“Even though nothing is showing, you’re being ungodly,” Canter recalled the woman telling her. “You make men want to be sinful.”
Canter was wearing boots pulled up over jeans, a pink zebra-print shirt with a black jacket zipped up over it. She has blond hair, dark eye make-up and a little red lip ring. “I just asked if she needed any salt, pepper or ketchup,” Canter said. “I mean, how do I respond to that?”
Minutes later, Canter’s mother, Pam Yates, who owns the restaurant, returned from the bank. Canter handed her “Women & Girls” and Yates started reading.
“You may have been given this leaflet because of the way you are dressed,” it begins. “Have you thought about standing before the true and living God to be judged?”
It continues with one essential theme: The sins of men are, in part, the fault of women, specifically women in tight-fitting clothing. Yates was annoyed. Then she got to a section on page two:
“Scripture tells us that when a man looks on a woman to lust for her he has already committed adultery in his heart. If you are dressed in a way that tempts a men to do this secret (or not so secret) sin, you are a participant in the sin,” the leaflet states. “By the way, some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly. So can we really say they were innocent victims?”
The hand-out is signed “anonymous.”
Yates was angry.
“What if my daughter had been a rape victim?” she said. “I hope that they never handed this to anyone, especially a young person, who’s been through that and struggles with that daily. And then they get handed something that says they are at fault. I cannot believe that a Christian, someone who walks in God’s shoes, would have made this.”
Leaflet in hand, Yates locked eyes with the old man driving the old white car, still parked in the lot, and stormed outside. The car quickly drove away.
Sandra G. Rasnake, the sexual assault program director at Bristol’s Crisis Center, had one eyebrow cocked as she read through the leaflet Thursday morning.
She cocked the other as she read aloud: “some rape victims would not have been raped if they had dressed properly.”
“Wow,” she said. “This idea that men don’t have enough self control – and evidently they shouldn’t have to – plays into all the old myths that we’ve tried for years to overcome: Rape happens to 2-year-olds and 92-year-olds, not just attractive young women. How about we hold the person doing the action accountable, whoever it is going against the will and consent of somebody else?”
Rasnake said she confronts similar ideas, although not generally printed and distributed in mass, from the women she talks with daily. Victim blaming, she said, is the most prominent reason rapes are so rarely reported and even more rarely taken to trial. Sexual assaults, she said, come in second for the country’s worst conviction rates.
Victims blaming themselves often comes from a religious place, but not always, Rasnake said. It’s become a societal defense mechanism for dealing with issues of sexual assault.
“Blaming victims is the way we who have not been victimized feel safer,” Rasnake said. “If it’s their fault then I’m safer because I wouldn’t do that. If someone steals your purse, can you imagine someone asking why you had a purse? If you are sexually assaulted, it is not because you come with breasts.”
The Rev. Bill Houck, pastor of Northstar Christian Church, shared Rasnake’s concerns about the leaflet.
“It is this type of thinking that would cause a woman not to report being raped and to somehow think it is her fault,” Houck wrote in an e-mail. “As a Christian, a father and a husband, that is a horrific statement. The rapist is wrong period.”
Houck also questioned the leaflet’s interpretation of its occasionally cited Bible passages.
“You must look at the cultural context,” he wrote. “I was surprised the article did not reference Peter 3. Many of the same ideas are put forth. Here, it gets to the crux of the issue where the Bible says that a lady’s lifestyle should be focused more on the inner person than the outward clothing. This is why, while I agree with ‘modest’ dress, there is so much more to this issue.”
Houck said his 19-year-old daughter, a student at King College, asked why the leaflet doesn’t mention how men should dress.
“If I choose to sin, that’s my choice,” Houck wrote.
Rasnake was similarly perplexed by the leaflet’s little faith in mankind.
“It’s insulting to men,” she said. “The men that I know and associate with are not so lust-driven that they cannot control their urges. By this person’s argument, everyone working at Hooters deserves to be raped.”