Rape culture exposed

Problem of sexual assault gets nation's attention

Oct 24, 2016 by

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What good could come from a sexual predator running for president of the United States? Just this: Donald Trump’s obscene bragging about sexually assaulting women has raised awareness of a problem often met with silence and denial. A 2005 recording of Trump reveling in vulgarity pushed the issue of sexual violence to the center of the presidential campaign. It opened a national conversation that empowered women to speak publicly (#itsnotok) about their experiences of sexual aggression.

After Trump shrugged off his lewd words as typical joking around, men stood up to defend the predominant decency of their gender. No, they said, mature adult males don’t talk like that. Athletes rejected his excuse of “locker room talk” as an insult to locker rooms.

Many voters recognized the repulsive spectacle as a matter of utter seriousness. Boasting about getting away with grabbing women’s private parts and forcibly kissing whomever he wished, and then dismissing the statements as normal or unimportant, dehumanizes women and perpetuates a culture that tolerates sexual assault. As more women came forward to allege unwanted sexual advances, a growing body of testimony indicated Trump’s actions matched his words, though he denied it all.

Such boorish lechery renews our appreciation for the civility Trump belittles as political correctness. Choosing words carefully so as not to offend is an act of being polite and treating others with respect — concepts foreign to Trump’s self-centered world.

Evangelical leaders who still support Trump have lost their credibility to preach the importance of values and character. No one can take their proclamations seriously now. Politically, nothing matters to them except the influence they hope to wield if a Republican occupies the White House. But given that Trump’s core convictions consist of whatever stokes a hateful crowd, who can say if these ministers of the gospel would gain any worldly prize in exchange for selling out their moral authority?

In the secular world, values and character often get reduced to sex but really are about so much more. The marathon campaign has given voters ample time to take the measure of a man who knows nothing of truth-telling, empathy and respect. Yes, these are Christian virtues, but also qualities of basic human decency — all the more conspicuously lacking due to their necessity for someone who claims the ability to lead.

This is also a time for self-reflection. Mennonites have struggled to wipe the stain of sexual violence from our midst. A 2015 Mennonite Church USA resolution confesses “silencing and disregarding the testimony of victims.” Called to be a healer, the church too often has concerned itself with protecting reputations.

But there has been progress. Some of it is happening now, as the Trump campaign limps toward a pathetic end in a haze of sordid vacuity. Some men, at least, are learning to hear and believe, not silence and shame, women who have been subjected to sexual violence. Widespread disgust at Trump may contribute to tearing down a culture of misogyny that has allowed him to get away with treating women like pieces of meat.

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