|The Rape of Tamar - (2 Samuel 13:1-22)|
Mostly importantly, the comments by Rep. Akin which describe "forcible rape" and others like Sen. Ryan, the VP nominee, who speaks of "rape as another method of conception," reveal a stunning lack of basic biological knowledge as well as compassion and understanding for the rape victim.
Since the issues of faith and religion have been made to take center stage in the political arena, the question arises about a faith-based response to the issues of reproductive justice.
What are people of faith to make of all this? How can we begin to broach a subject that is often seen as off-limits in religious communities of faith? What can pastors and religious leaders - lay and ordained - do in their congregation or campus group to stop sexual violence and promote sexual health and well-being?
I have a few suggestions.
I am offering some facts and talking points and pastoral considerations, as well as some passages from tradition and scripture which speak to the issue of sexual violence. I hope these will provide a springboard for discussion and thoughtful reflection.
This is not an exhaustive list, but one which I hope will provide some resources so that people of faith might have an opportunity to have intelligent conversations and make informed decisions.
A FEW BASIC FACTS ABOUT RAPE
+ Rape is an act of violence.
Historically, rape was defined as unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman against her will. The essential elements of the crime were sexual penetration, force, and lack of consent. Women who were raped were expected to have physically resisted to the utmost of their powers or their assailant would not be convicted of rape. Additionally, a husband could have sex with his wife against her will without being charged with rape. Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures and courts expanded and redefined the crime of rape to reflect modern notions of equality and legal propriety.
|The Rape of Dinah|
As of the early 2000s, all states define rape without reference to the sex of the victim and the perpetrator. Though the overwhelming majority of rape victims are women, a woman may be convicted of raping a man, a man may be convicted of raping a man, and a woman may be convicted of raping another woman. Furthermore, a spouse may be convicted of rape if the perpetrator forces the other spouse to have non-consensual sex. Many states do not punish the rape of a spouse as severely as the rape of a non-spouse.+ Rape is an act of violence because it is a sexual act which happens without consent.
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics state that 91% of rape victims are female and 9% are male, and 99% of rapists are male.
Among patients at psychiatric hospitals, rates of sexual assault among women patients average around 38%.
The percentage of U.S. women who have experienced rape at least once in their lifetime (so far), is in the range of 14.5% - 33% (statistics vary depending on the source and the date of the study).
Persons who are physically or mentally helpless or who are under a certain age in relation to the perpetrator are deemed legally incapable of consenting to sex.+ Over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone's home.
If a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol - consumed voluntarily or given to them surreptitiously - they are deemed legally incapable of consenting to sex.
In the United States the use of drugs, especially alcohol, frequently plays a part in rape. In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In 17%, only the perpetrator had been. 7% of the time, only the victim had been drinking. Rapes where neither the victim nor the perpetrator had been drinking account for 29% of all rapes.
30.9% of rapes occur in the perpetrators' homes, 26.6% in the victims' homes and 10.1% in homes shared by the victim and perpetrator. 7.2% occur at parties, 7.2% in vehicles, 3.6% outdoors and 2.2% in bars.+ Rapes are rarely reported to law enforcement.
This often leads to an under-reporting of rape because of the myth that rape is committed by a stranger. It deepens the sense of betrayal, shame and guilt.
People who have experienced a sexual assault are more likely to develop depression, an anxiety disorder, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug problems. High rates of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are also found among people who have experienced rape. Studies have found that 31% to 57% of women who had experienced a rape also have PTSD at some point after the rape.
The 2007 report for the Department of Justice shows only 18% cases of rape reported in the general population sample.
The accuracy of the statistics on male on male rape that occurs in prisons are difficult to obtain and verify, but the wide agreement and understanding by public health officials is that prison rape is the leading cause of the soaring rate of the transmission of HIV and AIDS in this population.
Every year, more than 200,000 individuals report their rape to the police. Almost all are asked to submit to the collection of DNA evidence from their bodies, which is then stored in a small package called a rape kit. Unfortunately, in the United States today there are an estimated 400,000-500,000 untested rape kits sitting in police evidence storage facilities and crime labs across the country. (Human Rights Watch)
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) reports that out of every 100 rapes, only 46 are reported to the police, 12 lead to arrest, 9 get prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, 3 rapists will spend even a single day in prison.+ While there are varying legal definitions of rape, the bottom line is that rape is rape.
Rape is an act of violence. Rape is not about love, it is about an abuse of power. No one ever "asks" or "wants" to be raped, no matter the manner of their attire. No one "deserves" to be raped, no matter the circumstances. Rape is a crime. While conception may occur after rape, in no way can it be considered merely a "method of conception".
|Jesus and the woman to be stoned (Jn 7:53-8:1)|
+ The first rule in providing pastoral care to victims of abuse is to give power back, in order to counter the power that was taken away. Denying a rape victim access to information about all options and lack of support for an informed, independent decision-making process only increases suffering.
+ All religious community leaders need to have available a list of community resources, including the number and location of rape crises counseling centers, pastoral counselors and social workers with expertise in rape and sexual assault recovery and post traumatic stress disorder, and medical professional who can discuss the options open to a woman who becomes pregnant after rape.
+ One of the hallmarks of any major religion is compassion. All rape is real and harmful, and no victim of sexual violence deserves to be doubted, questioned or judged for her subsequent decisions if a pregnancy results.
+ A woman deserves whatever resources she needs to heal, including the ability to make her own personal health care decisions which may include the option of abortion.
+ The ideal of "sanctity of life" and notions of "respect for life" includes the life of the pregnant woman - her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual life.
+ Supporting abortion in cases of rape does not diminish a 'pro-life' position. Compassion and respect for a victim of rape is a manifestation of mature religious values.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT RAPE?
Bible studies, educational forums and/or sermons that consider scriptural references to rape can be a good way to raise awareness of the issues concerning rape in communities of faith.
|Dinah (Genesis 34)|
It is also important to discuss our own cultural context and the evolution of thought concerning the equality of women:
Keep in mind, as well, Genesis 5:2 "(God) created them male and female; and blessed them: and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created". Adam is the Hebrew word for "mankind" or "humanity" (as opposed to iysh, which refers to a male human being).
The following are a few of the scriptural references to rape, not surprisingly, many of them in the context of war.
The rape of Lot's daughters (Genesis 19)
The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34)
Murder, rape, and pillage at Jabesh-gilead (Judges 21:10-24)
Murder, rape and pillage of the Midianites (Numbers 31:7-18)
More Murder Rape and Pillage (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)
Rape of Female Captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
Laws of Rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
Death to the Rape Victim (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)
Rape and the Spoils of War (Judges 5:30)
The Rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22)
The Adulterous Woman (Or, had she been raped?) (John 7:53-8:11)
You may also find helpful a discussion of the portrayals of rape in Greek mythology (eg. Haides abduction and rape of Persephone, The rape of Europa and many others by Zeus, The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, etc.) as well as the depictions of rape in classical art.
Do visit the webpage of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (http://www.rcrc.org), where you will find a plethora of resources, including a Speaker's Bureau, a Fact Sheet about Safeguards for Women, educational seminars and webinars - some targeted for Black and Hispanic audiences - as well as statements about reproductive justice from all of the major religious denominations.
I hope this is helpful to you. Our congregations and campus groups need to support effective, reality-based sex education and other programs that prevent sexual violence. This becomes even more critically important in these highly politically-charged times.
It is always risky to discuss issues like rape and abortion in communities of faith. Religious leaders are those who take risks for the sake of the betterment of their communities of faith.
We need them now, more than ever.