I was on the elevator down from the psych ward, having visited a friend in a bit of a rough patch and struck up a conversation with one of the other riders.
As it turned out, she was a psychologist, visiting a friend (not her patient) who was not doing so well. This young man, now catatonic, had once had it all together. He was a standout athlete, had a girlfriend who was gorgeous, and then something happened that turned his world upside down.
What would take the feet out from under a strong and healthy male?
He was raped.
While in the military, the Navy as I recall, he was forced by another man and this started his downward spiral. It is not possible to know, having never gone through anything similar myself, what happened in this young man’s mind. But one can imagine, if he had an identity and self-worth built around his ability to protect, being overpowered in this way would have to be absolutely devastating to him.
How could he provide security for a woman if he couldn’t even defend himself from an assault?
His relationship, his life, his will to live, crumbled. This one experience, possibly over in minutes, probably not doing him lasting physical harm, broke him mentally and turned him into a shell. I have no idea of what became of him. Did he find a way to bounce back, form a new identity, move on from the trauma and overcome? Or has he withered away into nothing?
More Common Than Thought
One of my first encounters with a victim of sexual abuse was in school. A friend of mine, from elementary school all the way through high school, told me that he had been molested by his stepbrothers while living in Texas with his biological dad. I had always felt bad for Justin. He was socially awkward and bullied by classmates, had a domineering mother, and came out of the closet later on as a teenager.
I’m also had some very close female friends that have told me about being raped. Their stories are very similar. A trusted male, often a boyfriend, talks them into a place where they are unable to escape his sexual aggression. In all of these cases, to head off any assumptions, there was no alcohol involved. They were good morally upright girls who were too trusting of a male ‘friend’ who stole their innocence and left them feeling completely broken.
Then there’s Adam, the school friend who took his life a few years ago, victimized as a child by a predator college professor. His alcoholism and failed relationship no doubt, in part, linked to this experience. I mean he let me in on this secret, and many years after it happened, so it was obviously still part of his thought process.
At one point in my life all of this was unthinkable. I was in a home that offered stability and protection, with two good parents. I’m sure there were things that I did not know about, but my community seemed mostly healthy and safe. There was simply no reason for me to assume this sort of violating behavior was common. So statistics about 1 out of 5 women being victims of rape seemed impossible.
It is truly understandable that many who were raised in sheltered homes are in denial of the extent of this problem. It makes sense that they would try to explain it away as the promiscuous putting themselves in a compromised position. It is probably a good thing when the reaction is disbelief. Most men aren’t rapists and would be horrified, like I was, if they heard a story firsthand from someone they love.
Boundaries and Consent
As part of my culture, and also my lingering shyness, it is difficult for me to so much as give a woman a hug. It’s actually very frustrating to me, that I’m so awkward in this regard and would almost need to ask permission rather than simply make the read. Why is this? Well, it only seems right to respect another person’s space. Intimacy is supposed to be reserved for special people, right?
It actually makes me livid to see even a boy too grabby with a girl too early, even if she seems to be enjoying it, because he’s treating her as an object. And yet this sort of ‘confidence’ is often rewarded. The women who think that every man is a rapist may have simply spent way too much time with men who do not respect their or any boundaries.
And, yes, men who pressure with “if you love me you will…” are evil.
Rape is a product of an entitled mind, a psychopath, someone who sees other people as something to be exploited for their pleasure. Sure, maybe they can turn on the charm and blend into normal society, but their true character is revealed when there is nothing to stop them. Be it in a back alley or her bedroom that he talked himself into while her parents were away, rapists exploit the vulnerable.
Incidentally, this is why I’m still in favor of at least one aspect of traditional courtship. If a man can’t keep his hands off of your body for a few dates, if there is any unwanted pressure whatsoever to be physically involved, then maybe find someone who is interested in you rather than merely sexually attracted to your physical form. If a man can’t commit to a relationship without sex, he certainly isn’t the type to commit after sex.
Lust and Self-control
In the animal kingdom there is no such thing as consent. Often the strongest, most competitive, male gets to mate and by simply overpowering the female. He runs on instinct, male hormones, testosterone, and is basically acting out his natural programming. We don’t generally describe a buck “in the rut” as being a rapist because we do not see the animal as capable of complex moral reasoning.
