Many women have a basement. A basement which holds a secret compartment where they keep all of their hopes, dreams, and fears hidden and locked away for fear of how their colleagues and friends may view them. I know because I am a woman. I may speak freely and openly about my desires for a husband, children, and professional acclaim, but only in a hushed voice (no louder than a whisper) will I tell you about the shame and sadness of breaking up, experiencing heartbreak, or losing out on some great opportunity.
For many women, their basement holds something more. A tragic and profound loss of self, identity, and innocence. This is because one in four women in North America has been sexual assaulted or raped at some point in her life.
Sexual assault is one of the most demeaning, damaging, and heart-wrenching experience anyone on this earth can ever experience. Psychologists liken the emotional effects one experiences in the wake of this tragedy to the devastation one faces when confronted with the loss of a loved one or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Co-authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb write in their book Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing For Victims of Sexual Assault that sexual assault is a violation of shalom because it is a destruction of the very essence of what God created this world to be. It is the vandalism of harmony, graffiti on safety, and a shattering blow on what is truly good and right on this earth.
To further compound the problem, many churches are not properly equipped to know how to deal with a young woman who rushes into the doors saying that she recently has been assaulted. Churches and families often place blame on the victim, pressure her to get an abortion, or rush her into forgiving the offender right away. Each of these actions draws the woman closer into herself, denying her the ability to articulate what truly happened and to work through her own emotions in her own time.
Sometimes, well-meaning Christians oblivious to the very nature of what going through the court system is like will encourage or discourage the young woman to pursue legal recourse. Oftentimes, because of the legal system’s unfortunate lack of justice, many women will leave this experience re-traumatized, exhausted and worn-out. The church continuing to command the woman to fight, when all she truly needs is to rest. Other times, in the church’s attempt to rush the woman into forgiveness, they may suggest that she not take action, thus limiting the woman’s chance to advocate for herself, find her voice, or share the truth of what really happened. In either case, what the church truly needs to do is allow the woman to make her own decision.
Although sexual assault is unfortunately on the rise and individuals can only do so much to quell the problem, I believe that by taking smaller steps, we can eventually see an end to this unfortunate and unpleasant reality. How are we able to accomplish this? Let me make a few suggestions:
Firstly, we must speak out against a society which commodifies bodies, markets sex, and thus sees women’s bodies as possessions. This means we must say ‘no’ to anything that does not portray women in a positive way such as pornographic materials, suggestions that there is only one “ideal” body type or sexist or harassing remarks about a woman’s appearance or sexual orientation. This is the first step in stopping sexual assault because it teaches respect for a woman’s body – something our society is sadly lacking.
Secondly, we must respect when a woman says ‘no.’ No is a powerful word and can be expressed in various ways including through silence, tears, body-language, or facial expressions. If you are in a dating relationship know when your partner says “no” or when they have had enough. If you’re not sure ask questions like “is this okay?” “Do you like it when I do this or would you like to try something different?” “I would like to try ____. What do you think?” Ask because consent is sexy.
Thirdly, since women are the prime targets of sexual assault (especially women between the ages of 18-25) be safe when you are going out. Without sounding too over-protective, always meet people for the first time in public locations, refuse to go to anyone’s hotel room or apartment until you get to know them very well, always tell someone where you are going and approximately what time you will be back, and put a few safe numbers in your cell phone. If you go out for a drink make sure that you are the one who opens and pours the drink and if you’re walking alone at night make sure the path is well lit and you have your cell phone on you. I know it shouldn’t have to be this way, but unfortunately we live in a society where many people are waiting to take advantage of young women so the best possible way to stop rape is to prevent it as much as possible.
Fourthly, wear purple on May 2nd. May 2nd is the international day of raising awareness of rape and sexual assault. By wearing purple you are standing in solidarity with the many men, women, and children who have undergone sexual violence and you are taking a stand that it is *NOT* okay for our country and our culture to keep up these selfish and brutal acts.
As the saying goes “you may only be one person, but you ARE one person.” One person will not be able to stop sexual violence, but if each person stood up and said “I can stop this” and did their part to end intolerance, ignorance, and apathy then our nation would go far. I’d like to invite you to join this struggle. I’d like to invite you to wear purple.
Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article I chose to highlight the experience primarily of women who have faced sexual assault. I am not disparaging the experience of men at all, but simply focusing on women as they are statistically primarily the targets of sexual abuse. Please use men and women interchangeably where appropriate.
Photo Credit: Google Images