rape

UN Panel Blasts Vatican for Sex Abuse policies

The United Nations headquarters in New York. Photo courtesy Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons/ Via RNS

A United Nations panel on Wednesday blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.

The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

The Peacemakers

Chiamaka tells of women who plant seeds
of peace in tribal towns, pot-banging with spoons
to call men off their game of raid-and-rape.

A girl named Hope intercepts the hands
of crowing children trading blows
and coaxes them to shake their hands

although her own are quaking. At school
my shy daughter stuffs notes in friends’ lockers,
imploring playground harmony.

In town there are the vocal ones who yield the floor
and quiet ones now brave enough to vote
against their own friends for a just cause.

Anyone will bless those who fear no fire,
stout souls no bomb can keep away
from those who need a sip, a hand, an ear,

but can’t we also bless survivors whose hearts
and skin are plucked or peeled to give to someone else
whose family awaits some news in silent burning?

Can’t we bless the time-gnarled knuckles
of hands that knead and lead and wring and hammer
and hold and pause and praise?

Sometimes even we—
pierced with arrow-words, with brassy
cacophonies of slurs—stand in calm.

We watch. Although we fibrillate with doubt, still
we bless the one who stands before the rolling tank
and all the world’s dark eyes that gather light.

Kathleen McCoy, a creative writing teacher at SUNY Adirondack, lives in Queensbury, N.Y. She’s actively involved with Split This Rock and with 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Image: Soldier show in Children's Day, Trakan / Shutterstock.com 

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And Now, the Rest of the Story

From destitution and fear to security, Charlene (Photo courtesy of Sean Sheridan, World Relief)

A FEW YEARS ago in this column, I told the story of Charlene, a woman I had just met in a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charlene’s civilian husband had been murdered by rebel fighters in Congo’s brutal civil war. She and her eight children then fled for their lives, ultimately finding shelter in the hovel of mud and sticks where I met them (September-October 2010).

Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been forced by destitution to hike into the forest for firewood to trade for food for her children. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been brutalized by fighters who hid in the forests and used rape as a weapon of war. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been impregnated by her rapist. Because of the stigma of rape in that culture, the beautiful two-week-old baby she’d named David was destined to a life of marginalization and despair.

Charlene was the first woman I met in Congo. She explained to me that even when the women went to the forest in groups, armed rebels would overpower and rape them. If husbands went into the forest to protect their wives, the rebels would kill the husbands, and then rape the wives. The women took the risk—and paid the price.

For me, Charlene gave human shape to Congo’s horrific story of colonial exploitation, tribal conflict, and foreign greed. In the four years after we met, hers was the first story I told whenever I spoke about Congo. It was her pain that motivated me to keep speaking, writing, and advocating for Congo.

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Faith Community Must Shout for an End to Sexual Violence

Chameleonseye/Shutterstock
Survivors of sexual violence need a voice and support. Chameleonseye/Shutterstock

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a public health emergency devastating its victims and their families physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Sexual violence is a horrific act that the perpetrator forgets, but the survivor does not, with the consequences continuing  – from the posttraumatic stress, to compromised health to the lower survival rates of her children.  And these crimes are not just occurring in areas of war and civil unrest. Rather, they are a part of deeply ingrained behavior in all levels society the entire world over. This year, the World Health Organization reported that 1 in 3 women globally will experience SGBV in her lifetime. Studies in the United States produced similar findings.

Rape is a war crime and can be an act of genocide. Yet we often do not respond adequately to it as a global society. For example, in my country, women impregnated by rape may pass HIV to their babies. Children born from rape may also suffer community rejection because of the atrocities of their conception. SGBV programs must take this dynamic into account.

SGBV requires a holistic response that does not forget the indirect victims of rape, the spouses and children of the victims and the community at large. We must remember that rape tears at the social fabric of communities because victims and their families often “lose” themselves. This is why the faith community is so important to this effort.

The faith community is a powerful agent of social change and possesses a founding principle of love and spirituality as well as the power and influence to lead individuals and communities to respond appropriately and effectively to SGBV. Faith leaders and their communities have immense power to reach all levels of society as well as a proven track record of leadership on such issues as poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Yet despite sexual violence’s being endemic the world over, leaving massive destruction in its wake, the faith community has remained virtually silent on this issue and sometimes has even perpetuated the stigma and discrimination of SGBV survivors.

We Can Help Stop Rape in the Military

Photo: Audrey Burmakin/Shutterstock
Congress is considering a new law on how sexual assault cases are handled in the military. Photo: Audrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

By official estimates, 26,000 people are sexually assaulted in the U.S. military each year. That comes out to 71 people every day. It’s an epidemic that’s been widely reported in the news.

As if that weren’t bad enough, most of the assaults go unreported – only 11 percent of assault victims ended up filing reports last year (3,374). Studies show that those who do not report the assault cite fears of retaliation and a concern that nothing will be done.

Leaders in Congress are trying to change that this week with the Military Justice Improvement Act.

Right now, if a woman is sexually assaulted in the military, her case is evaluated by a commanding officer. This officer decides whether to bring the case to trial. Once it has been tried, the same commanding officer is responsible for enforcing the consequences. That’s called “convening authority.”

Navy Chaplains to Receive More Training on Sexual Abuse

Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Kristen Leslie, (left), a professor at Eden Theological Seminary. Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — Kristen Leslie began her 2003 book, When Violence Is No Stranger, with a verse from Psalms, a nod to her training as a theologian.

