Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ruth Krall on Sexual Violence Against Women and Children and Reform of Religious Institutions

As I've said before, on any given day, one of the delights I have in participating in this blog's wide-ranging conversations is to read the brilliant comments many readers routinely make in conversation threads here. They're better than anything I write.

I'm posting (with her permission and with slight editorial changes) Ruth Krall's comment several days ago in the thread discussing Cardinal Pell's discovery of hundreds of millions of euros "tucked away" in various Vatican bank accounts. As Ruth indicates when she prefaces her comment, it's more than a superficial comment: it's an essay of sorts, and one that deserves wider attention than it will get in a combox.

It's a reminder to us that religious institutions don't reform themselves without outside pressure, outside stimuli, outside scrutiny. It's also a timely reminder that the discussion of sexual violence against women and children needs more careful investigation, including empirical investigation, since the little that we do know about the frequency of such violence leads us to think it has long been vastly underreported. (And, as the current University of Virginia rape story involving Rolling Stone illustrates, even getting at the actual facts of many allegations of sexual violence against women and children can be difficult, when he-said, she-said dynamics intervene as investigation is underway).

Here's Ruth's essay-comment: 

I am convinced, along with some of the major players in the Catholic church on the topic of sexual abuse, that the churches' administrators can't fix these problems of internal corruptness or moral rot. If they could have, they already would have — so, at best, they are doing damage control; at worst they are criminally involved themselves. So, in many ways, the religious structures of today's Christian world resemble those of the Roman era in Jerusalem — in which Jesus talked about white-washed tombs of the dead.

When we look at the history of anti-rape activism in this country, what we see is the importance of data. Initially, women therapists began to do ethnographic analysis of their clinical records and then did extrapolation — much as Richard Sipe has done during his lifetime.

But eventually women sociologists and social psychologists began to gather so-called hard data. Initially it was believed that 1 in 8 women was raped during her life time. Then Mary Koss at Kent State University — with the help of MS Foundation did her ground-breaking and statistically useful study of college age women and the picture came into clear view.

Only then did the governmental structures take heed. Now, in California Jerry Brown has signed yes means yes legislation into law.

Here is what we know:

(1) One does not have to be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo in order to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends and families, and our neighbors.

Research by the Center for Disease Control and prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on the body; and one in three couples engage in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one in eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit (Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Knows the Score).

(2) 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives; 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced other forms of sexual violence victimization in their lifetime (e.g. made to penetrate someone, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact and sexual experiences). Victimization often occurs for the first time before the age of 25 (42% of female victims report being raped before the age of 18 and 37% report being raped between the ages of 18 and 25) (United States, Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

(3) 1 in 4 college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. The rate has remained the same since first being reported in the 1980’s.5 % of women on college campuses report experienced rape or attempted rape each year. In USA military academies, 5 % of the women reports surviving rape each year as do 2.4 % of the men (One in Four).

(4) 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner violence in their lifetime; 30% of women who have been in an intimate relationship report they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence from their partner; 38% of murders of
women are committed by an intimate partner (World Health Organization).

This is precisely the kind of well-defined data that we need to collect about denominational abuses — cross the spectrum of USA churches, ashrams, spiritual teaching centers, religious seminaries, colleges, and undergraduate schools. Until we have the data, we are relatively powerless to change the social structures.

When I did my dissertation research in the 1980's, the FBI "Uniform Crime Report" to the nation's criminologists documented that sexual crimes against women were the most under-reported crime.

In the Catholic church, SNAP has documented beyond disbelief, that reporting sexual crimes to the bishop was the wrong path to go for victims.

in 1984, the State of Michigan revised its rape code laws and soon 16 or 17 states followed. Almost two years ago, the feds updated definitions of rape and we now have a uniform lexicon of offenses that count as rape.

I am aware of the world court issues that are underway by SNAP and others.

I personally think until we can find a way to activate the surgeon general of the United States or the National institutes of Mental Health in pure demographic research about religious leader sexual abuse across denominations, we are left with the vague stuff out of the 1980's that maybe 10-12% of all clergy "cross sexual boundaries" - the euphemism for rape, molestation, abuse, battery, etc.

In his brand new book (2014), Bessel Van Der Kolk of Harvard states unequivocally that child abuse is the nation's number one public health problem. It most certainly is the Christian Church's number one public health problems. But until we can find an organization that will gather this data from victims — not from the church — I don't think we will move the USA agenda one inch.

So, to demand reform of the church, is to spit into the wind. If it could have reformed itself, it would have. But it hasn't because it can't.

Where money is involved, the old proverb is correct: follow the money and it will lead you to uncover the source of real political power. Pell may "reform" the bank but he won't lead it to redemption because in Jesus' words, he would need to "sell all and give it for care of the poor."

Reading Abuse Tracker every morning for the past four years has led me to wonder why a man of Pell's reputation in Australia was moved to a position of power in Rome.

You and I both know that the sale of the Vatican to benefit the poor is not going to happen. Instead, whatever sales happen will benefit those in power.

Let me recommend Van Der Kolk's book — The Body Keeps the Score — as a most readable summary of European and USA research into the trauma responses of the human body. Excellent reading for specialists as well as lay readers.

The photo of Ruth is from her Enduring Space blog, to which this blog links in its bloglist.

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