The newest way you got yourself raped: “root sin”

[Trigger warning for rape]

If you’re a dean at an evangelical college and are visited by a rape victim who never drinks, never smokes, has never even held hands with a boy, and dresses like a Mennonite, what can you tell her to turn the blame on herself? Try “root sin.”

Raised in a conservative Mennonite home in rural Ohio, Katie Landry was a sheltered kid. She hadn’t even held hands with a boy when, at age 19, she says her supervisor at her summer job raped her. Two years later, and desperate for help, she reported the abuse to the dean of students at her college.

“He goes, ‘Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin,'” Landry remembers. “And he said, ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’ And I just ran.”

Landry ended up dropping out of college, and didn’t tell anyone else for five years.

That dean was Jim Berg, of Bob Jones University. Five other students told stories that echoed Landry’s, in which BJU administrators piled on sin and scripture to shame the women into silence.

“He just confirmed my worst nightmare,” Landry said. “It as something I had done. It was something about me. It was my fault.”

“I remember her looking at me and saying, ‘You know that the nightmares are your own fault, because you’re choosing to replay pornographic thoughts in your mind,'” [rape survivor Sarah] said.

According to emails, [Jim’s wife Pat] Berg also advised Sarah to call her rapist and ask for forgiveness. Sarah said Berg told her that if she didn’t forgive, God wouldn’t be able to “use her.”

Within a week, [rape survivor Julia] said Berg found the man responsible [for her rape] and expelled him, but three semesters later, he was allowed to come back. When she expressed her fear to an administrator, Julia said she was asked whether she would really want to prevent a “Godly man” from getting an education that would allow him to “serve the Lord.”

Another BJU rape victim, Lydia, was asked if she’d done anything to make her rapist assault her, and was told that if she didn’t stop talking about her rape she was “not going to be successful [at BJU].” She ultimately withdrew medically from BJU; her withdrawal was marked down as an expulsion.

ThinkProgress notes that other Christian colleges have histories of blaming rape on the victim’s sin and burying rape accusations — and that they’re able to do so because, as they don’t receive funding from the federal government, they aren’t held accountable to Title IX and the Clery Act.

BJU does receive federal funding and is beholden to the Clery Act. Early in 2013, the university launched a voluntary investigation with GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to “make certain that BJU’s policies and procedures for handling reports of sexual abuse both fully comply with very aspect of the law and ensure a loving, scripturally based response.” In February, BJU announced that the investigation had been terminated — just weeks before GRACE was scheduled to release its report. In March, the university announced that it was reopening the investigation with GRACE and would have a report later this year.

29 comments for “The newest way you got yourself raped: “root sin”

  1. June 20, 2014 at 2:18 am

    There is no part of this that isn’t horrific, but “her withdrawal was marked down as an expulsion” marks out a special place in hell for these people. That is some artist level sadism right there.

  2. EG
    June 20, 2014 at 7:44 am

    I can’t find it in myself to be the slightest bit surprised. There is no level of depravity, cruelty, and misogyny to which evangelical Christians won’t sink.

  3. Angel H.
    June 20, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Website detailing the timeline of GRACE’s investigation:

  4. Athenia
    June 20, 2014 at 10:10 am

    ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape.’

    This is why I’m not religious anymore.

  5. katy kay
    June 20, 2014 at 10:10 am

    I also can’t say I am surprised, disgusted, yes, to this horrid response to women reporting being raped. Hope the school(s) do not receive any government funding or benefits, that would just add one more layer to the hideousness of such response(s).

    #YESALLWOMEN, goes on and on and on.

  6. PrettyAmiable
    June 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    BJU does receive federal funding and is beholden to the Clery Act.

    Does it? I don’t think BJU is accredited, or am I mistaken? (Actually, I don’t know if it matters that BJU isn’t accredited in terms of federal funding).

    What they did is singularly appalling, and I would much rather take my MBA program’s non-response to my sexual assault to the response from BJU. Way to go, BJU. Who thought I’d ever be grateful for that?

  7. June 20, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    The problems I’ve consistently seen in religious settings are people who are afraid to confront others, even when that is needed. They want to be good people and they want to very nice to everyone. However, issues like these beg for confrontation and what we as Quakers would call “Eldering.”

    The issues this article addresses confront the heavy-handed approaches of Evangelical Christians. The difference between right-wing and left-wing Christians are vast. For example, we’re inclined to give the benefit of the doubt when it’s not owed to them. They prefer everyone work in lockstep.

    • June 20, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      they want TO BE very nice to everyone…

      • EG
        June 20, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        Except to young women who’ve been raped, apparently.

      • trees
        June 21, 2014 at 9:39 am

        Except to young women who’ve been raped, apparently.

        …and the vast swarths of humans on planet earth who aren’t exactly like them.

  8. pheenobarbidoll
    June 20, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Sooo…..if one were to take a bat to the kneecaps of these assholes, it would be their root sin that caused the knee capping? Good to know.

    • Angel H.
      June 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm


      Thank you, pheeno. You have made my day!

    • June 21, 2014 at 3:04 am


    • Claire
      June 21, 2014 at 7:03 am

      Great response!

