ARE ABUSE VICTIMS CULPABLE IF THEY DON’T RESIST?

 

Recently there was a tweet on Twitter talking about the biblical story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39). The tweet suggested that Joseph ran from the woman’s advances, therefore he was obviously an innocent victim. This act of resistance confirmed his integrity, and nothing less than running qualified as resistance.

 

In the Bible, Potiphar’s wife's behavior was that of an aggressive relentless sexual predator who “kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day,” and wouldn't take no for an answer. (NLT)

 

The critic’s view was that sexual abuse victims must resist an abuser forcefully, regardless of how powerful and dominant and high ranking the abuser is, otherwise they are culpable themselves. Anything else would be considered consent to the sexual encounter.

 

(One immediately thinks of the girls and women on the U.S.A. Gymnastics team who were deceived and manipulated by pedophile team doctor, Larry Nasser, who was convicted many years after the first women spoke out.)

I’m not linking to the tweet, because it doesn’t really matter. This is a typical stance of many people who are trying to make sense of sexual predation victims, but don’t understand the dynamics of the predator, their prey, and bystanders.

 

Choosing this criteria to determine innocence is a crafty way of excusing debauched sexual predators of sin, and blaming the victims instead.

 

 

So let’s go back to the story of Joseph in Genesis 37 & 39-44.

Joseph, the pampered son of the Israelite patriarch, Jacob, was abducted and human trafficked by his much older brothers. (Remember him? He’s the son with the colorful coat designating him as a favorite.) The slave traders paid for him and took him to Egypt where he was eventually sold to a high-ranking Egyptian man, Potiphar.

 

Joseph did well in Egypt. He had moved up the ranks. He was hardworking and became a trusted servant. Joseph had a special relationship with Potiphar. He was a superstar. He was powerful in his own right.

 

He was loyal to Potiphar and might reasonably expect Potiphar to be loyal to him, at least loyal enough to protect him from false allegations. But when it came to Potiphar’s own wife, who was likely from a high-ranking family herself, Potiphar was a wimp.

 

But back to the idea of blaming the victim—unless the victim uses physical force to escape.

 

What happens when we identify “resistance” only one way: as physically breaking free from the predator’s grasp and running?  After all, Potiphar’s wife kept pressuring Joseph day after day. He was constantly resisting.

 

JOSEPH’S FIRST FIVE ACTS OF RESISTANCE

 

Joseph tried to reason with Potiphar’s sexually aggressive wife, trying to appease her saying…

1) that her husband would feel betrayed.

2) that he would have breached his own duty as a good servant.

3) that it was immoral.

4) that God (perhaps even her Egyptian gods) would be dishonored.

 

When those didn’t work, he tried …

5) to avoid being in the house alone with her.

 

Finally one day when they were alone in the house, she physically assaulted him and grabbed him. Fortunately…

6) he was strong enough to shed his cloak and wriggle free from her grasp.

 

This Action #6 is the only type of resistance the tweet was praising.

 

Yet all of these actions were forms of resistance.

What if this story was reversed? What if there was a woman servant and the predator was a man? Critics would ask. “If she was in danger, why didn’t she quit her job?”

 

Why didn’t Joseph “quit” before this incident happened? Why did he stay in a risky situation? Why did he keep showing up at work?

Joseph could have left Potiphar’s house, been a runaway slave, and abandoned his post. But we know that Joseph took his job seriously. Plus it’s likely Joseph didn’t want to lose his high-status job or perhaps the penalties of running away were even worse, maybe death? Who knows? Maybe Joseph hoped it would never happen. Perhaps Joseph never considered that Potiphar’s wife was devious enough to dismiss her personal servants that day so there wouldn’t be witnesses.

How many vulnerable women took their jobs seriously and ended up prey for a predatory boss?

 

I would argue that Joseph kept doing his job, living in daily anxiety about the cunning wife, hoping that Potiphar would see the truth and side with him. Joseph was running a huge risk.

 

His worst nightmares came true. Potiphar’s wife grabbed him, in secret, with no witnesses, and he wriggled free, escaping by twisting out of his garment.

 

(Notice the parallel structure in Joseph’s story: two times his garments are used by nefarious people to lie about him. First his brothers used his coat dipped in animal blood to lie to his father (Genesis 37), and now Potiphar’s wife uses this garment to lie to her husband in Genesis 39.)

