After I disclose my history of sexual abuse in a religious setting, I know I will hear arguments. Usually, I brush them aside as irrelevant, but I know a lot of people are swayed.
Here are some prime arguments:
Rape happens everywhere.
They weren’t really christians, so it doesn’t count.
You shouldn’t talk about this. You seem angry. If you ask god to open your heart to forgiveness, you will be free.
Rape happens everywhere. I know. The statistics are heart breaking: Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. There is an average of 267,868 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year. 44% of victims are under age 18.
*statistics from www.rainn.org
But I am not talking about everywhere. I am talking about my personal experience, which was in a religious community that had a culture of rape. The fact that people are raped outside of this context does not make my personal experiences carry less weight. Religion should not exempt the abusers from taking responsibility.
The fact is that the religious environment I was in fostered an abusive atmosphere that made repeated abuse possible. One problem is that it was insular. People are indoctrinated to fear the outside world, and that anyone seeking outside help is inviting the devil in. How easy for a rapist to commit crimes when everyone in the community works to shame the victim into silence! There is no recourse for a victim of sexual assault when his/her community condemns seeking help.
Then there is the victim blaming that is justified using scripture. People are taught that it is a girl’s responsibility to not tempt grown men. Virginity culture proclaimed anyone who strayed outside the marriage bed was sinful. Somehow rape victims were included in the list of adulterers. I was told by church propaganda that a touched girl was dirty, and then had the idea reinforced by my abusers. It was cemented when I dared to disclose the abuse and was called a slut, and blamed for my various infractions (such as having male friends, wearing makeup, being worldly) by members of the community. I stress: I was a minor being called a whore by adults because other adults had raped me. As I wrote in this post, one of my rapists who admitted to his crimes was readily forgiven, and provided sympathy because of everything I had put him though.
I’ve been assured that the people I dealt with weren’t really christians, so it doesn’t count. I can now experience god’s real love through their church. This hardly deserves a response. Who can decide who is really a christian, and why should that lessen the pain of having experienced abuse justified by the bible?
This brings me to forgiveness. I believe in forgiving small mistakes, for example if someone accidentally knocked over my favorite tea cup. If they apologized and it was truly a mistake, I would forgive them. If, instead, they brutally raped me and then demanded my forgiveness while continuing to abuse me I tend to be less forgiving. The rapist needs me to forgive so I can be a participant. He can use my forgiveness as a way to avoid possible punishment. If anyone says something accusatory to him, he will point out that he has my forgiveness so it wasn’t all that bad.
If a community intent on keeping everything private demands I forgive because it was prayed about I still do not need to forgive. If people who are not even part of the community hear my story and believe I should forgive, I still don’t need to forgive. Some things don’t deserve forgiveness- Especially when no steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again (sorry, prayer doesn’t count). In fact, there is no reason at all that I need to say I forgive my abusers. I don’t. I don’t need to. It will not release me. I released myself when I left the community that they flourish in.
I am angry. I feel it is a justified anger. I don’t know how anyone could hear about systematic abuse of children and not be angry. People know these things are happening, but because the rapist is crying religious freedom he is left alone. It baffles me. There is no group of people with a greater need to protect than children- certainly not a religious institution.