Jesus College and the Rape Smear

I’m no fan of Patrick Henry College.  But I’m even less of a fan of the cultural politics of smearing.  Smears are the biological weapons of cultural warfare; they poison the ground for generations.

Last week we read with interest an “expose” of the rape-friendly campus at the attention-grabbing conservative school.  Rape is a terrible problem.  And campus rape seems to have taken on a life of its own.  But the author of this article seemed more intent on smearing Patrick Henry and conservative religious people in general than she did in exploring the real issues.

This sort of smear attack is doubly dangerous. First, smears like this convince the already convinced that their Christian enemies must be fought tooth and nail.  After all, the article implies, conservative Christians support rape.  What kind of monsters are they?  Second, conservative Christians will easily be able to point out the unfair guilt-by-association tactics this writer resorts to.  For Christians, this sort of smear simply provides more proof that Bible-loving Christians are a beleaguered minority, under unfair attack from an aggressive, hostile, secularizing liberal elite.

Let me be crystal clear: I am not defending Patrick Henry College.  I am not saying that the administration and students did or did not react badly to allegations of sexual assault.  I am not saying that assaults did or did not take place.  I am certainly not saying that allegations of sexual assault need not be taken seriously, nor that female victims ought to blamed.

But the author of this article, Kiera Feldman, repeatedly resorts to insinuation and smear in an attempt to demonize this conservative Christian institution.  The article tells the story of Claire Spear, a freshman, who was attacked by a fellow student.  Feldman also describes the case of Sarah Patten, who was assaulted on campus.  Feldman accuses the college administration of pooh-poohing the incidents.  More powerfully, Feldman implies that the conservative Christian campus culture actually encourages male-on-female sexual assaults.

To build her case, Feldman relies on some tried-but-false McCarthyite tactics.  Patrick Henry College, Feldman notes correctly, was opened in 2000, in large part to provide a congenial collegiate home for the burgeoning numbers of conservative Christian homeschooled kids.  But Feldman asserts with wild inaccuracy, “Underlying homeschooling culture is the Christian patriarchy movement.”  Of course, some Christian homeschoolers—even some members of the ILYBYGTH community—have had horrific experiences with this sort of quiverfull-esque homeschooling monstrosity.  But to imply that homeschooling culture is dominated by this sort of attitude demonstrates woeful ignorance about the true contours of American homeschooling.

Similarly, in her attempt to tar Patrick Henry as a hotbed of rape culture, Feldman mentions Missouri Senator Todd Akin’s terrifying discussions of “legitimate rape.”  As far as I can tell, Akin has absolutely no connection to Patrick Henry College, but Feldman mentions Akin’s accursed name, only to point out that Patrick Henry College “sponsored similar ideas.”  This is the smear tactic at its worst.  Did you know, for example, that the Communist Manifesto listed a graduated income tax as one of the ten top goals for communists?  Therefore, President Wilson must clearly be a communist, since he sponsored such a tax a century ago.

Campus rape is a real problem.  The most common statistic we hear is that one in five female students will experience some sort of sexual assault during their school experience.  This is an issue that has justifiably attracted the attention of activists and politicians.  For instance, state senators in California have introduced a bill that would mandate consent for every sexual act as the new legal standard.

But this problem is not somehow related to the Christian theology of school such as Patrick Henry.  Indeed, even if we take Feldman’s numbers of assaults to be accurate—which the administration of the school vigorously denies—it seems Patrick Henry has been a remarkably safe school, compared to other colleges.  Indeed, as the California legislators pointed out, complaints about assault and rape at schools such as UC-Berkeley and Occidental College far outstrip the complaints Feldman chronicles at Patrick Henry.

Indeed, it might seem more accurate to ask if Patrick Henry’s conservative culture PREVENTS sexual assault.  After all, the drinking, partying lifestyle that seems to be such a big part of student life at many secular schools will find no home at Patrick Henry.  As Caitlin Flanagan recently described in the pages of The Atlantic, fraternities and sororities at public and more secular schools have astonishing rates of sexual assault and injury.

