The February 22, 1984, Awake magazine, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, had some very disturbing and controversial counsel to women about rape. It included the following, under the subheading, “Treat Him Respectfully”:
The intended victim should remember that the rapist is a human. No doubt there are circumstances in his life that have precipitated his behavior. So although a woman should not cower in fear and permit a rapist to intimidate her, at the same time she should treat him understandingly, as a fellow human.
Often, when Jehovah’s Witnesses give counsel like this, they include an experience that they think backs up their words. Whether or not these stories are real is questionable, but consider an experience the article relates right after the words quoted above.
First, note the story in its entirety:
A woman who lived in a housing project in New York City writes:
“I usually am careful when going into elevators. As usual, I checked this one out before entering, and all was OK. However, just before the door closed completely, a big man grabbed the door and opened it to come into the elevator with me. As he entered he threw a six-pack of beer at me, and I caught it. It took me by surprise.
“As the door closed he turned his back to me to do something with his pants. Then he turned around and faced me. I didn’t look down at his pants but looked him in the eyes. I threw his six-pack of beer back to him, and said, ‘Here is your beer.’
“At this moment, before he could do anything, I started to talk. I said I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was going up to the 13th floor to have a Bible study with a family who was waiting for me. I just kept talking and told him about our Bible educational work. We were half way up to the 13th floor by now, and as I kept right on talking I showed no fear, looking him straight in the eyes. Then a funny thing happened. He began to say that he loved the Bible and that he was from the South and his family loved God too.
“Meanwhile, we had reached the 13th floor, and he opened the door to let me out. He asked me if I would do him the honor of shaking his hand. I did, and he practically shook it off. Then he said he wanted to thank me because I was the first white woman that hadn’t looked at him with scorn in her eyes, and that I was sincere in talking with him. He then said good-bye and wished me good luck on my Bible study.”
Let’s establish that this was about a man of color, since, in the last paragraph, he refers to the writer as a “white woman.” I don’t mean to assume, but he said his family was from the South, and there is a large black population from the southern part of the United States. However, even if he wasn’t black, the point is, we can be pretty sure that he was a man of color; if he was white, he wouldn’t have mentioned that the woman was also white.
Assuming He’s a Rapist
What I find most interesting is that this woman assumed he was a rapist, or at the very least, the writers of this magazine made that assumption, since they included the story in an article about rape. Note, however, that the man never made any attempt to rape this woman! Consider what actually happened, according to her account.
First the woman says he threw a six pack of beer at her. That’s rude and obnoxious, but does that make him a rapist? If I assumed every rude and obnoxious man I met was a rapist, I would need to call the police on 2 neighbors, 1 grocery store clerk, 6 former coworkers, and some guy who pushed me out of the way at the Big Gulp machine in 7-11 last weekend. That’s just this month.
Second, it was mentioned that he turned around to “do something” with his pants, but the woman never noticed exactly what he did. Who’s to say that he didn’t realize his zipper was open, or maybe he had an itch? I’m not a fan of men who “fiddle” with their pants, but he did turn his back to her, so perhaps he was just taking care of some personal business and was trying to be polite about it. We honestly don’t know what he was doing, do we?
The last part of the story says that he shook the woman’s hand and said he appreciated that she didn’t look at him with scorn. Would a rapist really shake the hand of his intended victim, and wish her well with her bible study? I doubt such a violent and vile man would change his mind about his intentions in the time it takes to ride an elevator 13 floors.
The account tells us what this man did and what this woman said, but if he was actually a rapist, note that there are a few things missing from the story. The man never made any moves toward the woman, or tried to physically intimidate her in any way; when he got on the elevator, he didn’t stand over her, move in close to her, or force her into a corner. He may have thrown his beer at her, but he obviously didn’t do it as a way to knock her off her feet, as she had time to toss the beer back to him. He also didn’t reach over and try to stop the elevator by using the emergency button, something I would expect a rapist to do.
While he “did something” with his pants, he didn’t drop his trousers in front of her and stand there with his penis out. It’s also worth noting that, typically, a rapist will subdue a victim before they remove their pants or undo their zipper, since it can be harder to fight with a victim or wrestle her to the ground if your pants are around your own ankles!
This supposed rapist wasn’t already in the elevator, which would be more likely if he actually intended to hurt someone. Yes, some rapes are crimes of opportunity, but wouldn’t he more likely wait someplace where he expected to actually find a victim? A rapist usually lingers in an elevator or parking garage, or follows a woman while she’s out jogging, or might break into a woman’s home. This man didn’t get on the elevator until the door was almost closed. Also, I don’t deny that such an assault could happen in an elevator, but the risk of being caught by someone else trying to get on from another floor is very high, so we’re back to the problem of no one hitting the emergency stop button.
Whatever the case, the bottom line is that this man made no attempts to rape, assault, threaten, or otherwise intimidate this woman, and did nothing more than throw a six pack of beer at her. Yet, she made the assumption that this man was a rapist simply because he was rude and “did something” with his pants. The writers of this magazine agreed with this assumption, and included her story in their article.
Assuming that a man of color who is obnoxious and rude is automatically a rapist is bad enough, but notice how the writers of the Awake magazine used this experience to bolster their counsel about “respecting” and “understanding” a rapist. This woman took command of an uncomfortable situation by talking about the bible, and because she wasn’t raped that night, apparently there is a connection, much like how using an smart phone will keep you from being eaten alive by dogs. I’m making the assumption, of course, that all dogs are wild vicious animals who eat people, like how all men of color are apparently rapists. Do you have a smart phone? Have you ever been eaten alive by dogs? I rest my case.
I think it’s a good idea to treat all strangers respectfully and to try to avoid dangerous situations by being kind, by not looking like a scared victim, and by taking control of those situations however possible. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to assume that all strange or even rude men of color are rapists, and to assume that you averted a rape by talking about the bible simply because you weren’t raped that night. This specious reasoning is faulty enough, but when an element of racism is added to it, I would say it’s downright disgusting.
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