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Friday, September 13, 2013

Mending the heart

Four men convicted of a brutal gang rape and murder were sentenced Friday to die by hanging, a decision met with satisfaction on the part of the victim’s parents and triumphant cheers from the crowd outside the courthouse, where some held up makeshift nooses and pictures of hanging bodies.

The four men — a fruit vendor, a bus attendant, a gym handyman and an unemployed man — were found guilty on Tuesday of raping a young woman on a moving bus last December, penetrating her with a metal rod and inflicting grave internal injuries, then dumping her on the roadside.

Defense arguments were drowned out by cries for execution — including from the victim herself, who before her death told a court official that her attackers “should be burned alive.” Protesters have congregated regularly outside the courthouse, chanting “Hang the rapists,” and on Friday they turned their wrath on the defense lawyers, forcing one to rush from the crowd.

“This is the beginning of freedom for Indian women today,” said Raman Deep Kaur, 38, a cosmetologist. “Today we are free, because these men are going to be killed.” 

I have strong emotions and zero tolerance for rape/sexual assault. I understand all too well the emotions in this case. 

I am confounded by the sentence. 

Will the death of these four men stop the rape of women in India? I fear not. Obviously, it will stop those four men from raping again. 

Is that enough? 

Are rapists able to reform in prison? Do prison sentences for rape act as a deterrent to rape? 

Statistics here do not bear out that hope. 

How much of what punishment is enough for rape?

On friend on FaceBook wrote: 
"Furthermore, how can death for these rapists achieve a reform of something deeply ingrained in Indian society (and, I should add, ours as well)? Could it carry enough symbolic weight to force their society (and ours) to face itself regarding its regard for and treatment of women? 

Women all over the world - India and Uganda and the United States and Mexico and Sri Lanka and South Africa and Russia - want deep and abiding change. How do we make that happen when a patriarchal court condemns four rapists to die to make examples out of them but does not fundamentally change in the ways that it sees women (here seen as the victim of male aggression)?"
As I wandered around in my thoughts, I suddenly remembered a story told by John Claypool in his book, Mending The Heart. 

Claypool offers three meditations which speak eloquently of the wounds all of us carry through life—the wounds of grievance, guilt, and grief—and how they can be healed. The wound of grievance comes from our suffering at the hands of others, we are pierced by guilt when we inflict pain in return, and we suffer grief when we are hurt by loss.

In his meditation "The Wound of Grievance," Claypool offers a powerful story about mending the heart of a man and the community in which he lived which was torn by greed and racism.
"Years ago, I saw an old movie entitled “Stars in My Crown” about the life of a nineteenth-century Methodist circuit rider on the American frontier. An elderly black man who lived in the little community that the circuit rider served was on of its most beloved members, for he had taught a whole generation of children to hunt and fish and enthralled them with his gift of storytelling.

It so happened that a valuable deposit of copper was found in that community and it ran straight under the little parcel of land on which the old man lived. When several local business leaders cane and offered to buy the black man’s property, however, he refused – it was the only home he had ever known and all he wanted to do was to  live our his life there in peace.

Naturally, his refusal threatened the whole mining enterprise, and when a great deal of money is at stake, dispositions have a way of growing surly. When the business leaders could not buy out the old man, they resorted to intimidation, posting a note on the door that if he was not off the property by sundown the next night, then members of the local Ku Klux Klan would com and hang him from the nearest tree.

The local minister got wind of what was happening, and the next night he was there at the house with the old man when the hooded figures arrived. He told them his friend knew full well that they had come to take his life, and had asked him to prepare a will to read to them before they hung him.

John Claypool
The old man willed the property to the businessmen who seemed to want it so badly, some of whom were standing right there in the lynching mob. He went on to leave his rifle to another person, his fishing rod to a third, and son on down the line, lovingly relinquishing everything he had to those who had come to take his life.

The impact of this act of goodness in response to evil was more than even those greedy hearts could stand. One by one, in shameful silence, they turned away and slipped into the darkness.
The minister’s grandson, at the time a twelve-year-old boy, had watched the whole drama from afar and when it was over he bounded up the porch and said to his grandfather wonderingly, “What kind of will was that?” The old minister answered softly, “The will of God, son, the will of God.”
I do not offer this as the answer - or even an answer - to the problem of rape, or what ought to be done to deter rape or change our cultures and subcultures (like the Armed Forces or Athletic Events) to have zero tolerance for rape.  

