The Guardian Comment is Free: Jesus, Silence and the Rotherham Abuse Scandal

Shiloh co-lead Katie Edwards has a powerful opinion piece in The Guardian of 21 March 2018. A longer version features in her Lent Talk for BBC Radio 4 (8.45pm) on the same day. A shorter version was repeated in Radio’s 4 Pick of the Day on Sunday 25th March 2018.

This piece gets to the heart of some of the topics central to the Shiloh Project: namely, how biblical texts can be used, usually very selectively – in this case highlighting the silent Jesus of Matthew to the exclusion of the vocal Jesus of John – in modern contexts – in this example Rotherham, which was at this time one of many locations throughout the UK where girls and women were being groomed for sexual abuse and exploitation and silenced when they tried again and again to report their abusers – with toxic effect.

The role of religion and the Bible is complex and ambiguous, as this personal account makes painfully clear.

See the advance review from The Times for details:


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Booking and CFP for Religion and Rape Culture Conference, 6th July 2018

Booking is now open for our Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Places are limited so book your ticket fast!

Please note that we have small travel bursaries to contribute to travel costs for UK students who wish to attend the conference. These bursaries will be awarded on a needs basis, and speakers/those with poster submissions will also be prioritised.

The deadline for submission of proposals for our Religion and Rape Culture Conference is fast approaching! Get your proposals in by 19th March 2018. See the CFP below for more details.

Email [email protected] for more information.

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Interview with Antonia McGrath, Co-founder of NGO educate.

Here is the second in our occasional series profiling lesser known NGOs doing important work that addresses – sometimes directly, sometimes less directly – sexual violence and gender-based inequality. In the first instalment we heard from Carrie Pemberton Ford about her organisation’s work in the area of human trafficking (read about it here).

This time we hear from none other than my wonderful niece, Antonia McGrath. Straight out of high school, aged 18, Antonia went to spend a year in Honduras working in an orphanage. The experience influenced her profoundly and moved her to co-found an NGO. She has returned to Honduras regularly and has also given motivational talks. A student of International Studies, she is applying her experiential and academic knowledge for a greater good.

Please read about Antonia and the NGO and please help promote educate! There is a link below for making contact directly, as well as for making financial contributions, which are gratefully received and put to excellent use, directly in Honduras: every single dollar and pound. See if you can watch this short, beautiful and powerful film and not donate.


Tell us about your NGO and your own role!

My name is Antonia McGrath and I’m a student in the Netherlands, studying International Studies with a specialization in Latin America. I’m also the co-founder and chair of a small non-profit called educate. that works to empower children and youth in Honduras through education and preventative healthcare.

educate. was started by myself and a close friend of mine called Lisa. We both lived and worked in Honduras for a year after we finished high school, and later both ended up studying in the Netherlands. We were both deeply impacted by our experiences and the people we’d met and we had countless conversations and ideas about possible projects we could organise. Eventually, we looked up how to start a charity, and eight months later educate. got registered in Scotland! We now have a board of five directors, all of us university students who work on a voluntary basis, and a growing group of volunteer members who work in a variety of roles. In Honduras, we also have three Project Leaders and a Cultural Advisor, all of whom also work on a voluntary basis.

As an organisation, we’re driven by the belief that education is what lies at the root of sustainable development, and that by providing young Hondurans with opportunities to continue studying, as well as improving the quality of the education they receive, we can make small but significant changes to the immense levels of poverty and inequality that exist in Honduras.

Our main focus is a scholarship programme to allow excellent but underprivileged students to continue their education to the university level. We’re currently supporting two young women from rural communities at universities in Honduras. Stephanie, whose parents are farmers, is studying to become a doctor, and Tania, whose grandfather’s job as a shoemaker makes up the formal income of the entire family, is studying to become an industrial engineer. For both of these young women, this is an opportunity they would not have had without the scholarship. At the moment, we aim to take on one additional scholarship candidate every year. We also run projects at underfunded schools and orphanages around the country, including funding an animal therapy programme and several libraries.

It’s incredibly hard work, but everyone in our team is so dedicated and driven, and the impact that we’re having, even though on a grand scale it might seem insignificant, is completely life-changing for the individuals it affects, which makes it incredibly rewarding.

The Shiloh Project explores the intersections between, on the one hand, rape culture, and, on the other, religion. On some of our subsidiary projects we work together with third-sector organisations (including NGOs and FBOs). We also want to raise awareness and address and resist rape culture manifestations and gender-based violence directly. We’re interested to hear your answers to the following:

How do you see religion having impact on the setting where you are working – and how do you perceive that impact? Tell us about some of your encounters.

Religion is incredibly important in Honduras and influences almost all aspects of life. As an organisation, we have no religious or political affiliation, but the presence of religion in Honduras definitely impacts our work – helping in some ways, and hindering in others. Like I said, educate. has no religious affiliation, so I speak here solely based on my own personal views (and, perhaps it is important to mention, I too have no religious beliefs. In fact, I consider myself an atheist).

While Catholicism is still the dominant religion, Honduras is now one of the most Protestant countries in Latin America – largely due to the increased presence of evangelical missionaries in the country. In my experience, people extract great value from what you state as your religious persuasion and your stance creates a picture for them of your core beliefs and the specific ideas and stereotypes that are attached to these in Honduras. A friend, when I told him I was atheist, once said to me: “you’re not atheist, you’re a good person!” In such a religious society, labelling myself as an atheist often requires a great deal of backpedalling to take away people’s suspicions towards me and to prove that I do in fact have morals, despite not being religious.

Where I lived on the north coast, near San Pedro Sula, there’s quite a divide between Catholics and “Christians” (by which they mean Evangelicals and other Protestants). This divide creates a lot of animosity in some communities. “Evangelicals think their ideology is superior, and they look down on the Catholics,” says a good friend of mine in Honduras who says he’s agnostic, “but really the Catholics are just as bad, they’re just more discreet about it.” In a conversation I had with several Evangelicals, they blamed Catholics for Honduras’ problems with HIV/AIDS and gang violence.

The religious divide can clearly be seen through small daily interactions with people. A taxi driver once casually spent the taxi ride telling me how “when I was Catholic I used to dance and drink, but I would never do such devilish activities and be around such sinful people now that I have seen God’s true light.” Another time, I was picking up a Western Union money transfer at the local bank and the lady allowed me to collect my money without showing the proper identification, due to the fact that she had seen me at the local Evangelical church once with my boss, meaning I was an upstanding member of the community. These small interactions are telling, and show, with the utmost bluntness, the complete polarisation of these two religious groups.

I have seen both some incredibly impactful and some shockingly harmful work being done by religious groups in Honduras. The Catholic Church in San Pedro Sula does some amazing work with street children and returning migrants, which I spent many hours discussing with the Priest and the Cardinal on various trips into the city. But not all of the religious work in Honduras is positive. Many seemingly-positive religious projects become murkier and darker once you get inside them. There are definitely people that come and use the Bible as a weapon – “believe this, and we’ll help you.” Or people who take in children and force them to conform to their religious beliefs and violently punish them if they don’t – I have personally witnessed things like this and have been deeply disturbed by the irony of the link between religion and this kind of behaviour.

Despite the divisions it created, I also saw religion to be an extremely important uniting force, especially in poor communities. In these areas, religion and faith provided an incredibly powerful sense of community and ideology to help people get through hard times.

educate.’s lack of religious affiliations has not created any problems for us in Honduras, and we have and continue to work successfully with organisations and individuals from many different religious backgrounds and persuasions. Personally, I think our lack of religious affiliation possibly affords us more respect as an international body outside of Honduras, as we do not base our projects or our funding on religious ideas. Nevertheless, we remain aware of and respect the presence and importance of religion in the lives of our beneficiaries and members of our Honduras team.


How do you understand ‘rape culture’ and do you think it can be resisted or detoxified? How does the term apply to the setting where you are working?

Rape culture, in my understanding, refers to the culture of normalization of sexual harassment and assault, the stereotypes that surround gender and sexuality, and the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence that ensues from this.

Rape culture is definitely very prevalent in Honduras. As in much of Latin America, there is a strong culture of machismo in Honduras. Men are expected to be strong and “masculine” – tough and chauvinistic, whereas women usually take on a role that is much more submissive and “feminine.” Machismo also has relevance to sexual culture. Men prove their manliness by being sexually dominant, and they have a sexual appetite that they have the “right” to satisfy, while women have a much more passive role and are less in control. Honduran gender roles within the home present the woman as the matriarch: la jefa (“the boss”). However, this philosophy is centred only within family boundaries, and in wider society, it is expected for women to take on a much more submissive role.

An obvious symptom of machismo culture is the ever-popular music genre of reggaeton, which is played everywhere from the public buses to city streets, bars, salons, supermarkets and on the radio. It’s a genre that is notoriously derogatory and objectifying towards women, with a high degree of focus on male entitlement and disregard for women’s autonomy over their bodies. While reggaeton is certainly not unique as a music genre in its degradation of women, the level of this is extreme, and the popularity of this music normalizes this attitude of male dominance over women in wider society. The fact that young children grow up seeing music videos on buses with women portrayed in a blatantly sexual manner while men clearly show their dominance over these women, makes this attitude of male dominance truly a part of their upbringing. Of course, this is just one example of machista culture at work in Honduras.

A key aspect of rape culture in Honduras, and one that is truly shocking, is the extraordinarily high rate of femicide, with one femicide every 16 hours. Since 2014, the United Nations has reported that 95% of cases of sexual violence and femicide in Honduras were never investigated, and only 2.5% of cases of domestic violence were settled. The threat of violence towards Honduran women is very real and constant.

