Moving Forward: Fighting Assault Beyond What’s Trending

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In the past couple weeks, you’ve likely seen and heard a lot about the Brock Turner assault case, which exploded social media after the release of the survivor’s eloquent impact statement describing her ordeal. Her statement also served as a damning indictment of Brock’s seeming lack of remorse even after being found guilty and provoked outrage regarding the judge’s sentence—which was well below the minimum required for the crime. Another post that went viral soon after was John Pavlovitz’s letter to Brock’s father, who has been criticized for asking for leniency for his son by referring to the assault as “20 minutes of action” that should not devastate the rest of his son’s life.  

It’s been encouraging to see the overwhelming support for the anonymous survivor in this case; for me a reminder that social media has become a powerful agent for change, a way of letting victims’ voices be heard and letting injustices be seen in the light of day. But I’d like to draw your attention to two important pieces emerging from this horrific situation: Joe Biden’s letter to the survivor and a second blog by John Pavlovitz entitled, “Rape Should Never Be Viral: Fighting Assault Beyond What’s Trending.” Both of these pieces remind us that responsibility for changing rape culture is “on all of us.” The survivor’s testimony and the just outrage it has made us feel should not distract us from how tragically common her story is. As Joe Biden put it, “The statistics on college sexual assault haven’t gone down in the past two decades. It’s obscene, and it’s a failure that lies at all our feet.” The ugly display of misogyny and victim-blaming that infused her trial are not aberrations, but typical of rape cases. Few victims are granted the support they deserve, and most are told to resign themselves to injustice in the crimes against them.

Brock Turner’s victim has touched millions of hearts and minds with her powerful testimony, but let’s not let it stop there. From John Pavlovitz: “After today, rape will still be viral. By the end of the week, my blog post will be largely forgotten, and the news teams and talk shows and newspapers will have moved on to whatever real or manufactured crisis is garnering people’s attention that day … but we can’t afford to do it. Not about this.” Social media can be and is a powerful force for advocacy, but the battle cannot be fought solely there. The real battle is the day to day struggle to confront the misogyny and injustices deep-rooted in our churches, schools, and communities. It is in some ways “easy” to support an anonymous survivor distant from our own communities: harder to support the person you know who's confronting the system you are a part of, whether that be for harassment, assault, or discrimination. It is harder to be courageous against the injustices immediately around us, injustices in which we are culpable.

Here’s a few ideas for how to be a force for change (pulled from Pavlovitz’s blog): If you are a parent of boys, teach them to respect all people equally including the integrity of their bodies. Support local agencies and ministries advocating for victims of rape, incest, and sexual abuse. Work for legal reform for just treatment of survivors of abuse and assault. Finally, seek to hear the stories of survivors. Seek to support them in whatever ways possible to be a part of shifting the culture towards justice.

To conclude with an except from Joe Biden's letter: “We will speak out against those who seek to engage in plausible deniability. Those who know that this is happening, but don’t want to get involved. Who believe that this ugly crime is ‘complicated.’ We will speak of you — you who remain anonymous not only to protect your identity, but because you so eloquently represent ‘every woman.’ We will make lighthouses of ourselves, as you did — and shine.”

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Thanks. This truly is on all of us. We must no longer deny this issue that affects so many among us. May more people have the courage to share their stories, to help those who have not experienced it to understand. And may this lead to a better response and more healing, both in and outside the church.

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