When I was still at school, a woman came in to lecture the boys and girls in sixth form on sexual education. We were segregated, and us boys all found it hilarious when she said: “Boys, the thing between your legs is a lethal weapon.” She was saying this, if I remember correctly, in the context of getting a girl pregnant. None of us noticed the irony at the time of the process of making life being called lethal. But I also didn’t notice how sadly ironic it was in light of other contexts, particularly rape.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in a civil war for many years and civilians were and are regularly terrorized, including the use of rape as a weapon of war. A survey was recently done of 22 schools in the country, with a total of 1,305 female participants, and it was found that 38.2 per cent (499) of the girls had experienced sexual violence. Of course this particular country may present an extreme example, but sexual violence in both more obvious and more subtle ways is a pervasive reality for many women across the globe and in the UK.
Sexual violence is not simply normal violence: it assumes – albeit usually unconsciously – a complex series of beliefs about the relation of men to women. Although some sexual violence is male on male, the majority world-wide is male on female. Sexual violence has continuities with ‘physical’ violence, but it is distinctive as well.
Sexual violence puts the victim in a position of enforced, involuntary submission. Submission is not always necessarily degrading. The soldier submits to his officer, but the officer – if he is worth his salt – still treats the soldier with respect. What makes sexual violence so awful is that the victim is treated as an object to be abused, inferior in worth and value to the perpetrator. They are less than a human being in the eyes of the rapist.
How, as Christians, should we respond to sexual violence – particularly for Christian men, like me?
We could, like many of our society, jump to the conclusion that masculinity is inherently bad, or even evil, and that it is inseparable from the behaviour and thoughts described above. Where I live in Oxford there has been a promotion among the sports clubs of ‘GoodLad workshops’ and for many clubs, attendance is compulsory. The central idea is that it is possible to cultivate masculine culture that treats women with respect, coined positive masculinity. However at least one reviewer of the programme seems to intimate that the central problem is masculinity itself.
The Bible assumes from Adam and Eve through to Revelation that there are such things as positive masculinity and femininity – and it assumes an understanding of what is involved in both of these. Although it is rarely prescriptive, these assumptions are always implicitly there and sometimes they are stated more explicitly. Recently, my focus has been on a certain male role model – Boaz. Just as God is a redeemer, so Boaz acts towards Ruth: offering her refuge and protection from the unrelenting storm of the world (Ruth 3:9).
It’s said that a farmer going through his burnt out field came across a burnt hen. Yet, to his surprise, when he overturned the hen, its chicks walked out unharmed. This is a picture of sacrificial love, which we see modelled in different ways; between mother and child, Christ and his people and a husband and his wife.
Sexual violence is a reversal of this love. It’s an abuse of the physical power that God endowed men to have for good. Instead a man chooses to use it to hurt the woman that he ought to protect. Indeed, in many cases of sexual violence, it’s a husband who is the perpetrator. This is a betrayal of ‘biblical’ masculinity: which should reflect Christ’s humble, servant-hearted sacrifice. (Ephesians 5:25)
As men, we need to reject and oppose the role of perpetrators of sexual violence, instead modelling something much more beautiful. Imagine a vision of men who act with total gentleness towards women, who refuse to joke about a woman disrespectfully – even to their social cost. Let us think of areas where we can be lights in the darkness.
 ‘The medicating role of stigmatization in the mental health of adolescent victims of sexual violence in Eastern Congo’ in Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 38 Iss. 7, July 2014, pp. 1139-1146.
 See Ephesians 5:24-33
This piece has been written as part of a campaign called Unashamed. Unashamed is being run this week at universities across England and Scotland and is a collaboration between Just Love, a recently-founded charity that exists to inspire and release every Christian student to pursue the biblical call to social justice, and Restored, an international Christian alliance working to transform relationships and end violence against women. Like Unashamed on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for more info.