Over the course of our April meetings, SDYA has learned about different kinds of love. Andrew reviewed philia, the abiding love between friends. Simon covered eros, the deeply passionate, sometimes physical, romantic love. Margaret discussed agape, the Christ-like, sacrificial love demanded by Christian discipleship. A common theme ran through each talk: healthy love, flowing from God’s infinite, life-giving love, yields abundant forms of expression. Yet in our fallen world, afflicted by sin, persons too frequently distort love and intimacy into tools for manipulating, abusing, and dominating others.
In the United States, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sadly, the most recent statistics regarding sexual misconduct in the U.S. demonstrate a need for continued education, awareness, and discussion towards a solution for this alarming problem. One in five women, and one in seventy-one men, will experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. In eighty percent of reported cases of rape, the survivor knew the perpetrator personally. Sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement or other authorities. Of the reported cases, most studies have found that less than ten percent of these reports are false.
Higher education and secular institutions respond to these startling statistics in a variety of ways. At The Catholic University of America, events such as Denim Day and Take Back the Night educate the campus community about sexual assault statistics, in addition to giving sexual assault survivors an opportunity to share their stories and receive prayerful support. A majority of the universities and a couple of non-profit organizations in the DC-metro area provide group therapy services for survivors of unwanted sexual experiences. Washington Hospital Center is the only hospital in the DC-metro area staffed with forensically-trained nurses who specialize in caring for survivors of sexual assault. This is but a sampling of support services and education efforts that strive to meet survivors’ needs and promote a safer, more respectful culture where assault is unthinkable.
While post-assault resources are absolutely necessary, efforts towards assault prevention and cultural transformation hold equal importance. By his life and teachings, Jesus set a model for Christians to follow in all their moral behavior, including their sexual behavior. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Jesus further instructs, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27). Jesus calls for an interior and exterior transformation of his followers’ behavior: Christian discipleship involves not only outwardly good actions, but an inward disposition to act out of love for God, neighbor, and self. This authentic love, called for by Christ, demands that men and women treat each other as equals, made in God’s image and likeness, and never as objects for pleasure or subjugation. In keeping our minds and bodies pure, especially in our dating practices, Christians can add a significant contribution towards transforming our hyper-sexualized, Western culture into a dignified culture of authentic love and respect.
We Christians, called by Jesus Christ to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14), have a responsibility to witness to Jesus’s love, mercy, and honesty by our behavior, including our behavior towards romantic partners. Ladies, clearly communicate your boundaries to men. Gentlemen, respect a woman unquestioningly if she says no. Ladies, do not accept a man’s offer for a date out of pity, or lead him on unfairly. Gentlemen, plainly state your expectations to ladies. Ladies, trust your instincts and leave a situation immediately if you feel uncomfortable. Gentlemen, stand against disrespectful, objectifying behaviors or attitudes that you may observe towards women. Gentlemen and ladies, be patient and kind towards those who may confide in you about their unwanted sexual experiences. We have a responsibility, by our thoughts, words, and deeds, to build up a Christocentric culture that practices compassion towards survivors and shows mercy towards accused perpetrators.
To survivors of any unwanted sexual experience: it was not your fault. You are a beautiful child of a loving Father who sees you, knows you, and cares for you deeply. You are not defined by this great injustice that happened to you. There is healing in the Church’s sacraments and in therapy. Confidential support is available. Please get the help you need. You are so loved.
To those accused of any sexual misconduct: You do not have to be defined by your behavior. You are a beautiful child of a loving Father who sees you, knows you, and cares for you deeply. There is redemption in the sacrament of confession and healing in therapy. Please get the help you need. Nothing you may have done revokes God’s care for you. You are so loved.
Saint Dominic Young Adults
This is a peer run blog for the Saint Dominic Young Adults in Washington, D.C.