#HimToo – why Jesus should be recognised as a victim of sexual violence
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The season of Lent is an invitation to the churches, and to anyone else who wishes to do so, to reflect on the disturbing story of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. It is one of the most widely known and often retold stories in human history. Yet despite being read and remembered so often, there is a part of the story which typically receives little attention and minimal discussion – the stripping of Jesus.The #MeToo movement has highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other sexual abuses experienced by women and girls in many different forms. It has also exposed the common tendency to deny, dismiss, or minimise the significance and impact of these experiences.
The stripping of JesusWith this in mind, during this present Lenten period, it seems especially appropriate to recall the stripping of Jesus – and to name it for what it was intended to be: a powerful display of humiliation and gender-based violence, which should be acknowledged as an act of sexual violence and abuse. The idea that Jesus himself experienced sexual abuse may seem strange or shocking at first, but crucifixion was a “supreme punishment” and the stripping and exposure of victims was not an accidental or incidental element. It was a deliberate action that the Romans used to humiliate and degrade those they wished to punish. It meant that the crucifixion was more than just physical, it was also a devastating emotional and psychological punishment. The convention in Christian art of covering Christ’s nakedness on the cross with a loincloth is perhaps an understandable response to the intended indignity of Roman crucifixion. But this should not prevent us from recognising that the historical reality would have been very different. This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record. If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo, and how they promote change in wider society. This could contribute significantly to positive change in many countries, and especially in societies where the majority of people identify as Christian. Some sceptics might respond that stripping a prisoner might be a form of violence or abuse, but it is misleading to call this “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”. Yet if the purpose was to humiliate the captive and expose him to mockery by others, and if the stripping is done against his will and as a way to shame him in public, then recognising it as a form of sexual violence or sexual abuse seems entirely justified. The way that the stripping of Vercingetorix, King of the Arverni, is depicted in the first episode of the first series of the HBO series Rome is an example of this.
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