Why We Don’t Tell by Gina Messina

Roy Moore is the next in line to be exposed as a sexual predator in a long list that has unfolded since the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I find it both comical and distressing that Moore has attempted to justify his behavior by saying “I’ve never dated a girl without her mother’s permission.” In addition, he argued that such claims against him could not be true; it was so long ago; who would wait forty years to tell?

Apparently Moore has not heard the term rape culture – one he is clearly a product of – and how it leaves victims feeling silenced and ashamed. Perhaps he has not listened to the woman he assaulted sob on television as she spoke of her fear, embarrassment, and pain? Recounting her victimization, Beverly Young Nelson said she didn’t speak out because Moore told her no one would believe her. At only sixteen, Nelson knew that reporting the assault would lead to more trouble for her and no consequences for Moore.

For how long did Rose McGowan have to recount her rape by Weinstein before someone believed her? It is outrageous to think that McGowan is under arrest for a drug charge as I write this, but Weinstein is still free.

We live within a world that shames its victims while celebrating its perpetrators. The soul crushing pain experienced as a result of sexual violence is indescribable…perhaps even God cannot understand. There is no greater act of violence than to invade the interior of one’s body. And the shame that it brings is unbearable.

We don’t tell because we are not believed.

Time and time again we see women shamed for reporting rape. We are called liars, gold diggers, vengeful bitches. Why else would a woman make such a claim?

Even when there is clear evidence of a crime, perpetrators often emerge unscathed…Donald Trump is still in the White House.

Scripture tells us that a woman who cries rape is a liar (Potiphar’s Wife, Genesis 39) and that a “real” rape victim stays silent like Susanna (Daniel 13).

We don’t tell because we are taught that our intact hymens are more valuable than our lives.

The Church Father, Jerome said that suicide is always wrong except for the instance of rape and claimed that not even God can repair a broken hymen.

The stories of the Virgin Martyrs are hailed as an example to all women and the modern day saint Maria Goretti was canonized for choosing to protect her virginity over her life. Imagine, had she been raped, we would not know her name.

We don’t tell because we are ashamed.

Abstinence only education teaches us that if we are raped we are nothing more than a chewed up piece of gum that no one will want.

Rape victims are called sluts who want sex but don’t want to admit it. A man should be praised for liberating a woman from making such a decision.  “Blurred Lines,” anyone?

If we look to scripture we find “texts of terror” that tell the stories of women who are “crucified” for their rapes, while their rapists are spared. After Tamar’s rape she lives the rest of her life as a desolate woman, while her brother and rapist, Amnon, is not punished (2 Samuel 13:11-14).

The rapes of the four churchwomen immediately before their murders in El Salvador have never been acknowledged by the Vatican. We cannot speak of such things. Church teaching on rape is clear.

According to Phyllis Trible, “to tell and hear tales of terror is to wrestle demons in the night, without a compassionate God to save us” (4).

And as Traci West explains, “the way women feel about themselves and their environment is permanently altered by the incidence of intimate assault in their lives” (p. 55).

We don’t tell because we don’t want to believe it happened to us.

To tell is to admit that something so terrible has happened that our lives no longer have value and that even God may reject us.

But if we can justify the violence to ourselves, then perhaps we can continue living without the burden of being irreparable.

But sometimes we do tell…

Because we can no longer bear the burden of carrying such shame.

Because we don’t want to see others experience such torment.

Because we want to validate the experiences of others who have also “wrestled demons in the night.”

I told…

Ten years later, after embarking on my own academic career, that my professor sexually assaulted me on more than one occasion during my last semester of college. He kept me after class, backed me into a corner, groped and kissed me while I cried. He wielded his power over me. I was terrified. I felt ashamed.

I questioned what I already knew to be true. Was he really out of line? Did I provoke him? Was I not assertive? Am I overreacting?

