Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ruth Krall on the Just World Fallacy and Sexual Violence Against Women and Children: "She Should Not Have Been in That Parking Lot at 11:30 at Night"

Ruth Krall has sent a wonderful set of notes commenting on the issues of sexual violence and religion we've been discussing here of late. Ruth has generously told me I can share these with all of you here. As I've noted before, Ruth is (as her Enduring Space blog notes) "a mental health-clinician-turned-pastoral theologian" whose religious roots are in the Mennonite tradition, where she has had very important influence in stirring up necessary conversations about issues of sexual violence and abuse of women in the Mennonite church. 

In addition to her doctorate in pastoral theology, Ruth has a master's degree in psychiatric nursing, and has considerable clinical experience in the field of mental health. In particular, she has worked with the Project Sister Rape Crisis Line in Los Angeles and with women who have experienced rape and have sought emergency-room treatment. Her doctoral work included a clinical practicum in small-group work with rape survivors.

All of this to say: Ruth Krall has a great deal to teach us about these issues, and I'm honored to have her share some of her reflections here, in response to the discussion we've been having about sexual violence and religion. Here's Ruth's statement: 

There is a subset of social psychology research known as the Just World Hypothesis — on this, see this linked Wikipedia article.

There has been a lot of writing about rape and the just world hypothesis. Until the 1970's psychiatry held to a victim-precipitation model for crimes of sexual violence. In short, victims wanted the rape to happen and only after it was done did they complain to protect their own self-image. That idea went into disrepute when we began collectively to see rape as a criminal act of violence rather than as a criminal act of sexuality.  

So, when we blame the victims of rape for being raped, we are falling into the just world fallacy. This means we most likely will blame victims according to one of three scenarios in our heads:

1) Blaming the victim for her behavior: she should not have been in that parking lot at 11:30 at night (even if she worked the evening shift). 
2) Blaming the victim for her appearance: what did she expect when she wore that mini-skirt on a date? 
3) Blaming the victim for her character – when all else fails: you know she is from that Green family. Not a one of them is decent.She is just a slut like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all sluts.  

All of this ignores the moral reality that the rapist is solely responsible for his violent acts. It is the rapist who needs to be held accountable for his acts of violence by the social culture surrounding this act of rape or this act of child seduction.  

There are situations in the Roman Catholic Church and its encounters with sexual abusers of pre-pubertal children and just post-pubertal children that show the continuing strong influence of the just world fallacy in how many people approach issues of abuse of minors:

1. Behavior blaming: She and her parents should have known better than letting her go to confession alone. He and his parents are responsible for letting him go on that camping trip with Father Brown. He or she should not have confessed sexual thoughts to a priest. 
2. Of a five year old: s/he just should not wear that bathing suit in public at church-sponsored swimming events, it is an invitation for pedophile priests to abuse her. 
3. Of a five year old or of a ten year old or of a fifteen year old: she/he behaved in seductive and enticing ways – it is clear that s/he wanted sex. I couldn’t stop myself.

Victim-blaming is magical thinking. It is an attempt to reassure ourselves that we will never face the kind of violence that the victim did, in fact, face.  

Victims also engage in victim self-blaming. Initially, the anti-rape movement saw this as crazy-making behavior for victims, a wrong-minded just world thinking. This has become more modulated in the practice of seasoned counselors. The premise remains. The victim is not responsible for his or her victimization. The sexual harasser or the sexual victimizer is responsible.  

But, instead of immediately contradicting the victim's self-blame, it is useful to listen to it compassionately because it just may be the victim's way of trying to figure out ways she or he can avoid future victimization. One has to help clients differentiate between phobic responses that limit their self-options in the future and between future realistic self-protective behaviors. Having left the car doors unlocked in a public parking lot is not responsible for the rape – again the principle: the rapist is responsible for the act of rape. But locking one's car doors is prudent self-protective behavior for men and women.  

It is important to remember that cohabiting partners and spouses can be raped. The important principle here is consent. Did both parties give informed consent to have sexual relationships? Were they capable of giving consent? For example, drug or alcohol-facilitated affinity or target rapes are rapes because the individual was incapable of informed consent. Were they of an age to give informed consent? A six year old cannot by virtue of his or her age and mental development give consent.  

In this light, then, it becomes clear that prostitutes of either gender can be raped.

So, we have three, often intertangled issues: The first one is the issue of consent. The second is the rapist's responsibility for the rape. And the third one is that rape is a crime of violence and not a crime of sexuality.  

The photo of Ruth is from her Enduring Space blog linked above.

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