Not that such things would excuse Patrick Henry’s administrators if they did downplay the seriousness of sexual assault charges.  But it must give readers pause.  If the Christian culture at Patrick Henry encourages sexual assault, as Feldman implies, surely we’d expect to see more cases pop up at Patrick Henry than at secular schools.  That’s just not the case.

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  1. Agellius

     /  February 24, 2014

    I know I’ve said it before, but your fairness is extremely refreshing.

    • Donna

       /  February 24, 2014

      Agellius – I agree!!

    • Thanks, Agellius & Donna, but I think you’re too generous. My fairness is not done out of kindness or charity, but rather out of simple strategy. I want more evolution and less Christianity taught in America’s public schools. I do not think the way to accomplish those goals is to retreat into silos of secular liberalism and tell one another exaggerated scare stories about the “fundamentalists” outside the gates. Rather, I think the smart thing to do is to understand as deeply as possible that all of us want better education for our children. We disagree on the nature of “better” at times, but we can only hope to make progress if we understand one another, not if we satisfy ourselves with middle-school caricatures of those with whom we disagree.

  2. Agellius

     /  February 24, 2014


    So now you’re fair AND modest! ; )

    • Donna

       /  February 24, 2014

      Again Agellius, I agree!! Adam, you can have a strategy and I can still be grateful for your blog. You can do what you want of course, but at this point, you might as well just accept the compliment. 🙂

  3. Adam, ordinarily I very much respect your work and appreciate what you do and the way you do it.

    But this… this is awful. Before you write something like this again, could you please reach out to those who are actually familiar with gender issues in Christian culture and the consequences of purity culture? The only thing this article reveals is that you need more education on these issues.

    You are amazingly informed about a host of other fundamentalist issues, but not this one.

    • Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take another look. My objection to the article was to its use of smear tactics. I tried–unsuccessfully, it appears–to be careful with this point in the original post:

      Let me be crystal clear: I am not defending Patrick Henry College. I am not saying that the administration and students did or did not react badly to allegations of sexual assault. I am not saying that assaults did or did not take place. I am certainly not saying that allegations of sexual assault need not be taken seriously, nor that female victims ought to blamed.

      The notion that some crimes are so awful that we should encourage guilt-by-association and smear tactics to nail the possible perpetrators is target of this post. Such tactics are not acceptable, even if we agree with the outrage that inspires them. To look at a different example, I would never defend the crimes of some Catholic priests who committed sexual attacks on young people, nor the hierarchy that covered them up. And I agree that there are connections between the culture of the closed Catholic hierarchy and the despicable practice of covering up sexual abuse. Such things make me very angry; they make me feel sick to my stomach. But here’s the point: my anger does not justify a conclusion that Catholicism is a religion of sexual aggression.
      I certainly do defer to your experience and that of others. You know more about it than I do. But that doesn’t mean I won’t write about such topics. And, with apologies, it doesn’t even mean that I’m not informed about these issues, even if we disagree about the propriety of the smear.

      • This is the part of your post that deeply troubles me:

        “But this problem is not somehow related to the Christian theology of school such as Patrick Henry. Indeed, even if we take Feldman’s numbers of assaults to be accurate—which the administration of the school vigorously denies—it seems Patrick Henry has been a remarkably safe school, compared to other colleges . . .

        Indeed, it might seem more accurate to ask if Patrick Henry’s conservative culture PREVENTS sexual assault. After all, the drinking, partying lifestyle that seems to be such a big part of student life at many secular schools will find no home at Patrick Henry.”

        This is just . . . I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this is incorrect. It is actually related to the theology that PHC espouses and teaches. That you present the argument here that the “conservative culture prevents sexual assault” is also completely inaccurate. Purity culture doesn’t just not prevent sexual assault, it guarantees that women and men will not know that they’ve been assaulted and they will blame themselves for their assault for possibly the rest of their lives. In my case, it took me almost 5 years to say “I was raped” and not feel like a filthy vindictive attention-seeking LIAR– even though my rape is textbook.