Forced child marriage is also still common in rural areas in Honduras, having been legally banned only last year, and young girls are often married to much older men without their consent. The consequences of this are huge, with these girls dropping out of school and being forced into non-consensual relationships that often result in early pregnancy, which not only impacts their future but can also cause medical problems as young girls’ bodies are often not physically ready for the demands of pregnancy and childbirth.

The sex industry in Honduras is also a huge problem. At a children’s home in Honduras where I used to work, a young girl told me about how she had provided sexual services for much older men to make money for her family. She was nine when she told me this, but the incidents she described had happened four years earlier. Another time, when I was interviewing various individuals as part of a documentary about Honduras’ migration crisis, numerous teenage girls opened up about horrific stories of rape, often at the hands of their own family members – fathers, uncles, brothers. This is not uncommon.

I think the main ways that rape culture can be combated are through educating people, particularly children and youth, about consent and what that means, teaching individuals about their rights and highlighting that these are not drawn along gender lines, challenging concepts of masculinity and femininity, recognizing problems in the media, churches and communities and working to challenge and change them, and creating policies and programmes that support survivors and victims of rape culture instead of blaming them.

Discussions must take place to highlight to children and youth, and the wider community, that sexual and emotional violence and abuse needs to be reported. Adult men/women referring to an underaged child as sexually desirable due to the fact she/he looks older than their biological age is currently socially acceptable, but this must change. The same is true of expressing that daughters/sons are bringing shame to their families by “tempting people,” when in fact the people they are “tempting” are the problem. Or the pervasive notion that it is a woman’s duty to respond to a catcaller. Or the fact it is unheard of for a Honduran woman to walk alone at night without fearing or facing sexual assault. That to put yourself on the streets or in a situation or area after dark is putting your body on a plate. Accusing the prostitutes on the street of being whores and without morals, yet not breathing a word about the married men who use their services, with one hundred words for a prostitute and barely one for the client. The motel and brothel owners can walk without shame in their communities while the prostitutes are ostracized. These ideas and cultural norms must be discussed and fought against in order to combat and detoxify rape culture in Honduras.

As a white woman who is not from Honduras, I recognize that my perspective is different from that of a Honduran woman and that I cannot truly know how rape culture in Honduras affects Hondurans. Certainly, when I was living in Honduras, and on the occasions that I have gone back to visit, I experienced harassment on the streets and saw, as an outsider, the ways in which men and women relate to one another and what the societal expectations were for each of them. But I cannot claim to have been truly a part of that world. As a white woman, my skin colour affords me some protection (kill a Honduran and no one will ask questions, but kill a tourist and it’ll be on international news), but I still felt unsafe walking at night without being accompanied by a man. It is impossible, on such an intricately complex topic, to claim to understand the lived experiences of Honduran women, because I have never, and will never, experience these first hand.

Speaking to a close friend in Honduras about this topic, he told me that he is worried about raising his daughter in such machista culture. “Women face a lot of physical threats,” he says, “but I think it’s the psychological damage that this culture has that is most detrimental. I want my daughter to believe that she is important, and that she can do anything. I don’t want her to be scared to live her life the way she wants to.”


Does your project encounter or address gender-based violence and inequality? Tell us how.

Gender-based violence and inequality are not explicitly part of our mission, but they definitely play a role in our work. While we don’t support only girls, both our current university scholarship recipients are young women studying to become an engineer and a doctor. Simply by supporting them, we are facilitating the process for them to become role models in their communities to younger girls, and this naturally contributes to breaking down norms and expectations in society and creates a platform to change gender-based inequalities. With a university degree, the young women we support gain not only an education that changes their life and the opportunities available to them, it also impacts their families and communities.


How could those interested find out more about your NGO? How can people contribute and where will their money go?

We have a website ( where there’s lots more information about us and our work, so that’s the main place where people can find out more about us. There’s a blog on the website where we post updates every month or so, but for more immediate updates, there’s our Facebook page (

On our website there is a link to a donation page. We really appreciate every single donation we receive, and all of them go to making real, tangible impact in individuals’ lives, either through scholarships or through projects at schools and orphanages. Because we’re such a small organization, you can see exactly where your money is going. We all work on a voluntary basis and strive to keep you regularly updated with photos, videos and articles on all of our projects.

We also have a contact page on our website, so for anyone who has questions or who is interested in getting involved, send us a message!


What kinds of posts would you like to see on The Shiloh Project blog and what kinds of resources that come into our orbit would be of value to you?

  • How small NGOs can have great impact and the different ways in which they do this.
  • Strategies and methods to combat problems like gender-based inequality and violence.
  • How different organisations combat rape culture and gender-based violence and inequality differently.
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#MeToo Jesus: is Christ really a good model for victims of abuse?

Katie Edwards, University of Sheffield and M J C Warren, University of Sheffield

It is the start of Lent, a time when Christians reflect on the upcoming Passion of Jesus. Jesus is held up as an example of steadfastness in the face of oppression by malevolent forces. He shows strength through his silence, approaching his suffering willingly.

Throughout the ongoing #MeToo movement Jesus has been invoked by Christian communities as a co-sufferer and promoted as a model for redemptive suffering, particularly in the face of abuse. But is Jesus’s silence a troubling model for victims of sexual assault?

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’s portrayal in popular culture is his silence in the face of Pontius Pilate’s interrogation. This image of silence comes from the three Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke’s versions of Jesus’s trial.

When Jesus does speak, his words are brief, cryptic, and taken from the Gospel of John rather than the other three, where Jesus’s silence is emphasised.

In Matthew and in Mark, the entire trial scene takes place in four verses; in Luke, where there is slightly more input from “the multitudes” as well as a second trial in front of Herod, we are done in eight verses. Even so, in these gospels, Jesus makes no answer to the charges laid against him.

It’s likely that Matthew, Mark and Luke’s versions depict Jesus’s silence as a way of characterising him as the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53:7. In each case, whether in these gospels or in Isaiah, the image portrayed is one of virtue in silence, and of a pious sacrifice in the face of an unjust world. It is that silence that ultimately kills him.

This contrasts with John’s depiction of the same scene, which takes place over ten verses, more than double the amount of text devoted to the trial in Mark and Matthew’s versions. In John, Jesus is clear about who he is and makes a direct response to accusations; he also corrects Pilate’s misunderstanding about his true identity. This is part of Jesus’ plan – he is clear about his death being the will of God his Father.

But whether he is silent as in Mark or whether he speaks in his own defence as in John, Jesus is sentenced to death and crucified. The end result – suffering, pain, and death – is the same.

#MeToo Jesus

Parallels have been drawn between Jesus’s response to his abuse during the Passion and the #MeToo movement. Not least because, like Jesus, the victims of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuse have been condemned whether they’ve spoken out or remained silent.

While the torture and crucifixion of Jesus in the Bible is widely accepted, the idea that his abuse included sexual assault is a less established aspect of the Passion narrative.

The work of David Tombs at the University of Otago shows that Jesus’s torture included a sexual element. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is stripped three times and his nakedness is part of his humiliation. Similarly, biblical scholar Wil Gafney has suggested that the crucifixion of Jesus is a form of sexual assault:

I consider … the full range of torture and humiliation to which Jesus of Nazareth was subjected, physical and sexual. The latter is so traumatising for the Church that we have covered it up – literally – covering Jesus’ genitals on our crucifixes … The mocking, taunting, forced stripping of Jesus was a sexual assault. He was, as so many of us are – women and men, children and adult – vulnerable to those who used physical force against him in whatever way they chose.

A troubling model of suffering

Throughout the ages, Jesus has been presented as a model of suffering. For instance, in the 18th century, St Paul of the Cross declared that:

The more deeply the cross penetrates, the better; the more deprived of consolation that your suffering is, the purer it will be; the more creatures oppose us, the more closely shall we be united to God.

Silence in the face of abuse, sexual assault and violence, then, becomes glorified and dignified. Some Christian communities have recognised the problems in constructing silence in the face of abuse as virtuous and have taken steps to challenge it.

For example, the hashtags #SilenceisNotSpiritual and #ChurchToo have been developed to offer a counter-narrative to the idea that silent suffering is an emulation of Jesus.

But the backlash to these hashtags, which promote the voices of those who’ve experienced sexual abuse and violence, has included some more troubling connections between Jesus and the #MeToo movement. Some social media commentators have presented Jesus as the perpetrator of sexual assault rather than as the victim.

By using sexual assault as a metaphor for Christ taking Christians by force, penetrating their sin with his righteousness, this view presents Jesus as a perpetrator of sexual assault, undermining the experience of survivors and victims of sexual violence and suggesting that sexual assault might be a potentially positive (or even necessary) experience.

The virtue of speaking out

The reaction to Jesus’s silence as well as his self-advocacy presents a troubling model for those who view Jesus as an exemplary victim of abuse, since both silence and speaking out lead to further pain and violence.

The ConversationThis should lead to an interrogation of how we as a society value suffering and especially silent suffering in the wake of #MeToo, but also challenges the notion that victims are obligated to speak out in order to be vindicated. In the end, the blame should still fall firmly on the abusers.

Katie Edwards, Director SIIBS, University of Sheffield and M J C Warren, Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2018: Interview with Carrie Pemberton Ford (CCARHT)

It’s Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week! This will be followed from 14. February by the One Billion Rising Campaign. Between 14 February and International Women’s Day, on 8 March: look out for regular Shiloh Project updates!

 Today, during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is a good time for The Shiloh Project to launch the first post of an occasional series profiling NGOs working actively against rape culture in its myriad forms.

 Organizations such as Women’s Shelter and Rape Crisis are very well known and do fantastic and important work. The NGOs we’ll be profiling here are less well known and also important to support, promote and celebrate. First up today is The Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking, introduced by its Development Director, Rev. Carrie Pemberton Ford …



Tell us about your NGO and your own role.

