-Bridget R. Gaudette
Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a bit of trouble determining whether or not “rape” is fornication and therefore grounds for excommunication (what they call disfellowshipping). In their secret elder’s manual, “Shepherd the Flock of God” published in 2010, they explain that simply being raped isn’t even enough. They start off sounding reasonable, “One who was raped would not be guilty of pornei’a (aka fornication)”. Good, but then they go on to disappoint me, “discernment is needed in considering claims of rape, taking into consideration such factors as mental disposition of the person, the circumstance that led up to the incident and delay in reporting.” So, I suppose if she is mentally unstable and raped.. or if she was flirtatious and raped.. or if she waited a month to report the rape that she might still be disfellowshipped? I know claims of rape can be false but that’s rare. Either way, the average person believes (minus some Republican politicians) that if a person is raped, it matters not what her mental disposition was or how long she waited to report it. Rape is rape.
So now for a history lesson the JW view of legitimate rape:
In the first mention of this subject that I could find in one of their religious magazines The Watchtower, the JWs considered not screaming during a rape, fornication. The quote is as follows, “But suppose the man had a weapon and threatened to kill the girl? These scriptures [Deuteronomy 22: 23-27] do not weaken the argument or alter the situation by citing any circumstance that would justify her in not screaming. It plainly says she should scream, hence, oppose the attack regardless of the circumstances.” They ignore the fact that rape victims often freeze during the act. They go on to say that Christians should “’flee from fornication’ (1 Cor. 6:18). Thus if a Christian woman does not cry out and does not put forth every effort to flee, she would be viewed as consenting to the violation.” Wait for it: “There would be shame [for] having been coerced into breaking God’s law by having sex connections with one other than a legal marriage mate. Not only that, but she might become an unwed mother.” No, dear readers, this wasn’t written in the middle ages, this was in the 1/15/64.
Oh wait, would you like to some victim blaming? “The fact that over 15,000 women a year, about one every half hour, are raped in the United States […] serves as a warning to women that they should exercise care so as to avoid dangerous situations”… like being alone or being alone in the dark! Lesson: you know you might be raped, so don’t go out alone, if you do, then it’s kind of your fault that so many of you get raped. (By the way, 85-90% of sexual assaults take place between people who know one another, not in dark alleys by strangers). “For a Christian woman to persist in going out alone […] where women are frequently attacked is to invite trouble”. OMFG.
Victim Blaming 101.
Okay.. the above was in 1964.. surely they got more enlightened…
In 1968 in the June 1 Watchtower pp 345-50 it is reaffirmed that “As a Christian you are under obligation to resist”. Yes, “obligation”. But what exactly does resisting entail? “This resistance includes screaming and creating as much disturbance as possible to try to frighten off the attacker […] So by no means would it be proper to quietly submit to rape, as that would be consenting to fornication”. Again, this ignores the fact that some people freeze when raped or the age of the victim. But what if they have a gun on you? “You have no guarantee that if you meekly submit, your assailant will not kill you anyhow.” WTF? “Christian women are wise if they do all they can to avoid making themselves targets for rapists”. Thanks for the advice Watchtower.
But, confusion sets in because.. in the JW book, Aid to Bible Understanding, p 1371, 601 (1969 +1971 ed) they say “Rape is defined as unlawful sexual intercourse without the woman’s consent, effected by force, duress, intimidation…” and “Fornication is sex relations by mutual agreement between two persons not married to each other.” The unfortunate thing is that their idea of “consent” means not screaming so even in a legitimate rape, the JWs could still see it as fornication and grounds for disfellowshipping if she didn’t cry out.
In the March 8, 1974 Awake! magazine a story involving an attempted rape is recounted. The victim said to the rapist that “if she did not scream, she would be as good as dead anyhow.” (She meant dead God’s eyes). “Also, that if she did not scream she would ruin her relationship with Jehovah God and the Christian congregation; that then she would be disfellowhiped or excommunicated from it.” Again, WTF?! This is supposedly how she reasoned with the rapist. This poor woman was led to believe that even as a victim her religious leaders would punish her for being raped!
Next, the Watchtower talks about the formation of the rapist, “Womankind must share the blame. To begin with, until the age of five or six years, the most vital period, little boys have their personalities molded largely by women, their mothers […] far too many mother have come short in this regard.” No mention of the father’s responsibilities in this. Mothers make rapists.
To end the article they advise not to hitchhike and dress immodestly.
Take what you want from this quote in the 7/8/80 Awake! magazine p. 5 and 6 titled How Most Victims React. “Often coupled with the fear is confusion and uncertainty. For example, a 19 yr old explained, ‘I never physically fought him off in any way, partly because I was frightened mostly because in my naivete I thought a girl has to do what she’s told. I was overwhelmingly confused and defenseless against the whole sudden suddenness.’ “She reacted as many others have under similar circumstances.” “Profound terror in the face of physical threats simply renders most women helpless.” So they obvious recognize that consent or not consenting doesn’t have to be in the form of screaming or specifically saying “no”. What bothers me is that this woman had likely been influenced to believe (as many religious women do) that they are second class citizens and should do as the man says. I wonder how wives raped by their husbands are treated.