“It is not enemies who taunt me — I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me — I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend…”

The book’s subject was acquaintance rape, and it got the attention of a chaplain at the Air Force Academy. The school was then reeling from a Pentagon report indicating that 7 percent of its cadets reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape. Nearly 90 percent of the perpetrators were their own classmates.

Leslie, now a professor of pastoral theology and care at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., was invited to Colorado to consult with academy leaders on how to train Air Force chaplains to deal with sexualized violence on campus.

Now, a decade later, the U.S. Navy has come knocking.

How Long, O Lord?

Refugees pass from DR Congo into Uganda in 2008, Sam DCruz / Shutterstock.com
Refugees pass from DR Congo into Uganda in 2008, Sam DCruz / Shutterstock.com

I can still see in my mind’s eye the vibrantly colored wraps draping the hundreds of displaced women I met at Joborona Camp in Northern Sudan. The stories they told, of blazing huts in Southern Sudan and their men burning alive inside; of their boys forced to fight and kill at ages as young as six or seven; and of their girls taken and forced into sexual slavery seemed impossible to be true. Yet I heard them again and again.

And if these stories weren’t horrific enough, it was the stories the women chose not to share that haunt me the most. Their empty eyes and void expressions told me all I needed to know.

I know empty eyes. I have gazed into them in Bosnia and Croatia. I remember Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. I have witnessed them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where it is believed that one million girls and women have stories to tell of the gender-based violence they have endured. I have been confronted by the eyes of our sisters from Darfur, who risk their dignity, their bodies, and in some cases their very lives by leaving their refugee camps to collect firewood for their small cooking stoves (those who are lucky enough to have one). It is in the bush, often, that they are victims of sexual and gender-based violence. These are the countless women who risk being raped so their children can eat.

The Biblical Imperative to Speak Out on Sexual Violence and Keep Our Churches Safe

Church doors,  thanunkorn / Shutterstock.com
Church doors, thanunkorn / Shutterstock.com

We have learned from the crisis at Penn State University and other incidents that have gained national attention that it is not only religious authorities that turn a blind eye to abuses of power. The educational, legal, social service, and policing systems are broken when it comes to protecting children, and others who are vulnerable, from abuse.

Lest we forget our history and think that this is a uniquely 20th and 21st century problem, we need only turn to the Bible. In II Samuel, we are reminded that abuses of power, lust, and rage have always been part of the human experience.

An incident described II Samuel happens not in a religious or educational institution but in a family. It is not an isolated incident; it does not develop out of thin air. It is a case of “like father, like son.” Amnon’s father is King David, who in II Samuel 11, sees Bathsheba bathing and uses his power to have her brought to him so that he may “lay” with her.

It is only two chapters later that we read that Amnon, David’s son, is tormented by the beauty of his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon does not have the authority that his father David has, so he must use trickery instead of sheer power to get what he wants. After Amnon violently “lays” with Tamar, he is filled with hatred for her and forces her to leave his sight. In doing this, he shames her even further.

The scandal is not just that Amnon violates Tamar and the law of Israel, but when Tamar cries and ritually mourns her pain and disgrace she is told to be quiet. Her brother Absalom tells her to stop brooding over the episode. And while Absalom and their father, King David, are angry with Amnon for what he has done to Tamar, neither David nor Absalom even talks to Amnon about it. David does not punish his beloved firstborn son.

Perhaps one positive thing we can say about this story is that Tamar has a name; she is not anonymous like so many other powerless women in biblical stories. Tamar is named and remembered.

To Tell the Truth: The Courage to Speak Out Against Respected Men

Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos / Shutterstock.com
Close-up of intimidating man, JPagetRFPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: As we continue reporting on the important topic of sexual abuse and violence, Sojourners has opened up the Sexual Violence and the Church blog series for submissions. This piece is one such submission. If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please email the Web Editor HERE.

I know now, what I wish I knew then. Only after speaking up, did I learn how common stories like mine are to women across the globe. I know the warning signs and have a clearer picture of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. I long for each of us to wrestle with the truth that we are never to blame — no matter how we dress, what we look like, or how much we’ve had to drink.

We never, ever deserve to have our bodies treated as objects of shame.

 

It's Time for Outrage: Sexual Violence and the Church

Angel, umbertoleporini / Shutterstock.com
Angel, umbertoleporini / Shutterstock.com

Violence against women is the most prevalent and the most hidden injustice in our world today. From rape as a weapon of war, to human trafficking, to the attack of a young girl seeking an education, the treatment of women and girls across the globe is in a state of crisis.

And we don't even need to leave our own shores to encounter staggering statistics. Here in the U.S., 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime — a number that only jumps when you realize that 54 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. More than 1 in 3 women have experienced some kind of intimate partner violence. Sexual assaults in the U.S. military continue to rise — with an estimated 26,000 in 2012 alone — even as its leaders claim to be addressing the epidemic. 

As I lay out in my book On God’s Side, what has been missing from this narrative is the condemnation of these behaviors from other men, especially men in positions of power, authority, and influence — like those in our pulpits. In a section of that book, I say we need to establish a firm principle: the abuse of women by men will no longer be tolerated by other men. The voices of more men need to join the chorus to make that perfectly clear.

It's time for all people of faith to be outraged.

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