My name is Carrie Pemberton Ford. I am an Anglican priest and academic, as well as Development Director of the Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking (CCARHT). The Centre is based in Cambridge (UK). CCARHT is a nonprofit (or not-for-profit) Community Interest Company (CIC), which has Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) recognition from the United Nations office working on counter trafficking.

CCARHT’s vision is to foster applied research that addresses the contemporary global scourge of Human Trafficking, as well as to set this scourge in the wider context of social justice, gender equity, international economic and political power distribution, safer migration and asylum corridors, voice and victim empowerment, and multi-partner co-operation. Human trafficking, as defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the ‘hydra-headed monster’ manifesting in multiple forms that we seek to defeat. This is in line with the Palermo Protocols: three protocols adopted by the United Nations to supplement the 2000 Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. Two of these protocols address human trafficking: one is aimed at suppressing and punishing the trafficking of persons, especially women and children; the second addresses the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air.

The Shiloh Project explores the intersections between, on the one hand, rape culture, and, on the other, religion. On some of our subsidiary projects we work together with third-sector organizations (including NGOs and FBOs). We also want to raise awareness about and address and resist rape culture manifestations and gender-based violence directly. We’re interested to hear your answers to the following:

 How did you get involved in the work you are doing? Do you see religion having impact on the setting where you are working – and how do you perceive that impact?

I was involved in developing victim care responses to human trafficking before the Palermo Protocols became ratified by the UK Government (in 2003). I was the founder of the UK Charity Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe (CHASTE), and the instigator of the NOT FOR SALE campaign, which raises the issue of the commodification of female lives, along with a minority culture of male lives, within the sex industry. This was my entry into the last fifteen years of working in resistance to human trafficking – in its widest interpretation, which involves labour trafficking (or, slavery), child exploitation, organ trafficking, gamete trafficking and surrogacy, alongside trafficking for sexual exploitation and child abuse within the pornography ‘industry’.

The role of religion is extremely compromised and complex in the challenge of human trafficking. On the one hand, those of us whose faith discourse developed within a culture that values human liberation, gender equality and human rights, recognize religious communities as having powerful potential to interrupt and begin to dismantle cultures of commodification, devaluation of the ‘divine image’ imprint of humanity, and gender-based and racial hierarchies, alongside also age-related abuse, which runs as a major vein across human trafficking and modern slavery. On the other hand, many of these discourses have had long and embarrassing support from patriarchal and systematized ‘canonical’ teachings and their organizational realization.

Consequently, the role of religion is profoundly ambiguous, but offers some dynamic opportunities to address the diverse challenges around human trafficking – from the articulations of state interests, as well as some global conversations around international distribution of resources, value chains, and ensuring safe corridors for the movement of people – all of which address international trafficking – whilst also exploring community accountability, social justice and rape cultures within the domestic and national space.

Whether positive or negative, the role and impact of religion cannot and should not be ignored – including in terms of understanding the full picture of human trafficking.

 How do you understand ‘rape culture’ and do you think it can be resisted or detoxified?

 Rape culture is about the failure of interpersonal respect and the dereliction of an understanding of gendered difference founded on radical human equality. Rape culture underpins or is underpinned by political and economic hierarchies where the active consent of the other becomes void. Though its etymological background lies in the 1970s feminist movement, with a specific focus on ‘outing’ the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence, rape culture exists up until today and is fed by every societal message where one gender, ethnicity, class, ability, or sexuality becomes dominant and ‘entitled’ to transgress the embodied boundaries of the other.

Rape culture is resisted and detoxified through the raising up of equality, equity, and personal autonomy as rights protected by the State for all its citizens, by the enactment of the United Nations’ inalienable rights (as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948), and wherever religious discourse privileges this way of viewing humanity over and against the hierarchical forms which have so often dominated western and other cultures.

Sex trafficking is one form of human trafficking and directly indicative of rape culture. It violates fundamental human rights and human dignity and generates illicit finance for the pimps and traffickers complicit in each and every delivery of a female, male or transgender person into the regional, national or international ‘sex market’. It feeds off the normalization of rape culture whereby the ‘consumer’ does not perceive their transaction as anything other than a ‘purchase’, consent having allegedly been delivered by the agreement to ‘exchange’ a body or bodily service for money.

The relationship between sex trafficking and prostitution more generally is important to disentangle. Important here is the recent and incisive work of Julie Bindel. Her book The Pimping of Prostitution offers some clear insights into the multiple tiers implicit in the notion of ‘consent’ within the context of the global sex industry. She also highlights how the dominant culture refuses to explore the profound power asymmetries present in the embodied politics of this ‘market’ exchange, where the golden mean of the market is rigged by profound systemic inequalities in terms of gender, ethnicity and class.

These matters inform some of the challenges religious discourse needs to address going forward. CCARHT has already developed a theological wing to our work to explore such challenges.

How could those who are interested find out more about your NGO? How can people contribute and where will their money go?

For information and resources, please see the CCARHT website.

We host an annual symposium, which this year is held at Cambridge University from 2nd – 6th July 2018. Our focus will be ‘Terror, Trauma and Transport’. We are hoping to spend the final day of the conference on the theological explorations underpinning the Shiloh Project. (It would be wonderful to attend your conference on 6th July – but that might be difficult, logistically!)

We are also co-curating a summer school on ‘Migrants, Human Rights and Democracy’, to be held in Palermo (Sicily) from June 11th –15th June 2018.

Another upcoming event is a mini conference to be held in London on 13th April. The focus of this is very relevant to the Shiloh Project: namely, the multi-faceted issues and dimensions surrounding the safeguarding and protection of spouses and children in the context of domestic abuse, with particular focus on the roles played by coercive control or institutional inertia of clergy and religious institutions. (Please see: #Hometruths and #Badfaithed or contact me: [email protected])

CCARHT is a not-for-profit organization, and all donations go towards financing publications, mini symposia, research and at-risk-community interventions. These currently involve work in all of Sicily, Catalonia, Macedonia, Ukraine, and the UK.

All our work is focused on developing effective and more sustainable counter-human-trafficking interventions. In the course of this, we look, for example, at international and inter-regional economic fractures, the nexus with migration, creating asylum delivery, victim protection and survivor care, entrepreneurial empowerment for survivors, averting risky behaviours and situations for communities working with unaccompanied minors, supply chain transparency and value chain transformation.

We rely on fee-paying participation of our training symposia, on commissioned reports and donations for the business intervention and training work we are currently undertaking in Sicily, and on co-sponsored arts interventions – the most recent being #Justsex. We are currently seeking £8,000 to develop #Justsex materials to support the ‘Physical Theatre’ work which is currently beginning to find access into School PSHE (Personal and Social Health Education) programmes. (Please contact me directly for more details!)

Please see our library page on for our latest reports including our recent submission on ‘Behind Closed Doors: Addressing Human Trafficking, Servitude and Domestic Abuse Through the Black African Churches in London’, which has resulted in the development of a new charity from the cluster working on precisely these issues – namely, ‘Seraphs Tackling Social Injustice’.

 What kinds of posts would you like to see on The Shiloh Project blog and what kinds of resources that come into our orbit would be of value to you?

 Anything around the way in which rape culture, or patriarchal thinking, or pre-emptive demolition of consent, or gang formation and criminality, works internationally, and cross-culturally, as well as how rape culture is implicitly supported through some religious structures and discourses – and also how rape culture can start to be dismantled through a liberation theology or through a breach in rape culture-supportive theological praxis.

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16 Days of Activism – Day 8: Claire Cunnington

To mark Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism our interview is from Claire Cunnington, PhD student at the University of Sheffield.
Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I’m a Wellcome Trust funded PhD student at the University of Sheffield, researching what helps or hinders adults recovering from childhood sexual abuse.
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
I’m a member of The Shiloh Project.
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
I’m researching the way in which the dominant discourse around rape and abuse affects a victim’s ability to recover. Religion, particularly Christianity in the UK, has influenced this discourse. The Shiloh Project’s discussion of rape culture and the Bible is examining the wider context and my research is, in part, examining the impact.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today? 
By highlighting and questioning the origins of victim-blaming.
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
I am currently running a qualitative survey on recovery for adult survivors, which looks at what helps and hinders recovery. The survey can be found here: includes a question about religion and spirituality. I aim to produce a paper discussing the influence of religion on recovery for adults who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
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16 Days of Activism – Day 3: Caroline Blyth

Our third interview to mark the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is from co-director Caroline Blyth, senior lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Auckland.

Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?

I’m a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Auckland, and also participate in the Gender Studies programme there too. My teaching reflects my research to a great extent, and I focus on religion in popular culture, with a particular interest in issues of religion, gender and sexuality – how do religious communities and traditions impact socio-cultural perceptions of gender and sexuality? I also co-organize a student engagement project in the Faculty of Arts, which is called Hidden Perspectives: Bringing the Arts Out of the Closet. It’s a project inspired by the original Hidden Perspectives project developed by the fabulous folks at Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. With Hidden Perspectives Auckland, we have created an inclusive academic and social community for queer students at the University, where they can get involved in queering the Arts and making their voices heard.

What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?

As Katie and Johanna have explained in their own interviews, the Shiloh Project is something Katie and I had spoken about starting quite a while ago, but we were able to push ideas into practice when we met up with the indomitable Johanna and some other wonderful colleagues (Emma Nagouse, Valerie Hobbs, and Jessica Keady) last year at a meeting in Leeds. So along with Katie and Johanna, I help run the Shiloh Project, and I couldn’t be prouder to be part of such an important project, or to work with such wonderful colleagues.

How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?

