Staying with the Question
I explained in Gobsmacked Part 1 how, in conceptual terms, silence benefits the guilty perpetrator of violence. I showed how, by virtue of re-narrating the victim of violence (problematically, however logical) as complicit in their own violence, the perpetrator and victim are both personally invested in the task of keeping silent about the violence to protect their respective guilty and “guilty” selves.
Silence, therefore, is a state of collusion.
Silence is golden for the guilty, which becomes the usual way of treating violence where the perpetrator and victim are both perceived as being guilty of acting violently on the victim.
It is my desire now that we do not take leave of the question provoking this inquiry by resorting merely to observing silence in the face of sexual violence or moving on to treat violence thinking our job is finished. To be sure, we must make such observations and get around to doing something about them, but not before reflecting deeply on what is going on in silence in the face of sexual violence.
In other words, we must dwell longer under the question: why has silence historically characterised the church?
Silence is golden, and so it comes as no surprise that it does not come cheap. We learned a few weeks ago that the so-called leader of the free world bought silence for a cool $130 000… allegedly. Clearly, the married man thought that (an alleged) revelation of extramarital sex with a porn star would damage the popular opinion about his character and so hinder his run for the presidential post. With hindsight as our guide, we may doubt it—but we digress. The man’s lawyer did not call the (alleged) payment hush money, but a “nondisclosure agreement.” Silence, the man thought, would be golden, and $130 000 was the contracted price tag on it, allegedly.
Having said this, one may question whether the event under question can be deemed sexual violence if the sex with the porn star was consensual or if it did not take place.
But this (non)event raises a dynamic that is rarely noted, namely, the connection between sex, money, and contractually bound silence. Here we find a very ugly aspect of the issue at hand: money is used to buy silence, which is another way of saying that money is used to buy the contractual de-historicisation of sex. Where money is used as an incentive for the victim to put pen to paper, the history of sex is rubbed out and the event of sex disappears from view.
We observe here the blatant doctoring of history by those who have the financial means to do so.
In times like these, one does not need to wonder how the Masters of Suspicion got their name. They smelt a rat, and that rat was the use of bad magic to make things appear and disappear. Unlike the magicians of old who preferred the wand to make things disappear, the current preference is the scratch of an ink-filled pen on paper.
We should be suspicious.
Make no mistake, the wand and pen have the same effect. The sequin-clad woman with top hat disappears in the box somewhere with a wave of the wand… but not really… she’s there somewhere, perhaps behind or under the box. And for the person who has been subject to sexual violence, their wound disappears with the scratch of the pen… but not really. With a sleight of hand move, the bad magician gives the impression the wound has disappeared, but we know it's still there… somewhere.
The history of sexual violence does not disappear, but is deviously hidden from view, often having been coaxed with money.
It is at this moment that we begin to see how brutal the aftermath of sexual violence really is and how that aftermath is skewed to protect the violent offender and those and the institution/s with which they are associated.
Hiding sexual violence from the public eye to preserve the integrity of the perpetrator (or institution they represent), whether contractually justified or not, is deception. Nothing disappears, except the permission and opportunity for the victim to speak honestly about what happened, along with the permission and opportunity to have the perpetrator brought to justice.
In other words, the magic trick is not magic but two acts of violence. The first violent act is sexual violence. The second violent act to be perpetrated is the victim’s subsequent gagging whether contractually, which is sometimes financially incentivised—which is another way the victim finds him or herself framed as complicit in an act of violence—or by institutional force (to be explored in Gobsmacked 3), or by being reframed as the perpetrator (see Gobsmacked part 1).
Silence has held sway because churches and individuals within the church have opted to use legal means to silence victims from speaking up. Of course, we can defer once again to questions like, “Why didn't they simply refuse to sign such a document?” but there we go again making the victim complicit in their own violence. We quickly lose focus on the reason for the silence in the first place: the devious desire of individual Christians, churches, or organisations to silence or make disappear instances of sexual violence by coercive means.
To begin to treat the silence that shrouds sexual violence in the church (and society), the church and its associates must become transparent about the way it has used the law to hide sin. Not only is there a need to confess that this is the case, there is also a need to reveal where that was and is the case.
And I must say that it should cease to be construed as a godly option on the table to treat revelations of sexual violence in the church!
The victims cannot reveal the wounds of sexual violence—they don’t "exist". The truly guilty must confess their sin so that the real violence that inflicted (and holds open) the victim's wound can be thought of as real and not merely alleged.
Of course, making disappear the wounds from sexual violence as well as those who inflict them through procedural means is not the only way that silence has come to characterise the church in the face of sexual violence.
We turn to the way that Christian voices silence the victim’s voice in Gobsmacked 3.