Of Easter and Sexual Assault

Is it weird that Easter falls in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month?

Is it strange that during Holy Week my husband and I joined a couple dozen students to watch I am Evidence, a film about sexual assault and the disturbing backlog of unprocessed rape kits in our country?

Is it inappropriate that on our drive home from our family celebration of Easter we discussed sexual assault and the impact it has had on our society in general and our family specifically?

No. Nope. Not at all.

It’s not even a juxtaposition. No amount of jelly beans or bunnies can hide the fact that Easter came at the end of a week full of assault.

The crucifixion was the culmination of several days worth of violence, degradation, and abhorrent human behavior. Masses of people jeered and swore at Jesus, threw rocks at him, and called for his execution. Guards whipped and beat him within an inch of his life. He hung naked on a cross for an entire day while onlookers mocked him, guards poked at him, and the people who loved him bore witness.

While we have no evidence that Jesus was sexually assaulted, he was certainly exposed, humiliated, and brutally killed in front of a complicit crowd. So if I follow Holy Week with a post about sexual assault, it shouldn’t come as a shock.

Sexual assault and its impact are all around us. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center claims that “one in three women and one in six men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.” And, because it is the most under-reported crime (63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police), you likely interact daily with people who have been impacted by sexual violence, even if you are unaware. Of the sexual assaults that actually are reported, very few are prosecuted. According to RAINN, “of 1000 rapes, 995 perpetrators walk free.”

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s important. Because a culture that allows this to happen won’t change without a concerted effort by all of us.

It’s kind of like caring for the environment — to preserve and protect the Earth and reverse some of the damage caused by decades of neglect, many must take intentional action. If only a few people in every community choose to share rides and limit their use of plastics and electricity, we won’t see great change. To truly transform our planet, many will have to take small steps every day — carry cloth bags to the grocery store, recycle or reuse containers, reduce consumer waste, and bike instead of drive.

In the same way, we all have to work together to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault in our country. If we ignore this enormous problem, it will not go away. It’s going to take a commitment to intentional action.

Some might choose to get involved in big ways by volunteering to work on rape kit processing projects in major cities across America, by creating safe houses for victims of sexual violence, or by developing preventative programs that promote emotional health among young people. But you don’t have to do big things to make a big difference. If each of us practiced small things every day, we would begin to shift a culture that allows a third of our girls and women and 17% of our boys and men to be assaulted.

What if we all decided not to listen to or tell sexual jokes? Or what if we called out our friends who make lewd or inappropriate comments? What if we turned off television shows, movies, or music that glamorize sexual violence? What if we kept our eyes open, paid attention, and noticed when people look afraid or uncomfortable? What if we asked complete strangers, “Are you ok? Do you need help?” What if we gave money to agencies that help victims of sexual crimes or to college campuses to fund sexual assault awareness programs? What if we simply voted only for leaders who had a zero tolerance for the sexual mistreatment of anyone and had never been implicated in sexual crimes?

If one or two people made one small change, they would have a small impact — they might stop one or two rapes, and that would matter. If many of us decided together that we would take small actions each day to shift our culture toward one that values and respects all people, we might stop 10 or 100 or 1000 sexual assaults.

In America, where every two minutes a woman is raped, we cannot look away.

As Jesus hung naked, exposed, in front of all who loved him and many who hated him, he took action. He asked John to care for his mother, Mary. He reached out to the thief on the cross next to Him and had mercy. He didn’t wait until another day — He cared and had mercy right then. He was, in his suffering and humiliation, rescuing us all.

We were desperate for help, and He came to our rescue.

He didn’t look away.

How do we rescue victims of sexual assault? I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas.

We can start by acknowledging that victims of sexual assault are in the room. Every room. Knowing that, we can choose words and actions that are tender — that avoid insensitive or triggering language. We can refrain from coarse joking and innuendo.

Next, we can believe victims of sexual assault — without qualification, without asking where they were, what they were doing, what they were wearing, if they’d been drinking. We can believe them. Period.

We can sit on juries, listen to evidence, and put people who hurt others in prison; we can give them consequences for their crimes and prevent them from hurting anyone else.

I Am Evidence follows the story of thousands of rape kits that are currently being processed in cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. As more and more DNA is entered into CODIS, prosecutors are finding trails of repeat offenders who could have been stopped years ago if 1) rape kits had been processed, and 2) victims had been believed.

Women who endured the secondary trauma of submitting to rape kit examinations have been waiting years for justice. For closure. For the assurance that those who harmed them can never harm them again.

How can we look away?

We can see victims. We can believe victims. We can prosecute perpetrators, and we can insist that our criminal justice system does a better job. To ensure that it can, we need to provide the needed resources — an adequate budget, plenty of staff, and our support.

We can do these things. These small things. Because they are big things.

They matter.

People matter.

Victims matter.

On Friday, Jesus was in excruciating pain. His death was long and slow, and when it was finished, his friends wrapped him in cloths and carried him to a cave. They rolled a stone in front of the opening so that no more harm could come to his body, and they went home grieving.

Is it within our power to act so that no more harm will come to the bodies of victims of sexual assault? Can we acknowledge the pain that they have suffered and sit with them in their grief?

On Sunday morning, they went to the cave and found the giant stone rolled away. Inside stood Jesus, resurrected, transformed, made whole.

Each year over 320,000 lives are brutally injured by sexual assault. Millions of lives are longing to be resurrected, transformed, made whole.

He has the power to heal the sick and raise the dead.

We have the power to do small things each day to aid in this healing.

We cannot look away.

Death is all around us
We are not afraid
Written is the story
Empty is the grave

“The Dust” Kip Fox

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