03140_000_011Dealing with the Trauma of Rape
Not long ago a mother and her daughter returned home to discover that their house had been robbed. The house, unable to resist, found itself the helpless victim of a criminal who was determined to take that which did not belong to him, but which was valuable to the home and to the family that lived therein.
The thief, upon entering the home, methodically took those things which he felt were of greatest value and opened doors and windows to give himself a means of escape should he be discovered in his crime. Considerable damage was done.
Though the thief was gone when the wife returned home, she was aware that something was wrong. Then she found that valuable items, some heirlooms, had been stolen. A window had been forced open. Items had been taken which could not be replaced, items which were of great personal value to the family.
As family members returned, each was informed of the terrible thing that had happened. Each expressed his sorrow and his anguish; even some anger and feelings of revenge toward him who had perpetrated the crime were expressed. Day after day, the anxiety that had been created persisted. Night after night there were feelings of distrust and feelings of having been violated. Safety and freedom—those conditions which had been most prized by the family in their home—were taken. Trying to replace these feelings of security and freedom was very difficult. Safeguards were taken. A redoubled effort was made to make the house more burglarproof. Locks were installed. Lights were left on. Means were devised to frighten away or to cause anyone who was outside the home to feel that the family was still there and that they were well protected.
The family all realized that the house was not to blame. It had resisted with all its might. However, the family that lived within, which provided the spirit for the house, had struggled with blaming themselves for the robbery. “Wasn’t there something more we could have done to have prevented the crime?” each asked himself and one another. Surely had we done this, or had we done that, this terrible thing would not have happened. Even questions were asked: “Weren’t our prayers answered? Why wasn’t the Lord listening to our prayers that day? We pray that his protection will be over us and our home, and that nothing of any evil nature will befall us, and yet this thing has happened.”
This was not a rich family, and yet things for which they had labored, things they had protected and safeguarded as very valuable, were now no longer theirs. In them there was a feeling of having been spoiled—that is, of having had taken from them that which they had valued as theirs.
Neighbors extended hands of friendship and love, expressing their sorrow and desire to help the family. Many expressed themselves as feeling guilty because they hadn’t noticed any unusual activity about the home; they thought that if they had just been on guard they might have prevented that which had happened. They might have helped the family. There were others who said, “We’ll help you.” And they extended even additional friendship and love.
Finally, however, the family came to the point where they had to accept events as they were. A robbery had taken place. Fears had been created. Feelings of guilt had arisen. But, they decided, life must go on, and go on in a positive direction. The family must still live in the house. They would not discard it simply because someone else had violated the sanctity of the home. Consequently, they decided to take special steps to safeguard themselves against a repetition of the crime. They loved their house. They loved each other. They needed each other; and they needed their house to make a home. Neither was complete without the other. Also, their friends and parents did not condemn the house nor the family for the crime that had been committed. The offers of sympathy were genuine, and the condolences that were extended were meant as symbols of love and friendship. The house was still accepted in the neighborhood; it had not been rejected simply because it had been helpless to prevent a crime against it.
Now, while these feelings relate to a robbery, they are—in a much lesser degree—similar to those feelings that one might experience having been the victim of a rape. Tragically, this terrible crime is increasing in frequency and volume in our societies, and sadly, some Latter-day Saints have been its victims. How does one feel when her body has been violated as was the home, when that which had been held most dear was taken? How must one feel when, regardless of her resistance, she has been overcome and made the object of one who is striking out against self, others, society, and the Lord?
The scriptures tell us that virtue is to be cherished, that a virtuous woman is loved of the Lord. And as far back as the Mosaic Law the scriptures discuss the idea that when a woman is the unwilling victim of rape, she is innocent of crime; she is innocent of sin. From Deuteronomy 22:25–26 [Deut. 22:25–26], we read:
“But if a man find a … damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die:
“But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter.”
Yes, the unfortunate and innocent victim is innocent before the Lord. We recognize that such an individual feels guilt, feels she has lost that which she cannot regain. But we hope within that person’s mind will reside the complete assurance that the Lord is just, that she is still a child of God, and that God loves her. We also hope that family and friends would have only an increase of love for her.
But what about the criminal, the person who violates another? Christ’s plan of salvation includes the plan of free agency—agency for action, agency for development. When one goes contrary to that plan and accepts the plan of the Adversary, which is to destroy man’s agency and to destroy man’s relationship with God by destroying his faith and his ability to experience true love, then such an individual is in open rebellion against God’s plan. Sadly, many innocent victims fall prey to such individuals.
The freedom God has given mankind leaves them free to act in a righteous or unrighteous manner. But an innocent victim should still consider herself acceptable before the Lord. Toward those who malign or defile, she should have in her mind the attitude: “And ye ought to say in your hearts—Let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.” (D&C 64:11.) This leaves her free of additional emotional injury or hatred, for she is leaving the judgment to God. In his judgment the real victim will be the perpetrator of the crime.
