your abuser and have him brought to justice? What is WT’s advice in this situation? Well, that is a subject for another article, and I think you will agree that this ‘advice’ does not empower or support the victim, in fact it does the opposite and further silences the victim…

I would like to encourage anyone in the UK who has been affected by these issues to think about having your say at https://www.truthproject.org.uk/i-will-be-heard

“Do you have a second witness?”, “Do not take your brother to court”, “Leave it with Jehovah”… coming soon!!

[a] Questions from Readers – Watchtower, January 15, 1964 p. 63

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