And humans do have these similar underpinnings too. Men, for the most part, are more aggressive, and women tend to be more submissive, agreeable, etc. It is simply the substance we’re made of in the same way it is for any other animal. We’re instinctive creatures that seek out, and imagine, the things we want. But we also have a layer beyond this, a large frontal lobe in our brain, which gives us an extra capability for self-control.
Lust is often confused with simple desire for something. Many in a strict religious upbringing, like my own, are made to feel extremely guilty for looking upon a fair maiden and finding her desirable. But that’s not lust, that’s healthy sexual attraction and not a sin. What is lust is when we dwell on something that’s not ours to take. That is a path that can lead to rape, as in this Biblical account:
Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. […](2 Samuel 13:2, 6-7, 11-14 NIV)
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” […]
But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
The sad part is that when Amnon’s lust was satiated, he discarded his half-sister (not biologically related) as if his sin were somehow her fault. Incidentally, this violence did not go unavenged. Amnon was eventually killed by the victim’s brother, Absalom. But this lack of self-control seemed to plague David’s house.
Considering what king David did to have another man’s wife, we could say “like father like son” to explain what happened here.
Rabid Dogs Are Put Down
In the end, we all have sexual desires. Attraction is natural and not something to be ashamed about. But, when this crosses over into lust, when we choose to dwell on something unattainable and scheme to have it through immoral means, that’s a choice and what separates us from animals. The reprobate tries to hide behind their urges and impulses.
If a dog can’t keep from biting we’ll put it down.
Should a person with no self-control, who harms others because of their unwillingness to rein in their lusts, be treated any differently?
I know Jesus said, pertaining to those who harm the “little ones” (referring to those young in the faith, not necessarily children), that it would be better that a millstone be hung around the neck of those who do these things and they be cast into the sea. He may not have been talking specifically about sexual abuse and yet, knowing what this sin does to those who have fallen prey, I’m quite certain it’s included.
Jesus never said, “if she’s wearing a skimpy outfit, then she shares some of the blame,” but he did say, in the context of lust, If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out…” (Matthew 5:29a NIV)
Good people do not create scapegoats.
Godly men do not blame women.
Your Body Is Not Your Worth
The more important message of this blog, and my main reason for writing it, is to tell those who have been through this kind of trauma this: Your rape is not a reflection of you or your value.
As one who fully appreciates the human form, especially that of the female body, and completely desires physical intimacy, it could be easy to treat our bodies as being one and the same as our being. We show preference based upon stature, beauty, shape and other matters of outward appearance. So it can feel as if this form we reside in is of greatest importance and, therefore, what happens to it a reflection of ourselves.
Women, traditionally, put value in their cleanliness or purity, men in their strength and ability to protect. Our identity is often wrapped up in this external image. Rape is an attack on the physical manifestation of these things and causes the victim to question their identity or value at a deeper level. This is why, in mere moments, someone can be shattered. They now see themselves as dirty or defiled, inadequate or weak, and thus of less value.
But the truth is that our human value has nothing to do with what others have done to our bodies and everything to do with how we choose to live.
I’ve encountered toxic and nasty people, bitter, who have used the abuse they’ve experienced as an excuse to mistreat others. I have also met those who have not been defeated, who are able to put the unpleasantness behind them, and even become a better person in the end. This idea that we’re damaged goods or have lost our worth because of something that happened, through no fault of our own, is choosing to put our own value in our bodies.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.(Matthew 10:28a NIV)
There is so much more to our being than our physical form. We might convince ourselves, based on the world’s obsession with the external, that our worth is in only these physical things. But what matters, the real value we have, is our soul and that thing that can’t be touched.
Age will eventually destroy our bodies. The tall youth will some day be hunched over, the strong man’s muscles will atrophy, wrinkles will spread on that angelic face. The world abuses us, we will all likely face trauma even if not rape, and yet—if we know that value is something other than the physical—our worth will increase.
At the very least, no matter what anyone has done to your body, whether you were abused as a child, raped or whatever, I do not look at you as damaged or inferior.
No, you are strong to keep going. There is a special beauty to a survivor that is not found in those sheltered. And I believe there are more who agree with me than do not.
Your value is in who you are and not what was done to you!