Last week, a member of my youth group texted me this picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian. It’s a recent cover from Star Magazine. She added these sarcastic words:
What? How dare she gain weight while carrying another person in her stomach!
My heart broke. We have a big problem of objectifying women in our culture. I’d just written about the Steubenville rape case and the need to finally answer the ancient question “Am I my brother and sister’s keeper?” with a definitive yes. Rape is an extreme and obvious example of the objectification and violence against women.
But what about the cover of a magazine whose central thesis is: OMG, a pregnant person gains weight?
SPOKANE, Wash. — Karen Wanjico had no choice.
Turn away from her mother like the rest of her congregation, or be exterminated by God at Armageddon — which could come any moment — with no hope of resurrection.
Wanjico, of Casa Grande, Ariz., was 17 years old when she chose to go with the congregation and shun her mom. Looking back now, at age 49, she says it was the most devastating thing she’s ever done.
After earning a Master of Divinity degree and working several years as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse, Wanjico can talk about what happened to her: She was spiritually abused.
It’s easy to look at the now-infamous Steubenville case and see a Penn State writ small — a story of rape in the social-media age. What’s harder to see in Steubenville is ourselves. Yet the moral confusion of witnesses who prevented drunk friends from driving while permitting the assault on a teenage girl too drunk to resist or consent to sex cannot be understood apart from our widespread mockery of sexual restraint.
Self-control gets no respect in the bedroom. Hold back the passions deemed healthy and good? At best you’re quaint and immature, at worst repressed and puritanical. And don’t you dare suggest that possibly a little restraint might benefit those just becoming aware of their newly adult bodies. How dare anyone presume to limit another’s freedom, especially their sexual freedom?
Except in pockets of religious devotion, that’s the prevailing cultural sentiment toward sex and self-control in this country. And we don’t just defend our individual bodily freedom against almost any call to limits; we don’t even seem to believe you can control such desires.
So of course the 40-year-old virgin happened accidentally. It’s virtually a movie cliché that any deliberately chaste character will soon get his or her sexual comeuppance, as seduction or human nature eventually trumps principle.
And therein lies the problem.
As much as we like to believe we live in a safe country for women, we know this is not the case. Women and girls across the country are subject to rape, abuse, intimidation, and sex trafficking, with the number of victims growing each day.
Progress has been made over the past decades, thanks in part to the Violence Against Women Act. This policy protects women by providing everything from funding for rape crisis centers to increased collaboration with law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable. VAWA is our country’s promise to women and girls that we will not allow them to be violated and abused.
The Violence Against Women Act is up for a vote in the Senate next week, and Americans from every corner of the country are calling our policymakers to reauthorize this important legislation. Since it was first passed in 1994, VAWA has received strong bipartisan support and shown its effectiveness in making communities safer, healthier, and better stewards of their resources (in the first 6 years since it was introduced, VAWA saved communities $12.6 billion).
VAWA expired in 2011, and has yet to be reauthorized.
Candles burn near the bloodstained concrete sidewalk where a youth was tragically killed when more than a dozen bullets shot across the wall into the Mexican bordertown. I've walked that sidewalk running parallel to the border wall and Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora possibly hundreds of times. It is with this intimate awareness of the context that I describe how recent deaths in the name of homeland security are an affront to all families of the borderlands.
Four deaths in six weeks across the border region, one common offender
On the evening of Oct. 10 U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed 16-year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The shots were fired through the paneled border wall in Nogales hitting José Antonio in the back seven-to-eight times. The agents allege the boy was involved in rock throwing. For more detailed description of the circumstances, see this article.
About a week earlier, Border Patrol agent Nicolas Ivie, 30, was killed in Naco, another Arizona border town just east of Nogales, when a fellow U.S. agent searching for smugglers mistakenly opened fire. Agent Ivie has a wife and two young daughters who live in southern Arizona, and the family is publicly fundraising to survive without him.
New Jersey lawyer Abed Awad has been involved with more than 100 cases that involved some component of Shariah, or Islamic law, and knows firsthand how complicated things can get.
In one of those cases, a woman claimed she was married to a man according to Islamic law in her native west Africa. The man asserted there was no valid marriage, leaving a judge to decide whether the two were ever legally married in the first place.