I do not offer this as an indication of what victims of rape ought to do in response to rape. I hear the dying words of the victim of this brutal rape - that her attackers "should be burned alive" - as the completely understandable, deeply human cry of anguish and pain and unmerited suffering which led to her death.

I offer this to underscore the fact that, when someone is raped, it's not just the body that suffers. It is the mind and the soul and the spirit and the heart.

I offer this to remind us that, when a someone is raped, it is not just the person's body, mind, soul,  spirit and heart that suffers - it is the heart of the entire community.

There seems to be no end in sight to the violence - sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual - against women.

How will we find healing?

How will we mend the heart - that of those who have been raped as well as our own?


IT said...

I'm sure you have heard of the UN report that surveyed men across Asia, and found an astonishing number admit to rape. "Of those men who had admitted to rape, the vast majority (72-97 percent in most sites) did not experience any legal consequences, confirming that impunity remains a serious issue in the region.

Across all sites, the most common motivation that men cited for rape was related to sexual entitlement - a belief that men have a right to sex with women regardless of consent."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, and then there are the Asian "Comfort Wives". Your stats seem to argue for laws - and the enforcement of them. That has to include the timely processing of rape kits.

I don't deny that laws and their enforcement and harsh consequences are required. They are. MLK, Jr. said that we change the laws first and minds will follow. Eventually.

I'm concerned about healing the heart, too.

8thday said...

I experienced a brutal gang many, many years ago. I don’t remember how I felt about my tormentors at the time - I lived in a black hole for quite awhile. If they had been caught and brought to trial, I have no idea how I would have felt. Today I have no anger, no hate toward them. Just a lot of sadness.

When I read today sentences I was dismayed. Not that I don’t feel that the crime was horrendous. I know it was. I know that woman’s pain and I understand her last wish But this sentence felt too much like revenge than anything judicial.

Will this death sentence serve as a deterrent? I know next to nothing about the penal system in India but it seems this sentence was more a result of public outcry to this particular case than anything that will set a precedent. The world was watching this one. What happens with the next? And one case is certainly not going to undo years and years of cultural behavior.

Will this sentence help her family heal? I have no idea. But I do hope they are able to find some solace, somewhere, sometime.

Will this sentence begin a much needed dialogue in India. I believe it has. But much like here, these things seem to have the shelf life of a Facebook post.

Mostly today I feel such sadness that, if the sentence withstands appeals, that five young people will be dead. And nothing about that makes me feel better.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, God, 8thday. I'm so sorry for that experience. How brave of you to tell your story here.

I am astounded that you have come to some peace with the fact that those who raped you have not been brought to trial. You are a much stronger woman than I am.

I have zero tolerance for rape. I think we have to fight to eradicate it in our culture and in our world. What happened to that woman was savage and brutal and inexcusable. There absolutely need to be consequences.

Having said that, like you, I don't think the hanging of these four men will accomplish anything.

But, some consequence - more than worldwide outrage - needs to be administered. But, death? I have a hard time believing that will accomplish anything.

Bob MacDonald said...

I was introduced Wednesday at UVic to Marion Partington through the CSRS fellow, Michael Hadley. I have finished her book, If You Sit Very Still.

It is a story of completeness leading her to restorative justice. I am sure there are summaries online - but it is a very good insight into justice systems and the perpetuation of violence through the generations.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so much, Bob. I will most definitely check it out.

Anonymous said...

Stuck as they are in a land influenced by a bizarre polytheistic religion on one hand and a religion founded by a pedophile on the other, the women of India are desperate. Appealing to the sensibilities of an obscure Western short story is not going to help them. Until Christianity becomes dominant on the subcontinent, the best they can do is deterrence: if you rape and murder us, you will hang. That will go far to deter many, because as you know, many sexual abusers are cowards.


8thday said...

Not brave. Just years of therapy finally sinking in that it is healthier to talk about it than to hold it in.

I never had peace in the sense that I always feared for other women knowing these men were still out there. But on a personal level, had they been punished I’m not sure it would have changed anything for me in the long run. I believe the work of healing had to come from within me. But I suppose I will never know. And I’m sure it is different for every person who deals with trauma. I do seriously doubt I could have gone through the rigors of a trial, especially back then when it was still the victim who had to defend herself. (and yes, I know that still happens but I believe it was even worse 30 years ago)

I share your dream of eradicating rape, and all forms of violence and aggression and bigotry from our world but, unfortunately, I don’t think it is realistic. People seem to have a need to label and rank by gender, race, education, bank account, politics, religion, etc. to make themselves feel separate and more powerful than someone else. And power over other people is a very seductive thing, I think. It has been since the beginning of time and I suspect always will be.

