Is violence the answer to sexual violence?
When anger over the brutal Delhi mass rape erupted in India, protesters marched in the streets, demanding the rapists be hung.
Is this the answer?
This is in the country where Mahatma Gandhi tried to advocate non-violent resistance. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” he once said.
Violence breeds violence; we need to heal the underlying issues that lead to rape and incest with education. We need to break the silence about how widespread sexual abuse is so that society is forced to open its eyes to the truth and begin to heal and make changes. This issue is not just in India, though the whole world is now watching this case under a magnifying glass.
Most societies turn a blind eye to the shadow of sexuality. When an incident of rape or incest is forced into the public eye, society responds explosively by demanding “justice” for the victim and violent punishment for the perpetrator. This cycle is not new and has not brought lasting change because it denies the underlying root issue of a lack of education.
I read a statistic that one in three women experience sexual violence or abuse. That is a staggering number, but I think it is still less than the actual number. From years of teaching yoga and spiritual programs where people come to heal, I would say two out of three women have experienced sexual violence or abuse. I think the same is true of men, but they have an even greater taboo against speaking out about it since it damages the macho masculine ideal we have created. It is difficult enough for a woman to be vulnerable and break the silence—to speak about her sexual abuse, but it is much more difficult for men.
Religious Sexual Hypocrisy
It is ironic in a country like India, where female goddesses are worshipped in the temples and in people’s homes that women are treated as second class citizens. This gender double-standard affects women of all socio-economic classes.
One of my Indian girl friends, who now drives a Porsche, told me she had gotten urinary tract infections growing up because the women in her house were taught they could only use the bathroom early in the morning and late at night after the men had gone to sleep, so the men would not be “offended” by her bodily functions.
Holy men walk naked through the streets or with small cloths covering their genitalia while women are wrapped in the long fabric of the sari.
Why is the man’s body holy when it is naked, but the woman’s body is not?
The shaming of female sexuality and genitalia is pervasive among all classes. Men are allowed to be sexually promiscuous, while a woman may ruin her reputation for a lifetime if she dates, has sex or lives with a man out of wedlock.
Sex is one of the biggest taboos in India. It is still one of the biggest religious taboos everywhere in the world. Wherever religions create sexual taboo, there is the hypocrisy of abuse.
Why have religions created so much taboo against sexuality when it has been shown again and again throughout history to be a breeding ground for rape, incest and molestation? Isn’t it time to open our eyes and acknowledge that we need to change the root of the problem and improve education?
For Our Own Protection
I grew up religious and was taught that if I dressed in a way that showed my body or was sexually provocative and then a man attacked or abused me, it was because I “asked for it.”
I cannot think of one country or religion where men are forced to cover their bodies so that they will not cause women to sin or sexually attack them.
Denial of Sexual Abuse
Things are starting to change in India.
I was at a friend’s house watching TV and they had a woman on the news who was telling a terrible story. She said her daughter had been molested by her own father and when the mother brought him to court the judge said, “It is not possible for a father to do such a thing.” He then asked the husband what punishment he would want for his lying wife.
Aside from how horrible this kind of suppression is, it was astounding to me that they still talked openly about it on television. Sex has been a taboo in India for a very long time. Now, because of the Delhi rape case, stories like this are exploding and coming to public light.
“There is no stopping the truth now,” my friend Vinay said. “Students in Delhi are finally protesting and they are not stopping. The politicians are being forced to have answers. The students are bringing new life to the country.”
Sexual Education and Healthy Attitudes
What if we actually educated children about sex instead of hiding it from them?
I would like this to be more than just how to put a condom on, but an understanding that sexuality is natural and can be approached in healthy ways.
My parents were Christian conservatives who pulled me out of public school the week they had sex ed. At the same time, I lived with a background of sexual abuse. I was too ashamed to speak openly and seek help.
Denying our sexuality does not yield the results we want; it creates a cycle of sexual abuse.
We are the generation who can break the chain of repression and abuse for our children.
The long term answer to this problem is not going to be hanging the rapist.
It begins by breaking the silence around abuse so we can heal the root causes. The more people who stand up and speak, the more we can bring light where there has been shadow.
In the past, people have been afraid to speak up because they have been labeled and stigmatized for the rest of their lives. The only way to change this is to shift the perception that only a few have experienced this sexual violence and abuse. It takes a lot of courage, but we can support each other; we are not alone.
On March 16th, Courage to Rise is having a National Day of Action:
Live events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Kauai, Salt Lake City, Denver
I promise you can be more powerful! Stop Sexual Violence and Abuse 2013!
Psalm Isadora is an internationally known instructor in tantra and yoga, lecturing and teaching workshops across the United States and India. She grew up on a born-again hippie commune in Northern California. She was initiated and asked to teach Tantra by her guru, Sri Amritananda. Her classes and talks blend yogic philosophy, tantric goddess worship, and Sufi and Christian mysticism with a good sense of humor. Committed to service as a path to spiritual awakening, she has started a non-profit for women’s empowerment, Courage to Rise.
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