      • Samantha,
        Thanks for staying and explaining instead of just walking away shaking your head. As you say, I’ve got zero personal experience with purity culture or specifically the culture at PHC. I take it that the environment is one in which gender roles are both lopsided and cruelly enforced.
        But there’s a hard question we need to ask, still. And it’s a real question, not an implication, or a suggestion, and sincerely not any sort of accusation. Rape is a terrible thing, not less terrible because it is so widely known. Do you think students at pluralist/secular schools have an easy (or maybe the proper word is EASIER) time acknowledging the fact that they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted? Or that Catholic kids had an easier time accusing their family priests of such a heinous crime?
        Such non-evangelical, non-“purity” institutions also have horrifying records when it comes to both sexual assault & turning an institutional blind eye. Is it worse at PHC? Or at other evangelical institutions?
        My initial question was not this. At first, I blamed the journalist for implying falsely that most evangelical homeschoolers sign on to “purity culture” mandates. But I do think it is fair to ask if schools such as PHC have lower assault rates than secular schools. Your answer is no. If I understand correctly, that is because the entire culture at PHC is one that pre-blames every woman as a woman.

      • As for your question: “do you think that students at pluralist/secular schools have an easier time acknowledge that they’ve been raped?”

        I think the answer is “Yes.”

        This is not because acknowledging you’ve been raped is “easy” for anyone– I think that no matter your background this is going to be insanely difficult, even traumatic. We don’t have to look any further than the abysmal reporting statistics to understand that being open about this is extremely difficult– paralyzingly so. And yes, secular institutions have horrifying records of how they respond to victims, evidenced by all the ongoing Title IX investigations.

        However, it is impossible to determine whether or not sexual assaults occur on fundamentalist Christian campuses at a lower rate than elsewhere– these places are not exactly forthcoming. Speaking anecdotally, however, I know that the 1-in-5 statistic from the CDC bears out in my lived experience quite easily. Of the women I knew at my fundamentalist college, 1-in-5 of them were assaulted or raped while they were students. Easily.

        This reality is simply far more complicated on fundamentalist campuses than it is on secular campuses. In fundamentalism, people are being raised with the concept of emotional purity as well as physical purity. Many of them have commitments not to even kiss before they’re standing at the altar. They’re also living in an environment that values male “headship” and male “priesthood,” and women have been taught since they were a very young age that they must obey their authority figures– their fathers, school administration, and eventually their husbands– without question. They have also been taught since they were incredibly young that they are almost totally and wholly responsible for the behavior of men in their lives.

        When these women are raped, they have absolutely no ability to realize that what happened to them is not their fault and neither does the administration of a fundamentalist college. These administrations blame the victims for whatever it is they must have done in order to “provoke” their attack.

        And while, yes, it is possible for that to happen at a secular institution, it happens in a fundamentally different way.

      • Thanks, Samantha. Illuminating. For me, I think the closest personal example was the scandal over child abuse by Catholic priests. That was not only a crime committed by individuals, but one that was facilitated by an entire culture of shaming and collusion.

  4. Rose

     /  March 5, 2014

    Adam, as a fellow academic (and former homeschooler who was “in but not of” the conservative Christian homeschooling community growing up), I’m sympathetic to your emphasis on fairness, and to your acknowledgement of the nuance and variation within communities/cultures/subcultures. Kiera Feldman herself has acknowledged that she should have included some qualifier in the “underlying homeschooling culture” line to explain she wasn’t referring to all American homeschoolers. And I’m certainly also opposed to McCarthyism and guilt-by-association, and share your goal of keeping creationism out of schools.

    However, I do think that, in your eagerness to be evenhanded and “strategic,” you are misreading the New Republic article and its purpose.

    Samantha has already explained the troubling implications of modesty/purity culture (which is *very* pervasive in Christian homeschooling communities, not just the fringe ones, though intensity can vary quite a bit). It does actively hurt victims and discourage reporting, and as she noted, these attitudes are institutionalized at places like PHC (and pervasive among the student body) in ways quite distinct from secular institutions or more mainstream Christian colleges, despite those institutions’ own problems with stonewalling victims. Even if we’re not making a judgment about what kind of victim-blaming/cover-up is worse, those differences are worth talking about, and writing an article about. And the purpose of Feldman’s piece was not to lay out a legal brief against PHC or offer every fact/incident in the article as direct evidence of the institution’s “guilt.” Rather, she was portraying the cultural landscape I just sketched and showing how it produces certain attitudes toward sex and assault. Sandra Corbitt (the dean in the PHC story) and Todd Akin are both very much part of that landscape; referring to Akin helped succinctly illustrate what its inhabitants believe and why.

