How Purity Culture Reinforces Rape Culture through Victim Blaming

Rebecca Lemke
Jun 21 · 3 min read

Content warning for description of rape.

I grew up in purity culture, which, sadly, is not altogether separate from rape culture. I have previously spoken of my experience, but when I was very young, I found out that someone I knew was raped. By her brother. And, to top it off, her parents sided with him. The brother was several years older and had used a kitchen tool as leverage on her throat so she wouldn’t scream.

In truth, her real-life nightmare was far more complex than a single instance of rape, not only because of the circumstances, but also because of how the community responded. She was a young, helpless child, but listening to stories of folks defending her brother, you’d have believed she was a wild temptress and he was the victim. The justice system failed her, and so did the legalistic Christian community.

She was painted as the criminal, despite her having done nothing but exist in the same house as a monster. The legalistic Christian community came out and said, “She must have been wearing something provocative,” and, “She was unsubmissive, maybe this will break her spirit so she’ll obey,” and the most heartbreaking of all, “No one will want her now, she’s damaged goods.”

He, on the other hand, was talked about as a pitiful recipient of a dramatic situation. All the legalistic Christian community could say were things like, “He is just a child, he didn’t know what he was doing,” and, “He must have had some traumatic experience of his own, he can’t be held accountable,” and, “Boys will be boys.”

I wish I could convince myself it was all a nightmare, but on days when I need it to be (for her sake and mine), the court documents and newspaper articles are an easy Google search away. They are a constant reminder of the lessons so many young women like myself were taught: rape is our fault, no one will listen (least of all the church) and there is no true justice in this world.

Rape isn’t rape unless you fought and screamed, that’s what I was taught. But what if you had that knife to your throat? Would you scream? Would you fight?

What if you knew that even if you did fight and scream, no one would believe you? That was the case for one woman I knew of who was groomed from childhood by her assailant. She led him on, they said. No, not with her long denim skirts and sweaters, but with her hair. Yes, her hair supposedly provoked him.

The message wrapped up in purity and rape cultures is a damning one. No matter what you do, no matter how much you fight and scream, no matter if you stay home with the doors and windows locked with a chastity belt and a burka, it will always be your fault.

I believe this stems from an innate fear on the part of both men and women. They don’t want to believe rape happens without provocation because that would mean it could happen to their daughters or wives, or them. It can happen to anyone, and that’s what they are scared of.

That is, of course, no excuse for blaming victim after victim for their own assault to squash personal fears. Not only does it harm victims, but it is not effective at dealing with the issue of fear or rape. Projecting onto rape victims is just another form of assault by purity culture.

I wish I could say I’ve seen this aspect of the culture I grew up in improve, but it hasn’t. There is a time to speak and a time to stay silent, but they can’t seem to make the appropriate choice at times when it really counts. Until they do, I’ll continue to speak up for what is right.

Safe and Sound

The musings of a survivor of myriad abuses in childhood. It is over now, we’re safe and sound.

Rebecca Lemke

Written by

Wife, mother, and root beer lover. Author of a book on purity culture, The Scarlet Virgins. Published on @FDRLST, @HuffPost & @ironladiesUS

Safe and Sound

The musings of a survivor of myriad abuses in childhood. It is over now, we’re safe and sound.

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