It took a decade for me to work up the courage to call my alma mater to file a complaint against the man who is now full professor and department chair. I called the Human Resources department and spoke with a woman who asked me why I took so long to make a report. She argued that if I had really been assaulted I would have said something at the time. She asked what kind of person I was to make such accusations that could ruin a man’s career.  I was interrogated. I was shamed. And just like that, I wished I had never told.

Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, and activist, and is Co-founder of FeminismandReligion.com. She writes for The Huffington Post, and is author or editor of 5 books including Women Religion Revolution and Jesus in the White House. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Academy, Rape, Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. “She asked what kind of person I was to make such accusations that could ruin a man’s career. I was interrogated. I was shamed. And just like that, I wished I had never told.”

    This is what it means to live in a rape culture: even women, even women charged with adjudicating sexual abuse, side with the man who is accused!


    Liked by 3 people

  2. Why do we go after some rapists and sexual harassers like Harvey Weinstein but ignore others like Donald Trump, who famously bragged about grabbing women by the “p*ssy”?


  3. Gina, I’m so sorry that happened to you. Rape slices your whole life into “Before” and “After.” Thank you for having the courage to tell your story.

    For myself, I repudiate the patriarchal god. I want nothing to do with a god who permits women to be raped, murdered, beaten, silenced, and enslaved. What kind of god is that?


  4. “We live within a world that shames its victims while celebrating its perpetrators. The soul crushing pain experienced as a result of sexual violence is indescribable.”

    Everything you say here is true and the shame never leaves us…. this is a magnificent essay – pointed in its intensity. I would like permission to post it on my Facebook page.

    Thank you from yet one more survivor.


  5. I could only “wish upon a star” that all you women had these very same views against the then

    President Bill Clinton

    But rather Bill’s accusers were

    and had their lives ruined

    As they were hunted down by Bill’s wife Hillary into fear of speaking out

    Those people still refused to believe President Bill Clinton did anything wrong in his “Oval Office” even when President Bill Clinton’s DNA was found on a little blue dress

    …as President Bill Clinton remained in office

    A good lesson of wisdom for us to learn

    On a good note…and I would ascertain you would be pleased to know

    President Bill Clinton’s past “indiscretions” are currently being reviewed

    Perhaps your next story to write about and the women he sexually abused will be

    The Former President Bill Clinton

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s not just the standard-brand god of Abraham and his three “major” religions that encourage rape culture and do nothing to the rapists. Read classical mythology. Hera was a Great Goddess. Then the invaders arrived with their sky and thunder god. About the first thing Zeus did was rape and marry and demote Hera. His worshipers turned her into a nagging wife. Zeus and his “sons” were serial rapists. And it wasn’t just in classical Greece, where in “real life” the women were kept at home while the men “invented democracy.” You find rapes throughout world mythology and legend.

    And still today, there are Neopagan High Priests who rape their young followers at the same time their High Priestesses are drawing down the moon every month.

    And there are the famous gurus and leaders of the Eastern religions who have raped their followers and then kept them locked in the ashrams. Only a few of these ashrams have been forced to close.

    Carol’s right: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh


  7. Thank you Gina, for the clear and concise reasons “why” women don’t report right away. Who needs more sorrow piled on after a rape.


  8. Well said. I know why we don’t tell.


  9. Thanks for writing this. I’ve shared it with everyone I know. I hope everyone reads it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gina, I’m sorry for what happened to you, and then for what happened when you told.

    Perhaps you could ask the clueless woman in HR why the professor would want to ruin your career and your life, and do it so callously.

    A recent issue of Cosmopolitan had an article on how sexual assault on campus adds to the heavy burden of debt for assault survivors, especially when they have to pay for an education they didn’t get to finish.

    It may feel now like there was no point in telling on the professor, but it took great courage to do so, and you can give yourself credit for that.

    And y
    ou don’t know if someone else will come forward about him, and because you said something she will be believed.

    Liked by 1 person

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