A lot of my work to date has focused on gender violence in sacred texts, particularly the ways that biblical depictions of gender violence can echo the still very prevalent myths and misperceptions around gender violence that sustain contemporary rape cultures. When I started my PhD thesis on the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) back in 2005, I fully expected to be discussing the ways that social attitudes towards sexual violence had ‘moved on’ and become far more informed compared to biblical discourses of rape. But alas, I soon discovered this was not the case. And what frustrates me is that so many of the biblical traditions that do present really problematic ideologies around gender and gender violence are either ignored or excused by both religious communities and academic biblical scholars – as though their ‘sacred’ status rendered them beyond our critique. But, given how powerful the Bible remains as a religious and cultural text in global contemporary cultures, its problematic texts and traditions (which appear to endorse rape-supportive ideologies) urgently need to be addressed and discussed in both academic and wider public forums. Because these texts do still play a role in the world today, shaping popular perceptions about gender violence and granting validity to some really damaging discourses around rape and rape culture.

How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussions about gender activism today? 

I think that a massive strength of the Shiloh Project is that it rescues religious studies and biblical studies from the confines of the academy and offers academics, students, and interested members of the public an accessible (but still academically-rigorous) platform to talk openly and engagingly about a topic that remains so taboo. It’s not doing work that only a handful of like-minded academics can understand, but is really motivated to widening the discussion and fostering a sense of community and activism in which people both inside and outside the academy can participate. I think this is both vital for the future health of religious studies as an academic discipline, but also crucial to every academic’s role as critic and conscience of society and their responsibility is to make a difference – in my case, by tackling gender violence and encouraging activism that will make the world a safer and more inclusive place.

What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?

I have two future projects in mind at the moment. I’m hoping to work with my colleague in Auckland, Emily Colgan (a fellow Project Shiloh member), on the problematic depictions of gender roles and relationships in conservative Christian literature, particularly ‘self-help’ literature and fiction. This is an incredibly popular and prolific genre, and what I’ve come across has fascinated (and appalled) me as to its re-inscription of traditional gender roles, as well as its perpetuation of some very common rape-supportive discourses.

I’m also currently focusing on a slightly different strand of gender violence, and that is the symbolic and structural violence of transphobia sustained by religious rhetoric (particularly conservative Christian rhetoric). There’s been a huge flurry of concern among conservative Christian communities around, what they term, the ‘transgender debate’. To my mind, this ‘debate’ essentially denies the existence of authentic trans identities and works to exclude trans people from the human community. Some of the discourses evoked in these discussions are really toxic, and play a significant role in perpetuating or validating the alarmingly high rates of transphobic violence that trans people have to live with on a daily basis. I’m wanting to interrogate this ‘transgender debate’ and highlight its potential for sustaining violence, not to mention its problematic engagements with sacred texts, theologies, and traditions. I hope too that my work can inspire some timely and urgent dialogues of reconciliation between queer and religious communities. A tall order, but I’m intent on gradually chipping away at the homophobic and transphobic edifices that remain so prevalent in many religious communities today.

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Graphic representations of rape in biblical comics

Zanne Domoney-Lyttle is a tutor in Biblical Studies, including Biblical Hebrew language, at the University of Glasgow, and is currently working towards her PhD on the representation of the Bible in Comic Books (Theology & Religious Studies/Stirling Maxwell Center for Text-Image Narratives). She is passionate about reading the Bible as a contemporary cultural product, both in terms of adaptation and re appropriation of biblical material in our society.


Biblical comics – that is, adaptations of biblical material into comic book formats – have become increasingly popular in recent decades. In the past ten years alone, W.W. Norton has published The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb (2009), Siku wrote and illustrated The Manga Bible (2009), and a group of creators are currently working on producing a digital word-for-word Bible which claims to be historically accurate, unabridged, and “untamed.” Many more adaptations exist, many more are in the process of being created, and the market for text-image Bible shows no sign of slowing down.
It is easy to see why: the Bible is full of graphical, fantastical, easily visualised and emotionally charged stories, all of which provide great fodder for comics’ artists and writers to use either in “straightforward” retellings (and I use that term tongue-in-cheek with regards to biblical material) like Crumb’s Genesis, Illustrated, or for biblically-inspired stories like Goliath by Tom Gauld, which narrates the battle of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) from the giant’s point of view.

Like any form of literary or visual adaptation, creators of biblical comics have to pick and choose which stories to tell, which characters to include, and most importantly, which bits to leave out of their adaptations. For the majority of biblical comics on the market, that tends to mean leaving out scenes of sexual assault and rape. Of the 30 or so biblical comics which sit on my physical and digital shelf, only two include scenes of rape: R. Crumb’s “word-for-word” interpretation of Genesis means he had to include the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34, as well as Genesis 16 where Hagar the slave-concubine is given to Abraham for the purpose of producing an heir; an event which many biblical scholars interpret as rape owing to Hagar’s subservient status meaning she has no free will to accept or refuse. The other comic is The Book of Judges, a digital comic by Simon Amadeus et al. Also a “word-for-word” Bible comic, the rape and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 is graphically depicted across two pages, in full colour.

Most other biblical comics avoid such difficult scenes. For the reader, this is potentially problematic. In a recent article for The Conversation, Dr. Katie Edwards and Dr. Meredith Warren discussed the problems of leaving out the more gruesome, violent, or sexual aspects of the Bible when children are exposed to the text, arguing that encouraging close, critical readings of the text would give young people the tools to address issues of violence, slavery and even genocide in our own time.

This can and should also be applied to visualisations of sexual assault in biblical comics; after all, other graphic narratives concerning genocide (Noah’s flood, Genesis 6:9 – 9:17), slavery (the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, book of Exodus) and violence (for example, Genesis 4, when Cain murders Abel) are frequently re-presented in biblical comics. So why do comic creators stay clear of sexually-orientated scenes of violence?

One answer might lie in the fact that comic books are often still seen as children’s items; there is a wealth of material that argues against this notion (both inside and outside of academia) and thankfully, it is not as prevalent an opinion anymore. However, that comic books stem from a tradition pertaining to children’s literature still potentially influences their content, and so leaving out sexually explicit subjects might seem safer in order to “protect” a younger audience from difficult content.

Still, the question remains as to why certain forms of violence are deemed appropriate over other types of violence. Conversely, it must be noted that comics are, as highlighted above, no longer the domain of children. Markets are moving towards young adult/adult readers which, if it is the case, somewhat negates the argument that creators must be cautious of sensitive material influencing young minds. Leaving out scenes of sexual violence might be less to do with perceived readership, in that case, and more to do with the creators themselves.

To visually and textually represent a scene of violence from the Bible is difficult enough; to visually and textually represent a scene of rape or sexual assault from the Bible requires the creator to not only interpret and imagine the scene, but to recreate the act. It is the creator or the team of creators who must physically draw Dinah being raped (Genesis 34), for example, which makes them complicit in the act of rape. Complicity may be more pronounced in the act of creating text-image narratives of rape and sexual assault than it is in translating or transcribing, because the visual image is often more visceral than word alone. The creator[s] must figuratively and literally picture how the scene looks; their hands physically transmit the violent act on to paper where it is apprehended instantaneously and directly, without the “cover” of words. In a similar way, the reader also becomes complicit in the act by reading the text and image, and by physically handling and turning pages, effectively allowing the story – and the rape – to continue.

The lack of re-presenting biblical rape narratives in comic books, then, is perhaps just as important as their inclusion in biblical comics. By not including them, the creator of the book is choosing not to become complicit in a sexually violent act, and at the same time, preventing the reader from having to experience the rape, themselves becoming complicit in the continuation of the story’s intimate violence. Conversely, choosing to include rape and sexual assault in biblical retellings is giving a voice and a face to the victim, who otherwise, would remain silent and faceless.

Giving a voice to a victim of sexual assault or rape is essential, especially in the current climate. On an almost-daily basis, new revelations and allegations concerning sexual assault and rape appear in our newsfeeds, and the victims of such crimes are often unable to present their case – either because they are silenced or because they lack the ability or opportunity to present the wrong done to them. Visualising biblical rape narratives, if nothing else, may be a way to present cases of sexual assault and rape, forcing readers to confront the wrongs done to victims, be they historical, current, or even fictional.

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Interviews with Shiloh Project Collaborators Dr. Rosinah M. Gabaitse & Dr. Mmapula D. Kebaneilwe

The University of Botswana (UB) is definitely a place to watch for anyone interested in the intersections of rape culture and religion. Research and teaching staff cover diverse facets relevant to the work of the Shiloh Project – such as developments in marital relationships (Senzokuhle Doreen Setume), human sexuality (in particular LGBTI sexualities) in the context of pastoral care and counseling (Tshenolo Jennifer Moenga/Madigele) and gender and sexuality with reference to Hindu and Buddhist studies, as well as Philosophy of Religion (Pulane Elizabeth Motswapong).

Biblical studies is especially strong at UB. Best known internationally is Professor Musa W. Dube, whose expertise is centred particularly in postcolonial and feminist, as well as HIV and Aids studies. Also well established is Professor Lovemore Togarasei, who examines biblical texts with particular focus on masculinities and HIV and Aids theology.

Alongside them there are also three more biblical scholars, all of them women and all of them establishing impressive research profiles: Dr. Rosinah M. Gabaitse, Dr. Mmapula D. Kebaneilwe and Malebogo Kgalemang.

Below are interviews with two of them. Both will be involved in a burgeoning research and social justice project on rape culture and religion, which has recently received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Mmapula Kebaneilwe is Project Partner in this project. Rosinah Gabaitse is currently at the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg (Germany), having received a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship.

 An Interview with Mmapula Kebaneilwe

Q: Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What is your academic background? Where do you work now?