When this power plays out violently or impacts others in negative ways, then yes, I think those people need to be removed from society. But I am still undecided on the proper punishment or even the value of punishment - either for the perpetrator or the victim. Whatever we’ve been doing for the last few centuries certainly doesn’t seem to be working.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, 8th Day. I couldn't have said it better if I had tried.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Right, Michael, because Christianity has proven to be such a powerful deterrent in this country. And, since there are no cowards in the Armed Forces, there's certainly no rape going on there.

Nice try, Michael. Actually, it's not anywhere near nice. It's a racists, triumphalist, bigoted statement. So unlike what we've come to expect from your comments here.

Marthe said...

Oh, dear 8thday, so sad, this shared pain ... and your comment that the work of healing had to come from within you: most likely true, and I hear in it the recurring theme of responsibility falling on the woman -
her job to "prevent" the act in the first place by being "good", under cover, respectable, careful never to 'make herself a target' by walking here or there alone, never to appear to be "asking for it" in any way, and then to accept her share of the fault for the violence after in shame and silence, to call it bad luck, a mistake, nothing important because, well, that's just how men are and it's a woman's job to protect herself from the worst aspects of "natural" male aggression that the culture encourages and applauds in "useful" settings like the military and sports. We're just collateral damage at the frayed edge of the social order ... tragic, maybe, but "not their problem", not their patient to heal or cure or care for in any real way. I don't much like the language of healing applied to rape ... the damage doesn't go away, we find ways to cope with it ... the pain doesn't stop with some vengeance pill, we tolerate its presence as best we can ... survive. And those who don't, well, they are just gone, no longer a living reminder of the brutality of which human beings are capable, and in being gone cooperate with all those who simply don't want to think about any of it any more, those who want to pretend they aren't accomplices to every excuse maker who has ever called rape a misunderstanding or a lie or not "legitimate" because, because, because ....
Jail for them is the only answer that protects the next woman from their aggression and does not turn believers in the sanctity of life into murderers and hypocrites, yet it does nothing to repair the damage done -- a fact of harsh reality. What might help would be some deeper understanding of why men and men in groups rape in the first place, what justifies such an act in their minds, and then carefully teach the children not to ever consider such things acceptable in any way ... and back up that teaching with real training in compassion for every other human life. Rape may be about power as many assert, but it is also deeply selfish, wholly inconsiderate of the consequences of the perpetrator's action on the "object" of his (or her) aggression. Where does anyone learn compassion these days? Doesn't seem to be in any lesson plan or agenda or policy statement or even in church where there is more talk of obedience to some narrow interpretation of 'right' than on kindness and consideration of others' existence without the judgement that makes one's own sect 'special' enough to look down upon or dismiss all others as somehow worthy of the miseries of injustice.
Sorry, folks, I rant a bit on this subject ... and 8thday - yeah! that you've survived, coped, refused to be an accomplice to their crime with silence. Peace be and be, to all.

Beverly said...

Thank you for your post and the powerful response from 8thday. The actions of these men are one step above that of animals. They have the ability to think, reason, and choose a course of action. Consequently, they should suffer for the decision they made to rape. However, I do not believe that violence is the answer to violence. It would be nice to think that they could be placed somewhere where they could be shown a different way of living until the hardened encasement of their hearts is removed and mended with the love of God to walk His path. To wish for anything else brings subsequent pain upon ourselves. This is all being said from a position of thoughtful reflection. In the heat of that moment of brutal attack, I am afraid I would fall short of kindly love toward my rapists. God bless us all and help us to be instruments of change to societies that condone brutality and subjugation of women.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - Thanks for your rant. When it comes to this subject, ranting is totally called for.

You know, I really think if the penalty for rape were chemical castration for a time certain - 1 year, 3-5, 5-10, etc. - as it is for child molesters - with some required anti-sexism classes, we might be able to turn this around.

A guy might think prison isn't so bad, but chemical castration? I think that might be a deterrent.

And, of course I think we ought to have community resources to work with girl and boys about violence in general and sexual violence in particular.

Which community resources, you ask? Why, sounds like something the CHURCH ought to be doing. Hello? Anybody with a collar reading this? I highly recommend the program OWL = Our Whole Lives. The curriculum is K-12. It's brilliant. I've used parts of it in my Confirmation Class. Google it and check it out.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Beverly - Wouldn't it be 'nice' if the person who was raped was given, say, three options of sentences from which to choose for the rapist? It would give the victim some control over her rapists for a change.

