With various events in the news in recent months I really felt strongly that my Young Women need to hear and understand about rape and rape culture. I am also aware that it is a sensitive subject, so I talked to the YW’s president and the Bishop about it and it was eventually decided that I should talk to all of the YW in my ward, not just my class. It was going to be a fireside, but with scheduling it turned into a 5th Sunday lesson. Here’s more or less what I said. I hope that by sharing it, that it will help give someone else the thoughts and the words to deal with this difficult thing. I hope that whoever reads this will use these ideas to deal with their own struggles or to help someone else who has experienced a traumatic event.
The truth is that the worth of each unique life is divine, infinite, and cannot be taken away. The worth of the soul means worth of the whole soul, the whole person—spirit and body. Our worth cannot be manipulated by others, it cannot be increased or decreased. A person may lose sight of his or her worth, but that person’s worth is always great in the sight of God. A human life is always of utmost worth because that worth is eternal and cannot be erased. Isn’t it great to know? Worthless is not an option. -Barbara Day Lockhart
I want to talk to you girls today about something that is uncomfortable, and I realize that it is uncomfortable, but because I love you and I want you girls to grow up to be happy and healthy I’m going to talk about it anyway. Unfortunately there are some unpleasant things in this world, and ignoring them doesn’t make them disappear. Florence Nightingale said “Sunlight is the best antiseptic”. I believe as you gain knowledge you are better able to appropriately handle things. As I talk I want you girls to remember your YW values, listen for them as I talk. I think they are important and living by them is a good standard. The thing I want to talk to you about is sexual assault. This encompasses lots of things, and I’m not going to go into details, but I want you to understand how to prevent this and understand if it does happen it is not your fault. Later we will have an activity where you will learn self-defense, but right now I want to talk about some of the mental aspects of assault. Now, I’m not trying to scare you. The odds that this won’t happen are more likely than that it will, but I want you to understand how to prevent it in case you are in that situation.
Something you should understand about predators is that they want an easy target. They pick victims who they can catch off guard or who they think won’t fight back. So how do we prevent that? Be alert, be aware of your surroundings. Be smart. Don’t walk in dark alleys alone. Don’t talk on your phone when you are alone in an unfamiliar place, so that you are tuning out what is happening around you. Don’t take food or drinks from strangers. Walk tall and with confidence. Remember you are a daughter of God and have divine nature. Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (D&C 18:10) You do not have to put up with abuse and you have every right to walk tall. Walking with confidence shows you are more likely to fight back. Walk tall, you are loved.
Another thing you should understand about predators is that they don’t think of their victims as human beings. They think of them as objects for their own purposes. They treat and speak to their victims like they are worthless. And if you actually feel worthless you are less likely to fight them or report them. I want you to understand that ‘Our eternal worth is given to us by God; it cannot be manipulated or decreased by anyone.’ A few years back Elder Uchtdorf gave a conference talk where he told the story of a woman who had had some difficult experiences. She had lost her home, her husband and her children. She had been through many hard things, she was old and she was poor, but she was still happy. She told Elder Uchtdorf ‘I am like a $20 bill. I have crumpled and stepped on and torn, but I am still worth $20.’ So it’s like that with us a bright, clean, crisp $20 bill is worth just as much as one that has been worn and crumpled. Whatever you have been through, you have just as much worth as someone who has not had those difficult experiences. I also want you to understand that even though it may be traumatic, if this kind of thing happens you need to speak up. One for yourself, so you can find help. Not only is it important that you can talk to someone who can help you heal and get through it, but by speaking up you can help prevent it happening to other girls.
Elizabeth Smart was a 14 year old girl when she was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City in 2002. The man who kidnapped her was crazy and claimed that he had received revelation that she was to be his second wife. She stayed with him until she was rescued nine months later. Recently she spoke about some of the things that she felt.
“I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other and that’s what I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow, that when I got married then and only then would I engage in sex. And so, for that first rape, I felt crushed –’Who could want me now?’ I felt so dirty and so filthy I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run. Because of that alone. I mean, you can imagine the most special thing being taken away from you –not that that was your only value in life –but something that de-valued you? Can you imagine going back into a society where you’re no longer valued? Where you’re no longer as good as everybody else?
“I remember in school in one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. And when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who’s going to want you after that?
“That’s terrible, nobody should ever say that. But for me I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even made a difference, your life already has no value….
“I think we need to educate young people. I know math and science and reading are important, but when it comes down to it, being able to do your times tables…is that going to stop you from being hurt or abused?… Probably not. But if you’re given choices, if you’re given skills, if you’re given permission to fight back, to know that you are of value, and to know that you don’t have to live your life that way, you don’t have to do what other people tell you. You have value and you always will have value, nothing can change that.”
Another thing I want you to understand that assault is not always violent. If someone in a position of authority threatens or manipulates someone to do things they would not otherwise do, the person being manipulated is still a victim and they should not feel guilty. I believe that most of the people around us are good people, but there are those who would use their authority to manipulate or coerce you into doing something that you feel is wrong. If that person is a teacher, a religious leader, a friend of a parent, a relative or a neighbor, it’s still wrong and that is still considered abuse.
