“I am about to do a new thing… do you not perceive it…I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” ~from Isaiah 43
The news that the rape case against Dominque Strauss-Kahn will be dropped comes as no surprise to me. As a rape survivor I was not optimistic that such an affluent and influential man would come to justice. Even when I heard that other women were coming forward to tell of violent sexual encounters with him, even when I heard that his own wife knows he is “the great seducer,” I still figured the common habits of mind about rape in our culture would kick in sooner or later.
This defeatist attitude may sound pretty cynical—and honestly it is. You can check out my chapter on rape in Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ to read more about my take on the deeply entrenched distortions that help to compose our culture’s attitudes and practices around rape.
I have good reasons for feeling this way, and I am backed up by centuries of evidence that women who are assaulted rarely are believed. Our justice system is based on evidence and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” As most rape survivors will tell you, two of the casualties of rape are first, our capacity to remember things perfectly and second, our confidence in our own believability. Most rape survivors fight the battle of their own shame and self-blame no matter the circumstances. When the larger society starts to blame the victim, starts to doubt her, starts to say she is not credible, those accusations simply feed the demons that rape spawns.
Rape is a sinister invasion of your in-most soul—it seeps in there and tells you lies like: you are not deserving of respect, you are not a full human being, there is something wrong with you, you deserved it, you caused it, you will pay for it for the rest of your life.
Most rapes go unreported, and cases like the one against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are why. The uphill battle of healing in the aftermath of rape is such a fragile and fragmented journey that the specter of choosing another gauntlet to walk seems like insult to injury. And it often is. From the post rape medical exams to the interrogations by police to media scrutiny to the courtroom questioning where the victim is put on trial for how convincing she is as a victim, the path toward legal forms of justice is harsh and rarely successful.
For me healing has not involved the justice system. And often when survivors come to me after hearing about my book or hearing me speak, I hear their stories of secrecy and shame. So many of us hold these crimes in a terrible trust because we cannot see a way out that doesn’t tap into our worst hurts and fears.
Writing Let the Bones Dance was part of my healing—saying out loud, in print that I was raped was something I did with fear and trembling, but with a resolve that could only come from a Divine well-spring. With God’s help, with Christ’s compassionate presence, I have never given up on healing. I have not given up even though there are times when I realize anew that I will never be totally free of the violence that has helped to shape my life, my identity, my body’s functioning, my relationships. These moments of clarity about how tenacious and destructive rape is are demoralizing. I am sure I am not alone in saying that those moments of clarity for survivors of violence are sometimes so chilling and potent that they can threaten our very lives.
The grace in those moments does not come from a promise of justice or from some anticipated reconciliation or compensation for what happened. The grace in those moments comes from how God has the unique power to inhabit my shame and brokenness and woundedness with a redemptive balm. It is God who is indignant in the face of our affliction. It is our Divine Source of Life who faithfully offers opportunities for us to find new life, an unexpected gift, a connection to vitality, a chance to be transformed.
This transforming power is not an abstract theological concept to me. It is a cellular reality. My body is always regenerating even as it is always dying. I am always in the process of both coming back to life and becoming better acquainted with death. That pulse, that ebb and flow is where we all live—you and me, Dominque Strauss-Kahn, and Nafissatou Diallo, and all the teeming creatures around us.
The failures of our justice system for women who have been raped, abused, assaulted, and violated cannot stop the current of that tenacious Divine flow. We were created with the capacity to regenerate, to heal—we were made to desire truth and to connect with sources of vitality. God’s river flows from the aquifers of such power that can wear away at the ravages of our worst human habits.
That living water is the well from which I choose to drink today. May it flow into the places where lies, violence, and death are having their way with God’s children. And may it wear a new path toward healing even through the sediment of our shame and brutality.