“To treat women or men as sexual objects is inhuman and immoral.” U
IT’S TIME TO WAGE WAR AGAINST SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
Dionne Gravesande explores the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation, and challenges Christians to offer compassion, understanding and healing to those who are victims of it
She was a 23-year-old Physical Therapy student who, with a male friend, boarded a bus in Delhi in December 2012. Six men locked the door, and savagely raped her for hours, and assaulted her with a metal rod. They dumped her (and the friend) naked in the street and, after bravely fighting for her life, she died.
Every fibre of my being screamed NO! So high profile is this case, it was reported that several legal companies refused to defend the men involved, and so the world watches and waits for justice as India deals with this evil deed. Of course, our hearts and prayers are with the victim’s family, but what of the six men? How does our faith cause us to respond to those who cry ‘Crucify!’?
Across India, people are responding in massive protests to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes, and few see justice. Globally, a staggering 7 out of 10 women will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. It’s 2013, and the brutal, venal, global war on women must stop. We can start by drawing the line in India, but sexual abuse and violence are not India’s problem alone.
The figures here in the UK are extremely worrying, too, particularly as they relate to children. Thousands of children are raped and abused each year, with many more cases going unreported by victims and unrecorded by the authorities.
According to a study by the Office of Children’s Commissioner, a range of traumatic and violent sexual crimes – perpetrated mainly against girls by male teenage gang members and groups of older men – draws an alarming picture of serious sexual crimes against children: girls groomed, then drugged and raped at seedy ‘parties’ in private homes and warehouses, organised by groups of men for profit or pleasure; assaults in public parks, schools and alleyways by gang members, influenced by violent pornography, and intent on threatening, punishing or controlling young women by means of forced oral sex, anal and vaginal rape. Rape is much more than forced penetration; it includes insult, humiliation and aggression. It is violence expressed in its maximum form. The impact on the victims’ lives is devastating; many suffer depression and a range of emotional disorders, as well as the physical consequences of infections and pregnancy, which make rape even more traumatic.
Globally, millions of women are trafficked for sex on a supply and demand basis. When many people hear about ‘trafficking’, the picture of sexual exploitation comes to mind, and it is one that women’s rights groups and, increasingly, evangelical Christian groups like Shared Hope International, International Justice Mission, and Love146, use explicitly in their campaigning. It is only by speaking out about this terrible wrongdoing that we can confront it and challenge the culture of turning a blind eye. To treat women or men as sexual objects is inhuman and immoral. Exchanging money, shelter, food or other goods for sex or sexual favours, from someone in a vulnerable position, is sexual exploitation. Threatening or forcing someone to have sex or provide sexual favours under unequal or forced conditions is sexual abuse. In my view, this cannot be the will of God. As a Christian, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the state of the world, when we see society turning its back on God’s standard of living, but we need to do more than retreat into a holy huddle behind closed doors, which is actually what secularists criticise us for.
So what could be the healing message for women who experience sexual violence? First of all, we need to recognise the validity of their claims. “We believe you” should be our response. “You are not alone, and we are with you”. As in times of old, the safety and well-being of girls and women should be a priority, and the commitment of the Church is very important in standing with those affected by exploitation. The healing ministry should reach both the women and men involved, however challenging that may sound; repentance and forgiveness are real elements of Christian understanding and maturity. Our love should be visible to the community. Scripture tells us that, while healing people, Jesus broke the myths that distanced them from God and prevented their full participation in society, and we should do likewise. Christ made it possible for people to turn to the God of life to regain their dignity and self-respect; become fully integrated into the community, and praise the living God (Mark 2:12). With Christ, it is possible to be freed from feelings of guilt and shame for both victim and perpetrator.
While it might be a task to get someone, who’s not a Christian, to take the Bible at face value and accept its teachings, that is not an excuse to keep quiet and do nothing. The challenge is to prove that Christianity – and its principles – is relevant, by demonstrating that it has far more to offer than alternative philosophies and ideologies. We are driven by truth, and truth is ageless and should not be affected by public opinion.
Jesus reminds us of God’s gift to all, and of His intention that all may enjoy life in abundance of wholeness, happiness and well-being. Whilst the journey to reclaiming wholeness and peace is a long one for those who have suffered sexual abuse and exploitation, let us, as the Church, walk the dark places with the broken-hearted, bringing light and healing by way of love, compassion and prayer.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church and Young People’s Relationships at Christian Aid