What is Statutory Rape?

Stop-the-silence_770Statutory rape is wreaking havoc on communities including our churches. It causes innumerable harm to victims. Yet, many fail to expose and prosecute perpetrators of this crime; that also is a crime. We can’t ignore that statutory rape occurs with disturbing frequency, and responders have a responsibility—legally and biblically—to stop this epidemic.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network informs us that 54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Approximately two-thirds of the time, a victim knows the perpetrator, and 44 percent of victims are under age 18. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted; this includes youth.

A sex offender may be a teacher, pastor, coach, family member, or another in close proximity to a victim. He/she has not fallen in love with a victim or been tempted beyond control. Rape of a minor by an adult reflects abuse of power and control through a coercive sexual act that may or may not include physical force. Interpersonal manipulation—emotional, psychological, social, among others—also amounts to coercion. In reality, perpetrators carefully choose victims to groom. Social scientists have determined that sex offenders groom victims according to predictable stages[1]:

Stage 1: Choosing a victim

An offender weighs a child’s vulnerability according to emotional neediness, isolation and lower self-confidence. Less parental oversight makes a child more desirable prey.

Stage 2: Gaining trust

An offender watches a child and gets to know her/his needs and weighs how to fill them. Warm attention cultivates trust because the perpetrator is perceived as a responsible caretaker.

Stage 3: Filling a need

An offender begins filling the child’s needs (gifts, extra attention, affection, etc.), gaining more importance, even idealization, in the child’s life.

Stage 4: Isolation

An offender creates situations in which to be alone with a victim (babysitting, coaching, tutoring, special trips, etc.). This separates the victim from peers while fostering a belief that the victim is special. Isolation further cultivates a sense that a victim is loved in a way that others, including parents, fail to provide. Parents may unwittingly support the unique relationship.

Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship

An offender progressively sexualizes the relationship when sufficient emotional dependence and trust has developed. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. An offender exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. When teaching a child, an offender can shape a child’s sexual preferences and manipulate what a child finds exciting; this extends the relationship. This develops a child’s sense of sexual being and further defines the relationship with the offender in special terms.

Stage 6: Maintaining control

Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence—particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.

Children in these entangled relationships—and at this point they are entangled—confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the dirt bikes the child gets to ride, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The child may feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted.

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As we have seen, statutory rape is a crime rooted in abuse of power and control through a coercive sexual act. The Bible has plenty to say about factors relating to statutory rape.

Sex offenders know what they are doing. Evil actions, including sexual immorality, stem from a perpetrator’s heart and thoughts: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder . . .” (Mark 7:21 NIV) Allowing a perpetrator to continue sinning accomplishes no good for his/her soul. “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (1 Cor. 6:18 NIV)

Sex offenders commit grievous sins against God and God’s people: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Eph. 5:3-12 NIV)

We must refuse to tolerate statutory rape within our communities. Paul warned God’s people to respond justly to sexual immorality and not to keep company with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9). It is never right to extend grace towards those who have committed the crime of statutory rape before they have embraced the full legal and spiritual consequences of their actions. Professional intervention, rehabilitation, and ongoing therapy must determine the appropriate course of restoration.

We are called to deliver victims who are precious to God from violent oppressors:

“Thus says the Lord: Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn, with no one to quench it, because of your evil doings.” (Jeremiah 21:12 NRSV)

“The righteous king will defend the afflicted and crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:1-4 “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:14 NIV)

It is time to oppose statutory rape that is ruining innocent lives and harming Jesus’ body.

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[1] The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASC), https://www.naasca.org/2011-Articles/010911-6StagesOfGrooming.htm.