If the judge rules they were married, there will be a divorce, and she will receive alimony and a share of marital assets. If the judge rules that there is no marriage, then the woman will be left with nothing from her relationship.
To make a ruling, the judge will need to consider what Shariah, as understood in one corner of western Africa, says about what constitutes a legal marriage. He will likely have to consult Islamic law experts and apply what he learns to his decision.
But what if American judges were prohibited from considering Shariah and other foreign laws, as many state and national politicians want to see happen?
President Obama speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday:
I want to discuss an issue that relates to each of these challenges. It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.
Now, I do not use that word, "slavery" lightly. It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.
When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
A federal judge on Monday dismissed the Vatican from a lawsuit filed by a former Portland teenager who says he was sexually abused by a pedophile priest who was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then Portland in an alleged church effort to hide his past.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman of Portland said the Vatican didn't employ the Rev. Andrew Ronan, who — according to the lawsuit — molested the teenager in 1965 and 1966. Mosman's ruling means the Vatican can't be held financially liable for the abuse.
"It's clearly a disappointment, but we're definitely not discouraged," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who is representing the victim, listed in the suit as John V. Doe.
While I strongly believe that physical activity and participation within sports can offer excellent avenues for education and wellness on an individual and community level, my role as a fan of sports has been significantly tested over recent years. In other words, I have come to wonder whether or not something inherently good, such as sports, has reached excessive levels to the point of having far too many negative consequences in society. For example, in the U.S. we experience massive inequality and outcry surrounding government budget shortfalls, yet we seem to have more than enough funds for stadiums, tickets, TV packages, and team-related memorabilia. While our public servants receive salary cuts and loss of jobs, millionaire professional athletes argue with billionaire owners over income distribution and so-called “fairness." And of course, while I hear countless people complain about how busy they are and how financial times are tough, those same individuals seem to have plenty of time to watch a few hours of sports on TV each night, and more than enough resources to support their favorite teams. With all of this in mind — and one could list countless more examples — we have to wonder whether our priorities have been distorted, as our collective love for sports may have crossed the line from entertainment to idolatry. Or in other words, how we went from being spectators and participators to devout worshippers.
What would you do if you were offering a voluntary service, like medical or pastoral care to a vulnerable population, and the clients repeatedly spoke of abuses by a specific perpetrator? You would be a “mandated reporter,” which for the caring professions means you must report certain cases of abuse to authorities. But then you find out that federal employees—law enforcement, in fact—are committing the atrocities. How do you call the cops on the cops?
This was my dilemma as I started working on the Mexico-side of the Sonora-Arizona border washing blistered feet and bandaging wounds of migrants who were just repatriated back to Mexico.
We set up the Nogales Migrant Aid Station to provide basic care to upwards of 1,200 deported people each day. But we did not expect that human rights documentation would become the most pressing part of that work. With each Homeland Security busload of migrants being released from Border Patrol custody, we listened and then documented case after case of abuse.
The abuse involved cussing and yelling, being pushed into barbed wire fencing, sexual assault, denial of life-saving medical care, denial of adequate food and water to children and the list continues.
Typcially, cults don’t garner media attention unless they do something really big, like when Heaven’s Gate rose to the public eye in 1997 after 39 members committed mass suicide. And while cults may welcome newcomers openly or warily, it seems they prefer to remain elusive and secretive.
In the feature-length drama Sound of My Voice, Peter Aitken, a 20-something school teacher, is angry at the cultish fanaticism that led to his mother’s death (per her cult’s teaching, she refused to take medicine when she was gravely ill) and turns a cynical eye toward belief patterns he believes distort reality.
Shaped by an experience that left him void of parental companionship, he searches for meaning alone, not knowing what to believe.
When we look deeply into our mothers’ eyes we see the beauty and power of grace; their grace offered to us and our grace offered to them.
And so their abuse is unthinkable …and the thought that their abuse would be deemed unworthy of protection by the state—for any reason—is unconscionable.
Why, then, is the House GOP insisting on a scaled down version of the bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that the Senate reauthorized with bipartisan support in April? Because they have decided certain women are worth protecting and others are not.
Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.
Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.
Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.
You remember Abu Ghraib: the correctional facility in Baghdad where such atrocities took place that the prison’s very name is now synonymous with and shorthand for torture, degradation, military scandal, and unchecked American hubris.
