Incidents of rape hit harder when there is a face connected to the heartbreak.
However, when it comes to victims of sexual assault, we usually can’t get a picture of who is affected. This makes sense, as it was for the victims’ own privacy and continued protection. But when we discuss things like rape, domestic violence and other forms of sexual assault, it can be hard not to treat it all like an academic problem to be solved.
Worse, I have noticed a dangerous narrative during my time at Dixie State University. We will all agree that sexual assault can happen to anyone, but in undertones, there will be the exception: “Rape doesn’t happen to Mormons, at least, not good Mormons. God would have protected them.”
I was a young Mormon, 20 years old, when I was raped by an abusive boyfriend. Like most young Mormons, I turned to my bishop to help me sort through the maelstrom of feelings I was dealing with. I was new to the area, having fled to another state to escape my abuser. So this bishop didn’t know me, but I had been taught that these were men of God and would always be guided to give the right advice.
Instead of receiving help, I was grilled on what I had done to lead to my rape. The bishop acknowledged while it was wrong that he physically abused me, he said I had to be accountable for “putting myself in that position because I chose to date that kind of man.”
What kind of man? A non-Mormon man — that’s what the bishop meant.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Mormons only made up 1.6 percent of the US population in 2014. I can only suppose in that bishop’s mind that only that tiny percentage of people were good people who were safe to date.
This culture of religious exceptionalism is especially dangerous on college campuses. Many students are away from home for the first time feeling lonely and isolated. Brigham Young University has shown how damaging it can be to undergraduate victims of rape in their poor dealings with the young women who should have been able to turn to them for help.
We can’t take that attitude here at DSU. After that meeting with the bishop, I was left alone to deal with my feelings of guilt, shame, hatred and other harrowing emotions. Catch yourself and others if you find them qualifying sexual assault with phrases like “It could never happen here,” or “Doesn’t happen to those listening to the Holy Ghost,” and “Stick to Mormons, they’re safe.”
Rape happens and it can happen to anyone.