upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rape is Violence, Not Sex

Oh, ignorance. It seems to be everywhere. As the two young teenage men accused and convicted of raping a girl during a drunken underage party in Steubenville, Ohio received their sentencing, the news media bemoaned and mourned the sadness of the moment...for the rapists. Unlike many media failures, this one crossed the network/cable line as well as the liberal/conservative line. The following image was plastered across Facebook in response to the major failure of our news media: Today, Steubenville was in the news again, this time because two girls used social media to threaten the rape victim. Here we have three instances of heinous behavior, one by media, one by girls, and one by the male rapists themselves. All three of these behaviors underscore a societal belief that the female body is an object to use, misuse, and abuse at will. And, all hold to a common understanding of rape that is both disturbing and incorrect: 'rape is sex. sex is funny and laughable. and whatever happens with this funny thing that we all do, we have to make it okay for the men because it is really about them all the time anyway.' We all support this twisted thinking. All of us. There is not one of us who doesn't in little and in big ways proffer a juvenile and eventually dehumanizing and violent understanding of sex. Smart, adult, capable women act helpless, bat their eyes, and giggle like children in front of men. On television, whole series use the exploitation of women's bodies (or children's bodies) as a titillating premise around which to craft a story - week after week. A dead body. A raped body. A violated body. A brutalized body. It's just a plot device, after all. The body doesn't really matter. What matters are the beautiful bodies of cops and attorneys that move the plot line along. In comedy, otherwise enlightened people use sexual organs as the crux of their humor. Advertisers rely upon sex, because sex sells, to sell the most unsexy things. Even the most ardent feminist, man or woman, falls prey to this. We all do. It is part of the fabric of our culture. Sex is sexy. And sex is funny. Bodies are sexy. Bodies are funny. We repress our bodies and exploit our bodies, but we do not know how to relate in healthy ways to our bodies. This creates a culture that does not know what to do with bodies. And that is always dangerous.

It is this dangerous game that we all play with embodiment that leads to a profound misunderstanding: rape is sex and so it must be funny and can easily be ignored. This is not true. Rape is not sex; rape is violence. Deep. Soul destroying violence. With lifelong consequences. There is no such thing as "getting over rape." It will be an event that forever changes how the rape victim experiences intimacy, embodiment, trust, relationship, safety, fear, and love. One doesn't just get over it. Time doesn't make the violation go away. There are ways, thank goodness, that rape victims can become rape survivors and eventually take back their souls, souls stolen by greedy people bent on violent acts. Women and men who have been violated can find ways to mend themselves, but there is no going back to a "pre-rape" way of living in the world.

One of the most disappointing moments of media coverage for me came from Candy Crowley on CNN. Candy attended the same woman's college, a United Methodist school, that I did. When I was there, we were taught to honor our bodies, not to pretend to be dumb, incompetent, or unworthy. The faculty and staff at my college did not tolerate a view of womanhood that was dehumanizing. We were challenged to be smart, to excel in all that we did, and to be competent and assertive. Woman power was a part of that school experience. What happened to Candy? I think she fell to the same overwhelming power that comes over all of us. She looked at those boys (because you can't look at the juvenile victim) and they had names, faces, stories, and penises. That made them more real than the faceless victim, although her pain is very real and her life will never be the same, whether she ever really recalls the act of rape or not. She has been dehumanized by the court system, threatened by members of community, and shamed in ways that go so very far beyond that one night of violence. Boys are more real than girls. And boys with faces, stories, and college football futures are certainly more real.

Rape is violence. It is murder. It kills a part of a person's soul. It tears apart the fabric of one's sense of well being. What happened in and around the acts in Steubenville shine a light on how we in America misconstrue violence as sex and belittle its effects. But, it cannot be done because rape is violence. Nothing less.

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