A young army reservist named Lynndie England came to represent the horror of that dark chapter (one of several, as it turned out) of the war in Iraq. Photographs of England posing with abused Iraqi detainees led to a dishonorable discharge, a felony conviction, and a two-year prison sentence. Also revealed during and after the shame of Abu Ghraib was England’s own status as both a co-conspirator and an unwitting casualty. She was not a victim in the same way that the Iraqi prisoners were but, given her rank, gender, background, and the weird sexual dynamics she shared with the scandal’s ringleader (and father of the baby she would give birth to a few months later), England’s culpability, like that of many who commit heinous acts, was not separable from her own troubled life.
In the tidy way we like these narratives to play out, England was supposed to pay her dues for the evil she had done and, with time for reflection and introspection, own her guilt and express her sorrow. Or at least, for public consumption, she was supposed to voice regret for the tragic choices she made back in 2003 and offer an apology to those whom she had wronged. But in a recent interview, England was unrepentant. Her only regret, it turns out, is that her actions at Abu Ghraib may have directly caused American casualties.
Eric James Borges was teased his entire life for being different. Though he didn’t come out publicly until his sophomore year of college, he recalls emotional and physical abuse as far back as kindergarten for his differences. And though most children undergo some degree of hazing from time to time, the seeming indifference of the adults in his life made matters dramatically worse.
In a video recorded for the “It Gets Better” Project, an LGBT advocacy group focused on offering hope and community to LGBT people on the margins, Borges, 19, recalls being physically assaulted in a full high school classroom while his teacher stood by and watched.
The distressed teen had nowhere to turn at home either. His Christian parents decided to perform a ritual exorcism on him with the hope of “curing” him of his orientation. When that failed, they kicked him out of the house.
Though Borges went on to advocate for LGBT rights through the “It Gets Better” Project and his work with The Trevor Project (a group committed to preventing suicide among LGBT teens), the demons of his past still lingered. Despite finding a community that affirmed and embraced who he was, the damage had already been done.
He killed himself on Jan 11.
Through the wreckage of the Penn State abuse scandal, we’ve all become witnesses to what happens when our principles of justice are not assured for those who most need them.
When we see people in positions of power and authority — particularly those who have held a huge amount of respect and clout in a community — fail to protect the vulnerable in our society, it moves something within society’s collective conscience.
I imagine that the questions people all around the country asked when the news broke were similar:
How could this happen? Who wasn’t living up to our expectations? How can we make sure that something like this never happens again?
Abuse of physical strength and power hasn’t been limited to the locker rooms at Penn State. Nor is it limited to middle-aged men. It's in every culture, every city and state, and in every generation. And, I might add, it is both wicked and foolish.
I think we’ve been given enough examples of such abuse being handled incorrectly—to be swept under the rug instead of dealt with directly. The silence of witnesses only allows the abuse to continue. When I spoke with Daniel Walker, author of the new book God in a Brothel, about child slavery and prostitution, he noted that the men who oppress women and children don’t need to be ministered to as much as they need to be held accountable.
Joe Pa, 84, who had coached at Penn State for more than 45 years, has been fired, and the university’s president has resigned over the abuse scandal. Both actions were reactive responses to a problem that really needed proactive intervention.
The first few nights weren't so bad. It was on the fourth night, the night it rained, that it got to me. I had just spent the past week sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the Illinois state Capitol building in Springfield. Throughout the week, young people of faith, college students, as well as homeless and formerly homeless youth traveled from Chicago to Springfield. Some slept on the sidewalks at night, and others came solely to lobby their legislators. We were all there for the same reason -- because each year nearly 25,000 youth experience homelessness in the state of Illinois. Not only were there not the resources to help these youth, but most legislators and most of the general public didn't even realize the problem existed.
In the past few weeks, I've written about a lot of full-page ads. This full-page ad is different. Too often, homeless youth have been invisible. The Ali Forney Center, a service provider for LGBT homeless youth, has a full-page ad in this month's issue of Sojourners magazine. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation, connected the Ali Forney Center to Sojourners, as a part of an advertising campaign the Ali Forney Center is running. The ad highlights that up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I have talked with many teens who became homeless because they were kicked out of their homes or ran away from abuse by their parents because of their sexual identity. After their homes became dangerous, they went to the streets, where many were attacked and some were trafficked or forced into prostitution.