Stop saying that rape and abuse are worse than death!

Well-known internet kook and anti-Semite Charles Edward Frith just recently posted this message on Twitter:

And as you can see, he actually got fourteen likes on this! Frith has a sizable following that laps up his every conspiracy-laden, junk science-y post and tweet, people who think exactly like he does. We can mostly write them off, but unfortunately, there are far more mainstream folks who buy into the very same message Frith tweeted there. Why? Well, a lot of it has to do with how our culture processes these things. There can be little doubt that we are in the midst of a full-blown moral panic over rape and especially child sexual abuse. These issues are certainly worthy of our attention, and some of the reactionism is warranted, especially in light of the horrendous scandals that have come to light in the last twenty years or so: the Catholic priest abuse, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, etc. But sometimes all this emotionalism boils over into some truly head-shaking viewpoints, one of which is this notion that sexual abuse and rape are so horrific that even death is preferable.

Look, I understand that such abuse can be terrible, especially the variety that goes on for years at the hands of a loved one, or those brutal instances of rape where the victim’s life is in jeopardy. But to be fair, those are rare. Not that any kind of sexual abuse isn’t bad, but as someone who was molested myself at age seven, I can attest to the fact that having your genitals touched by an adult is far from the most horrible thing one can experience. I’ve said before that on the trauma scale from one to ten, my molestation was about a two: it was eyebrow-raising but not unpleasant. In contrast, at age ten I attended a revival at an aunt’s church one evening where the traveling evangelist who preached to us gave a lecture on the horrors of hell using examples of real-life burn victims to explain how bad suffering eternal hell-fire would be. By the end I was in tears and giving my life to Jesus at the altar. If that isn’t child abuse, I don’t know what is. On the trauma scale, that was about a seven or eight for me.

However, I firmly believe that even the worst abuse doesn’t have to be a lifelong sentence of misery and horror. I’m not saying it’s something we can forget, but nor do I think victims of rape and abuse have been demolished and tainted for the rest of their lives. In fact, I feel that this attitude is a major part of the problem with respect to the way we address and deal with these crimes as a culture, and that it often winds up becoming self-fulfilling prophecy, causing victims who would otherwise not have been so negatively impacted to experience this misery in order to avoid cognitive dissonance, so that their beliefs are not in conflict with their perceptions of themselves and their own experiences. Worse yet, in my opinion it is downright irresponsible and even immoral to put forth this claim that abuse and rape are worse than death, as there may be victims who take it to heart to the point where they end their own lives.

Besides, this message (which is even perpetuated by some misguided feminists) suggests that the penis is so powerful that even if someone is forced to just touch it, let alone have it inside them, it will irrevocably destroy their souls. Sorry, but I have to agree with Charlotte Shane: there is no inherent power in the penis to destroy anyone’s life, and to teach girls and women otherwise is, I think, antithetical to the whole idea of female empowerment, and it’s quite sad that feminists are often the ones who bolster and sustain this myth. If abuse really is about power, as feminists often claim, then why give abusers the power to hurt you long after their crime is over and done? Screw those guys! They’re nothing, and that little bit of flesh between their legs doesn’t have to dictate the rest of your life! I just don’t get it. If power is their ultimate aim, then isn’t that exactly what abusers want: to control your life through terror and pain? The way to disempower them, then, is to refuse to let that act of aggression mean anything more to you than a brief moment of discomfort. And it certainly doesn’t have to mean that you’re life is so terrible afterwards that death would be one’s only reprieve. To hell with that.

With all due respect to victims and survivors (of which I am one), people need to stop saying that sexual abuse is worse than death! Yes, it can be terrible, but there are many things that are much worse. You can heal from abuse, come back from it stronger than ever. You can’t come back from death. If you’ve been abused, one small part of your life has been taken from you, and perhaps your sense of security, at least for awhile. If you’re dead, everything has been taken from you, and you can never get it back. So, please, end this nonsensical line of reasoning.

4 thoughts on “Stop saying that rape and abuse are worse than death!

  1. I really appreciate your view on the matter. The term survivor of abuse/sexual assault has been coined a lot within the community, and I hope you know that you are not a victim, but a survivor as well. I know that this isn’t quite the same as the perpetual American culture, but I hope that a lot of survivors do understand that it’s not their fault, just like it’s not your fault. I think the reason why our culture is so adamant about saying that xyz is worse than death is because it used to be that these claims were not taken seriously at all.

    In the end, I cannot speak for anyone as I’m only myself, and all these words just represent my experiences. Please, however, do not compare pain to pain, it doesn’t get people anywhere. I hope the takeaway is that it doesn’t matter if the rape or abuse are worse than death, it matters that it happens, there are scars, and they need to heal. I also hope that by choosing another way to express this, people who do commit such things will find a resolve and commitment to stop other atrocities and become a part of the community that prevents such things.
    I believe that nobody intends to harm others, not in this way.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Well, I think there is value in comparing our own experiences at least, because it gives us a sense of proportion and perspective. Beyond that, I address the comparison because . . . well, that’s exactly what others are doing when they compare abuse to death (and find death preferable), aren’t they?

      So if such a comparison has already been made, I think we have to step in and say to people that this assumption is absurd and give them reasons why. I don’t like comparing abuse to anything else either, but I fear that these attitudes far too often do more harm than good. I get what you’re saying about abuse not being taken seriously at one time, but we are clearly overcompensating now and I don’t think that’s helpful either. Bottom line: we need to have a sense of sobriety and look at these things realistically, with as little bias as possible.

      I do sometimes use the term ‘survivor’ for severe cases, but I frankly feel a little ridiculous and embarrassed applying it to myself, as I was simply fondled, and it caused me no grief. To me a survivor is someone like the Kavanagh sisters, who went through years of horrific abuse at the hands of their own father.

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      1. I agree. I also agree that it really depends case by case, especially becomes what is little to one person can be incredibly traumatizing for another.

        In general context, though, I think an more complex discussion about the topic is necessary, as you’ve pretty much said.

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