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Baha’i men have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world around them a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation. – Statement on Violence against Women and Sexual Abuse, The Universal House of Justice, January 24, 1993.
I have a good friend whose wife went through horrifying and harrowing sexual abuse and assault before he met her. I won’t recount her stories—they would give any woman nightmares—but I will say that it took her a very long time to accept and feel safe around my friend, even though he’s one of the gentlest and kindest men I know. When they finally got married, she went through several years of therapy, just to help her deal with the fact that she now had a husband. She had to learn to trust him, and gradually she did. The therapy worked, and now, years later, they have a terrific, loving relationship.
But I just learned a few days ago that the American presidential campaign, with its focus on infidelity and sexual assault, has sent her back to her therapist again, upset, angry and re-traumatized. The campaign—its wall-to-wall TV and web coverage, its salacious focus on sexual subjects and its race-to-the-bottom tone and subject matter—has apparently served as a trauma trigger for many people.
You’ve probably heard that term before. A trauma trigger forces a person to revisit a traumatic memory. Especially prevalent in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) victims, trauma triggers occur mostly to people who can’t block or control the mental, psychological and spiritual recurrence of past incidents that initially traumatized them. They relive those incidents when trauma triggers occur. Combat veterans, disaster survivors and sexual assault victims are especially vulnerable to trauma triggers.
This year’s presidential political campaign, with its multiple revelations, news stories and television advertisements about sexual assault and infidelity, has re-triggered sexual assault trauma everywhere. Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), reports that their incoming calls have rapidly increased to about 800 a day, from a pre-campaign level of about 600 calls per day. “Whenever there is a really high-profile media story or case,” Berkowitz told the New York Times, “we find that a lot of people who have experienced this months or even years ago, but never talked about it, it prompts them to reach out for help for the first time.”
If you’re still thinking that sexual abuse, assault and rape are rare, you may want to investigate the actual incidence of such crimes. In September 2015, as just one example, a study done by the American Association of Universities, with a response size of 80,000 students, found that 26 percent of women reported forced sexual contact on college campuses—and those were only the women who found the courage to report assaults.
Kelly Oxford, a social media writer, recently asked women to tweet their stories of sexual assault to #notokay. She started by tweeting her own story of sexual assault, at the age of 12. In four days, she received more than 27 million responses. One response said “This is RAPE CULTURE — the cultural conditioning of men and boys to feel entitled to treat women as objects.”
Sadly, the sexual assault of women by men remains all too common. RAINN reports that one out of six American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape at least once during her lifetime—and that once every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. In many cultures around the world, the problem is even more pronounced, with women beaten and assaulted regularly, and men convinced that such violent attacks are their prerogatives as men.
Clearly, then, we have a serious and sizable social problem here. Women have suffered from it for millennia, but only recently have we seen the rise of the widespread public attention necessary to address it. We’re finally beginning to conclude that male aggression and the use of force against women permeates many societies. Clearly, men have the responsibility to stop such behavior. How can we do that? The Baha’i teachings offer answers:
The lack of spiritual values in society leads to a debasement of the attitudes which should govern the relationship between the sexes, with women being treated as no more that objects for sexual gratification and being denied the respect and courtesy to which all human beings are entitled. Baha’u’llah has warned: “They that follow their lusts and corrupt inclinations, have erred and dissipated their efforts. They, indeed, are of the lost.” – Statement on Violence Against Women and Sexual Abuse, the Universal House of Justice, January 24, 1993.
The Baha’i teachings call on men to develop a new set of spiritual values: peacefulness, kindness, gentleness, cooperation and consultation, among others. Those inner qualities, primarily spiritual in nature, are the only things that can sustainably stem the tide of sexual assault. In the process of that spiritual development, Baha’is believe, we have the opportunity to create a new race of men, who consider all women as their absolute equals and treat them accordingly. Responding to questions about this new outlook and perspective, the Universal House of Justice addressed them with a focus on complete and absolute equality between women and men:
A number of your questions pertain to the treatment of women, and are best considered in light of the principle of the equality of the sexes which is set forth in the Baha’i Teachings. This principle is far more than the enunciation of admirable ideals; it has profound implications in all aspects of human relations and must be an integral element of Baha’i domestic and community life. The application of this principle gives rise to changes in habits and practices which have prevailed for many centuries. An example of this is found in the response provided on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a question whether the traditional practice whereby the man proposes marriage to the woman is altered by the Baha’i Teachings to permit the woman to issue a marriage proposal to the man; the response is, “The Guardian wishes to state that there is absolute equality between the two, and that no distinction or preference is permitted…” With the passage of time, during which Baha’i men and women endeavour to apply more fully the principle of the equality of the sexes, will come a deeper understanding of the far-reaching ramifications of this vital principle. – Ibid.
Next: Only Equality Stops Domestic Violence