Following the experience of having our home robbed, it was interesting to watch the change that occurred in our lives. We found ourselves suspicioning even people we know but who showed too much interest in our home. When someone passed by and looked rather intently at our home, we wondered if he might be the one who had committed the robbery. It was amazing how easy it was to become suspicious of those who passed by our home or were within the confines of our neighborhood. It was interesting, too, what happened to our prayers and the prayers of our children. We found ourselves praying with greater frequency and sincerity that the Lord would protect our home and that his power would be manifest in that protection.
Not long after we had this experience, we traveled as a family a great distance from our home. I remember the apprehension that we had as a family and individually, wondering if we ought to leave someone at home to watch over and protect it. However, we decided that step would not solve the problem. We each recognized that we had a life to live; that we must have faith the Lord still loved us, that he still cared for us, and that he would still look after us.
So, as we traveled on our way, our prayers carried petitions to bless our home. In fact, as we matured in our understanding, there were even petitions that the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon whomever had robbed our home and perhaps soften his heart, causing that he might repent, and, were it possible, to even return those things that had been taken. We realized that some of our things might never be returned, but some might be. Thus, as we began to pray for him who had destroyed that which was dear to us, we found a greater confidence in our Heavenly Father and a greater feeling of safety and security within our home. We were finally leaving the judgment to the Lord.
This agency that our Heavenly Father provides all mankind is a marvelous and a wondrous thing. It enables us—even in tragedy—to develop an even closer relationship with our Heavenly Father, to beseech him not only in behalf of ourselves, but also in behalf of others. It provides us with the opportunity to ponder our experiences and learn many things from them.
It would seem that the greatest challenge to the victims of rape or other sexual abuse is the challenge to view themselves and others by the Lord’s laws, for his laws are immutable, unchangeable; that is why they can bring us the greatest comfort. Rather than look to our own understanding, we can look to the Lord and rely upon his understanding and his love. Righteous judgment means that we appreciate our own relationship with the Lord and understand that, as his child, we will receive every blessing, every possible consideration necessary for us to obtain the greatest gift that he can bestow upon us—even eternal life.
If any who read these words have been victims of this terrible crime, may I assure you that God loves you! His evidence of that is his Spirit that you have surely felt. He has also sent you a living prophet to guide you and direct you to find happiness. He has provided a Son, even his own, who was offered as an atoning sacrifice for you and me and every man and woman who comes to earth to fully assure our complete happiness if we but follow his ways. Because his Son was sacrificed, he knows what it is like to suffer. He understands your desire to do that which is right, to protect yourself, and to keep his commandments. And he knows that sometimes from the agency of others, you may have to suffer.
Further evidence of his love is that he gives you commandments to live. One of those commandments is that we should forgive others. He has said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10.) And that includes yourself! You must not count yourself guilty of that which you have not done.
The Lord also gives us further commandments, commandments that we can keep and even measure, such as paying tithing, obeying the Word of Wisdom, fasting, and keeping the Sabbath day holy. The obedience we demonstrate to these and all the commandments is an indication of our love for our Heavenly Father. Such obedience will bring comfort and an awareness that he loves us and that we stand innocent before him, worthy recipients of his love.
For those who have been victims of this crime, it would be well to seek the advice of a husband, father, or bishop, * for these are men upon whom they should surely be able to rely. Perhaps the most significant step that one can take to increase that protection is to realize that the innocent victim of a crime is still acceptable before the Lord, that she may still have faith in him, that his concern for her has not lessened, and that her standing in the Church has not diminished. This truth, embedded in her heart, will rekindle within her a confidence in the Lord, in Church leaders, in good men, and in herself, confidence she will need in order to realize her fullest potential.
NOTE: I must say a word to fathers, husbands, and priesthood leaders who may have the responsibility of counseling the unfortunate victim of such a crime. Upon you rests the heavy spiritual responsibility to preserve her spiritual and emotional stability. You may be the only one to share the burden with her and the Lord. Extend your understanding, confidence, and sympathy. Preserve in totality the extreme trust placed in you. Prayerfully seek the counsel of the Lord in the help you extend, and reassure her of the Lord’s love for her. Remember, she feels almost total loss of self-worth. She may feel like a discarded, misused object, rather than the incredibly priceless child of God she is. She will need the inspired strength of priesthood power to sustain her. A blessing would be most appropriate. Her emotions are likely to be at the breaking point for an extended period of time while you strive to rebuild her confidence. You must not fail her in any commitment you make, or her confidence in men may never be regained. This is very serious, and all such brethren are responsible before God in all their counseling and priesthood responsibilities.