Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Young Men’s Lesson on Rape Culture

by heather

Here’s the lesson I prepared for the Young Men. It has a lot of overlap with the lesson that I gave to the Young Women. I gave it to them today, and I have to say talking to a group of adolescent boys about sexual assault is kind of intimidating. What I said didn’t come out as smoothly as I what I wrote, but I hope they listened enough that really understood the take-home message that they need to be kind to one another.

I’m going to start my lesson today with a mini history lesson. I know that at first it may not seem relevant, but stay with me for a minute. In WWII there were two groups, the Axis and the Allied Powers. The Axis Powers included: Germany, Italy, Japan and the countries that they conquered. The Allied Powers included: Great Britain, the US, Russia, France and any other European country besides Switzerland that was not conquered by the Axis. Now to communicate with one another, the Axis powers would send each other messages in code. In order to read the code you had to have the key. These messages told where they would be attacking and when. Now the Allied powers had multiple spy missions to intercept these messages, but without the key, they couldn’t read the messages. So Great Britain had a military team, whose sole job was to decipher codes. These code breakers would sit for hours and sometimes days trying every possibility until they could solve the code. This was a pretty tedious task. The problem was by the time the message was deciphered, the message was irrelevant. And the Axis powers changed the key on a daily basis, so every time they received a message to decipher they had to start from scratch.

Does anyone know who Alan Turing is? Alan Turing is considered to be the father of computer science. He served on this team of code breakers and had the idea that if they could develop a machine that could break codes, they could break them faster so they could understand the information while it was still relevant. So he built a computer to break these codes. It still was not as fast as computers today, but it could break the codes fast enough that the information was useful. Because the Allied Powers knew what the Axis Powers were doing before they did it, they were able to stop the war sooner and literally save millions of lives.

What do you think the point of this story is? What do you think I am trying to teach you by sharing this story?

Knowledge is power. Knowledge literally can give you the power to alleviate and prevent suffering. 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. Remember that thought for a moment.

I asked the bishop that we sing ‘I am a Child of God’ today and I want to talk to you about that phrase. I feel like this is one of the most beautiful ideas in the Gospel. You’ve been singing this song since primary, what does it mean?

I am a Child of God. That means that I have divine nature and I have individual worth. Barbara Day Lockhart was an Olympic speedskater before she joined the Church. She went on become a Physical Education professor at BYU and served in the General Relief Society presidency. She gave a talk called “One Being is as Precious in His Sight as the Other” at BYU awhile ago. I pulled several phrases from her talk and condensed it down here for you. “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.”

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 been 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.

So I want you all to understand that you are children of God, and I want you to truly understand that other around you are children of God. Your peers, your siblings, your parents, your teachers. Girls, boys, Mormons, ex-Mormons, Muslims, Democrats, Republicans, Homosexuals, Heterosexuals, postal workers…Everyone around us is a child of God. We need to remember that and treat them as such.

Who would like to hear a secret to your future girlfriends and wives feeling like they are lucky to be with you? Are you listening? The secret is that you need to treat them with respect. You need to remember that they are daughters of God and you need to treat them as such. Honestly this applies not only to romantic relationships, but every relationship. Every unhappy relationship that I personally know of, one or more members was not treating the other person (or people if we’re talking about families) with respect. If you want your girlfriends and/or wives to feel lucky to be with you need to respect her and appreciate her. Girls notice these things. I remember as a young woman I had a Sunday School teacher who told us that she always watched how the boys she dated treated other women that they didn’t have to be nice to. How did he treat his mother? How did he treat waitresses? That is how he is going to treat me when he has stopped trying to impress me. Remember that the people around you are children of God. They are important enough that Jesus Christ suffered the Atonement for their sins and if they are that important to Him we should do our very best to love them.

Awhile ago I was talking to Bishop F and he recommended that I read a book called “Falling to Heaven”. In it the author gave a great analogy about the Atonement. Each of us are in our own little boats trying to make it through life. Each of us have holes in our boats that represent sins or mistakes. Now some of us have really big holes because we have done some really dumb things and some of us have smaller holes because we’ve made smaller mistakes. Jesus Christ and his Atonement can fix the holes in your boat. And it doesn’t matter if you have big holes or you have little holes, your boat is going to sink without the Savior. Isn’t that a beautiful idea? Please remember that before you treat other people unkindly, your boat has holes and you need the Savior just as much as they do. Now let’s call these ideas a “Culture of Christ”.

