Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Hate the sin and love the sinner. It rolls off our tongue so easily. But it is not so easy in real life. What about rape?

This article first appeared on the website: in August 2004

Hate the sin and love the sinner. It rolls off our tongue so easily. But it is not so easy in real life. What about rape?

In 1997 Camilla Carr and her boyfriend Jon James went to Chechnya to set up a rehabilitation center for traumatized war-children. Three months later they were taken hostage by Chechnyan rebels. Their ordeal lasted 14 months during which Camilla was repeatedly raped by one of her jailers. After they were released all seemed to be going well as she basked in the euphoria of freedom and the love of her family. Then two months later she collapsed and couldn’t stop crying. She had no energy.

It took three years until, as Camilla says, she found the space and silence to let go and surrender to weakness and vulnerability and her nervous system could finally heal: ‘Rape is a terrible violation of a human being. I will never forgive the act, yet I can forgive the man who raped me; I can feel compassion for him because I understand the desperate place he was coming from.’

Many of Camilla’s Chechnyan friends cannot understand how she and Jon can forgive. They feel tarnished with the guilt of their community. ‘I tell them that I believe forgiveness begins with understanding, but you have to work through layers to obtain it. First you have to deal with anger, then with tears, and only once you reach the tears you are on the road to finding peace of mind.’ As I write she is working on a book about her experiences.

I met Camilla and Jon in connection with the Forgiveness Project, an organization working to promote conflict resolution and restorative justice as alternatives to cycles of conflict, violence and crime. At its heart is a touring exhibition ‘The F-word: Images of Forgiveness’ put together by photographer Brian Moody and writer Marina Cantacuzino. Its patrons include Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Camilla’s story is one of the dozens of stories displayed.

Let me add another unexpected perspective on rape. Fifteen years ago I was in a shuttle bus to a Chicago hotel with one other passenger. Are you going to the conference, the driver asked me. It turned out that there was a pro-life conference just starting. Well, we got to talking about abortion and pretty soon I made another of those remarks one so casually makes about being against abortion but would make exceptions in the case of rape or incest.

‘You don’t know who you’re talking to, do you,’ said the other passenger, a vivacious woman, who for all I knew might have been a beauty queen. Of course not, I thought, we haven’t been introduced. But there was something in her tone of voice which made me realize that wasn’t what she meant. I soon found out.

Julie Makimaa, as a young married woman in Michigan, knew that she had been adopted and wanted to find out who her real parents were. For years she searched and by a succession of extraordinary events linked up with her birth mother, Lee, who it transpired was like Julie a devout Christian as were their respective husbands. After talking on the phone they agreed to meet.

Then came the hard part. Julie had to be told that she was the result of a rape. When Julie heard the news there was no emotional stress, rather intense gratitude that she had been born. ‘I was very sorry that my mother had to go through that terrible experience,’ she told me, ‘but I am thankful that I am here.’ Her husband’s first words to her mother were, ‘I want to thank you for not aborting Julie. I don’t know what my life would be without her and my daughter.’

Julie told me that she had started an organization to defend women who become pregnant and children conceived through sexual assault. She believes society has treated women as if they were criminals, by doubting their honesty and accusing them of causing the assault, and children as if they were to blame by giving them the death penalty. She sent me a book her mother had written describing what she had been through. Opening it I noticed a note from Julie, ‘Hope our story will be encouraging to you. God is big enough to handle the ‘hard cases’.’

I checked recently on the internet and found that she has continued that work for women. Her motto: ‘It doesn’t matter how I began. What matters is who I will become.’