    Furthermore, the article’s angle was not that PHC has *more* assaults or that such institutions actively encourage assaults (which is a separate issue from actively damaging the victims when assaults happen). Rather, her angle, as evidenced by the article’s very subtitle, was that Christian homeschoolers think this is a safe place insulated from the problems of “the world” and it’s not. That irony and tragedy, in addition to the distinct culture in which these incidents unfolded, are what make this article’s narrative distinct from other stories about assaults on college campuses (and worth telling, and telling separately).

    As for the article’s purpose — yes, it was clearly the work of a liberal reporter who was jarred by the subculture she encountered and troubled by these victims’ experience and wanted to help them get closure. But I honestly don’t think this was a hit piece or a chess move in a larger culture war. This was an in-depth investigation prompted by hearing about specific injustices and a desire to explore their “how” and “why.” Not every piece of writing on issues like this is strategic.

    • Rose, Thanks 1,000,000 for the convincing and clear-headed explanation. I see that you understand what I was trying to say and are willing and able to make a compelling counter-argument. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of less-informed accusations and insults directed at me due to a recent blog post at Love Joy Feminism. As Samantha had explained earlier, I was missing the point earlier by my over-emphasis on the reporter’s rhetorical tactics, rather than on emphasizing my agreement with the reporter’s alarm at the prevalence of rape culture at a place like PHC.

    • Donna

       /  March 15, 2014

      Rose, if you are still reading this, would you be willing to go into more detail of what you mean by this? Specifically what is in parentheses.

      Samantha has already explained the troubling implications of modesty/purity culture (which is *very* pervasive in Christian homeschooling communities, not just the fringe ones, though intensity can vary quite a bit).

      I completely agree that Christian homeschoolers assume Christian colleges are safe places. Furthermore, I think there are a lot of assumptions out there about what Christian homeschoolers do and do not know.

      • Rose

         /  March 16, 2014

        Hi Donna – I’m still getting the notification e-mails, so luckily I saw this! I’m happy to try and explain.

        My experience being raised in a relatively moderate/diverse Christian homeschooling community was that modesty and purity teachings were the norm, not the exception. Other former homeschooled students across the U.S. and Canada say the same. I think the popularity of authors and speakers like Joshua Harris in these communities — and in the major Christian homeschooling magazines, curriculum catalogs, and conferences — also bears this out. This doesn’t mean all homeschooling parents embrace these ideas (mine didn’t, really), but I think oftentimes parents don’t realize the degree to which such notions are “in the air” in the homeschooling circles that comprise their kids’ whole world.

        This doesn’t mean these teachings are always draconian or puritanical. Oftentimes they’re softer and seem relatively harmless, even like common sense or just “old-fashioned values.” And oftentimes the consequences aren’t as horrible as being assaulted and blaming yourself. But these teachings do carry that risk, and notions like “guarding your heart” do trigger other negative psychological and emotional consequences, ones that parents almost never intend but are nonetheless very real.

        I agree that there are many assumptions and stereotypes about homeschoolers, and as a homeschool graduate, I myself am dismayed when I encounter them, and do my best to debunk them. For everyone’s sake, I hope modesty and purity teachings aren’t as pervasive in Christian homeschooling as I believe they are and that things have changed since I was homeschooled. At the same time, I’d encourage current homeschooling parents to be aware of what messages their communities and curricula are sending their kids. I’d also encourage them to listen to what former homeschooled students — now adults — are saying about their past experiences. There’s nothing to lose by doing so, and everything to gain.

    • Donna

       /  March 17, 2014

      Rose, thank you for your clear explanation. That makes a lot of sense. I appreciate your comments!

