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How the Christian Right's Bizarre Sex Obsessions Let Rapists Off the Hook

When you see sex as the problem, it becomes hard to see rape as anything but another sexual sin.

The small city of Missoula, Montana recently grabbed headlines after the Department of Justice sent a letter to the Missoula County Attorney's Office, asserting it had “substantial evidence” that the county has completely failed at the job of dealing with sexual assault. A lot of details of the allegations against Missoula officials were disturbing, including a prosecutor who allegedly told the mother of a 5-year-old rape victim that “boys will be boys,” but another thing that jumps out is the role religion played in justifying the minimizing of rape allegations. According to the Justice Department, a deputy county attorney responded to one rape victim by reading her Bible verses “in a way that the victim interpreted to mean that the Deputy County Attorney was judging her negatively for have made the report.”

Sadly, this kind of reaction from Christian conservatives to sexual assault—blame the victim and make it about sex, not violence—is surprisingly common.

Kiera Feldman, writing for the New Republic, captured this problem perfectly in her piece about the sexual assault problem at the hyper-Christian university Patrick Henry. She chronicles one case where the alleged assailant attacked the victim in her sleep, which should be a clear-cut case of non-consent. But, since Patrick Henry is a school focused on preventing and punishing all sexual contact between students, the criminal and abusive aspects appear to have been ignored in favor of seeing this mainly as a sexual transgression. The assailant kept referring to his behavior as “taking liberties,” as if the problem with what he did was that it was sexual, not that it was violent. The dean decided therefore that both the victim and the assailant were to blame, reportedly telling the victim, “You are in part responsible for what happened, because you put yourself in a compromising situation,” and adding, “Actions have consequences.” Both students were given counseling, and the victim reported that her counseling was just more blaming her for the assault through lessons in “modesty.”

This is not just a problem for Patrick Henry College. The other big name in fundamentalist universities, Bob Jones University, reportedly has the same problem. Writing for Al Jazeera America, Claire Gordon reports similar stories coming from rape victims at BJU. One alleged victim reported that the dean asked her, “Is there anything that you did that made him do that?” and also that the content of her counseling sessions, which she thought were private, were shared with the administration. The counselor herself claims that the school then terminated the sessions because they felt she was becoming too sympathetic toward the victim, which suggests that from the get-go, the intention was to get dirt on the victim to discredit her claims. Shortly thereafter, the victim was expelled from the university.

Things only have grown uglier since then, as BJU recently terminated, rather abruptly, a contract with a firm it hired to help improve its responses to sexual abuse on campus. As the New York Times reported, critics of this decision suspect it was because BJU didn’t like the firm’s findings. Victims of abuse told the Times various horror stories about the administration’s response to their reports. “They said not to go to the police because no one will believe you, to defer to authority like your father or especially someone in the church,” said one woman who reported abuse.

“The person who supposedly counseled me told me if I reported a person like that to the police, I was damaging the cause of Christ, and I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell,” another victim reported.

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