Unless - and until - you have either been raped (God forbid! much less gang raped) or sat with a person who has been raped (or gang raped), you probably won't appreciate my fantasy of what might constitute 'justice'. I hasten to add that none of those options would make rape a capitol offense.

Anonymous said...

"...because Christianity has proven to be such a powerful deterrent in this country." Could one picture such a crime in the US or anywhere in Europe outside the Muslim enclaves? It might happen, but the perpetrators would damn well know that the police would be after them and the force of the law and public opinion would be against them. But in India... these guys thought they could get away with it.

Religion does matter.

"And, since there are no cowards in the Armed Forces, there's certainly no rape going on there." I didn't say ALL rapists were cowards, but a sizeable percentage are. Four guys swinging in the breeze serves as a deterrent for these weaker personalities.

I conclude with a quote from a much wittier representative of your Anglican tradition, Samuel Johnson: "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”


Sextant said...


Great post as always. I do not believe in capital punishment. I do believe in life sentences with hard labor.

I feel no sorrow for the condemned rapists. I do feel sorrow for the victims. An execution will not give back what was taken from them.

it's margaret said...

I don't agree with a death penalty in any instance... . But, this was also more than rape --the young woman died of her injuries, so it was murder.

I wonder if she had not died if the uproar and conviction process would have even begun.

8thday said...

I’m not sure if this conversation is about now about how to prevent rape or how to punish rape, but I have a few reactions to things being said here.

First I should explain my history - I was with my lesbian partner when we were attacked. The 5 men who assaulted us made it very clear that they were christians and punishing us for being lesbian and going against god’s will and plan. My partner, a black woman, took the brunt of that hatred too. A few months later she took her own life, no longer being able to deal with the extreme emotional and physical pain she was left with.

So as much as I appreciate Elizabeth's thought that the church should somehow be involved with correcting violence, I very much think that it is the church that has generated the homophobia and other forms of hate that allowed for the kind of violence we experienced in the first place. To me it would be like putting the wolf in charge if the henhouse. My intellectual side knows that that is an unfair generalization but my emotional side has difficulty getting past it. Organized religion gives out way too many mixed messages, in my opinion.

To Marthe - I so appreciate your rant. And I agree with your anger about the responsibility of rape falling to the woman. When I speak of having to heal from within, mostly I was reacting to whether punishment of my attackers would have changed the healing process for me. In my case, I don't think so. Revenge, or any other external relief, was never something I felt I needed. But I can sense why it is important for others.

And I really feel your statement about never really healing. I never refer to myself as a survivor as I know how much I lost that will never be recovered. It is such a soul wound. Too many scars. For me, my biggest problem was that I developed PTSD which went untreated for too long. A few years ago I started extremely intense therapy to deal with it and (fingers crossed, salt over my shoulder, knock on wood). I think I have finally got it under control. So not a really survivor but definitely a thriver. Today I have a beautiful family and a wonderful life. I did not let them win.

I think you are right in that we need a deeper understanding of why men (and women) rape. Much like other violent crimes, I believe these behaviors start earlier and build. I am equally triggered by reading the account of the woman gang raped on a bus in India as I am reading about a bus monitor being gang bullied and taunted about her weight. And I see this type of bullying now all over social media. To me the name calling and belittling of people is the same root that grows racists and rapists. How people feel entitled to trample or belittle another person's humanity I just don't understand.

I love what Beverly wrote. I don't know how you undo hardened hearts but I think the goal should be to stop whatever is happening that hardened them in the first place. I don't believe people are born cruel. They are taught it. Or, probably more accurately, they are taught that they are above, or immune from, the impacts of their cruelty. How do you teach compassion?

Elizabeth's idea of giving a person some control over rape sentencing I think is brilliant - loss of control being one of the biggest and most primal issues for someone who had experienced rape. I think you may be onto something quite ground breaking. With your permission, I’d like to float that idea out to others who might find it interesting enough to pursue.