That same year they said “A Christian woman is under obligation to resist, for the issue of obedience to God’s law to flee from fornication is involved […] By no means would it be proper for her to willingly submit to being raped”. It’s obvious that they are still confused about what “rape” means.
Watchtower 3/15/83 p. 30 “What do we understand here by “fornication”? The Greek word in this text is pornei’a. “A male or female who is forcibly raped would not be guilty of porneia.” <phew> Maybe there is some hope after all.
“But the rapist is asking a person to break God’s law by committing fornication”. Huh? Are rapists that polite? In a section titled Treat Him [THE RAPIST] Respectfully The Watchtower says “The intended victim should remember that the rapist is human. No doubt there are circumstances in his life that have precipitated his behavior. So although a woman should not cower in fear and permit a rapist to intimidate her, at the same time she should treat him understandingly as a fellow human“. Wow. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. They are basically saying to take the rapist’s feelings into consideration. How about no? How could she “treat him understandingly”, while at the same time screaming and resisting? Isn’t “respecting him” an undue burden for a woman to bear under those circumstances?
Here’s a sample of the guilt trip and confusion that JW rape victims have to endure and the resulting mindset: “If I gave in and he raped me, I would eventually die and have no hope of a resurrection.” Watchtower 2/22/84 p. 25
Later that year there were several complaints about the above comments (treat the rapist with understanding) so the JWs issued a statement “For the victim to be considered guilty of fornication there would need to be proof of willing consent.” Progress? “The woman screaming would clear her from suspicion of such consent on her part”. Nope.. if you didn’t scream you’re probably still a fornicator and worthy of shunning.
Listed as one of the reasons why you should resist an attacker (Awake! 5-22-86 p. 23). “Your conscience will be clear. (Even if you are raped, you will not sacrifice your cleanliness before God).” Apparently if she did not scream/resist (a legitimate rape), then she should have a guilty conscience.
Awake! 9-22-86 p. 28 “True, the woman has to respond according to her assessment of the danger to her life.” Again, thank you for giving women permission to defend themselves.
Awake! 3-8-93 p. 5 “Myth: A rape victim bears part of the blame unless she actively resists.” I guess the JWs have a short memory; not so long before this, they perpetrated that very myth. I recall something about “silently submitting” and “inviting trouble”.
Watchtower February 2003, pp. 30-31 “Why does the Bible say that a person should scream when threatened with rape? [… the Bible] offers counsel on what one should do when threatened with rape”. The article then goes on to quote Deuteronomy 22: 23 and 24 which says in part, “you shall take both of them [the rapist and the victim] to the gate of that town and stone them to death-the young woman because she […] did not scream for help.” The Biblical writers didn’t concern themselves with the woman’s age, her relationship to the man, what she might have said that didn’t involve screaming, what threats he might have made. She didn’t scream = consent (and therefore fornication). The Watchtower goes on to say, “Although Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law, the principles mentioned therein provide them with guidance. The above account underscores the importance of resisting and screaming for help […] even in the sad case where a woman is overpowered and raped, her struggle and screaming for help is not in vain […] despite going through the ordeal, she can still have an undefiled conscience, self-respect and the assurance that she is clean in God’s eyes”. A woman raised in a healthy environment would never even consider being a rape victim as something God would blame her for. Being raised as a JW and seeing how they have flip-flopped on the matter, however, is unhealthy and could easily lead to these types of feelings. The quote of all quotes, “In hindsight, they feel that they should have done more to prevent the incident from happening. However, instead of blaming themselves, such victims can pray to Jehovah, ask for help and have confidence in his abundant loving-kindness”. So pray to the entity that could have helped you but didn’t? Also, I’ve noted the absence of advice to seek counseling.
After this I couldn’t find any more specific statements that say not screaming while being raped is fornication or consent, but there are several times where they say that Deuteronomy 22: 23, 24 gives us insight into how God feels about rape. In this, they are essentially maintaining their archaic, victim blaming endorsement of some rapes being illegitimate and the victim being worthy of expulsion from their congregation.
Todd Akin didn’t invent the concept of “legitimate rape”, it’s been around for centuries and occasionally idiots like him bring it to the forefront. Unfortunately, high control groups like the Jehovah’s Witness talk a whole lot of shit on the matter. They don’t consider that some people freeze when being raped or for whatever reason do not scream or resist to the level that the religious leaders are comfortable with. The result would be disfellowshipping wherein all of the person’s JW friends and family are disallowed from associating with or even speaking to them. I sum up with article with questions:
How many JW women (and men and children for that matter) over the years were disfellowshipped because they did not fight the rapist or scream?
How many rapists believe that the victim not screaming means they did little to nothing wrong?
Were the victims ever advised to get counseling even when they supposedly just fornicated?
Are some victims going through life thinking that their god views them as unclean even though they were raped?
How many women were killed or injured because of screaming instead of taking the threat of death seriously?
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