The rape and murder of Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon in July ignited national conversation about preventing violence against women. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 30% of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15. We live in a world where power is often established through violence.
What can we do about this sad situation? An Australian media article suggested that parents can promote gender equality and help prevent violence against women. Is this the best we can do?
Violence is common in Australia—40% of people have experienced at least one incident of violence since the age of 15 (AIHW, 2018). Women are more likely to experience violence from a known person and in their home, while men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place. Although men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, most victims are women. In a recent 12-month period, 99 women and 27 men were killed by a current or previous partner. And since age 15:
– 17% of women & 6% of men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner.
– 23% of women & 16% of men have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner.
– 18% of women & 5% of men have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened.
Family violence is a leading cause of homelessness. Many women who experienced intimate-partner violence, suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders. And children exposed to family and sexual violence can experience long-term effects on their development and have increased risk of mental health issues, and behavioral and learning difficulties.
Our Watch (2015) claim that gender inequality sets the necessary social context for violence against women. This includes:
– Condoning violence against women.
– Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence.
– Stereotyped constructions to masculinity and femininity, and
– Disrespect towards women and male peer relations that emphasize aggression.
Hamilton, Powell, and Pfitzner (2018) claim that violence against women is driven by gender inequality: “Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity are key drivers of violence against women”. And “traditional attitudes towards gender are one of the strongest predictors of attitudes that support this violence”.
They distinguish between gender and a person’s biological sex. Gender is the way people think and act based on learned roles and social expectations. They recommend that parents challenge rigid gender roles and stereotypes by promoting gender equality and building children’s resilience to rigid gender stereotypes in early childhood. This includes monitoring the emotions and activities depicted in storybooks. And avoiding gender-specific toys.
They hope that supporting parents to promote more diverse concepts of gender with their young children may reduce rigid gender stereotypes tied to attitudes that support violence, and create a more gender equitable community in the long term.
What does the Bible say?
Violence began in the first family when Cain murdered his brother Abel when jealously escalated into anger. The Bible teaches that humanity inherits a sinful nature from our original ancestor Adam. All of us have a sinful nature that rebels against what God wants (Isa. 53:6). This is the source of all violence because the sinful nature includes: every kind of wickedness, evil, murder, hatred, fits of rage, drunkenness, rage and anger, lust, and those who kill their fathers or mothers, are abusive, are without love, are without self-control, and are brutal (Rom. 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5, 8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). This includes verbal abuse (Col. 3:8). Our sinful nature drives the violence against women and every other kind of violence. And no amount of education, training or social manipulation can remove our sinful nature. So, according to God’s message in the Bible, the solution proposed in the article (gender equity) will only have limited success.
Jesus taught that all people have within them the potential for violence. The instinct and choice to be violent comes from our inner being (Mk. 7:14-15, 21-23). That’s the source and driver of all sinful thoughts and behavior. James confirms that fights and quarrels come from our inner desires (Jas. 4:1-3).
But God has provided a solution to the violence of this world. Jesus Christ was the only person in the history of the world who did not have a sin nature (2 Cor. 5:21). When He died, Jesus took the punishment for our sins. If we acknowledge this and follow Him we receive a new divine nature that produces: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal, 5:22-23NIV). These attitudes and behaviors are the opposite to violence against women and every other kind of violence. Solomon advised, “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways” (Prov. 3: 31) and Jesus made this possible.
The Bible describes this godly love as follows: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Note that “it is not easily angered”, because it’s associated with “forbearance kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Husbands are to show this kind of godly sacrificial love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:25). And, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19).
The cure for male aggression, oppression, and abuse is not gender equity. It’s the good news about Jesus, which can change our minds to produce peace, love, justice, and humility. Time with the Bible and God transforms us (Phil. 1:9-11; 2:13; Heb, 13:20-21).
The best way to reduce violence against women and every other kind of violence is to trust in Jesus and follow God’s teachings in the New Testament. This changes our lives and addresses the real source and not just the symptoms of violence.
AIHW (2018), “Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia”, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, Australia.
Hamilton G, Powell A, Pfitzner N, (2018) “Parents can promote gender equality and help prevent violence against women. Here’s how”, The Conversation, July 30, 2018.
Our Watch (2015), “Change the story. A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia”. Our Watch, Melbourne, Australia.
Written, August 2018
Also see: Gender confusion
I have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.
Instances in the Bible
Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7). When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.
When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.
King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39). When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).
The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).
The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).
Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.
In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.
What about Abram and Hagar?
Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).
According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.
However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.
Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).
The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.
Written, May 2013