Last Monday, I was driving into Elon University thinking about my first meeting of the morning, wondering about food for Shabbat dinner and trying to remember a couple ideas for the Multi-Faith Spring Break trip, when I stopped at a red light. The car in front of me had a bunch of bumper stickers on it. One read: “Stop. Rape. Culture.”
And I forgot everything else.
There is a war being waged against women on college campuses. I know it. And I don’t always think about it. With all of my privilege, I can choose to think about the 10,000 other things that need to be accomplished. And yet, the war rages on. I don’t know how to fix it.
Some say one in three women will be assaulted on college campuses; others say it is one in four. Rates of sexual violence against women from the LGBTQIA communities are even higher.
It should not be ignored that, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, nearly 10 percent of survivors of sexual assault are male-identified — another dirty little secret in this world of pain, blame and brutality. In order to “Stop. Rape. Culture.” we must bring all the secrets out into the light.
Many of you know the statistics better than I do. Many of you are helping survivors and fighting against perpetrators more than I am. I thank you with the totality of my being.
Every day since seeing that sticker, I thought about the brilliant, inspiring and lovely students that I know, and I thought about the statistics. I wanted to cry, to scream out. I wanted to build a shelter and protect them from the world and the war that we have ignored, and all that we have failed to do. But, I didn’t. And I knew I couldn’t.
When someone is in danger, common decency requires us to act. Judaism ups the ante and demands a reaction, turning a nice sentiment into a holy obligation. As it is written: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed, I am the Holy One” (Leviticus 19:16). When someone physically attacks another, I must act — we must act.
Rape culture does not start with sexual or physical assault of any kind. Rape culture comes in a context where there is a power dominance of one group over another — mostly men dominating women. This begins with ideas and words and attitudes. Only later does it take the shape of physical violence. In order to “Stop. Rape. Culture.”, we must act against these acts of violence as well.
The rabbis understand the idea of our “neighbor’s blood” as also referring to making the blood drain out of their face through embarrassment or intimidation or fear. The obligation to not stand idly by requires us to turn our home and our school into a place where the dignity and safety of our neighbors is our primary concern. As the rabbis said: “It is better throw yourself into a fiery furnace than to embarrass your fellow” (B.M. 59a).
At the very least, we must create communities where it is safe to go to class, to go on dates, to visit student houses without fear of being attacked. This sounds like a very low goal, which highlights how very poorly we have failed at common decency, let alone our holy task.
“Stop. Rape. Culture.”