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Rape 101: A primer for people of faith

Rape 101: A primer for people of faith

Elizabeth Keaton reminds religious leaders and people of faith what rape is and the best way for the Church to respond.


It is an especially important reminder given the recent interview and subsequent apology by Franciscan priest Benedict Groeschel. Even as his comments were being criticized, the publication of the original interview, and the renewed political debate about when rape is forcible or not show that we have a long way to go in our understanding.

The Republican Party has approved a platform for 2012 that is virtually unchanged from 2004 and 2008. What has changed is the number of media outlets and activists pointing out that there’s no exception for rape or incest.

Mostly importantly, the comments by Rep. Akin which describe “forcible rape” and others like Sen. Ryan, the VP nominee, who speaks of “rape as another method of conception,” reveal a stunning lack of basic biological knowledge as well as compassion and understanding for the rape victim.

Since the issues of faith and religion have been made to take center stage in the political arena, the question arises about a faith-based response to the issues of reproductive justice.

What are people of faith to make of all this? How can we begin to broach a subject that is often seen as off-limits in religious communities of faith? What can pastors and religious leaders – lay and ordained – do in their congregation or campus group to stop sexual violence and promote sexual health and well-being?

I have a few suggestions.

I am offering some facts and talking points and pastoral considerations, as well as some passages from tradition and scripture which speak to the issue of sexual violence. I hope these will provide a springboard for discussion and thoughtful reflection.

This is not an exhaustive list, but one which I hope will provide some resources so that people of faith might have an opportunity to have intelligent conversations and make informed decisions.

She notes these basic facts:

+ Rape is an act of violence.

+ Although the overwhelming majority of victims are women, rape can and does happen to men.

+ Rape is an act of violence because it is a sexual act which happens without consent.

+ Over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone’s home.

+ Rapes are rarely reported to law enforcement.

+ While there are varying legal definitions of rape, the bottom line is that rape is rape.

Keaton then offers some guidance about how the religious community can respond to rape.

+ The first rule in providing pastoral care to victims of abuse is to give power back, in order to counter the power that was taken away. Denying a rape victim access to information about all options and lack of support for an informed, independent decision-making process only increases suffering.

+ All religious community leaders need to have available a list of community resources, including the number and location of rape crises counseling centers, pastoral counselors and social workers with expertise in rape and sexual assault recovery and post traumatic stress disorder, and medical professional who can discuss the options open to a woman who becomes pregnant after rape.

+ One of the hallmarks of any major religion is compassion. All rape is real and harmful, and no victim of sexual violence deserves to be doubted, questioned or judged for her subsequent decisions if a pregnancy results.

+ A woman deserves whatever resources she needs to heal, including the ability to make her own personal health care decisions which may include the option of abortion.

+ The ideal of “sanctity of life” and notions of “respect for life” includes the life of the pregnant woman – her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual life.

+ Supporting abortion in cases of rape does not diminish a ‘pro-life’ position. Compassion and respect for a victim of rape is a manifestation of mature religious values.

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