How Purity Culture Reinforces Rape Culture through Victim Blaming

Content warning for description of rape.

I grew up in purity culture, which, sadly, is not altogether separate from rape culture. I have previously spoken of my experience, but when I was very young, I found out that someone I knew was raped. By her brother. And, to top it off, her parents sided with him. The brother was several years older and had used a kitchen tool as leverage on her throat so she wouldn’t scream.

In truth, her real-life nightmare was far more complex than a single instance of rape, not only because of the circumstances, but also because of how the community responded. She was a young, helpless child, but listening to stories of folks defending her brother, you’d have believed she was a wild temptress and he was the victim. The justice system failed her, and so did the legalistic Christian community.

She was painted as the criminal, despite her having done nothing but exist in the same house as a monster. The legalistic Christian community came out and said, “She must have been wearing something provocative,” and, “She was unsubmissive, maybe this will break her spirit so she’ll obey,” and the most heartbreaking of all, “No one will want her now, she’s damaged goods.”

He, on the other hand, was talked about as a pitiful recipient of a dramatic situation. All the legalistic Christian community could say were things like, “He is just a child, he didn’t know what he was doing,” and, “He must have had some traumatic experience of his own, he can’t be held accountable,” and, “Boys will be boys.”

I wish I could convince myself it was all a nightmare, but on days when I need it to be (for her sake and mine), the court documents and newspaper articles are an easy Google search away. They are a constant reminder of the lessons so many young women like myself were taught: rape is our fault, no one will listen (least of all the church) and there is no true justice in this world.

Rape isn’t rape unless you fought and screamed, that’s what I was taught. But what if you had that knife to your throat? Would you scream? Would you fight?

What if you knew that even if you did fight and scream, no one would believe you? That was the case for one woman I knew of who was groomed from childhood by her assailant. She led him on, they said. No, not with her long denim skirts and sweaters, but with her hair. Yes, her hair supposedly provoked him.

The message wrapped up in purity and rape cultures is a damning one. No matter what you do, no matter how much you fight and scream, no matter if you stay home with the doors and windows locked with a chastity belt and a burka, it will always be your fault.

I believe this stems from an innate fear on the part of both men and women. They don’t want to believe rape happens without provocation because that would mean it could happen to their daughters or wives, or them. It can happen to anyone, and that’s what they are scared of.

That is, of course, no excuse for blaming victim after victim for their own assault to squash personal fears. Not only does it harm victims, but it is not effective at dealing with the issue of fear or rape. Projecting onto rape victims is just another form of assault by purity culture.

I wish I could say I’ve seen this aspect of the culture I grew up in improve, but it hasn’t. There is a time to speak and a time to stay silent, but they can’t seem to make the appropriate choice at times when it really counts. Until they do, I’ll continue to speak up for what is right.

21-year-old Oklahoma native Rebecca Lemke has been published on the Federalist, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, Huffington Post, Homeschoolers Anonymous, The Relationship Blogger, ARCWrites, TrueAgape, Beautifully Connected, Ann Miszczak and more. She has made many guest appearances on live radio and podcasts to discuss spiritual abuse and legalism. Rebecca does public speaking on these same topics in addition to other mental health topics.

She is also a contributor to Iron Ladies and holds the 2015 Best Performance of the Year award in the national competition held at thepublicblogger.

Her published work includes a book on purity culture, The Scarlet Virgins, and a fiction book, The Shadow Queen. She has a podcast called The Scarlet Virgins Podcast associated with her nonfiction book that can be found at scarletvirgins.com or rebeccalemke.com.

4 Comments
  1. Reply Tricia Barker
    Tricia Barker October 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I understand the environment you describe. Your writing is clear and direct. Wonderful, important post… Capturing the spiritual abuse of the situation is all the more difficult. The amount of damage that some “Christians” have done to young girls and young women is astounding. It seems like common sense to protect young girls instead of blaming them. Part of the reason I went into the teaching field was to do just that—protect young girls and hold those accountable for what they had done no matter their age, their parent’s income, or social standing in the community. By not holding men and young men accountable for such acts we teach other men and boys that bad behavior and criminal acts against women and girls is acceptable. Just the other day a friend of mine recounted a moment with her father when she confided that one of his friends had assaulted her. The father replied something to the effect of a “hard cock doesn’t have a brain.” Again, the failure to protect both before and after such events is mind-blowing. I have my own wounds from childhood and after childhood, and I intuitively knew not to bother saying anything in childhood. People do not want to deal with these ugly truths and are much happier if you never mention it so that they don’t have to think about it (much less be forced to do something about it)…..these wounds, though, have a way of wanting acknowledgement. And we survivors are not the ones who are damaged…the men who perpetrate acts against children and the men and women who look the other way or blame the victims are the ones who are damaged beyond belief and living in a culture that needs to be shaken up and rearranged into something resembling common sense.

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