Lastly I want to say that it is only recently, and with the help of a lot of therapy and support of friends, that I am even able to give voice to any of my experience or feelings. So I thank you for this opportunity to express myself in this supportive environment.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, if you have never been raped or sexually assaulted, I suggest you keep your fingers away from the keyboard and just listen to those who have. And, learn. For a change.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sextant - Thank you. I don't feel sorry for the perps/rapists. I'm just not sure that a death sentence will do much of anything in India.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - That's a good point. I think the fact that she died - and died from injuries directly sustained from her rape - and that the rape was so brutal - and that she was with a young man whom some feel, as long as she was with, she wasn't "asking for it" and therefore was "totally innocent" (grrr. . . . ) - and that the rape was committed out in the open, witnessed by others - and that all four men said that could not be held accountable because they were drunk (grrr.....) . . . .

. . . .that, all that is sufficient cause for the death penalty. "All that" is sufficient cause for intense feelings of retribution, but that doesn't mean that the death penalty is the answer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - Thank you so much for your post - for each and every one of your posts. You articulate the kind of Christianity I see in John Claypool's story. I am so sorry for the brutal rapes you both underwent in the name of Jesus. I am so sorry for those sorry-ass Christians who raped you. I am so sorry for the loss of your lover/partner/friend.

I think I understand your name "8th Day". You've claimed another day of creation for yourself. You've earned it, my dear. You are a new creation, born of the chaos of pain and sweat and tears. Brava. And, thank you.

JCF said...

[I'm glad that "FrMichael" is calling himself "xyMichael" now. It certainly does speak to the "XY Supremacy" of the Popoid religion. Kyrie eleison.]

I think the India case is one which points out the wisdom of Einstein's saying "A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds."

...which is to say, I think the death penalty is ALWAYS wrong, *AND* (simultaneously) I feel a strong solidarity w/ those feeling a sense of justice and/or relief (is there a difference) in regard to this death sentence. It's a paradox.

FWIW, I don't believe that misogyny in India is, strictly speaking, due to "a bizarre polytheistic religion on one hand and a religion founded by a pedophile on the other"---not when, as {{{8th Day}}} points out, Christianists can be every BIT as hate-filled (if they were members of xyMichael's parish, it wouldn't surprise me). But patriarchal religion (all of it, including Christianism and Popoidism) is certainly a factor.

IF ONLY it were possible to HANG MISOGYNY, and leave its human victims, female AND male (eg. the rapists here), alive???

["Four guys swinging in the breeze serves as a deterrent for these weaker personalities." Run that past Pope Francis, xyMichael, then get back to me. I have fervent prayers that the new Bishop of Rome will sweep clean the more execrable examples of Popoidism, seen here.]

Muerk said...

I'm opposed to capital punishment, for a start it's not a deterrent and second it takes away someone's possibility of repentance.

However I think it's important to look at this case through cultural context. I don't think these men should be executed, a life prison term would suffice to keep society safe from men who have proven capable of such horrendous and evil deeds.

But... India is a deeply misogynistic society. What this verdict shows in a very public and official way is that a woman's life is worth the death of four men. This is a society where one of the defence lawyers stated that "he would have "burned my daughter alive" if she was having "premarital sex and moving around at night with her boyfriend"."

In traditional Indian society women were creatures of the private sphere consigned to the house. Women (well "proper, good" women) weren't outside the house. The contempt of women outside of traditional roles runs very deep in Indian society. That _men_ will lose their lives for taking and killing a women (and an unmarried woman with her boyfriend) is a really big deal.

Traditionally men were protectors of "their" women. Fathers and brothers ruled over female lives until women are given in arranged marriage to the husband's family to care for and protect. The thought of an unmarried women going about town with a boyfriend is pretty much frowned upon by much of Indian society. There will definitely be those who feel that she deserved what she got and if she was a "good girl" she wouldn't have put herself in the position of getting raped in the first place.

Hopefully Indian society will continue to change and to value women more.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF Some punishment, yes. I'm still thinking we should go with three possibilities - one of which is a time of chemical castration - and allow the victim to choose the sentence. That, to me, feels like justice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Meurk. Long time no see. What I know about Indian culture, I know from my American friends of that heritage. I suspect, like most countries, there is not one standard or prevailing belief. I know many Indian women who are professionals - doctors, pharmacists, dentists, psychiatrists. The rape/murder victim in this case was very much supported by her father in her educational and professional pursuits.

Which leads me to say this: India needs to change its misogyny and sexism no more and no less than America - especially our military - or Russia or China or Africa and places where rape is used as a weapon of war.

It's a global problem, supported by scripture and other ancient texts. Bottom line, however, is that I agree with you: we need to change the law but unless and until we can change hearts and minds - not just in India but everywhere - nothing will really change.