Hendren is a Certified Coach with Imagine a Woman International and author of The Girl God.  You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirgod.com.

Trista Hendren is a Certified Coach with Imagine a Woman International and author of The Girl God. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirgod.com.

Two years ago, I left my long-time career and began work to empower women and girls through the Divine Feminine.  About 6 months ago, I veered out a bit to help tackle rape culture on Facebook. Last month, I began to receive death and rape threats as a result of that work.  Today I bring you some of my thoughts on how rape, specifically the threat of rape via social media, is used to systematically stop the empowerment of women and girls.

The easiest way to squash the Divine Feminine within each woman is to abuse her. And rape is the best tool with the express purpose to kill her spirit completely.

As we see the Divine Feminine rising in all faith traditions, I also perceive a growing global awareness about rape. I’m not sure if there are actually more rapes, particularly gang rapes, occurring now. But it feels that way to me. Whether it is that more rapes are reported or more rapes are occurring, the rape of even one woman hurts the spirit in all genders.

My worship of the goddess is not rooted in the New Age movement. While I found some of the affirmations helpful when leaving my marriage, I am not certain this is a movement that can help women globally.  That said, I in no way mean to attack any woman’s faith tradition, just share from my experience of what has worked for me and what has not.

My religion is one of action: the warrior goddess who will fight for each of her children. She is the warrior of activism. It is the goddess who empowers each of her daughters and gives her the tools to be successful in life.

Interestingly, when you look at the aspirations of most patriarchal traditions, it is submissiveness that is usually valued.  And submissiveness hurts us all.  I even remember being told specifically as a girl, if someone tries rapes you, let them because it will be easier than fighting them, and then they might kill you afterwards.

Someone did try to rape me when I was 19. I was still a virgin, and I remember thinking, “I am NOT going to lose my virginity this way.” So I fought like hell. If you can “win” in an assault situation, I suppose I won. But the reality is: no assault ever feels like a win to the woman who survives it.

Had I heeded the traditional advice I was given, I know without a doubt I would have been raped.

Even though the rape was not successful, I was still blamed. No one questioned him. They questioned me. Why was I wearing that? (clothes that actually saved me) Why was I there?

Looking back, I think that was the last straw for me in terms of leaving the traditional Christian faith I was raised with. It was then that I first learned about the goddess. I forgot about her for some time, in my yearning to get ahead. But when my daughter was born I realized if I didn’t return to the goddess, I would fail her in the same ways I had been failed.

"The Dream of the Jungle of Eden" by Elisabeth Slettnes, one of many beautiful paintings featured in The Girl God book

“The Dream of the Jungle of Eden” by Elisabeth Slettnes, illustrator of The Girl God book

Since my work has centered on girls, specifically via my book The Girl God, I have been criticized for veering off course.  Rape is not a subject for girls, or so I have been told. Statistically speaking however, that is just not true.

I wrote about this last year, which you can see here.

Current U.S. rape statistics tell us that

  • 44% of victims are under the age of 18.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • And, 97% of rapists will never spend one day in jail.

It seems that most people still have a lot to learn when it comes to rape.  Soraya Chemaly wrote an excellent article several months back clarifying actual facts about rape.

But here is what I want to say today: Rape happens long before it happens. Somewhere along the line, the perpetrator decides rape is OK.

I don’t believe anyone is born a rapist. Perhaps it is a gradual process. TV, movies, magazines, porn and social media cut away at the original goodness we were born with. Social media is perhaps the most dangerous because it can spread images so quickly. For instance, the child porn video posted to Facebook several weeks ago involving a baby gathered 32,000 shares and over 5,000 likes before it was removed.

Until fairly recently, you had to go to a specialty store to get pornography and it was relatively difficult to obtain child porn. Now it is readily available, including hard-core and child porn posted directly on Facebook. The baby video was taken down relatively quickly, but recent articles about girls who have been gang-raped in North America and India, not to mention all over the world, tell a different story.

I fear rape victims are becoming younger by the day as our tolerance for rape culture increases. 20 years ago, a group of men would not have sat around and bragged about raping a woman. It would have been considered weird and gross.  And who in their right mind would have told a rape “joke”? Now behind a computer screen, millions of men seem to feel very comfortable with both.

Rape has been normalized through social media. Rape is now funny, protected under “free speech” or “controversial humor”.  Rape drugs are also normalized through free advertisements on Facebook, or what they call “memes.”