A: My name is Dr. Mmapula Diana Kebaneilwe. I am Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana. I completed my PhD in 2012 at the University of Murdoch in Perth, Western Australia. The title of my doctoral thesis is “This Courageous Woman: A Socio-rhetorical Womanist Reading of Proverbs 31:10-31”. I have a keen interest in reading the Hebrew Bible contextually, to explore how the ancient text may interact with contemporary issues affecting especially African women.

 Q: What characterizes your work? What are you working on at the moment?

A: My research centers on topics such as the Hebrew Bible and women; women, the Hebrew Bible and HIV and AIDS; the Hebrew Bible, women and ecological issues, as well as other contemporary issues pertaining to the intersection/interaction between the Bible and present cultures, especially of Botswana with its patriarchal mores and gender inequality, to the detriment of women. At the moment I am working on a paper I am provisionally calling “The Mob-rape of Lot’s Daughters: Misogyny and Gender-Based Violence in Botswana”. Another recent research project involved me in a team of women in our department. Together we completed a project on “Botho*/Ubuntu and Community Building: An Exploration of Baby, Bridal and Naomi/Laban Showers**” under the leadership of Professor Musa W. Dube. The project was funded by the John Templeton Foundation through the Nagel Institute.

*Botho captures the meaning of Ubuntu in Setswana, one of the official languages of Botswana.

**The project examines rituals of transition pertaining to life stages. While bridal and baby showers are quite well known, Naomi/Laban showers have emerged more recently. Named after biblical characters Naomi (Book of Ruth: Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law) and Laban (Book of Genesis: Laban is father-in-law of Jacob) these rituals celebrate transition to the status of mother- or father-in-law. At these rites bride and groom participate. The project, based on extensive fieldwork in and around Gaborone (Botswana), shows that Naomi/Laban showers re-produce and re-construct Setswana traditional rites. Mmapula Kebaneilwe is lead author of a forthcoming paper on this intriguing project.

 Q: How would you say the topic of rape culture pertains to the Botswana context?

 A: I can easily identify with the topic of rape culture in my Botswana context. Rape happens almost every second in my country. Women and girls suffer the most from the scourge of rape, which not infrequently results in the brutal murder of the victims by their heartless perpetrators who are almost invariably men. Contemporary Botswana is infested with what I see as misogyny. This has resulted in such despicable acts of rape and murder, alongside other gendered ills – perhaps in large part because of the patriarchal culture that persists to this day.

 Q: How would you say your own work intersects or could intersect with the topic of rape culture?

A: I would say that my work as an academic and researcher often and easily intersects with the topic of rape culture. I am already working on related issues, such as gendered inequalities in Botswana, and concerted focus on rape culture and its various guises will enrich my work and in turn benefit my context…

 Q: Do you consider yourself and your work activist?

A: Yes indeed I consider myself and my work activist on many fronts.

 Q: Are you happy for researchers and anyone else interested to contact you about your work? If so, how can they best make contact with you?

A: I would love to be contacted about my work at any time and the easiest way to get in touch with me is through email: [email protected] or [email protected]

Thank you, Mmapula Kebaneilwe, we look forward to seeing more of your work on The Shiloh Project blog.


 An Interview with Rosinah Mmannana Gabaitse

Q: Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What is your academic background? Where do you work now? What brings you to Bamberg?

A: I am a Christian, an educator and an activist. I believe in the God of justice, mercy, love and equality; these qualities inform my theology. I obtained a Master of Arts and Religion from Yale University in 2003. I started doctoral studies in 2008 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (in South Africa) and as part of my studies I moved to New Jersey in 2010-11 to take some courses and engage in research at Princeton University. I successfully completed my PhD in 2013. The title of my PhD thesis is Towards an African Pentecostal Feminist Biblical Hermeneutic of Liberation: Interpreting Luke-Acts with Batswana Women. Here I construct the principles of a hermeneutic that is life-giving in a world riddled with problems, including pervasive violence against women. I do this through a contextual reading of selected texts from the New Testament’s Luke–Acts, together with Pentecostal women in Botswana. These Batswana women inhabit patriarchal spaces in all of their Setswana cultures, the Pentecostal church, as well as in the global cultures they encounter daily through television, magazines and social media. Upon completion of my studies I went back to my teaching position at the University of Botswana where I lecture in biblical studies and theology. I teach courses on the introduction to the Bible, on biblical interpretation, and on ecclesiology, among others. In all these courses, I try as much as possible to mainstream the inclusion of such topics as HIV/Aids, gender, race and ethnicity.

Currently, I live in Bamberg (Germany) as a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow for the year 2017-18. I am also the mother of three lovely young boys who are here with me and my work is greatly influenced by the deep desire to create a just world where these boys and other children of the universe can thrive.   

 Q: What characterizes your work? What are you working on at the moment?

 A: My work focuses on the intersection between the Bible/biblical interpretation and problems facing the communities I work with: such as HIV and AIDS, poverty, violence against women, and social constructions of femininities and masculinities. My work is further characterized by how biblical interpretation influences and is influenced by one’s social location. Biblical interpretation impacts people’s daily lives in Botswana, and biblical interpretations also perpetuate erroneous theologies.

Biblical interpretation has lived consequences. It manifests itself, for instance, through the way people handle money and politics and the way they conduct their lives. Unfortunately, erroneous theologies such as those propelling racism, sexism and classism are bred and sustained through biblical interpretation. It is a well known fact that biblical interpretation/the Bible has been used to justify slavery and racial discrimination. Racism can be a result of the ways certain groups of people read and interpret the Bible. A lot of ills in my society are justified using the Bible. My work, therefore, focuses on how to read the Bible in ways that support life and justice for all and to contribute to a world where all human beings – regardless of colour, sexuality, race and religion – can be affirmed. For this world to become a reality there is need to engage, to understand and sometimes to challenge and deconstruct the ways communities of faith read and interpret the Bible. Further, we need to be intentional about reading the Bible in ways that unambiguously support justice and equality for all people.

I am currently working on the relationship between biblical interpretation and social injustice.  My research assistant Maria Mpuse and I have conducted fieldwork among Pentecostal communities in Botswana. The research has yielded a lot of data and although violence against women was not the primary focus of our study, it was a worryingly prominent part of many women participants’ narrative. The way some biblical texts have been read and interpreted for these women has made some of them complicit in and complacent to injustice. For example, some women do not complain when their husband decides to tell them, rather than discuss with them, that he is going to sell property.  For those women who were uncomfortable with their husbands’ decisions, they would console themselves with “what the Bible says” – namely, that the man is the head of the household. But what does this mean, “to be the head of the household”? Is it a licence to domineer? Therefore, I aim to facilitate a conversation about the Bible and its interpretations among those in my community who appeal to the Bible. This way we can explore together the choices that men and women make in relationships, for example, and better understand the role of the Bible in arriving at those choices.

 Q: How would you say the topic of rape culture pertains to the Botswana context?

A:  Rape is sexual violence and violence occurs in EVERY society. There is no society that could claim that certain groups within the population –  such as, women, children, and persons who do not subscribe to heterosexuality  – do not experience a share of violence. It would be a lie. Further, women and children who inhabit patriarchal societies (that is, societies that give primary authority to older males) are often more likely to experience violence. Studies demonstrate clearly that patriarchy provides a breeding-ground for violence against women and children.

Botswana, like the majority of societies, is patriarchal. In Botswana females tend to be subordinate to males and women are under-represented in positions of status and authority and disproportionately vulnerable to the detrimental effects of poverty and gender-based violence.  Studies from within Botswana by academics such as Tapologo Maundeni, Musa Dube, as well as my own studies, demonstrate that violence against women is on the rise. I published an article in 2012, entitled “Passion Killings in Botswana: Masculinity at Crossroads” (in Ezra Chitando and Sophie Chirongoma (eds), Redemptive Masculinities: Men, HIV and Religion, Geneva: World Council of Churches Publications, 2012, pp.305–12), which contains police statistics showing that in Botswana the number of cases of intimate femicide is truly alarming. Incidents of reported violence, including rape and threats of rape, are also escalating. We have chilling stories of women and girls being raped by their relatives, of young girls being sexually molested at school, in their homes, sometimes by people they trust, such as their step-fathers, uncles, or teachers.

Another story shocked the nation last year (in 2016) when two well-known politicians’ conversation about how one of them impregnated a minor was leaked to social media. The man, who is in his fifties, had sex with a school-going girl who was under sixteen at the time. According to the constitution of Botswana the girl was below the age of consent and the act was classified as statutory rape. When the conversation went viral, a movement called #Ishallnotforget which was driven through social media, especially Facebook, was born. In the leaked conversation the rapist had indicated that although it was scandalous that he had impregnated a minor, the ‘incident’ or ‘phase’ would pass because Batswana forget easily. The movement’s name, #Ishallnotforget, resists this assertion.

Botswana’s civil society – teachers, nurses and lawyers – joined the movement and encouraged communities to expose incidents of violence against girl-children in Botswana. Men and women joined a large demonstration, which began in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. But soon marches spread to other towns and villages in Botswana and the purpose of these demonstrations was to expose perpetrators and give space to survivors of sexual violence to speak out. Chilling and heart-wrenching stories of children and of grown women who were raped as children by their fathers, uncles, or teachers came to light. These stories demonstrate that “rape culture” applies to Botswana but also, that there is much silence around rape and other forms of sexual violence.

A second ugly incident occurred more recently, in June 2017. A young woman was sexually violated by a group of men at a taxi rank because, according to these men, she was wearing a short dress. This incident happened in broad daylight with the men telling the woman that they will rape her. They undressed her publically, taunted her, abused her with sexually loaded words to the effect that all they needed was for her to open her legs and they would teach her to behave “like a real woman”. They said, too, that she wanted to be raped: that’s why she was dressing skimpily and going through a taxi rank full of men. In this way they justified their sexual abuse and placed the blame on the woman: “it was her fault”, “she did not behave like a proper Motswana woman”, etc. The penis and the threat of forced penetration in this situation become a form of chastisement: the penis “teaches a lesson”, much like the rod in corporal punishment.

