Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jail Rape

Over the years I have done a number of trainings to work with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. My second year in college I was an RA at UCLA and my director, DB, and several of my co-RA's were involved with Take Back the Night and Clothesline Project. In the winter of that year I did a training called "SVAA" (Sexual Violence Awareness Advocacy). It took place over a couple of weekends and taught me A LOT! I can't enumerate everything here, but will share some now.

The most powerful component for me was when we saw a role play of the escalation of violence between a couple...first the shouting, the demeaning language, the romantic efforts of the abuser to woo his partner all over again, then the grabbing, the continued degradation, the romantic interlude, then the beatings, and the romantic interlude yet again. It scared me, mostly because I could see the beginning signs in one of my friend's relationships. I had witnessed the yelling, the degradation, the demeaning language and it scared me.

So the next week I wrote her a letter. I told her as objectively as possible what I had seen her partner say/do and what my concerns were. I told her I wasn't trying to hurt her or break up her relationship, only that there were things I thought needed to be addressed and hoped they had/would. I lost a friend that year. She never responded to me. She would not respond to calls or emails and later, when we were back in our hometown together, she wouldn't speak to me. It broke my heart. She had been a friend for 15 years (which was a lot at the age of 19) and I had never wanted to hurt her. But I understood her reaction and simply had to accept it. I lost a lot, but I was glad I had said something because I would have hated myself if his demeaning remarks had escalated to violence. I had to make a decision about which was more valuable a) a friendship or b) my friend. I decided my friend was more valuable than the actual friendship and chose to say something and accepted the consequences. I am glad to report that 4 years later she started talking to me again. Three years after that our friendship was actually restored to a place where we could communicate regularly.

I should probably save other learnings for another day, but will share that we also heard the stories of survivors--male and female, acquaintance, family, and stranger rape victims. We heard the heart wrenching stories of abuse and the life-giving stories of surviving...moving from being a victim to a survivor--finding healing after profound trauma.

Ever since, I've been working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. I've heard stories from classmates, colleagues, parishioners, and even perfect strangers. Every time the abuse suffered is painful and scary, often it's debilitating. In this kind of work, especially as a woman, I hear from a lot of women. I rarely hear from men, though statistically men are very likely to be abused. My stats aren't all perfectly current, but I'm assuming not too much has changed in the last 10 years. The averages were that 1 in 8 teen boys had been abused and that 1 in 6 teen girls had been abused. By the time women hit adulthood, 1 in 4 has been abused in some way or another.

Maybe all of this explains my interest with Law and Order SVU. I watch it religiously and appreciate the work folks to do with survivors, whomever those folks may be. A couple of weeks ago they did a show that included male rape and I thought they covered a lot of good issues (including shame and a reluctance to report). This week, it was a female rape case and I was saddened when the rapist was told he would come to understand what his victim went through when he went to jail. While on one hand I understand the desire for vengeance. On the other hand, I'm disgusted with the ways people joke about jail rape, for the ways male victimization is dismissed and written off as deserved.

Rape, under any circumstances, is unacceptable. No one invites rape. Your clothes (or lack thereof) do not make rape justifiable. Your flirtatious attitude does not make rape justifiable. Your sexual history does not make rape acceptable. Even a history of having raped does not make rape acceptable. Rape is never ok. Joking about rape is not ok. Advocating rape as punishment is not ok.

As long as abuses (and the justifications of them) continue, we will never really be free. Even joking about abuse is a perpetuation of minimizes the severity and can be VERY detrimental to a survivor. And, as a Christian, I am always called to look to the Gospel for redemption and the possibility (and reality) of transformation for the abuser and true healing for the survivor.

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