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Hard-hitting rape documentary challenges church

16 February 2008
clipped from www.iol.co.za

Women across the country searching for solace after the horrific trauma of rape often find that the church offers them cold comfort.

Every 26 seconds is the brain-child of Cape Town film-maker, Joanne Levitan and her production company, Pandamonium productions. The 50-minute documentary will be broadcast on SABC 2 at 9.30am on Sunday.
The title refers to the frequency of rape in the country, and this figure is emphasised by a constantly ticking clock, with an accompanying number in the corner of the screen.

Levitan said in a predominantly Christian country South African churches carried an obligation to be more pro-active in addressing rape.

Two startlingly different examples of church involvement are highlighted in the documentary; one woman is supported and the other shunned. This difference plays a huge role in the way they both embark on the long painful journey to recovery.
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I looked through The Great Book of Needs (Trebnik), but could find no appropriate service for a woman who has been raped.

There are prayers for women after giving birth, after miscarriage and abortion.There are prayers for illness, for those troubled by evil spirits, for those at enmity with each other, but nothing for a woman who has been raped.

There are prayers for drought, floods, ruinous pestilences and other disasters, but nothing for a woman who had been raped.

A rapist can go to confession, but there is nothing for a woman who has been raped.

I suspect that what is needed is more than counselling or kind words. I suspect that what is needed is a cleansing, an exorcism. But that seems to be one need that is lacking in The Great Book of Needs.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 February 2008 5:53 pm

    What a keen observation. I expect one of my former priests would encourage us to write such a prayer and start using it.

    In any case, it says a lot about how patriarchal Orthodoxy was/is. So much of the Church’s understanding of the feminine has been squashed and suppressed by squeamish monks. I personally find the miscarriage prayers offensive. I love the idea that there ARE prayers, don’t get me wrong. But, the content of the prayers is repulsive — basically saying that the miscarriage is the woman’s fault. In some cases, the woman might bear some responsibility and feel guilt, in which case the prayers would be helpful. But, in many cases, the woman wanted the child with her whole heart and was utterly devastated when she lost it through no fault of her own. Any insinuation to the contrary is like a slap in the face.

    I think that the absence of prayers for victims of rape could mean a couple of things. Either there was no cultural understanding of rape as being its own category of sin (a lot of English literature seems to make this case with rape victims being labeled “loose women” or fornicators or adulteresses), or the prayers were written by monastics who had a hard time grasping the role of woman in society, thinking the main purpose of marriage was for those too weak to abstain from sex and it’s consequence, reproduction (hence all the prayers about birth or miscarriage or abortion).

    There may well be other possibilities, but my experience of Orthodoxy leads me to think these two are the most likely explanations.

  2. 16 February 2008 7:10 pm

    Kristen,

    I wasn’t really thinking about why such a thing was absent as observing that there was a need for something of the sort to be present.

    Someone once told the story (possibly apocryphal) about Bishop Kallistos Ware, when liturgical reformers in the West were at the height of their activity in the 1970s and 1980s, and someone asked him about liturgical reforms in the Orthodox Church, and he mentioned that about 200 years previously a new service had been introduced for the expulsion of rats from wells.

    No doubt he was exaggerating for contrast, to point out that the Orthodox Church isn’t given to making sudden and radical liturgical changes. But when the need was perceived (a plague of rats in wells) the Church came up with a service for it, so perhaps it’s time to come up with a service for rape victims.

    I’m sure there was plenty of need for such a thing during the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession (which still continue with the prospect of a UDI in Kosovo). But the new article I cited speaks of the need generally.

    Perhaps you could ask your priests about it!

  3. 19 February 2008 7:56 pm

    I wish that victims of crime, abuse or neglect were given a little more specific guidance. We are taught to forgive or that if you are persecuted for righteousness sake that you are blessed, but before you can forgive or feel blessed, there’s a lot of aftermath that needs sorting out, imo.

    Christ gave us the example on the cross which I always come back to, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” I think perpetrators of this type are deluded by their anger and lack of knowing how to healthily relate to women that they don’t think or care about how they are affecting another person’s life. I believe I read that 90% of people in prison were abused in their childhood. It’s hard to remove ourselves from the situation to comprehend all the factors that contributed to the event. And it’s a slow process.

    I appreciate how the Orthodox Church doesn’t force change on people, but provides the environment for us to slowly heal from our wounds, to slowly understand, and to slowly forgive.

    The martyred Saints also give us examples about how to handle unjustified abuse. But rape is usually avoided it seems. Women Saints were many times given the opportunity to choose other tortures. I can’t think of one who endured it, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist.

    Rape does have the connotation, unlike other abuses, of violating a woman’s purity. Of ruining her. Tamar in the old testament was portrayed as ruined. And King David comes across as callous or passive to her position, imo, and this contributed to what happened with Absalom, if I remember correctly.

    I would like to see a more specific and official explanation of how to deal with sexual abuse.

  4. 20 February 2008 10:05 pm

    I just did a quick Google and found a lot of people saying they will pray for rape victims, but no actual liturgical stuff (I’ll check more when I get home tonight).

    It’s something that needs to be addressed. I would also add, however, that the prayer either needs to be gender-neutral or have one for males and one for females, as rape victims are not exclusively female.

  5. Anna-Paraskeva permalink
    6 September 2008 10:33 am

    I am so sorry I had not seen this posting until now (7 months later). So many excellent points that I dearly wish to hear addressed in broader scope.

    1 – Prayers in the Book of Needs for victims of rape (a crime of violence, not sex).
    2 – A service – akathist – for those who have suffered such things. (Oh how beautifully healing that could be!) Dare I imagine that such an akathist could be put together from verses from all over the world where such things are being greatly suffered?

    There is an akathist for those who suffer from cancer. Why not one for those suffering the aftermath of rape?

    What about prayers to St. Marina? She was a victim of rape/incest. Is there an akathist to St. Marina? (July 19/Aug 1) There must be!

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