Pictures of the young woman, stripped naked in public, circulated on Facebook. Again, because of this incident a huge demonstration, took place in Gaborone, hashtagged #iwearwhatiwant.

These two incidents, taking place within a short space of time, together with the chilling statistics of rape cases in Botswana, reveal that rape culture is very much part of Botswana. There is, however, more heartening evidence, too, of active and widespread resistance to rape and sexual violence – such as the large demonstrations I mentioned.

To add to the latter incident, blamed by the abusers on the woman’s allegedly provocative dress, it was during this time, too, that harrowing stories of rape of elderly women (in their seventies and eighties) were reported by the national broadcaster, Botswana Television. Elderly women narrated stories about how they were sexually violated in their homes by men young enough to be their grandchildren. What these stories demonstrate is what we already know well: that rape has nothing to do with how attractive the rape victim is, or with how she is dressed. Rape is about power and exerting (violent) control. It emanates from a sense of entitlement and some of that male entitlement (yes, most perpetrators are male), derives from Botswana’s patriarchal system, as part of which women and their bodies are constantly under surveillance and policed: i.e. what was she wearing? Who else was looking at “my” woman? Why was she at his house? Why did she allow him to buy her a drink? Is she challenging my authority and flaunting to other men what is “rightfully mine”? Botswana is not a society that polices men and their bodies in equivalent ways. Men have rights and entitlements that women do not have.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence are a manifestation of men’s perceived entitlement to women’s bodies. In the Botswana context such entitlement manifests in different ways by different men, and some of these ways are routinely trivialized. The Marriage Act and the Domestic Violence Bill do not recognize marital rape and, therefore, there is a general presumption that marital rape cannot and does not exist. Again, this bespeaks of an attitude that a married woman’s body belongs to her husband, to do with as he wishes.

There was a live debate on Radio Botswana in a show called Massaasele on whether marital rape exists and if it should be criminalized. During the programme, callers, Christian and non Christian, men and women, vehemently denied that marital rape exists especially in Botswana. They argued that a married woman must submit to her husband and that sex is a form of submission. Further, they argued that a legally married woman cannot be raped by her husband: she is his and when sex takes place, it is always legal. This shows me how internalized male entitlement to female bodies is – and also, how the Bible is coopted into legitimations of rape.

There is only one case I am aware of where a woman in Botswana reported her husband for marital rape. She lodged a case with the Magistrate Court and while awaiting trial, the woman sought protection at a women’s shelter in Gaborone. The husband found out where she was, he abducted her and raped her several times. The case was dismissed because it is not legally possible in Botswana for a husband to rape his wife.

The denial of marital rape obviously contributes to rape culture in Botswana. Studies abound that demonstrate that marital rape happens in Christian homes. Isabel Apawo Phiri conducted a study among Pentecostals in South Africa, for example, and she found out that Pentecostal married women experience physical, psychological and emotional violence at the hands of their husbands. It was chilling that these women also reported marital rape.*

*Please see Phiri’s article for details: I. A. Phiri, “Why does God allow our husbands to hurt us? Overcoming violence against women”, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 114 (2002): 10–30.

Another way in which rape culture is perpetuated in Botswana is through language. For example, some men call random women (that is, women they are not in a sexual relationship with) mogatsaka. The word has a range of meanings, including “lover”, “the one I sleep with”, “sex partner”, “wife”, etc. The word is appropriately used by couples, or people engaged in a sexual relationship. Sometimes when men call women mogatsaka, both men and women laugh about it, as if it is nothing, because society has normalized the use of the word by men, as if it is not a term of intimacy but something that is, allegedly, “playful”, or expressive of sexual desire or appreciation of a woman’s attractiveness. Men tend not to be called to order when they call women they are not involved with mogatsaka.  Instead, when a woman takes offense for being called mogatsaka she is often said to be “uptight”, to be “overreacting” or to have “issues with men”. Again, this shows how objectification of women is very routine and casual.

Another expression that indicates the insidiousness of rape culture is setlogolo ntsha ditlhogo … ditlhogo ke sengwe le sengwe. This phrase is tricky to translate directly into English. The closest interpretation of the phrase is that a niece has to give her uncle a gift and this gift may be anything. This “anything” is understood to pertain at the very least to some level of flirtation between uncle and niece. Hence, if an uncle slaps his young niece on the buttocks in a sexual manner, the expression implies that this is still within the bounds of “sexual playfulness”. The ambiguity of the “anything” in the expression, however, has potentially very disturbing implications in a rape culture. Of course, communities in Botswana are heterogeneous and in some communities the phrase might be totally harmless. However, in others the expression potentially trivializes, even legitimates, the sexual attentions of uncles for their nieces.

I can also confirm that in Botswana men publicly slapping girls and women’s buttocks is far from uncommon. It is often dismissed as “a joke” – irrespective of whether the female is known to the man, or a stranger. If a woman were to do the same to a man her action would be considered highly inappropriate. It is these kinds of double standards that propel rape culture in Botswana (and elsewhere, too). The slapping of women’s buttocks normalizes sexual violence and it goes deeper, to demonstrate the entitlement that men have towards women’s bodies. Some men take this entitlement further and apportion to themselves the right to rape women as a form of exerting power and control.

 Q: How would you say your own work intersects or could intersect with the topic of rape culture?

A: My work intersects with rape culture in several ways. My research focuses on violence in general and, more specifically, on how religion, especially Christianity, often does not destabilize violence. This is because of the forcefulness of the narrative that elevates the male over the female, without interrogating or questioning this gendered hierarchy. Studies demonstrate that inequality and hierarchy provide a breeding-ground for violence. For example, white supremacy thrives on hierarchy, placing the white male at the top of the power structure and non-whites, especially black people, at the bottom of the power structure, with black females lowest of all. The top of the power pyramid is a place of power, control and privilege and one consequence is that black people are demeaned, disempowered and violated, with the power structure facilitating, perpetuating and justifying systemic abuse.

For instance, in the USA, long after the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement, black men are considerably more likely to be incarcerated and to be killed by the police than white men (see #blacklivesmatter). Once an ideology of superiority takes root, the ground for violence is fully cultivated, fertilized and, in time, normalized. The same principle applies to male supremacy as an ideology. Heterosexual men occupy the high position in the gender ladder and hold most power and privilege, laying the ground for the rape and violation of women and girls. I unreservedly believe that hierarchies and inequality legitimize violence: be it hierarchies of race (e.g. white versus black), gender, sexuality… you name it. Therefore, my work seeks to probe the links between biblical interpretation and hierarchies and dynamics of patriarchy, gender, race privilege, and sense of entitlement and how these marginalize and oppress certain populations. A full understanding of such dynamics is the first step to challenging, defusing and reprogramming injustices.

In my role as lecturer in New Testament I teach my students, to give one example, to ask themselves what Paul is communicating about women, such as when he gives the injunction that woman is subordinate, or a weaker vessel, and the man is the head of the household. Pauline injunctions can also be understood in the light of the God of equality, love, mercy and justice – and I try to point this out and create room for discussion and close interpretation. Why? Because if you teach people that men are created superior to women, that women epitomize sin and weakness, without unpacking and probing such claims, you are liable to create male monsters who are more likely to feel themselves entitled to violate women and females who internalize the idea that they are deserving victims.

Hierarchy breeds violence. The way Pauline injunctions are sometimes interpreted has far-reaching consequences, because men and women, married or single, live out these interpretations in their everyday conduct. It is true that some men who violate women do so because they are mentally ill, or because they themselves have been profoundly harmed and damaged. Some of these men are broken. Addressing such damage is difficult and requires professionals. However, I do believe that interrogating Pauline injunctions that appear to give men power over women can go some way towards reducing incidents of marital rape and violence against women among those men who do not have mental illness, who are on the spectrum we might label as more ordinary.

We have to ask ourselves why women don’t violate men to the same extent as men violate women, and truthfully engage with ways in which biblical interpretation has been used to allow rape to occur and to minimize its harmful impact on, above all, girls and women. If we don’t deconstruct Pauline injunctions, we will have women who are hurting and men who do not know God, because to know God is to know that God exists in love, in justice, peace and equality. Given my Christian-dominated context in Botswana and the authority and respect ascribed to the Bible as sacred word of God, biblical interpretation is potentially a very powerful instrument of social betterment.

My work also focuses on reading and engaging with difficult stories of violence found in the Bible: stories like Judges 19, the rape of the Levite’s concubine, or Genesis 34, the rape of Dinah. In Judges 19 the woman is gang raped and later her husband/master dismembers her body and disperses its pieces throughout Israel. I ask my students, or the communities in which I conduct fieldwork, to engage with this awful story. What are we supposed to learn from this incident, where a woman’s body is violated beyond imagination? How do and can we read this text in today’s world, where women are still raped and killed? By engaging with such a difficult text we can create opportunities for destabilizing violence, as well as opportunities for critiquing our ways of reading and interpreting the Bible that might encourage or suppress violence such as rape. Further, as we engage with such difficult stories of violence against women, we break the silence surrounding rape. In this way women, men and children are helped to speak out against violence, are helped to report rape, and are helped to accept that they, as victims and survivors of sexual violence, are not at fault.

Violence takes place both outside and inside the church. You may be surprised that not only those who consider the Bible canonical but also non-believers have used violent texts of the Bible to advance the subordination of women. This, in turn, has sometimes legitimized violence against women. Let’s instead teach men and women that they are both created in the image of God and that both are worthy of love, mercy and justice.