  5. Rose

     /  March 5, 2014

    You’re very welcome – glad I made sense. In part, I’m able to be calm and word my thoughts precisely because I was lucky; my parents gave me a great education and steered clear of most of the craziness. Those who were less lucky tend (understandably) to be upset when they hear something they perceive as apologia for the culture that hurt them, even if that wasn’t the author’s intent. In trying to stand in solidarity with my friends and peers who were hurt by the system, I support reform of conservative homeschooling culture and homeschooling’s legal oversight (which is lax or nonexistent in most states). Personally, I’d welcome you as a fellow ally if you feel inspired to join that effort.

    This is a good overview of the way that effort is taking shape so far:

  6. To be fair, I believe that Todd Akin was mentioned, not as a way of creating a guilt-by-association attitude, but rather to indicate that he shares the same sorts of rhetoric as sponsored speakers at PHC. If we condemn Akin’s rhetoric, then we should be aware that the same rhetoric is being sponsored at this college. The speaker there said himself that rapes on campuses are largely fake, which is just as horrifying as “legitimate rape.” And, I might add, this was not the first time that these sorts of ideas have been made public in these circles.

    • Thanks, Anna. I certainly tend to believe that PHC encouraged a hyper-gendered purity culture. I see your point–and I agree that was the point the original article tried to make. But I’ve spent too much of the past few years reading confident assurances that Teachers College, Columbia University was the center of “communist” plots to undermine schools and patriotism. The right-wing activists I read used the same sorts of rhetorical tactics: Because a group of TC faculty published a journal in which communists such as Earl Browder wrote, ipso facto Teachers College was a communist cell. It wasn’t true, though it was true that TC faculty invited communists to speak, and some even journeyed to the Soviet Union and praised it. My aim–though I think it has been misunderstood–is to warn against leaping to accept spotty evidence just because we agree with a certain position. One might be able to make a better case against PHC–after the past week I’ve heard from people whom I respect who assure me that such a case can be made. I was mainly asking if the New Republic article relied on prejudice rather than on proof; relied on insinuation rather than evidence. I don’t think everyone in Missouri believes the things that Todd Akin says, though they are all certainly “affiliated” with him. Likewise, I worry that casual readers of the New Republic article will blithely assume that all conservative evangelical Protestants are rapists or rape-enablers.

      • I understand your point better. However, while a few comments were poorly worded (the mention of homeschooling should have been clarified to be /Michael Farris’s/ brand of homeschooling since there are so many types) I think the article was generally very accurate. There was significant evidence presented, and I do not believe that the article painted all conservative evangelical Protestants as rapists or rape-enablers. However, it DID point out that heavily-Patriarchal cultures enable rapists and take power away from the victims of rape, and this is true and a very serious problem.

        I think the strength of the negative reaction to your piece is primarily because of a couple of sentences that I think you worded poorly. Specifically “smear” was not a good word to use for this, as the dictionary definition of smear is “damage the reputation of (someone) by false accusations; slander.” These are NOT false accusations or slander, and the use of the word “smear” immediately dismisses and minimizes the seriousness of these victims’ complaints. Considering that they have faced dismissal and invalidation since day 1, I think using this overly-harsh term was very damaging to your message. Secondly, you dodge the issue with your conclusion by suggesting that “Christian colleges are not known to have more sexual assaults than secular colleges” which was never the point of this article. Rather, the article aimed to point out the fact that a) just because it is a “godly” college doesn’t make it safe and most importantly, b) the administration at this college mishandled these sexual assault cases. Indeed, your implication that conservative colleges might PREVENT sexual assault is very frustrating to those of us who are trying to be vocal about the rape-apology inherent in purity culture, because you did not address the fact that Christian campuses may have a much lower instance of rape-reporting. In the end, we don’t know whether or not Christian campuses have a lower rape-rate, because the cultural system is set up to discourage and dis-empower the victims. I suspect that you are aware of this dynamic, but without specifically addressing it in your piece, it came off as very dismissive of the reality that these victims have to live with.

        Could the original article have been more careful with its words once or twice? Yeah, I think so. But I can’t say I agree with some of the words you chose for your response either. Do you see what, specifically, might cause this problem?