  9. butterfly5906
    June 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism, has done a really impressive series on this issue, with a lot of important context. Found here

  10. Ms. Kristen J.
    June 20, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Something similar happened in my family. My cousin, 16 at the time, was raped and became pregnant. She was forced (on fear of being kicked out of her home) to “apologize” to the congregation (probably 300 people) for her “sins.” I will never forget the look on her face as she was standing there “confessing her sins”. Vile, horrible people. And people constantly ask me why I’m not a Christian. Exhibit A.

  11. June 21, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Cue arrival of the “BUT…BUT…not ALL Christians are like that!” contingent in 3,2,1…

  12. June 21, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    So, so sad. Rape victim needs to ask rapist for forgiveness?!!! How is that even possible?!!! The rapist is a good God-loving guy? The extreme end of victim-blaming. What sort of God do these folks worship?

    • Yonah
      June 23, 2014 at 6:48 am

      The kind of God which is himself male and “uses” people, maybe. I think the link between conceptions of God and social/cultural structure can sometimes be overstated, but here it’s hard not to see a parallel: God and the rapist both using the woman. The problem with the rape then is not that it did violence to her self, because this evangelical idea of God seems similarly disinterested in her autonomy.

      • EG
        June 23, 2014 at 9:26 am

        The Christian god impregnated a fourteen-year-old girl without her consent, and it was an “honor” for her. It is hard indeed not to see a connection.

      • trees
        June 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

        The Christian god impregnated a fourteen-year-old girl without her consent, and it was an “honor” for her. It is hard indeed not to see a connection.

        My mouth dropped when I read that. I was raised Catholic and more than anything else, I held a warm devotion to the Virgin Mary. I can’t believe I never thought of it this way, even after having left the RC Church, even after converting to and practicing Judaism for many years, and even after being in my current animist/traditional tribal state. Wow.

      • Echo Zen
        June 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm

        I take it you’re not on social media as much as I am, trees. That abstinence clearly didn’t work for the Virgin Mary (along with the implication that her impregnation probably wasn’t terribly consensual) is an ongoing meme amongst my feminist friends!

      • Donna L
        June 23, 2014 at 3:27 pm

        Not that it matters to the consent point, but I’m curious: does it say in the Christian Bible that Mary was 14, or is that from later Christian tradition?

      • EG
        June 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm

        I think it’s later tradition, but as a folklorist and a non-Christian atheist, one story’s as good as another, I say.

      • Echo Zen
        June 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm

        Yes, it’s definitely a later tradition. The Bible doesn’t say her age anywhere, and I looked hard (though even if it did say, I think people would still argue over whether it was “not intended to be a factual statement”).

      • Monika Bhatt
        June 24, 2014 at 1:27 am

        I am a Hindu..Lord Krishna according to myths had 1600 girls devoted to him. He is said to hide their clothes while they took a bath, without their consent.
        Also, I live in Nepal, Asia. The preachers and saints of Hinduism who seem to be praying and remembering god all their lives, are actually the ones who exploit hundreds of illiterate,innocent, god believing women into sexual slavery..citing it to be a gift to god. The women are led to believe that these saints are another form of god and should be pleased sexually. A recent case about such a saint in India brought up hundreds of such cases. With the power and money this person has..he is sure to be released from jail quite soon.

      • June 24, 2014 at 3:17 am

        Not that it matters to the consent point, but I’m curious: does it say in the Christian Bible that Mary was 14, or is that from later Christian tradition?

        This might help.

  13. Zoelizabeth
    June 22, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    I was raised as an Evangelical Christian and I was completely immersed in that culture until I left for college at 17. Victim-blaming like this is exactly why I no longer consider myself Christian (or even religious) and avoid the congregation I grew up in at all costs.

    During my second year at an out-of-state art college, I began a downward spiral of crippling anxiety and depression. Eventually, my descent into suicidal ideation scared me so badly I withdrew on medical grounds and returned home for treatment.

    While living in my parents house again, I was expected to attend church and participate in Bible classes as if nothing had happened. My returning unannounced mid-semester was the talk of the church – behind my back, of course, which only made my anxiety more intense.

    Soon all the “well-meaning” friends of my parents were pulling me aside in the halls and calling my house at all hours with “guidance”: in essence explaining to me how all my battles with depression and anxiety (the details of which my parents promised to keep in confidence, and obviously had not) were not in fact medical issues but the result of a simple lack of faith on my part. They even went so far as to say that my “sin” was the cause of my mental health problems. And what was my “sin”? That I “participated in lustful, adulterous and idolatrous activities” – meaning I looked at naked men without shame in my figure drawing classes.

    Thankfully, my parents retained enough grasp on reality to allow me to get real, medical help, but close friends of mine were not so lucky. My best friend is currently battling severe depression without any professional help because her family refuses to acknowledge the root of the problem is a serotonin imbalance, not a spiritual imbalance. When she asks to get medication, she is told to pray, and when she asks to see a therapist, she is told to discuss her sins with the pastor.

    Whether or not you believe in God is irrelevant, this is DANGEROUS.

  14. Monika Bhatt
    June 24, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Society, religion, everything seems to hold a grudge against women. “Root sin”..blahhh!! the most absurd thing I have ever heard.. makes me sad..shatters my confidence for being an independent girl..:(

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