Q: Do you consider yourself and your work activist?

A:  Yes I am. I speak out against injustice at every opportunity I get. The work of an activist is to destabilize the status quo when it is harmful, and that is what I do in my work in the classroom, in schools and when I address audiences in other settings, like the church, or academics at conferences. I ask churches to engage with, to destabilize and critique systems such as patriarchy, which thrive on creating difference and inequality. You can imagine how challenging this can be for me, because for a long time patriarchy was the only form of governance endorsed by the church. Still, because I know that any system that constructs inequality encourages violence, I speak out against it.

I raise awareness about rape culture, too. I like raising awareness among young people, in particular. Before coming to Bamberg, I was engaged in conversations with boys and young men in two churches and in schools. These conversations explored what it means to be a boy, or man in Botswana. The main objective of these conversations was to identify and deconstruct notions of manhood that encourage men to rape. I engaged with them at length on the matter of consent and on the prevalent notion that a girl’s “yes” is really a “no” and her “no” is really a “yes”. You see, if we don’t teach our boys that when a girl says no to his sexual advances, she really means it, the boys may grow up with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. Trivializing a woman’s resistance to “romantic” advances is one of the drivers of rape culture in Botswana. That is why I focused on teaching young boys to learn life-affirming ways of being a man and on unlearning notions of entitlement. Deconstructing violent masculinities must start early, by teaching young boys to respect women’s autonomy and choices. Further, it is important to socialize both boys and girls in the values of love, gentleness, kindness, respect, justice, and equality.

 Q: Are you happy for researchers and anyone else interested to contact you about your work? If so, how can they best make contact with you?

A: Of course! Fighting violence against women and rape culture is a collaborative effort. We can do well by learning from others. For example, I am fascinated at the low incidents of reported rape in Bamberg, where women also wear revealing trousers and skirts. Why is it that men here are less likely to commit sexual violence? How are boys socialized differently here in Bamberg? So, I am open to meaningful discussions and collaborations.

 Here is my email: [email protected]

Thank you, Rosinah Gabaitse! We look forward to seeing more about you and your work on The Shiloh Project blog.

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On Sex and Other Possibilities

In a seminal 1980 philosophy paper, ‘Throwing Like a Girl’, Iris Marion Young cites Erwin Straus’ description of differences in styles of throwing between five year old girls and boys. While a girl makes no use of lateral space and remains relatively immobile apart from her arms, a boy will stretch his body sideways and backwards, twist, turn and bend his trunk, move his foot backwards, and throw the ball with force. The result, of course, is that the girl’s ball is released without force, speed, or accurate aim; the boy’s ‘leaves the hand with considerable acceleration; it moves toward its goal in a long, flat curve’ (Straus, 1966, 160).

This difference, argues Straus, has a biological rather than a social or acquired explanation, though he is at some loss to explain what the biological explanation is. Since the difference is found in very young children, it can’t be explained by the existence of female breasts – and anyway, it ‘seems certain’ that the Amazons, who cut off their breasts, ‘threw a ball just like our Mary’s, Betty’s and Susan’s’ (Straus, 1966, 158). Nor can it be explained by weaker muscle power, since a girl could compensate for this precisely by reaching forward and back. Instead, Straus argues, it is probably explicable by appeal to a ‘feminine attitude’ to the world and space. The difference for Straus, then, is biological, and yet this is in a rather vague way, since it is not in any way anatomical: it is simply part of a natural and eternal feminine essence.

Young is not in favour of Straus’ explanation, but she does agree with him about differences in throwing styles. In fact, Young extends the ways in which males and females differ with respect to whether or not they make full use of the body’s spatial and lateral possibilities. Women tend to be less open in their gait and stride; we are more likely to sit with our legs together and to fold our arms. Men are more likely to stand with their feet apart and to swing their arms. Women are also less likely to see ourselves as capable of lifting or carrying heavy things, and when we engage in sport: ‘a space surrounds us in imagination that we are not able to move beyond; the space available to our movement is a conflicted space […] We frequently respond to the motion of a ball coming toward us as though it were coming at us, and our immediate bodily impulse is to flee, duck, or otherwise protect ourselves from its flight’ (Young, 1980, 33- 34).Women often engage with sports timidly, hesitantly, perhaps apologetically. We lack confidence in our capacity to do certain things, and we fear getting hurt; rather than being a medium for the enactment of our aims, we often see our bodies instead as a fragile encumbrance (Young, 1980, 34). And our lack of confidence is, of course, often self-fulfilling.

The reason for this difference, Young posits, lies in the fact that bodily attitudes – everyone’s bodily attitudes – reflect their sense of the possibilities afforded us by the world. Understanding this claim takes us back to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s claim that subjective experience starts from the perspective of our bodies. So, a door is perceived instantly as a door, and not as a compilation of wood and metal, because I perceive it in an embodied fashion: I see it as something it’s possible to walk through, close, reopen, slam. Or, again, the reason I perceive a cup as a cup, despite only being able to see one side of it at any time, lies in the fact that in seeing it I have already interpreted and experienced it as an object it is possible to pick up, hold, drink from (Merleau-Ponty, 1962). Our perception and experience of the cup is unitary; we do not sense the cup and the possibilities it gives us as separate things, but as a whole, because our bodies are the lens through which we see it (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, 150; Husserl, 2001, 42). So, our bodies are the starting point for our perception of the world, and, conversely, the possibilities opened up by the world depend on the mode and limits of the body’s possibilities (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, 137, 148). A sense that we cannot swing our arms or move beyond a confined space is not just about how we view our bodies, but about how we perceive the world and how we are able to live in it and relate to it.

Possibilities are pretty important to humans. The sense that we have possibilities is necessary for our ability to pursue them, and to our engagement, immersion in, and sense of belonging to the world. Possibilities give rise to more possibilities, and so when we inhabit a world of possibilities there is a dynamic interplay of habitual expectation and fulfilment, of confident anticipation (Ratcliffe, 2015, 47). A common source – and indeed form – of suffering is a loss of agency and sense of the possibilities we have available to us. Thus the experience of depression, for instance, is very frequently described in terms of a loss of a sense of possibilities, and so, by extension, a loss of agency or ability to act (Ratcliffe, 2013). For example, as one person says of their experience of depression: ‘It became impossible to reach anything. Like, how do I get up and walk to that chair if the essential thing we mean by chair, something that lets us sit down and rest or upholds us as we read a book […] has lost the quality of being able to do that?’ (Anon, quoted Hornstein, 2009, 213; see Ratcliffe, 2013).

All human experience of possibility is malleable, being shaped by the social and cultural contexts in which we are embedded, and reflected in our bodily behaviour. While not about depression, Young’s paper draws attention to the fact that women’s bodies often behave differently to men’s, precisely because of the diminishment of our possibilities – because women are ‘physically inhibited, confined, positioned, and objectified’ by patriarchal culture. Girls are less likely to be encouraged to develop particular bodily skills, and more likely to be told not to get dirty, or hurt, or ruin their clothes. Girls are taught, even today, the subtle habits of feminine comportment: to walk, sit, and stand in a feminine way – whatever that may be in Young’s and our respective cultures. Young’s reflections are valuable precisely because they draw attention not to the horrific and extreme things we already know about (for example, one-off instances of rape or other sexual violence), but to micro, systemic, everyday things that start early in our lives, and to the way these relate specifically to the loss of possibilities open to us and so the narrowing of our worlds. As Young herself invites us to do, this way of understanding these experiences can be extended to other aspects of women’s embodied subjectivity, not only in relation to sports and everyday comportment, but also in relation to other aspects of women’s experience, including sex and sexuality.

How are women’s experiences of sex and sexuality today shaped by the diminished sense of possibility Young highlights? Or, what light does Young’s account of women’s experience, which foregrounds possibility and its loss, shed on women’s experiences of sex and sexuality now? Here are a few thoughts, drawn from my own experience. Many of these are, I think, experiences common to the vast majority of women like me, who are in many ways the lucky ones: women who live in a modern, outwardly egalitarian society who are surrounded by liberal, feminist friends and colleagues. In writing of these experiences, I seek to disrupt the hegemonic narrative that we already live in an egalitarian society, or that sexual violence does not, in fact, affect the experience of most women day-to-day, or that it does not do so at a significant level.

A major enjoyment in my life is walking. I enjoy walking with friends, but also, and in some ways particularly, on my own. If I’m stressed it often takes me out of myself and helps me to see that things matter less than I think; if I’m thinking about my research it often helps me to be creative and reorder my ideas. Yet my experience of walking has at times been marred, not only by assaults during walks (though this has happened, and in unlikely times and places), but also by advice from well-meaning people from an early age to be careful: to watch out because it’s likely that if I walk alone then I will be raped. Most recently, this happened about six months ago as I walked in some woods near my home in Yorkshire. Meeting a family from a nearby city who had come for a picnic for the day, we spent five minutes passing the time of day by talking about the beautiful weather and countryside. But the walk as a whole was tarnished for me by the man’s concern that I was walking alone, and question about whether I wasn’t worried about being attacked.



The effect of this kind of well-intentioned question was to alter my mood, my background sense of how I found myself in the world and the particular quality of experience of being immersed in it. Unlike an emotion, a mood like this is not an intentional state that is directed towards a particular object (for example, a sense of fear about the possibility of being raped). Rather, it is an immersion in the world as a threatening and fearful place, a place in which we do not belong and that is not of our own making (see Ratcliffe, 2015). The world of the person whose mood is one of fear is simply not the same world as the world of the person whose mood is characterised by a sense of one’s possibilities. Threat is not only a contingent prospect about a particular event but, rather, the shape that all experience of the world has, one that makes the beautiful weather seem discordant, and the woods not peaceful and joyful but strange and threatening. And this is a sense that is, to different extents, instilled in girls from an early age, and of which (even if we consciously choose to reject it, as I had done) we are forcibly reminded at various points throughout our lives.

