Recent events in the news have sparked discussion of how we understand and respond to sexual assault. The drugging and violation of a teenager in Steubenville, Ohio has angered people who feel that those responsible are not being held to account for their actions. Near Thunder Bay, Ontario, an Aboriginal woman was abducted, sexually assaulted and left for dead by assailants who called her racial slurs. Perhaps most prominent at this time is the brutal gang rape and murder in Delhi of a young woman named Jyoti Singh Pandey, giving rise to angry protests throughout India calling for the judiciary system to act with more speed and decency in prosecuting these crimes.
Some individuals have made controversial and ignorant remarks suggesting that the victim did not do enough to stop the attack or that if she were somehow more moral she would not have fallen prey to her attackers. Nobody ever asks or deserves to be sexually violated. It has nothing to do with what they are wearing, who they are with, what they are doing or what their background is. Each person has the right not to be harmed or violated, regardless of any circumstance, simply due to their own worth.
Someone who loses sight of the inherent dignity, worth and life of another person, to the point where they see fit to violate them, has lost sight of themselves. They have become disconnected from their own inherent dignity, worth and life, forgetting that love and compassion are the foundation of existence. They have become convinced by the false idea that they are not enough and that by taking or hurting someone else, they will feel better. The root of this falsehood is wanting.
In understanding wanting, it may be useful for some to recall the Biblical story of a hand that wrote on the wall, “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Wanting is not simply an active desire for something. It is rooted in the idea that one is lacking, incomplete, not enough. From this sense of lack comes the desire for something outside of oneself to fill up that sense of emptiness. It could even be said that the energy of “not enough” seeks propagation. That energy is pleased when yet another person is made – by an unkind word, a passive-aggressive omission, a blow or a sexual assault – to also feel “not enough”, bad, grieving, unwanted, dirty, shamed. Those who sexually assault another are acting out wanting, not only for sex, but for an illusory sense of security, power and capability that comes from dominating another person and forcing them to do their will. This illusion temporarily soothes a feeling of helplessness, powerlessness, shame and self-loathing. It allows them to project those parts of themselves onto the person they are hurting instead of having to acknowledge them within themselves. No person who truly feels loved, secure and capable will ever assault another.
We need to keep this in mind as we process our anger towards those who violate. What they have done is wrong and they must be held to account for it. No one should send the message that it is acceptable to violate. It is important to speak up against the ignorance that quietly allows such things to continue. But to desire in our grief and rage that terrible things should happen to the violators in turn is actually feeding that wanting, “not enough” energy, giving it a home in our mind and allowing it to grow on the planet. This can only lead to more violence.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all see past the disease of wanting to the reality of each one’s divine worth.