I don’t want to have to admit that it’s possible for a 20 year old woman to endure week long torture and rape in the country where I live. Those things happen in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and are probably going on right now in Iraq. But not in the United States, right? Wrong. It happened in West Virginia.
I’ll leave it to others to provide you the barbaric details of what took place, if you haven’t read them for yourself already.
Stories describing the torture and rape of women are not for the fainthearted. The Bible is full of them. (I’ve written about these stories in Battered Love.)Few of us want to look at them closely. We are afraid because these stories never have a happy ending, not really. They are just there for us to muddle through their meaning: the rape of Dinah and Tamar; the butchered concubine in Judges; the sexually ravaged woman in Ezekiel; Hosea’s battered wife Gomer; the woman caught in adultery, just to name a few. We can’t afford to overlook these stories just so we can keep up our belief in the notion that bad things happen only to bad people, or that women are safe as long as they do what they are told, or that tragedy can be kept at bay by praying it away. It does not happen that way, not always, not for everybody.
Rape is an especially heinous crime. What makes it so? It has a way of eroding the fabric of a community in a way that few other weapons can. Rape can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and the pain that engulfs entire families. The harm inflicted on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, after all in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.
Listen up: rape is not about sex, even though ejaculation takes place. Rape is about stealing and devouring a woman’s dignity, dividing her from her larger community and shattering all relationships she’s currently in or ever hope to be in. Rape estranges the family from the victim, and the victim from her culture.
Raise the story of the West Virginia’s woman’s rape and torture and somebody’s bound to have questions. What is a black woman doing associating with a white man (along with his family and friends) with such a violent past? Didn’t she know better than to go to some remote West Virginia house with a bunch of crazy folks? See what rape does? It isolates a victim from her family and community in ways that see to it that the victim is made to relive what happened to her every time she looks into the faces of those who question her judgment and innocence.
Women in Bosnia, Peru, Rwanda, Sudan, and Iraq will tell you that gang rape and torture leave permanent damage, both physical and spiritual. The victim who finds her way back to sanity does so with the help of a community that surrounds her with unconditional love. The victim who lacks the support system needed to rid herself of the shame end up often reliving her rape by going on to become a prostitute. We can only hope and pray that this West Virginia woman who was not only raped, but endured days of unspeakable torture, gets the long term help she needs.
“I don’t understand a human being doing another human being the way they did my daughter,” the mother of the West Virginia victim said to reporters. “I didn’t know there were people like that out here.” Evidently, there are. And that’s part of the truth we have to face and pass on to our daughters and sons. Part of the Bible’s lesson to us in the form of stories about rape, physical abuse, and ethnic cleansing is this: There is evil in the world. What can we do about evil as women of faith? Although I sound sure of most things most days, I don’t always know the answer to this one. The temptation is to order our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and goddaughters inside, lock the doors, and pull down the shades. The more intelligent thing would be to teach them how to differentiate between hate and love.
One thing is for sure: we can’t fix it until we face it. And that starts with calling it what it is.
Evil. That force in the world bent on shaming persons, dividing families and communities, and conquering the soul.