 

 

Potiphar was a wimp. Potiphar threw Joseph under the bus. Potiphar sided with his wife. Just like many church leaders do to victims today.

 

Joseph was an abuse victim. What happened to him was unjust and unfair. He was betrayed by Potiphar too, and excommunicated from Potiphar’s household, stripped of all his rank and reputation and dignity.

 

Critics don't see abuse victims resisting, but they are. They are resisting in hundreds of ways. Joseph resisted in many different ways. But Joseph also had a bit of power. He held a significant position in that household.

 

Women who are groomed by their predatory bosses usually don’t have much power, rank, or status. They are afraid of losing their job, their reputation, and their next month’s rent money if they resist directly, so they find other, safer ways to resist. But they always resist in some way to preserve their dignity and self-respect. They often cannot overpower their predator. These predators usually act when there are no witnesses to hold them accountable. And predators pick prey who are vulnerable and easier to manipulate. The find the weak spots: a low paying job, many mouths to feed, high housing costs.

 

Naïve bystanders (some of them are pastors) who don’t understand predators get it wrong and blame the wrong person.

 

Attorneys take extortion, harassment, bribery, blackmail, assault and stalking seriously, but somehow many church leaders are clueless.

 

Marital abuse victims are the most vulnerable. Unlike in the secular corporate world, there is no human resources department to dismiss a domineering, deceitful, or intimidating spouse.

 

So abused wives and husbands put up resistance in hundreds, if not thousands, of subtle ways:

 

HOW DO SPOUSES RESIST?

When they feel trapped with a more dominant person, due to Christian teachings forbidding divorce, they try to protect themselves every day …

 

1) By appeasing, reasoning, and offering evidence of their view.

2) By being perfect, walking on eggshells to keep from setting them off.

3) By not being around when the abuser is home to reduce contact.

4) By staying at work longer to pay off their spouse’s unilateral spending.

5) By going to Bible studies or doing church volunteering to avoid being demeaned or threatened.

6) By having sex to keep their spouse from getting more irritable and aggressive.

7) By agreeing to some form of humiliation to protect self or the kids from another, worse form.

8) By apologizing profusely (even when they aren’t wrong), just to avoid punishment.

9) By refusing or failing to do what the abuser wants.

10) By trying to stop or prevent violence to themselves or others.

 

They are constantly resisting in every possible way that’s safe.

 

We should applaud them and understand their resistance for what it is!

 

They are protecting themselves, their kids, and their future in any way they can. If that means sleeping with a boss who can destroy their career, smear their reputation, and withhold their pay, they may feel they have no choice. That’s extortion, and it’s illegal, but critics seem to miss that. Another name for it is coercive control.

 

We know these people are resisting because “the fact that perpetrators make plans to stop victims from resisting indicates that their abuse is deliberate.” (Honoring Resistance, p. 4) Potiphar’s wife tried to stop Joseph from resisting by grabbing him when no one was around.

 

 

Sometimes fleeing like Joseph did isn’t safe because the dominant spouse will hurt them, kill them, or someone/something they love. (Many people in my group report that they’ve been strangled, their pets have been killed, and their children beaten or molested.)

 

Sometimes getting away in the form of legal separation or divorce isn’t safe because their spouse will track them down and kill them, or they believe God will be displeased and punish them.

 

Many Evangelical churches (and some other churches) reinforce this idea by falsely claiming that God hates divorce, which he doesn’t (he commanded divorce 3 times, and only prohibited it only once). Or by saying that divorce is universally destructive to kids, which it isn’t, as nearly every top researcher of the past 30 years has reported.

 

That’s why life-saving divorces are so important to understand.

 

That’s also why some people who need (and believe in) life-saving divorces cannot leave safely right now.

 

One last thing: Joseph’s story is an abuse story. Joseph was an abuse victim. If God hadn’t done a miracle by giving Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and the serendipity of proximity to well-connected prisoners, and getting an audience with the Pharaoh himself, Joseph would have died in that prison due to his abuser’s false claims. Instead of being a hero, he’d end up another victim of a predator and a hardhearted system.


Do You Need Support?  I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it.


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