Today, I am reading and commenting on Genesis 39-41.
We have in this passage what may be the first account of sexual harassment. It is worth noting that it was a young man being sexually harassed by a woman in a position of power. I want to note that a large part of the reason that we do not have an account of sexual harassment of similar age where a woman was harassed is because if the more powerful individual in this situation had been a man, he would have simply forced himself upon the object of his desire with no risk of negative consequences. However, the important thing about sexual harassment in this story is that it shows us that, even in a society of male dominance, women are also likely to abuse their power over those in a weaker position.
There are some lessons we can learn from this story. First, what could Joseph have done to avoid this. Realistically, the only thing he could have done is avoid being alone with Potiphar’s wife. This is an important point to keep in mind. Joseph ended up being falsely accused of rape. As I think about this situation it reminds me that one of the things that causes problems when we give rape avoidance advice to women is that the same advice applies to men who want to avoid false accusations of rape: avoid being in situations where that can happen. When we advise young women to avoid situations where rape can easily happen we are often accused of sexism. That accusation may be accurate if we are only advising young women to avoid those situations because we should advise young men to avoid being on the male side of those same situations in order to avoid being falsely accused of rape.
That part being said there is an even more important point to be made. As far as we can tell from this passage, Joseph did his best to avoid being alone with Potiphar’s wife. That is the important point we need to make when pointing out situations which men and women should avoid (men to avoid false accusations of rape, women to avoid being raped), those who ended up in those situations and got raped, or falsely accused of rape, are the victims, not the perpetrators. Failing to have failed to follow the advice, whether because they disregarded it or because circumstances made it unavoidable, does not make them bad people, or even responsible for what happened to them. One final note: God used the bad things which happened to Joseph to put him in a position much better than he could have otherwise reached and where he was able to help his family when famine reached the area.