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1 in 5.

20%

That is the national average for  sexually assaults in college, according to the Justice Department. You can read more about the report from the 2016 Inside Higher Ed article here.

Working on a college campus, this number always stops me in my tracks. It is an epidemic.

Every summer, I present to hundreds of students at their orientation. To imagine that 20% of them will be sexually assaulted is unacceptable.

I recently posted about sexual assault in Hollywood. You can read more here. I have to wonder, is there a connection to the actors on the big screen and the students in higher education? What is it in our society that forms, nurtures, and encourages this abuse?

This blog focuses on the spiritual questions of our time. Surrounded by violence, injustice, and abuse of power, we must ask, how does spirituality play into our understanding, healing, and action?

Allow me to offer a brief reflection on how spirituality can transform our society, leading to a greater respect of one another, thus decreasing the sexual abuse of our society.

Understanding:

“May I not so much be understood, as to understand.”

This adaptation of a line of the Peace Prayer, attributed to St. Francis, offers a spiritual step.

Can we understand?

Can we understand the impact of a sexual assault on another?

Can we understand why someone would impose their will against someone’s wishes, or without someone’s consent?

The understanding of the latter does not lead to justification. Rather, it allows us to address the mindset head on. For example, if someone made unwanted advances on another, understanding the predator’s actions could provide insight to lead to change.

What is it in our society that teaches one to not respect another? The New York Times ran an excellent article earlier this year trying to understand from experts more about men who rape. You can read it here.

The article concludes that men who rape do not believe they are bad guys. Gaining insight into their mindset can help us as a society form future generations in a different, and more respectful fashion.

Healing:

“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.”

This above quote from Hippocrates offers a valuable insight. It speaks to the power of Spirit that exists within each one of us.

I can vividly recall my spiritual conversations with students who identified as victims of sexual assault. The healing process took time, and I imagine in some fashion, it continues throughout a lifetime.

The good news in this is that these events, as terrible and unfair as they can be, do not have to damage a person’s life. There is hope in the future. Healing must occur, especially if that healing can incorporate an awareness of one’s spirituality.

There is something sacred about sexuality. While society portrays it differently, sexuality is a holistic experience.  When it is abused and violated, the impact is also significant. Healing, often encouraged and at times, necessary by the support of mental health and spiritual guides, can take time. That can be a positive. This time allows one to touch base with their Spirit.

On a spiritual level, tapping into the divine allows the unconditional love of God to heal. It doesn’t make things right, or erase the scars. It simply allows God to be with the person.

Made in God’s image, we possess the power to bring love into the world, even when we do not receive that same love back from others. How we come to know, live, and act on and with that love is perhaps our greatest challenge on our spiritual journey.

Action

“It is not enough to say prayers: we must become, be prayer incarnate. All of life, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should not offer what one has but what one is.

The above quote is attributed to Theologian, Paul Evdokimov. He suffered great loss in his lifetime, including the death of his father by one of his own soldier’s.

After every tragedy, you will find social media post’s saying “Pray for _______.” While prayer is transformative, we must also transform. Saying we will pray for someone or something is only one side of the coin. The other is action.

As we try to understand why people abuse others, we can spend all the time analyzing and praying. But unless there is action, with us called to be a part of this movement, we will be falling short.

Our lives can be a prayer, offering love to all whom we meet. For those impacted by a sexual abuse, there can be great healing in extending this love, especially to others who are facing a similar struggle. Some of our greatest teachers are born out of overcoming tragedies in their own lives.

I think of Dr. Wayne Dyer, who was abused both physically and sexually in an orphanage. He spent a lifetime seeking healing and forgiving, including his father who abandoned him. In time, he emerged as a great spiritual teacher, helping millions overcome their challenges, including those who were sexually abused.

“You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they aren’t alone.” – Jean McElvaney.

There it is again, the reminder to be silent. Allowing the Spirit to move through the silence to guide us forward.

I would like to conclude with two thoughts.

The first is if you have abused another- seek help. Seek the guidance and therapy to prevent hurting another.

If you are a survivor, you do not have to journey through this alone. Seek out the support and guidance that will give you the space and the tools to heal. In this space, seek silence.

Consider another quote from Evdokimov as we conclude this reflection:

“Your secret is the secret that God is in you. Be aware of that in the land of silence.”