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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  • Stephanie Krehbiel

    Paul, if you would ever like to have a conversation about how Mennonite publications could do more to challenge rape culture in Mennonite communities, please know that doors of communication to SNAP Mennonite, Our Stories Untold, and the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List are always open. We talk to Mennonite sexual abuse survivors every day. We don’t have time to constantly beg you for coverage of our work beyond the press releases we send you, but that certainly doesn’t mean we wouldn’t welcome your interest. “Mennonites have struggled to wipe the stain of sexual violence from our midst” is putting it terribly mildly. If we’re actually serious about fighting rape culture in Mennonite communities, Mennonite publications need to do much better than MWR is doing right now. You need to cover more specific cases; you need to interview more Mennonite college students; you need to ask conference ministers and denominational leaders tougher questions about policies. You need to make church leaders clarify vague remarks. You need to get the perspective of more advocates and experts on sexual violence–you’ve barely begun to do that, even now, even after John Howard Yoder and everything Mennonite supposedly “learned” from the institutional enabling of his serial abuses. You need to cover the intersections of sexual abuse, racism, homophobia, disability, and class privilege. As excruciating as it is, you need to treat incest in Mennonite families as a topic worthy of reporting. You need to actively look for rape and abuse survivors from multiple demographic categories who are willing to give interviews. Your reporters need much better training in covering these topics.

    You might ask Hannah Heinzekehr at The Mennonite for advice on how to cover sexual violence stories in Mennonite communities in ways that give survivors respect and a voice and go beyond the low industry standards for Christian publications when it comes to sexual violence coverage. I see her doing her best to push the envelope, even within the confines of a denominational publication. Mennonites don’t get to just point the finger at Donald Trump, or the Catholic church, and say, “At least we’re not THAT bad.” In far too many cases, we are, and church media could do a much better job at helping people to understand the problem. Do better. Don’t just reflect on the problem with modest vagueries; survivors are sick of those. Be proactive. Take this seriously for the long-term crisis that it is. http://www.snapnetwork.org/mennonite_map

  • Dale Welty

    The following appeared in MWR 1/5/15. In 1992, a denominational task force established by leaders in John Howard Yoder’s congregation, Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., confronted him with 13 charges of sexual abuse of women. Yoder’s advances included making suggestive comments, sending sexually explicit correspondence and surprising women with physical coercion. Who are Mennonites to criticize Trump, who has apologized for one alleged situation, when they have long supported a Mennonite leader who has sexually abused 29 women over a period of at least 25 years. After thinking carefully regarding Hillary and Trump, I will boldly vote of Trump for many reasons. Dale Welty

  • Evan Knappenberger

    Mr. Shrag,

    A valiant attempt to connect two worthy issues.

    However, I wouldn’t suggest getting between conservatives and their pet Donald, or between “advocates” and their pet ideologies. They are both coming from the same place of irrelational disgust, and they are deaf to any criticism.

    Good luck walking that tightrope.

    Evan Knappenberger

    • Brian Arbuckle

      Yes, and don’t forget pet Hillary who actually defends rape culture.

      • Jane G. Lehman

        Citation, please? Actual quote. Thanks. Jane G Lehman

        • Brian Arbuckle

          Surely you are not unaware of her retaliatory threats and actions directed toward her husbands many victims? Surely you are not unaware of her celebratory mood at having defended the rapist of an adolescent girl. Surely you don’t think that she is in any way morally superior to Donald Trump.

          • Michael Mullet

            Surely you could have provided a citation to back up such an inflammatory statement. Surely you don’t think the accused shouldn’t be represented by counsel in a court of law. Surely you don’t think your smug response would call into question your ability to judge anyone’s morality. Would you? Michael Mullet

          • Brian Arbuckle

            It’s obvious Mrs. Lehman has a computer. She could very easily do a Google search and discover for herself what everyone else already knows. I have a hunch you and she already are quite aware of the misogyny that characterize Bill and Hillary Clinton.