There is an idea known as ‘rape culture’. Rape culture is an environment that is conducive to rape. Rape culture means that society contributes to the idea that if a girl is violated, it is somehow her fault. She must have dressed immodestly, or she somehow deserved it. I want you to understand that this is wrong. No one ever deserves to be abused. When a girl is made to feel like a piece of chewed-up gum or garbage because she had sex, that is rape culture. Another part of rape culture is the objectification of women. It is the idea that women are less than feeling, multi-dimensial human beings and are just sexual objects, and that our purpose is to please boys/men. That’s not true. You are beautiful and you can do great things independent of your physical appearance. Sometimes we get these wrong ideas from the media. We see images and messages that tell us that to be valued we have to be ‘sexy’ and that we have to look a certain way. I want you to understand that this is not true. You have value because you are a daughter of our Heavenly Father and He loves you. He loves you regardless of what you look like and He thinks you are beautiful. Sometimes our “friends” give us these harmful ideas. My sister-in-law had a friend who she had been friends with for many years. At one point they started dating and he started treating her different. He told her “I think you should dye your hair blonde. If I have to look at you, you should at least look pretty.” That really hurt her, that this ‘friend’ felt like she was less valuable and he felt she needed to be someone else to be pretty. You don’t have to put up with that. Sometimes we hear these ideas of rape culture about other people. Sometimes if a girl is dressed immodestly people will call her unkind names, like ‘slut’ or ‘skank’. Using words like that is equating a person’s worth with their sexuality. Just because someone is wearing something that is not up to our standards does not necessarily reflect on their actual behavior. And even if someone has made poor choices, we are not entitled to be unkind to them. Rape culture is most effective when people believe that there is no such thing as rape culture. When it is invisible, we think ‘that’s just how things are’, and we are not addressing the problem.
John 8:3-11 Let’s talk about a story from the scriptures for a minute:
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
Now we don’t know what he was writing on the ground. He could have written ‘This is my sister and I love her’. He could have written ‘Your parents would be ashamed of you.’ He could have listed the sins of the accusers. We don’t know what he was writing.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Now there are a few interpretations of this scripture. The first is that the woman did something wrong and Jesus forgave her, which is a good message. The second involves a little more historical context. During the time of Christ in the Middle East, there was a strong rape culture. That’s not what they would have called it then, but those are the words that we would use now. Women had less value. I’m not saying I agree with this, it’s just the way that it was. It was not a crime to rape a woman per say. If a woman was raped, it was a crime against her father, because his property had been devalued. Or it was a crime against her husband because his property had been devalued. But if I woman was unattached there was no crime in abusing her.
Also during this time it was common for men to rape a woman, and then accuse her of adultery. Then she would be stoned to death. If the woman was stoned to death, who was left to accuse the rapist? I suspect, that maybe this is what happened here. Adultery requires two parties, but this story makes no mention of the man who was found in adultery. I think Jesus understood what was going on. If you look at it that way verses 11 & 12 have more meaning. I think he’s trying to tell her to put this behind her, to not sin and to make a difference in the world for good. In the next verse he says:
12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
I feel like He’s telling her to move on, follow His example, help others and have peace.
9 And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—
Now there is a lot of discussion that could be had on the mechanics of the translation of the Book of Mormon, that’s not really our purpose here today and we don’t really have time for it. I, however do not believe that God or anyone who has any authority to speak on His behalf can dare say that virtue is something that can be taken away from you. Or that you are of less value, or less virtuous because of someone else’s choices. I think that Joseph Smith was trying to convey an image in away that was less offensive than describing the details. I believe in choice and accountability and I believe in free agency. We are not responsible for someone else’s sins. When someone has been violated they may feel hurt and awful because it is a terrible thing, but they should not feel guilt. I believe that virtue is more about having integrity and making good choices. A virtuous person has virtue because of the choices that they make on a regular basis, that is not something that can be taken from you. You can always make choices.
From the For Strength of Youth Pamplet
“Victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and do not need to repent. If you have been a victim of abuse, know that you are innocent and that God loves you. Talk to your parents or another trusted adult, and seek your bishop’s counsel immediately. They can support you spiritually and assist you in getting the protection and help you need. The process of healing may take time. Trust in the Savior. He will heal you and give you peace.”
I had heard that one of the things that helped Elizabeth Smart with her situation is that President Hinckley gave her a blessing to remind her that what had happened to her was not her fault, and that she was loved.
One last thing, if you know someone or meet someone who has been assaulted, you need to be a friend and make them feel loved. There have been so many girls and women who because they have been assaulted they feel worthless and then other people make it worse by being unkind to them. And after they feel so terrible about themselves they make poor choices. I would ask you, even beg and encourage you to be kind to others. Some people around you have been through some very difficult things. Try to treat your friends and peers the way that Jesus would.