      • Anna, I hear you loud and clear. For sure, asking if this was a “smear,” like the smears used against suspected communists, was a bad idea. Of course, using that term in connection with “rape” is as provocative as other terms such as “lynch.” A bad way to describe the piece. Looking again at the New Republic essay, I see how I should have approached this to cause less disgust. When I first read the New Republic article, what jumped out at me were descriptions such as the following:

        When Claire Spear arrived at Patrick Henry as a freshman in 2009, she, like all new PHC students, affirmed a statement of faith saying the devil is real, the Bible is without error, and “Jesus Christ literally will come to earth again in the Second Advent.”

        So what? That seemed to me to be the sort of ridiculing of religious beliefs that is often used by secular activists. Unfairly, in my opinion. Those beliefs seem strange and even laughable to me, I admit. But I took on this blog project hoping to subject my own “side’s” assumptions about conservative people to the same sorts of scrutiny I use in my day job with conservative activists. Also, I objected to the assumptions that these sorts of assaults were somehow unique to PHC. It is a terrible truth that they are not. So, for example, in chunks of the original article such as the following, it seemed that with a few quick word changes, you could be telling the same story at nearly any school, secular, religious, Protestant, Catholic, etc.

        Often times, Claire felt judged. “They’d call me a ‘free spirit’ with a weird look on their face, like they weren’t sure it was a good spirit,” she says. The more her brothers and sisters in Christ disapproved of her, it seemed, the more fake-nice they acted. Campus felt increasingly constricting, like a “prison,” she says. By the end of the semester, Claire began thinking about leaving PHC. Spring semester only got worse. She became bulimic yet tried to keep acting like her normal, outgoing, happy-go-lucky self in public.

        Those experiences are depressingly common. Change “brothers and sisters in Christ” in the above passage to “sorority sisters” and you have a story from nearly any college, whatever the religious affiliation or lack thereof. I repeat: I do not say that to excuse them or wish them away. I do not “marinate” in that sort of terrible experience. I worry, rather, that readers of this article might find themselves concluding that rape culture is somehow an outgrowth of the fundamentalist subculture, rather than part and parcel of mainstream American culture, too.
        Again, I hear loud and clear the justified complaints you note and those of other commenters. I should have spent more time emphasizing my outrage at the ways these same assault-justifying practices go on at non-fundamentalist schools as well. Here is another passage from Feldman’s piece that might help explain my point:

        One winter night in 2010, John and Claire were together in his car in Purcellville. John claims that nothing inappropriate happened, but Claire says that, without warning, he climbed over the console between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat, mounted her, and began grinding against her. She froze, unable to speak. Afterward, Claire agonized over why she hadn’t “fought him” off. “I was afraid that it had something to do with my sinful nature,” she says. In the Christian world Claire had been brought up in, men only do bad things to impure women who have tempted them. She blamed herself, tried to act normal, and told no one.

        If we changed “sinful nature” and “Christian world” to “aggressiveness” and “reality-show-watching world,” that paragraph would be depressingly share-able among non-fundamentalist women as well.
        I wish I had been able to make clearer in the original piece that I do not want non-fundamentalists to incorrectly assume that rape culture is something only fundamentalists have to worry about, that rape culture is just another fundamentalist-only problem.

  7. Agellius

     /  March 6, 2014

    What is “rape culture”? It seems an odd combination of words.

  8. Rose

     /  March 6, 2014

    Agellius – rape culture is a constellation of beliefs and attitudes that affirm or excuse rapists and blame/malign/disbelieve victims. Sadly, such attitudes and beliefs can be found in lots of places, but fundamentalism heightens, codifies, and institutionalizes that culture through its doctrine and power structures.

    Adam – thanks for all the clarifications. I think folks in the academy can sometimes misunderstand how journalists write. Especially in a long-form piece like Feldman’s, details and “scenes” are not meant to be evidence in a tightly-constructed argument. Rather, they add power and vividness to the story and engage the reader. Maybe quoting from PHC’s statement of faith was a subtle jab (though I don’t think it was), but maybe it was just a more interesting and detailed way to “show not tell” that PHC is fundamentalist than simply saying “PHC is fundamentalist.” Same with conveying the details of Claire’s individual experience — not exhibit A in a “fundamentalists are bad” or “rape only happens in fundamentalism” argument (which the piece never suggested), just powerful storytelling.