Now we’re going to talk about some things that are a little uncomfortable, but please keep listening. I want to talk to you about sexual assault. I know you might be thinking ‘I’m a guy, and that’s not going to happen to me.’ Hopefully it doesn’t happen to you. However it does happen, and a lot more often than people realize. The problem is when it is a guy there’s a different stigmatization. That you are less of a man because something terrible happened to you. I want you to know that that is not true. I want you to know if you are abused that it is not your fault and that you always, always have worth. I want you to feel like if someone abused you that you could ask for help.

I want you to understand a few things about predators or abusers. Predators 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. 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. People are more likely to be abused by someone they know than by a stranger in a dark alley. It can be a teacher, a religious leader, a friend of a parent, a relative or a neighbor. 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.

I want to share a quote from Elizabeth Smart. 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 at a conference for victims of abuse.

“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.

Now awful things like that don’t happen in a vacuum. John Donne said, “No man is an island.” We are influenced by the people around us, by the media, by our surroundings. And some of these ideas are the opposite of a ‘Culture of Christ’ and if we have knowledge of them it is easier to avoid them. These ideas are the very anti-thesis of Christ-like love. They conflict with what we have been taught in the scriptures about free-agency and the Atonement. And unfortunately sometimes these ideas are promoted and permitted in the culture that we live in. 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.

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. Or she should have fought harder. I want you to understand that this is wrong. Maybe she didn’t fight hard enough because she was scared and embarrassed. No one ever deserves to be abused. Rape culture also says that boys aren’t raped. That’s not true. It doesn’t happen as often, but it does happen a lot more often that people realize. Working in the hospital, I have taken care of multiple young teenage boys that have been raped. For them to get help and to heal and recover, people that care about them have to be aware that it happens. You need to be careful. Don’t do dumb things! Be cautious of strangers. Know that if you are abused, it is not your fault. Know that no matter what you are loved and you have value! Know that no matter what it is never ok for someone to be abused. Know that even if you do make mistakes, that Christ suffered his Atonement for you and you can recover.

When people are made to feel like a piece of chewed up gum or garbage because they have 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-dimensional human beings and are just sexual objects, and that our purpose is to please boys/men. That’s not true. People have beauty and can do great things independent of their 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. We all have value because we are children of God and he loves us. He loves you regardless of what you look like and He thinks you are beautiful. 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. When you young men go out an serve missions it is entirely possible that you will be serving in a culture that is different than Utah. And it is quite probable that you will see people who don’t dress according to Mormon standards. You are just going to have to learn to love and accept them. If you shame them or look down on them, you are not loving them and you are not going to convince them to accept the Gospel.

My dad told me a story once about President Kimball. President Kimball was attending a parade and in the parade there was a group of dancers who were wearing immodest outfits. Someone asked him, ‘Doesn’t this bother you that they would dress like this? Isn’t this terrible?’ President Kimball said ‘I try not to focus on what they are wearing. Look at their faces, don’t they each have such beautiful faces?’ I think he was giving us a great example of how we should treat other people, focus on their good qualities.

Pornography also contributes to rape culture, because it objectifies women. If you view porn, you may see a whole lot of skin, but you are only seeing a tiny piece of who that person really is. And often it glorifies abusing women. I feel like sometimes we do you YM a disservice in the way we talk about pornography. It’s like putting a white elephant in front of you and yelling “Do not look at the white elephant” The problem is the white elephant is right there and it’s so obvious and you’re really curious about this white elephant. And the more we harp about the white elephant, the more curious you are about it. I realize that you are teenage boys and you think about sex a lot and you are curious about sex, because you see it everywhere. But learning about sex from pornography is like learning about modern space science from watching Star Trek. Yeah, they’re kind of about the same thing, but they don’t accurately represent one another. I know it may be awkward, but I think it is far more effective to ask your parents about sex than to go to pornography for answers to your questions. I also think it is more helpful instead of saying “no, no, no, shame, shame, shame” to focus on the things that you should be doing. Let’s talk more about being Christ-like instead making you feel guilty for having dirty thoughts.

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 And 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 verse 11 has 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.

For Strength of Youth Pamphlet

“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 people 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.


One Response to “Young Men’s Lesson on Rape Culture”

  1. Grey Ghost says:

    I love this lesson. I hope someone in our YM organization will have the stones to deliver it someday. If I ever hear that chewed-gum crap in church I hope to have the courage to stand and denounce it on the spot.

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