Not Normal

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sinister side-effect of sexual assault is the corruption of an individual’s very essence. Their soul, their core, their being. I’m not being theological with the terms here. I’m reaching for the words that describe what it means to be a human being at our crux. That’s where the wounds of sexual violence fester, and the prospect of complete waste and devastation hardens.

Last year’s self-reported, sexual abuse declaration of survival, #MeToo, spread around the globe with lightning speed. One study sought to measure the “me toos” and discovered the rates of even sexual harassment were breathtaking. The rates of unwanted sexual contact are so pervasive, one could argue it is normal. It is in and out of churches, affects men and women and children, seniors, and at a shocking rate—the disabled—people who are vulnerable to caregivers, people who have little voice, and people for whom society at large pays little attention. 

According to Vox.com, Stop Street Harassment’s survey released in February 2018, disclosed that 81% of women have been sexually harassed, while 43% of men report being sexually harassed at some point in their lives. Gay and bisexual men report higher rates of sexual harassment than straight men.

Further “normalizing” the problem is the heterogeneous nature of the perpetrators. Rarely, strangers, they are often trusted family members or friends. They are seemingly well-adjusted, fully functioning members of society who find it normal, and simply rationalize their violent behaviors away. According to the University of Michigan, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the risks come at any time of the day, and the perpetrators are operating under any number of rape myths, erroneous ideas about sexual roles, beliefs, or they are operating under the sanction of all-male peer groups, or they are operating under an often correct assumption that they will not face sanctions. Normal.

“[M]ost men who violate women’s spaces, rights and bodies sexually would not meet clinical diagnostic criteria as either sociopaths or sexual deviants,” wrote Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., author of the novel The Good Psychologist in a Psychology Today blog. “Most violence against women is committed by normative people—around campus, at work, or on the base. This raises the possibility that the violence they perpetrate appears, in context, normative to them.”

Balance that “normative violation” with the spectrum of effects for victims. The anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the enduring sense of worthlessness and self-blame cling to the inner core of each sufferer. Of interest to us, moreover, is the spiritual distortion taught and indelibly received by the sexual invasion.

Most of all, their question is, who is God, and where was He when this happened to me?

The spiritual dimension is very much affected, according to Sue Mcgrath, author of Healing the Ravaged Soul: Tending the Spiritual Wound of Child Sexual Abuse. During her 14 year counseling and then subsequent spiritual guidance career, Mcgrath’s clients who suffered sexual abuse questioned everything from their own personhood, their capacity to be saved, and the availability of God’s grace, faith, goodness and holiness. They wondered, “where is the justice in the world?” “Where are the consequences in this world?” Most of all, their question is, who is God, and where was He when this happened to me?

This is where we can step in, to answer questions and model God’s attentiveness. Not to take matters into our own hands, things are too far gone for trying to mete out mob justice or adopt some system of honor violence. After all, today’s predator very likely may have been yesterday’s prey. Today’s evil perpetrator, may have been yesterday’s innocent sufferer. And, ironically, honor violence can target the one who was violated.

No, we must start at the point of education. Educate families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, said Houston based marriage and family counselor Wilma Kirk Lee. Make sure the bathrooms at church are stocked with abuse hotline numbers, she said. Then make sure we encourage the “victims” to seek therapeutic intervention. “Our churches, the black community [in general, doesn’t] do therapists because we’re not crazy,” said Kirk Lee. “Spiritual people will tell you, ‘all you need to do is pray,’ but not so. You need some help. You need to know it’s not your fault. You can’t learn that on your own.”

I hope that in the process—we can reintroduce to people a God who understands their context, knows how to—and will indeed—mete out lasting justice, and indeed, His heart is wrapped up in theirs.

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