          • Jane G. Lehman

            “Everyone knows” that the noise machine has been spewing random anti-Clinton allegations since the early 1990’s, possibly before that. I tuned out on the details long ago (Vince Foster? Christmas cards? Really?) I am amazed at the ferocity and increasingly personal attacks of recent years. If you can produce a video where Secretary Clinton explicitly “defends rape culture,” please do. Otherwise you are using a Christian publication to contribute to the noise. Shame on you. Jane G Lehman

          • John Gingrich

            With all due respect Jane, when you have deliberately “tuned out” details of the Clinton’s actions, and the publicly reported accusations against them, you have to be careful who you shame.

          • Gene Mast

            Some of us remember when it was actually happening.

          • Jane G. Lehman

            One more comment, since this discussion is way off topic, then I leave the last word to John and Brian. As Gene points out, some of us were there. The noise never stopped, searching desperately for something, anything that would stick. There was never any substance and it became exhausting. That was the goal, of course, to make the public exhausted by the Clintons. In my case it backfired. I was exhausted by the noise producers and have tuned them out. (Remember the little boy who cried wolf?) If there ever was a there there, the opposition would have done well to save their ammunition. And although nothing ever stuck, conventional wisdom is now that Hillary is surrounded by a touch of scandal, she can’t be trusted, there is something about her. See how that worked? Powerful opposition and a complicit media could create a whiff of scandal around anyone they chose to target, including John and Brian. That’s why I tuned it out. Jane G Lehman

          • Brian Arbuckle

            You should tune back in. You will discover that in terms of ethics, values, character there is very little difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. No difference at all. Highlighting the truth bout Trump doesn’t alter the truth about Clinton. It is not without intention that Paul Schrag seeks to put the blame for rape culture on Donald Trump. He knows very well the facts about Bill and Hillary Clinton. She has no more regard for women than Trump or her lecherous husband. To her they are just useful idiots. It simply is not possible to somehow make Hillary Clinton a more attractive candidate by highlighting Trump’s deficiencies as Mr. Schrag seeks to do. “Vince Foster? Christmas cards?” Yes, you really do need to tune back in if you wish to defend Mrs. Clinton.

      • Ted Grimsrud

        Harmonic convergence—Evan Knappenberger and Brian Arbuckle together!

        • Brian Arbuckle

          It’s a beautiful world Ted. A beautiful world. I’ll bet Evan thinks I’m a Trump supporter. NOT!!!

  • Craig and Karen Long

    At 70 years of age, it is not too late for Donald Trump to repent of a lifetime of satisfaction of his lust of his flesh and the lust of his eyes, as well as the pride of life. Shaul, the great apostle who was hit in the eyes by the bright Light of the World, Yahshua Himself, could and does testify to this. Time will continue to tell if indeed Donald has repented, as he states that he has. We will see, some Day, soon. His Messiah will see, and He does see. May we all remain watchful in prayer as “The Wall is built in troublesome Times.”

  • Debra B. Stewart

    I have watched with much satisfaction (and some delight) as so called “evangelicals” scurry to validate their continued support of this animal. I worked with men like Trump — connected, powerful, entitled Chicago attorneys. I learned early on what they expected and determined it would NEVER happen to me. A wide-eyed, “I don’t know what you’re trying to say. I’m just a little Mennonite girl from the country” worked amazingly well in the beginning. As I grew older and bolder, I simply went to the offender’s office, closed the door and told him in no uncertain terms (and in language he could understand) that his behavior was intolerable and I would not stand for it. And whispered “EEOC” on the way out the door. Believe me, no one wanted Debra coming in their office and slamming the door! I also made it a habit to watch out for younger and more timid secretaries – asking if everything was okay, accompanying them to the office manager’s office and doing what I could to help resolve the problem. I did what I could, but, believe me, this abuse, this violence, this assault, this criminal behavior still happens every single day in this country. And animals like Trump brag and laugh about it. And get away with it.

    I cannot understand how anyone, especially those who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus (do you hear me, MC USA?), can support Trump’s candidacy. It’s a joke, it’s incomprehensible, it’s disgusting, it’s sad and, bottom line, it’s a crime.

  • Gene Mast

    “as the Trump campaign limps toward a pathetic end” looks, in retrospect, amusingly lacking in prescience.

    • Wilbur H Entz


      • Debra B. Stewart

        Prescience: Foreknowledge of events; foresight; having knowledge or thought. I’d say you nailed it, Gene!

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