Me & A Gun: Thoughts On Tori Amos, RAINN, and the Global Epidemic of Sexual Violence

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I can’t remember the first time that I heard the Tori Amos song “Me and a Gun”, but I remember the devastating feeling that it left me with.  The song, from the album Little Earthquakes, details a sexual assault that Amos survived, along with the thoughts that ran through her head as it occurred.  The lyrics are chilling and brutal and, unfortunately, reflect a reality of experience for a staggering percentage of the world’s populace, particularly among women and children.

In 1994, Amos became the first national spokesperson for RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), acting as a vocal advocate for survivors of abuse.

I’ve noted before that I’ve known a significant number of survivors of this epidemic.  The sad reality is that, even if you aren’t aware of it, there are survivors in your life too.

Sometimes statistics and numbers say more than any amount of pontificating every could.  With that in mind, I’d like to present some numbers regarding sexual assault:

  • Every 98 seconds a person in America is sexually assaulted
  • Every 8 minutes a child is a victim of sexual assault
  • 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or successful rape
  • 1 in 33 men has been the victim of an attempted or successful rape
  • 54% of sexual assault victims are under 50 years old
  • 21% of TGQN (Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-conforming) College students have been sexually assaulted
  • 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following the rape.
  • 30% of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape.
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
  • 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
  • Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
  • On average, American Indians ages 12 and older experience 5,900 sexual assaults per year
  • American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator
  • In jail or prison, 60% of all sexual violence against inmates is perpetrated by the institution’s staff.
  • From 2011-2012 80,600 inmates were sexually assaulted or raped

These numbers taken from RAINN.org

  • There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today
  • 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children.
  • Some studies suggest 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation

Numbers taken from DoSomething.org

The causes for these numbers are many and complicated.  Studies have shown links between pornography and increased sexual violence.  The normalization of rape culture through so called “locker room talk” and the glorification of male sexual conquest have played a role, as has a society that views human beings as little more than usable commodities, declaring some more valuable than others.   In addition, the tendency to stigmatize and blame victims leads to perpetrators remaining unpunished.

These numbers also fail to reflect global issues like the weaponization of sex.  In numerous conflicts around the world rape has become an instrument of war.  The numbers also fail to reflect the threat of sexual violence as a means instilling terror.  A brief search of social media outlets like Twitter reveals that threats of rape and other forms of assault are frequently levied at women, particularly outspoken women, in an attempt to intimidate them into silence.

Christianity, or any other faith tradition, cannot be silent about these issues.  If we are silent, we become complicit and all of our prayers, songs, and dogmas become meaningless.

The prophet Amos says this, “I hate, I despise your feasts,  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,  I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,  I will not look upon them.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

I pray healing for the countless victims of sexual violence, that they will know that they are whole, and holy, and loved in a way that no perpetrator of assault could ever take away.   As advocates for our brothers and sisters around the world, I pray that we will beg for forgiveness for our past silence, that we will embrace the courage necessary to speak out and act up.  I pray that our thoughts and good intentions will be replaced by the hard work necessary for healing and change.

We have an awful lot of work to do.

If you are looking for concrete ways to help, visit RAINN.org to see the initiatives they are leading.  You can also visit Fight the New Drug at fightthenewdrug.org to learn more about how pornography feeds rape culture and sexual exploitation.  A link on RAINN asks visitors to sign a petition to the incoming presidential administration and 115th congress, calling on them to make eliminating sexual violence a priority.

I would also recommend writing your individual representatives in Congress to let them know that this issue is of vital concern to their constituency.  Other concrete actions you can take: If no support group for survivors exists in your church, talk to leadership about starting one.  Look into leading small group or Sunday school classes dealing with the issue of sexual assault and exploitation.  Contact your local school board to see how issues of sexual violence, consent, and related issues are being treated in the classroom.  Also develop a consistent ethic of speaking up when you see targeted sexual harassment and threats of violence on-line or in person.