Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rape--Past and Present

Lately there's been a lot of talk and writings about rape thanks to MO Rep Todd Akin and how he “misspoke” about the rate of pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”  It's about time we talked about rape, what it means, how it affects both women and men, and how it tears at the fabric of our society. I hope that all of this talk will lead to men, as well as women, taking a stand against rape and working to end its menacing presence in our society. I don't know how to end rape. I just know that for the sake of my daughters, for the sake of humankind, we must do our best to put a stop to the culture of rape.   We must talk about and understand how destructive rape is to the victim and stop downplaying its violence regardless of what kind of force was used. 

Rape is not a new phenomenon.  The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament of the Christian Bible) has several instances of rape.  Genesis 19 tells the story of Lot who welcomes two strangers into his home for an evening of rest and comfort.  The men of the town, afraid of the strangers, go to Lot’s house and demand that he release his guests.  They are enraged and want to put the strangers in their place by raping them. (Rape was a common form of humiliation and warfare in the Ancient Near East.)  Lot refuses to send out the strangers and instead offers up his virgin daughters.  The men refuse and just as they are about to break down Lot’s door, the strangers reveal themselves as angels blinding the men and demand Lot and his family to leave town before they wreak utter destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

A few verses later, we find Lot and his daughters cooped up in a cave fearing that they may be the last people on earth.  Lot’s virgin daughters plot to save the human race, or at least preserve their family name, by getting their father drunk and raping him.  Granted, the scriptures do not use the term rape, but our legal system would define drugging a person so that a person could have sex with someone who would otherwise not consent to sex is rape. 

As I read this scripture I couldn’t help but wonder if Rep. Todd Akin would say that Lot was “legitimately raped.”

            Rape is mentioned many more times and just as in our society sometimes it is explicit and other times it leaves us to connect the dots and requires a great deal of courage to name it rape.  The story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-5) is commonly referred to as adultery rather than rape.  However, there is nothing in the story to assert that Bathsheba had given consent to King David.  As with many women who’ve been raped the blame is put back on Bathsheba.  Bathsheba was beautiful, she was bathing and Kind David could see her from his roof, she was asking for it. (Often people speak as though she was bathing on a roof, but the reading states that King David was on his roof and could see her.  Most baths were not enclosed; it’s no surprise he could have spotted Bathsheba.)  King David called for Bathsheba and he “lay with her” and she became pregnant (again, according to Rep. Akin—apparently not a legitimate rape).  A woman called before the king.  Was Bathsheba’s consent even a question?  A king who would kill one of his soldiers in order to keep the soldier’s wife for himself?  No, Bathsheba’s desire or lack of wouldn’t have mattered.  I dare to call it rape.

                  A few chapters later (2 Samuel 1-22), King David’s daughter Tamar is raped by her brother, Amnon.  Amnon is in lust with his sister and his friend gives him advice on how to seduce her.  Tamar begs and pleads with him to stop but he takes her by force and then is disgusted by her (or by his own actions?) and throws her out.  Tamar is a wreck.  She tears her gown in mourning, puts ashes on her head and wails.  She is humiliated but she will not be silenced.  Another brother, Absalom, tries to console her by telling her to keep quiet, that Amnon loved her, all while hiding his anger at Amnon in his heart.  Tamar takes refuge in Absalom’s quarters and we don’t hear from her again. When King David discovers that Amnon has raped Tamar he is furious but does not punish him.  It is hauntingly familiar, is it not?  Many rape victims are believed but then asked to remain silent by someone who loves them; someone who fears that speaking out would only make matters worse.  Then there are the courageous rape victims who face their rapists in court, often tried more voraciously than their rapist, only to have the rapist receive a slap on the wrist or a light penalty.[1]

            Rape continues in the Bible as it continues in the present.  Rape continues to eat away at the psyches of the survivors as well as the rapists.  We must do better than Absalom, King David, and the Church; we must acknowledge the pain and anguish, the violence in the act of rape itself.  We must not be silent about the reality of rape in our world.  We must talk about it openly.  We cannot shy away from the harsh realities that every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted and that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  We must tend to the survivors of rape and help them to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  We must hear their stories with empathy and compassion.  We must punish the rapists and teach them that their victims are more than conquests, more than rags to be used at their disposal, we must teach them to respect all humans regardless of their gender.  We must teach our children to honor their bodies, honor the people around them, and to understand that sex is something to be cherished and enjoyed consensually with eyes wide open.




[1]               Even when the rape is acknowledged, legitimized, the penalty is light—the average sentence for convicted rapists was 11.8 years, while the actual time served was 5.4 years.  Furthermore, only two-thirds of convicted rape defendants receive a prison sentence, while those who receive a local jail sentence average eight months in jail with less than 6 years of probation. Statistics taken from the Bureau of Justice at and the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse at

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