What I want to talk about is the reality that roughly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be victims of some form of sexual assault by the time they are 18. The actual numbers may be even higher as we remember that these offenses are highly unreported. The allegations coming out this week against Brett Kavanaugh; the sentencing of Bill Cosby; and the myriad of other sexual scandals involving high powered folks have brought this issue, once again, into the spotlight.
The truth is, however, that most victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault are not offended against by someone famous. The are assaulted by a parent or another family member; a teacher or coach; a pastor, youth leader, or scout leader; a friend; sometimes by a stranger. Most assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. This is one of the reasons, along with the social stigma involved, that reporting of these assaults is so low.
The other truth is that every time one of these stories comes out; every time a scandal makes the news; the number of calls to suicide crisis lines and organizations like RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline goes up. They go up because victims are reminded (the psychological term is "triggered") of their victimization. And when they are reminded, the feelings of shame and fear often return. Nightmares and flashbacks that may have been under control previously, reemerge.
I think one of the biblical images that resonates with their experience is the woman described in Luke 13:10-17. She is "bent over" and "unable to raise herself" as though she has been walking for a very long time carrying a heavy load. The cause of this infirmity is unknown and is referred to as "a spirit of weakness that had crippled her." This designation appears to indicate that no one could find a medical reason for her condition. Her emotional/psychological condition was being expressed in her physical body by her inability to stand straight. She was so bowed that she could not lift her head to look someone in the eye.
The next passage I would like for you to look at comes from 2 Samuel 13. It is the account of the "Rape of Tamar" by her half-brother Amnon. It is a dark account of an incestuous rape that was planned and carried out with the help of a cousin (Jonadab) who is described as "crafty." This is a word used for the snake in the garden of Eden. Jonadab is a snake. And it is an assault that may have had the subtle approval of the father of both Tamar and Amnon...King David. Amnon grabs Tamar and she tries to talk him out of raping her. She appeals to religion, to her reputation, to his reputation, and finally suggests that she could marry him if he just asks their Dad. None of this works, and "being stronger than she, he forced her."
David fails to punish Amnon for this rape after he finds out about it; even though he is described as "very angry" because "he loved him, for he was his firstborn."
David was not the first parent to mistake "love" for "license" with his children. It is also true that Amnon learned a clear lesson from watching his father with Bathsheba and the slave girls around the palace: "if you see something you want sexually, take it. You're special. You're entitled."
Three other bullet type points I want to make. First, Amnon's response after the rape is to loath Tamar. The Hebrew is more honest that most translations. The Hebrew for what Amnon said to his servant is, "put this thing out of my presence." Second, Absalom, Tamar's brother, tells her to be quiet about the rape. He attempted to silence her as surely as if he'd put his own hand over her mouth. And third, Tamar disappears. She goes to her brother Absalom's house (why go back to David, he's the one who sent her to Amnon in the first place) and is never heard from in scripture again.
There are three things in this story that are common to the experience of many victims:
- Their attacker doesn't listen-Twice we're told that Amnon doesn't listen: once when she plead with him not to rape her; and again when she plead with him not to put her out.
- They're told to be quiet-When Absalom sees Tamar wailing in grief with ashes on her head, he tells her, "don't take it to heart and don't say anything.
- The powerful excuse their attacker so that the offender is not punished or held accountable. David does nothing to Amnon.
These two passages combine to describe the experience of so many of the sexual assault victims who posted #WhyIDidntReport on their social media in the past few days.
But that is not the end of the story.
Jesus saw the woman enter the synagogue and He called her to Him. He makes the point that she is "bond" by Satan; what has happened to her is something evil done to her. She doesn't need forgiveness, she needs liberation....to be untied. And He does. This is what our friends who are victims of sexual assault need: to be liberated; untied from the shame and memories that they carry like a weight, like a burden they can't lay down. Jesus set her free. And Jesus desires to set them free as well. We can help. We can help by listening...by acknowledging that something happened. By not telling them to be quiet. We can help by supporting holding people accountable for their behavior. And we can help by finding ways to assist people in doing the work they need to do to be set free from the traumatic memories and trauma related behaviors that often come with these experiences. They are "sons and daughters of Abraham," which is to say, they are God's children. As such they are entitled to the care we believe God wants for us all.
When her brother Absalom died
all that time after her rape
She packed her bags and left his house
began to walk
As she walked the memories
tied themselves to her, she could not shake free
and with each memory came shame
and the sound of her own voice crying to Amnon
"where should I carry my shame?"
And the sound of his voice snarling to his servant,
"Put this thing out of my sight."
With each step
her back bent under the load
until she could not even lift her head.
She walked for 500 years
until she appeared in the synagogue
silently, trying to draw no attention to herself
Yet Jesus called her to Him
Cut her loose from the bonds of shame
let the memories drop from her shoulders
and with His own hands
lifted her to stand straight again.
There was a crowd that had walked with her
shadowing her steps in the darkness
bent beneath their own load
of the violence done to them
They enter our sanctuaries every Sunday
slide quietly into the pew
Waiting for Jesus to use
our ears to say I hear you
our voice to say I stand beside you
and our hands to lift them free of their burden.
Even if it kicks up a stir
There is no other day but this day
no other time but this time
let us make a way for those who have said
to stand like the old bent woman
and praise God saying
"Have I got a story for you."