Over the last six months I’ve done quite a lot of (mostly heterosexual) dating: a relatively new experience to me since, prior to that, I have mostly been in monogamous relationships. For the most part, the experience of dating has been an exciting one, carrying with it a sense of possibility and confident anticipation: meeting new and interesting people, being less sexually constrained, becoming more confident. Being single and not celibate has not only been fun, but has also allowed me to consider whether and in what ways monogamous relationships are (inherently or contingently) patriarchal or heteronormative, to re-assess earlier relationships, and to consider a wider range of possible futures than I’d previously allowed myself. Yet, on the contemporary dating scene, too – at least as far as it relates to people between their late-twenties and late-forties – there are curiosities that point to a diminished sense of possibilities of the world for women in particular. So, for example, as it turns out, it’s still overwhelmingly the norm for men to make the first move on a date. This is in spite of the fact that both the man and the woman may be ardent feminists: it seems there is still an invisible barrier that prevents women from taking this step. I, for one, am guilty of this. And there is evidence to suggest this is not unwarranted: when one attractive female friend did make the first move on a date, she was spurned (by a well-educated, liberal, feminist etc. man) on account of being too forward.

That women’s bodily sexual behaviour is still normalised as demure in this context may seem remarkable but relatively benign: it is, after all (one might think), merely an aesthetic preference; there is nothing intrinsically violent or genuinely misogynistic about it. But on reflection this is naïve: the way in which cultural norms shape women’s (and men’s) behaviours reflects a more general (if often invisible) policing of women’s bodies, by both men and women, of which rape and sexual violence are one part. And these things, too, are salient in a dating context. Women are encouraged always to tell a friend where and with whom they are going on a date, and whether they take the date home (taking the date home, rather than going back to the date’s house, is recommended in most dating advice guides as the safer option).

In the UK, ‘rape’ is defined as something that can only be done by a man; the way the term is defined (or, in other countries, primarily understood) suggests that men are potential perpetrators, and women potential victims. The ‘consent’ that the woman gives to the man is the primary legitimator of sex, and yet, against a backdrop of patriarchal norms (for example, how we define ‘rape’, whom we expect to make the first move), this is a concept that already puts a woman on the back foot and undermines her subjectivity and agency: it suggests that her role in sex is to ‘allow’ it; indicates feminine passivity, and implicitly undermines and de-normalises women’s enthusiasm for sex and sexual pleasure. Conversely, men’s sexual desire is constructed as proactive, potentially predatory, perpetually up for it: ‘being sexual like a girl’ differs from ‘throwing like a girl’, in that not only women but also men suffer from our embodied performances of gendered sexuality.

I’ve been raped twice in my life. Writing this now, I find myself wondering what the reader’s response to this will be and, once again, whether this number is higher than the average; if so, whether this is because of something about me, either intrinsically, or else because of my behaviour. ‘Being someone who has been raped’ has taken me a very long time to accept. Perhaps this is because it jars with my strong sense of agency, and, however much I thought I felt solidarity rather than pity with people who had been raped, ultimately I had a sense that this extreme and violent loss of agency is not something that would ever happen to me. The effects of the first time I was raped – over a decade ago – were significant in terms of my relationships and career: I was frequently too preoccupied by the memory of the experience to work; I was unable to tell the people closest to me, and could no longer relate as fully to them. When I did try to explain, I was no good at it, not least because I could not bring myself to use the word ‘rape’ – and they would not understand my inarticulate attempt to characterise my experience. In addition to this, over a significant period of time, I would generally feel fine, but then a particular sentence of a song, or conversation I overheard between people, would make me unable to breath, and would make being in a particular place suddenly unbearable. I would sleep badly, have nightmares, and wake panicked.

I experienced tremendous anger, oddly at the seriousness with which our culture takes rape and sees it as traumatic, as I felt this could be normalising and self-fulfilling. I felt that, were it not for the seriousness with which rape is spoken of, I might be able to shake off some of the negative after-effects more quickly. Retrospectively, I think this was part of a wider attempt to re-establish the agency I’d lost by establishing a more optimistic, albeit naïve, evaluation of my experience and set of choices about how to respond to it. Collectively, men and women interpret experiences through a patriarchal lens, which includes normalising or trivialising sexual violence. There is an additional incentive to do this if one wishes to deny, as I did for psychological reasons, that something really bad has happened to one. Of course, the problem with wishful thinking, as here, is that while it may be helpful for a while, it is often untrue, and unhelpful in the longer term (see Bortolotti, 2014 for a discussion of related kinds of helpfulness in the context of psychiatric delusions).

Rape is something that happens, that happens to a large number of women, and that happens to women whom perhaps we don’t expect it to happen to. Furthermore, the overarching threat of rape often affects the experience of women, and of women’s sex lives, at least some of the time and to some extent, whether they have been raped or not. The ways in which cautionary advice altered the experience of walking pre-existed my experience of rape, though the sense of threat was significantly heightened for a period following them. Merely the threat of rape diminishes possibilities, since the ‘I can’ is set to the limits of the ‘I cannot’ (or must not, or ought not, or else…). It’s also sometimes observed that the overarching threat of rape that exists between male and female relationships can result in gratitude to non-predatory male friends, and non-rapey male lovers. It can therefore result in an unequal playing field for romantic and sexual relationships, and for friendships with men.

The sense of gratitude is of course inappropriate: non-rape should be presupposed. Women are more likely than men to err on the side of caution, both with respect to the number of sexual partners they have, and to how well they know and trust someone before they will sleep with them. Explanations for this are sometimes posited in terms of women’s lower sexual appetite (we have less testosterone), or life preferences (apparently, we seek a life-long mate and children – whether or not we think we do), or adventurousness (we are intrinsically more sensible people). Yet it is surely not ridiculous to think that here, too, women’s experience is characterised by a sense of diminished possibility, and shaped by an overarching threat of rape. Our decisions are more cautious, because we have fewer possibilities open to us, because in this most intimate part of our lives there is also a pervasive sense of threat.

Negotiating the realities of rape and rape culture is complex. It’s sometimes well-meaning people (protective relatives or perfectly nice people one meet on walks) who instil the sense of threat that mars women’s experience of the world in general and of sexual possibilities in particular. And, given the occurrence and severe effects of rape, they may even be correct to make us cautious or feel threatened – and yet diminishing a person’s sense of possibility or increasing their sense of fear is, in and of itself, a harm to that person’s good. Or again, regarding trauma as the appropriate response to rape, and recognising the seriousness of rape, can seem to normalise such a traumatic response, and arguably diminish the wellbeing of a woman who has been raped further.

It may, at times, be at odds with a woman’s claim, post-rape, that the situation is not as bad as feminist discourse prescribes, or that making a big deal of it is itself unhelpful – and to overrule or ignore her claim can even seem paternalistic or authoritarian. The solution to this complexity is not to deny that we live in a rape culture, or to assert a simplistic, libertarian form of women’s agency post-rape, as some writers have recently done (e.g. Gittos, 2015). Instead, we need to understand and critique rape culture. This means understanding and critiquing the ways in which rape culture affects our relations and interactions systemically, including at the level of the more everyday, less visible diminishment of women’s possibilities, and the ways in which women, and men, internalise, embody and perform problematic dynamics in our everyday lives.

Anastasia (Tasia) Scrutton is an Associate Professor in Philosophy and Religion at the University of Leeds, UK. Her current research is on religious and spiritual interpretations of depression, particularly in relation to how different interpretations shape the meaning and interpretation of the experience, and the experience itself. Prior to this, she looked at the idea of divine passibility – the idea that the God of classical theism could have emotions – through the lens of some recent work on the relationship between emotions, intelligence, the will and the body. Other interests include social philosophy, philosophy of mind, and indigenous and new religions. Recent publications include ‘Why not believe in an evil God? Pragmatic encroachment and some implications for philosophy of religion’ (Religious Studies); ‘Two Christian Theologies of Depression’ (Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology); ‘”Is depression a sin or a disease?” A critique of moralizing and medicalizing models of mental illness’ (Journal of Religion and Disability) andMental Illness’ (Routledge Handbook for Epistemic Injustice).

Author Acknowledgements

Being able to share these experiences would be impossible without the support of a number of good friends, and my writing of it also benefited from their expertise in philosophy, theology and other disciplines. Thanks go particularly to Adriaan van Klinken, Gerald Lang, Rachel Muers, Jack Woods, Heather Logue, Stefan Skrimshire, Paolo Santorio and Matthew Ratcliffe.



Bortolotti, Lisa. 2015. The epistemic innocence of motivated delusions. Consciousness and Cognition 33, 490 – 499

Gittos, Luke. 2015. Why Rape Culture is a Dangerous Myth: From Steubenville to Ched Evans. Exeter: Societas

Hornstein, G. A. 2009. Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness. New York: Rodale.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Trans. Steinbock, A.J. Dordrecht: Kluwer

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. New York: Humanities Press

Ratcliffe, Matthew. 2015. Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ratcliffe, M, 2013. Depression and the Phenomenology of Free Will. In Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. Ed. Fulford, K. W. M., Davies, M., Graham, G., Sadler, J., Stanghellini, G. & Thornton, T. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 574-591

Straus, Erwin W. 1966. The Upright Posture. Phenomenological Psychology. New York: Basic Books

Young, Iris Marion. 1980. Throwing like a girl: A phenomenology of feminine body comportment motility and spatiality. Human Studies 3, 137 – 156

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