It is not just rape itself that silences women. It is the fear of rape. Every single rape joke and meme of violence against woman has a very clear message: “Shut the f*** up woman. Who are you to be bold, vivacious and filled with light? I can rape you at any given time and take all of that from you.”

At the same time, Facebook policy is strict on female nipples. They are not allowed on Facebook and are quickly removed. I find this more than ironic since I have personally seen a tremendous amount of child pornography (which is RAPE for those who are still not clear) on Facebook. If Facebook can find nipples easily, surely they can find penises and vaginas, which are readily available on thousands of pages.

Recently my husband sat next to a woman on an airplane with a newborn.  She covered her entire body, including her own head, to cover up the act of feeding her baby. When she was finished, she turned to him and apologized.

And yet rape is out there in the open for all to see through pictures and memes posted on Facebook. I have yet to see an apology from anyone about this, including the viral video of raping a baby.

Think about that for a minute.

The nipple argument has been going on for some time and it matters. Look at some of the pictures that have blurred out nipples so they could remain on Facebook.  The Femen page is a good place to see many of these pictures.

Our nipples are powerful: they are the non-negotiable assertion that we as women give life. Every man was born of a woman. And that is what stings for men who hate women.

Given the prevalence of rape, it is not by accident that the threat of rape is used to silence us.  If roughly one-third of women are already traumatized by rape or sexualized violence, you can bet most of those women are effectively silenced, if not re-traumatized again with every image they see.

Many more will not speak up because they are scared of being raped themselves. They want to distance themselves from rape, as if that will protect them. In the west we are heavily influenced by the “Law of Attraction” which does a good job of silencing even more women. It seems to go something like this: just pretend rape doesn’t happen so it will not happen to you.

That was not what I believe the intended message of The Law of Attraction was, but that is often how it seems to be interpreted. I felt that judgment clearly last month when I was told many times that I was somehow attracting these death and rape threats by attempting to fight them on Facebook.

I don’t believe that. Are women in war-torn countries where rape is used as a method of war attracting their own rapes? Surely no one can believe that.

A member of the Gulabi Gang during a meeting. (This photo is from the Wikimedia) Commons.

A member of the Gulabi Gang during a meeting. (This photo is from Wikimedia Commons)

We need to stop blaming women and start shaming and punishing the perpetrators. Rape culture will never disappear by itself. We need more warriors. We need our own Gulabi Gangs all over the world.

Those who do not speak out against rape culture are complicit in it.  Those who blame the victim instead of the perpetrator also play a leading role in ensuring more rapes will go unpunished, contributing to the cycle of more rapes.

After all, if 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail, you can be certain that most rapists know they will get away with it. And if we fail to prosecute rape itself, men who threaten rape are even more certain there will be no consequences for their actions.

This cycle will only worsen if we fail to confront it.

We have two very recent cases of 15-year-old girls being gang raped and further traumatized by the pictures of their rape being posted on Facebook. Both girls killed themselves.

Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons  both deserved so much better, and there are more young girls like them out there.

That is where this hits me pretty hard, going back to my attack nearly 20 years ago. I could fight off one man, who was slightly bigger than me, but I certainly could not have fought off 3 or 4. And I never had to deal with pictures of my attempted assault being posted all over Facebook.

We are living in a different time. I am not so sure that it is a better time. All of us must work harder to change that and to empower girls around the world with the tools they need.

So far, very few people seem to be pointing out to the obvious connection between cause and effect. But I believe one day platforms such as Facebook that encourage rape will be held accountable. By allowing pictures of women and girls being raped to be posted to their site, they are guilty of that rape as well as each additional rape that will be inspired by it.

I believe that through the Divine Feminine, we can find the strength within ourselves to be powerful and reclaim a culture that loves women. That is not to say that we need another religion to somehow save us. However, I feel that we must reclaim what was taken from us in each faith tradition: the ability to relate as a divine being. When God can only be viewed as male, females will always be inferior. When we begin to collectively honor females as the holy beings that they are, rape will become incomprehensible.

Yes, I was threatened with death and rape for speaking out against rape culture. But so far, I am still here.

I now have the strength I did not have as a girl or even a young woman. I have the power to effect change. If I neglect to use that power, I will fail both myself and future generations of women and girls.

I need your help. So I am asking you: What will you do with your power?