When my husband and I discovered that we were expecting a girl, we were elated. And then I started to think about what it means to be a girl growing up in America’s rape culture. I shared with my husband about the subtle and not so subtle ways I have been sexually mistreated by males since childhood.
I never had the courage to talk about them before. They were events I dismissed until recently.
This conversation with my husband took place before various accounts of sexual assaults involving prominent U.S. figures came to the forefront.
This didn’t shock me. Males treated my body as an object when I was as young as 9. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, “Every 109 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every eight minutes, that victim is a child.”
Kelly Oxford, a writer and comedian I follow on Twitter, asked her followers to share their first sexual assault. I tweeted mine as did millions of others.
[bctt tweet=”And then I decided that the shame was not mine, and I shouldn’t be afraid to share the truth.” username=”womenoftheelca”]
At first I felt shame—was it really assault? What would my colleagues and friends think about me sharing my experience on social media? And then I decided that the shame was not mine, and I shouldn’t be afraid to share the truth.
As a representative of a women’s organization in the church with a focus on raising up healthy women and girls, it’s my responsibility and my God-given right to dispel shame and encourage others to do so as well.
In my work, people ask me how to get young women involved in church and in this organization. My answer is to be relevant and talk about what matters. Sexual assault is happening to women and girls in our congregation and in our communities.
As followers of Jesus, we should stand up against rape culture. We can do that by talking about consent with our boys and girls—even when they are toddlers.
Show women and girls that you support them. Tell them you won’t dismiss their stories. Remind them that they are beloved children of God and that they are in no way at fault.
Only when we talk about these atrocities in our communities can we remove shame and bring healing.
A Café writer Sara Olson-Smith recently posted about how to react to women who come forward with their stories of assault. “As we listen, we can say ‘I believe you’ and in doing so move from silence and doubt toward truth and trust. We can say, ‘It’s not your fault’ and help to replace shame with worthiness. We can live the promise ‘You are not alone’ and step forward together from isolation toward belonging.”
How are you working against rape culture? Do you talk about topics of sexual assault in your women’s group and church?
Elizabeth McBride is editor for Cafe and director for intergenerational programs for Women of the ELCA.