Joleen’s parents marched into my office with their daughter trailing behind. Dad’s hand wrangled her wrist so tightly I could already see the marks forming from his fingers. They flung her down into the chair in front of me.
“Tell Mr. Phillips what you did!” Her mother spat these words at her. Joleen never raised her head or spoke.
“I said tell him!”
Immediately, I got up and came around my desk and stood between the parents and their sixteen-year old daughter. From the intensity of their anger, I guessed she was either pregnant or they had discovered she was sexually active. As I came around to stand beside her, Dad said something under his breath. I realized he had just called her a name associated with shaming someone who is sexually active. I got angry. I asked her parents if they would leave my office and go into the waiting room so I could talk to her.
Hesitant at first, she admitted she and her boyfriend had sex the night before. She was frightened and angry about her experience, so she told her sister who promptly told her mother. Within an hour, they had come to my office.
I sat down beside her and asked her not to give me the details about the sexual experience, but how she felt about it and herself. She began by using the same disgusting label her dad had used. I asked her not to do that. Then, she explained how the sexual encounter happened. I didn’t allow her to give me explicit details, but even without them, I realized something awful.
Her date had raped her.
She had no idea that you could be raped by someone you knew. She thought that was a crime committed by strangers. I began to instruct her about what had just happened to her body and soul. She began to cry–but as she did, I noticed her fists begin to tighten. She was getting angry. “Good” I thought. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Just some context. Many young people are coerced into their first sexual experience. Some estimates say a woman’s first sexual experience will be coerced in 1 out of 5 cases. It is a large group. Because it is their initiation into sex, most young people are not even aware what happened was a violation of their person. Many of them think rape is normal sex.
I informed her that what her boyfriend had done was morally wrong and illegal. She asked me what she could do about it. I thought the restoration process should also include her parents, so I brought them back in.
I started out hard. “Your daughter was raped last night!” I said. Then, with her help, I explained the situation. I fully expected them to embrace her and help me to work through the process of confronting the young man. Mom’s first words were not what I expected and not what Joleen needed.
“I had a feeling when you left the house that the blouse you were wearing was going to get you into trouble young lady. It appears I was right.” Oh God.
Dad’s reaction was different, but just as wrong. “I guess we’ll have to go to a different church once all this comes out.” I had told them in the disclosure that I was required to go to the police with the information I had about what the man had done (he had raped her and he was over 18). Dad’s reaction was to protect his own reputation.
And I could see from Joleen’s face that she picked up on what both of them were saying. The first thing I did was outline what needed to happen, in order. First, we would go to the hospital and ask for a rape kit to be done with Joleen. From there, we would request the hospital call the police so we could file the report. Then, we would contact the pastor of their church, so we could begin the process of helping him walk through the legal process.
Finally, I told the parents they needed to come and see me for counseling so we could work on their understanding of victim-shaming. I explained to them how their first words were all focused on blaming and shaming Joleen. She had worn the wrong clothes. She had ruined their church reputation.
In Luke 13, we read this:
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”
Luke 13:1-4 NIV
Jesus is showing clearly that it is not correct to blame (or shame) the victims of crimes or tragedies. Good things happen to bad people; and bad things happen to good people. If you read Psalm 73, you see the Psalmist agonizing over how it seems that notoriously evil people get away with wretched things–even murder. And then, he notices that the righteous seem to get the dregs of life handed to them. It doesn’t seem fair. The psalmist even sighs and mumbles out “Surely, I have served God in vain.”
There is no obvious connection between being bad and having bad things happen.
In this instruction by Jesus into the cases of the Galileans who were murdered by Pilate and the victims of a terrible tragedy at the Tower of Siloam, we see he wants us to get over the habit of victim-shaming. They just suffered a terrible tragedy. In the first case regarding Pilate, he had done great evil to them. In the Tower situation, it was just one of those accidents of life. The Jews of Jesus’ day were very mechanical in their viewpoint on suffering: We get what is coming to us in this life. In this way, they are not much different than the fatalism of the Muslims, the reincarnation justice of the Hindus, or even the determinism of some Christians. Though those three groups have widely divergent theologies, they all agree that God is the active force behind all tragedies. God is doing this to us.
Thus, it makes it easy for these groups to conclude God wanted a tragedy to happen to an innocent. (Note: To be fair, the Christian determinist would say that it is not because of the person’s sin that a tragedy happened. They would say it is because God willed it for His mysterious purposes). The Muslim would say it is justice. The Hindu would say it is justice from the sins of previous lives.
Joleen’s parents concluded that she must have done something to bring this on. I witness this in churches all the time. A girl is raped or molested and people wonder what she did to bring this on. A person is harassed and they are given advice how to not be noticeable the next time. Youth pastors tell girls how to dress so they won’t provoke the lust of the boys.
When the “tower” of a person’s lust or violence falls on another human, the person upon whom it falls is never at fault. Let’s immediately stop those thoughts we think when we hear of victims and their plight.
Say it with me, “It is not their fault“.
If you added “but” to the end of that, you need re-training from the Holy Spirit.