Tragically, sexual harrassment, leering, and groping behaviour is all too common in churches–especially evangelical ones.
Why “especially evangelical ones”?
Because evangelical ones often stress that “boys will be boys”, “all men lust”, and thus the responsibility for keeping men from lusting falls on girls and women. They mustn’t be temptresses.
I measured all of this in our survey of 20,000 women, looking at how different evangelical teachings, like the lust message, the “boys will be boys”, and more, affect women’s sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction.
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Before Christmas I looked at the effect of this on teen girls, prompted by some posts on Facebook that went absolutely viral. We turned it all into a “don’t be a stumbling block” podcast, which was one of the top podcasts of 2020, and you really need to listen to it! Rebecca was on fire!
You may also enjoy:
- Why Don’t Be a Stumbling Block is a Really Bad Modesty Message
- My 40% Modesty Rule
- Noticing is Not Lusting
- Is Bounce Your Eyes the Proper Approach to Lust?
This week we’ve been looking at the idea that “boys will want to push your sexual boundaries.” We talked about sexual assault in the church in last week’s podcast, and I wanted to end the week (before we start a new topic with tomorrow’s podcast) with this.
When my stumbling block posts on Facebook went viral, so many women shared heartbreaking stories.
It consumed all my attention for several days, as more and more women shared their heartbreak and betrayal.
I didn’t know what to do with all of their stories. But I thought that perhaps I’d just collect some in this post, as a way to say “thank you for sharing this with me” and “this matters.”
Here, then, is what girls were wearing when they were harrassed/assaulted/leered at:
When I was told inappropriate things about my body
14-year-old: Wearing a dress she had picked out with her dad on a shopping trip
A late 20-year-old who was creepy would comment on it. I was too embarrassed to ever wear that dress again. He later ended up in prison.
8-year-old: Wearing a below-the-knee skirt and top that met the Baptist modesty standards for her church
She was harrassed by an adult member of the congregation for five years. When she spoke out, she was asked what she was wearing and what she had done to encourage him. She was told, “It takes two to tango.”
She was told to “cover up her mystery.”
7-year-old: Wearing a shin-length floral dress
She was told she had great legs and when she was older she’d have to cover them up.
13-year-old: Wearing normal Sunday dresses
Her father told her that she’d have to wear looser dresses because an adult man was attracted and distracted by her developing breasts.
19-year-old: harrassed by pastor
She was told that he didn’t “feel that way” about his wife, implying that he did “feel that way” about her. He was later discovered to have had an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old congregant (aka clergy sexual abuse).
16-year-old: waist-high mom jeans and a Northern Reflections sweatshirt
Was told by her youth pastor that he lusted after her, and was asked for forgiveness.
Told by a married man that her figure was adorable, “just like a Barbie.”
15-year-old: Wearing very modest fundamentalist Baptist clothing
Her music minister took the youth group out to Dairy Queen and played “You Sexy Thing” on the jukebox. He told her he played it for her.
Young Adult: Mid-length floral high necked dress, gathered at the waist
She walked past elder passing out bulletins. He approached her from behind saying he hadn’t given her one because he was busy watching her walk in that sexy pink dress. She never wore that dress again.
What were you wearing when you were warned by church leaders that your body was a stumbling block?
13-year-old: jeans and a baggy t-shirt
She was told at church that it was good of her to dress so modestly, especially since she had “such a sweet well-formed figure.”
All through childhood/teenage years: Jeans and a baggy t-shirt
All of us girls were made to understand that if we didn’t wear a skirt or dress, the men would stumble and be looking at our butts. The guys were allowed to go shirtless at outdoor summer church events, but girls couldn’t wear shorts above the knees.
13-year-old: Wearing skirt past knees and modest tops
An elder visited her and her friends at their houses to tell them to dress differently because an older man was stumbling over them. She didn’t know who, so she felt self conscious and distrustful towards all the guys in church
14-year-old: At a youth rally at John Piper’s church
The youth leader told the girls that their bodies were meatsuits, lust factories for boys around them.
15-year-old: Wearing jeans, baggy t-shirt, and sneakers
Was told by the worship leader not to move at all during worship because her butt was too distracting. It took five years to feel comfortable even slightly raising her hands during worship after that.
14-year-old: Wearing baggy shorts, full strap, non-tight tank top, all within dress code
Was at a summer Bible camp, and was told she needed to change her clothes because she was making someone feel uncomfortable. She felt disgusted that a grown man had been looking at her body and felt unable to control himself.
She was told at morning service to put her hair up because it was distracting for the guys.
What were you wearing when you were sexually assaulted?
Many women left stories of being sexually assaulted, primarily by youth leaders or elders/deacons in the church, but most didn’t say what they were wearing. Here are two that did:
Child: Wearing long dresses, long sleeves, high neckline, bloomers under
Was raped repeatedly by someone at church throughout childhood.
14-year-old: Dressed like a normal teenage girl
Was assaulted by the youth pastor.
So many women left heartbreaking stories. Connor went through all the viral Facebook posts for me and pulled some out and put them in a Google doc for me. As he did, he left some comments on the margins. He found the whole job rather disturbing:
This really isn’t okay.
If you have a story like this…
Please know, I am so, so sorry. This was wrong. You should never have been subjected to this. You are not dangerous or evil just because you have a female body. I’m sorry.
And if your story is one of sexual assault, I am doubly sorry.
If this many women remember…think about how traumatic this is
The emotion coming out from women telling stories that happened when they were 13 or 14 is so sobering. This stuff sticks with you. It taints your view of the male gender, or sex, and of your body. It makes you feel disgusting and dirty. And it has long lasting repercussions.
If people in your church talk about women being stumbling blocks…
Then that church is not safe for your children or for other people’s children.
Men, has your wife experienced this?
Check in with her. Ask her. This could be a moment to really connect and understand why certain things hurt her so deeply.
Please speak up whenever you hear anyone blame a woman, let alone a child, for causing someone to stumble.
This will only end when blaming the woman is no longer acceptable. The elders and pastors who told girls to change because a faceless adult man was being distracted/lusting is just disgusting. So he is the one sinning, and she is the one made to feel the shame.
That’s not of Jesus.
It will only stop when we refuse to shame women, but shame the men (and the women) instead who try to blame the girl. It should be completely unacceptable to do this.
Next time someone asks, “but what was she wearing?”, point them to this post.
Most men do not think this way. There is nothing about being male that makes someone lust after young teenagers, let alone children. Don’t demean men by believing that. Let’s not think that the most extreme sex addictions are normal male behaviour. They are not. Men are better than this. And if we start calling men to more, then we will be able to recognize the red flags in our midst.
This message that “boys will be boys” may be a message that is hurting your marriage and sex life now.
If you have a story like one of these, that may have affected you profoundly, even if it was only an off-handed comment when you were young. It’s traumatizing and it sits with you. If you’re wondering if that’s the root of some of your problems, you may really enjoy reading The Great Sex Rescue! You’ll feel validated and heard. And you’ll find you’re not alone, too!
You may also enjoy…
- Stories of girls being made to feel awkward for reaching puberty early, or having a big bust
- Stories of girls feeling period-shamed
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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