    That said, it would be unfortunate if casual or dogmatically liberal readers came away from the article thinking rape culture is a fundamentalism-only problem. I’m glad you’re ready and willing to counter that thinking if it shows up.

  9. Agellius

     /  March 6, 2014

    Can you give examples of some of the beliefs contained in the “constellation of beliefs”? I assume you don’t mean anything as obvious as the belief that “it’s OK to rape women”.

    • Rose

       /  March 6, 2014

      Obvious examples would be suggesting victims who acted or dressed a certain way deserved it, or rushing to speculate that a victim might be “crying rape” after consensual sex that he or she regrets. Google “rape culture” and you’ll find many pages explaining in more detail and outlining some of the debates/discussions surrounding the concept. I’m not in a position to discuss further, though, and this blog may not be the appropriate place. (Not that you’re planning to challenge or press for more examples — I’m just being preemptive. 🙂 )

      • Agellius

         /  March 6, 2014

        I wasn’t necessarily intending to challenge in the context of this comment thread. At this point I don’t know what there is to challenge. But to be honest it did strike me as an academic buzz word, and I was curious whether it actually represents a coherent concept.

        I mean “rape culture” on its face seems to indicate, you know, a whole culture wherein rape is considered acceptable. If any such thing exists, I’ve never seen the slightest indication of it. On the contrary, since I was a kid (60s-70s) it’s been drilled into me that you never force a woman to do anything she doesn’t want to do. So I can’t conceive where such a “culture” would come from or how it could thrive. But possibly it doesn’t mean what I imagine it does.

        Thanks anyway for the info.

      • Agellius,
        I’m not much for academic buzzwords either, but “rape culture” is more than just a buzzword. It makes the point that these crimes are not just solo acts perpetrated by one criminal, but are excused–and at worst even encouraged–by a culture that assumes victims share blame.
        Part of the reason some readers reacted with such outrage to my original post, I think, was because I used the same sorts of language that people use to explain away sexual assault. For example, saying “we need to remember the full complexity of the situation” is something rape-enablers tend to say.
        However, as Rose generously pointed out, it’s also something historians tend to say. Many readers did not see that I was asking these questions as an historian, rather than as an excuse-maker. And to be fair, why should they have? They didn’t know me nor did they have any reason to think I was asking these questions without an intent to excuse away sexual assault.

  10. Agellius

     /  March 7, 2014


    Thanks for the explanation. Regarding your “unfortunate” phrase (“we need to remember the full complexity of the situation”), I guess I see your point. But it seems to me that it’s only the “initiated” who read it that way. I’m going to guess that nothing like the negative connotation you suggest came within a mile of occurring to normal people like me. : )

  11. jitters

     /  May 12, 2014

    I’d like to respectfully disagree. Perhaps the article didn’t state the underlying issue with enough clarity, but I didn’t see any of the attack, either of PHC, Christianity or homeschooling, that you did. In fact, while I didn’t ever attend PHC, I found myself nodding in agreement with complete understanding of what was happening.

    I don’t think the author in anyway tried to portray the PHC staff as encouraging sexual assault. If you read their responses and policies as such, perhaps that’s an indication of what that sort of policy actually does more than what it actually is. It’s been said a billion tmes but purity culture is rape culture. You don’t need to encourage sexual assault within that culture because women are pretty much held responsible for the actions and even thoughts of men.

    What happened at PHC is part of the same culture that made Todd Akin talk about “legitimate rape” and many of the other comments made by the religious right. To just about everyone not entrenched in that culture (or with a passing knowledge of the female body) finds those comments odious and ignorant, but I truly believe Akin et al. (for the most part) meant absolutely nothing offensive by it.

    When I told my aunt a decade later that I’d lost my virginity by rape a week after my 15th birthday and she told me that I’d “always had the spirit of Jezebel”, it was hurtful, appaling and, quite frankly, abhorrent. But am I claiming she’s “monstrous” by saying that? Or am I merely stating the truth, one which IS monstrous, but more than an indictment of her, it’s a call to more carefully examine the culture she’s part of that makes her think such a thing.

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  10. Investigative Report: Sex Abuse at Fundamentalist U | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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