There is a group of people who live in fear of violence or violation every day. They are exposed to jokes, gestures, innuendos. In some cultures they can be beaten, assaulted or even killed without legal consequence. They are even accused of “wanting it” or “deserving it.” And this group makes up more than half the world’s population. They are women.
In the last day, I saw a report of a 23 year old woman who as she is dying in her mother’s arms in India is apologizing because she was gang-raped–as if it were her fault. Reports of rape have tripled in Delhi in the past year. Closer to home, someone is sexually assaulted in this country every two minutes and 95 percent of rapists in this country will not go to prison for their offense. Roughly one in four women have survived rape or attempted rape.
In the sexually enlightened EU, things are no better. Twenty-two percent of EU women surveyed report having been assaulted by a partner. In Scandinavian countries according to the same report, the incidence is closer to 50 percent.
Roughly 80% of the victims of human trafficking are women and of those roughly 70% are trafficked into commercial sex industries. There are an estimated 27 million people in some form of involuntary servitude today according to the Polaris Project, from which these statistics come.
I could go on and talk about sexual harassment in the workplace, hookup culture and the dangers women face here or even the sometimes (not always) subtler abuses of women in the religious context where the exercise of their gifts and the expression of their love for God and humanity is limited.
What continues to trouble me as a man is that the vast majority of the perpetrators of these crimes are men. And the question that baffles me is, why are we at war with those who are someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s wife? What troubles me is that my wife, my daughter-in-law, my sister, women who are my colleagues have probably not been able to live a single day of their adult lives without this lurking wariness of men.
I’m troubled that I cannot do more. I champion the gifts and skills of the women I work with. I try to model and teach respecting the dignity of the women in our Christian communities with the men I work with. I’ve participated in anti-trafficking efforts. What the pervasiveness and stubborn persistence of this stuff tells me is that human evil goes deep in our souls and as wide as the world.
But I am aware that there is also a community of men who recognize that the following are ethical no-brainers and I hope we will speak up and speak into this culture of violence against women that:
- Unwanted flirting and propositions and sexual innuendo aren’t cool–they are threatening and in work contexts may be illegal.
- “No” means “no” and is not a license to use alcohol and drugs to overcome lack of consent. Sex without consent is rape. Period.
- Violence against a woman is never justified, never deserved.
- Those in power who abuse women or children must never be protected by our structures, whether those are businesses, churches, or political offices.
- Real manhood is never proven through domination of women. This only shows how little of a man you are.
- Real men see women not as parts but as partners–partners not only in marriage, but in the workplace, in public life, in our churches–using our skills and gifts together to seek the up-building of the body of Christ and the body politic.
I don’t know whether we will ever achieve a time where our sisters will be able to live without wariness, which grieves me deeply. I do hope that we might see a movement of men who at least provide moments and glimpses of safety, of care, of affirmation that provide hope for a better day.