Sexual harm is one of the deeper ways to experience harm, and so it is no surprise that there are many examples within my faith tradition where the person harmed has left the church and even their faith. This is tragic, as it represents not just a failure in the person who caused the harm, but a failure of the church to hold them responsible in a relational way that includes and is empowering to the person they harmed. This broader failure is what perhaps requires the new thinking around orthodoxy and orthopraxy around how we respond to harm and how we learn to do relationships in more respectful and healing way. Our sexual behaviour would then be informed by these learnings.
Lorna Dueck: Sexual violation is an enormous factor in people losing faith with Christian communities. How can it be anything less - it's such a huge violation of hearts, hopes, faith ideals. Misuse of sexual power is a profoundly human problem. Up to 2 per cent of priests in the Catholic Church have been accused of sexual abuse. Protestant clergy is slightly higher, according to Pedophilia and Priests by John Jay and Philip Jenkins. That's on par with other institutions, although the figures from Sex in The Forbidden Zone, by Peter Rutter, are also disturbing. (Seven per cent of psychiatrists have admitted sexual contact with patients, 20 to 30 per cent of female students have been sexually approached by professors, etc.)
But when someone has been sexually abused by a person who claims to teach about Christ, well, I have seen people recover - the best example is the bestseller The Shack - but there is so very much lost in all areas.
Sheema Khan: There aren't too many statistics that I'm aware of about sexual abuse within the Muslim community. However, anecdotally, there are reports of sexual abuse within families. The reason why we don't hear more is the tremendous shame felt by the victims, when it should be the perpetrators who should feel ashamed. The current high-profile case (headed to the Supreme Court) of a niqabi woman in Ontario deals with allegations of sexual abuse by male relatives when she was a child. Since opening up about her experience in high school, she has gradually found solace and strength in her faith in God.
When crimes take place within the "authority" of the family (rather than any organized Muslim institution), there is a lapse in faith of patriarchal authority, and perhaps even the institution of marriage. Again, this is all anecdotal.
Lorna Dueck: Sexual violation has a good assuage through spirituality. Justice is needed, but it isn't adequate for the wound that has occurred. There has to be a reclaiming of self, identity, a purification to create again the wholeness that was stolen. The teachings of Jesus offer that - it's a process, but it is renewal of what was destroyed and a returning to life.
James Loewen: I think you make an important point here, Sheema. While it is true that there are those who lose faith as a result of the failure of the faith institution and its leaders to protect from sexual harm, there are also many who have found great healing and renewed life. Within the Mennonite tradition, healing and redemption have occurred as a result of prayer, direct interventions of God, support of grace-filled people, support groups and many other ways.
Guy Nicholson: This has been a good discussion, everyone. Thank you.
Lorna Dueck: Thank you, Guy.
Michael Higgins: Thanks, Guy.
Sheema Khan. Fascinating discussion. If I can add one more thing, it's the destructive attitude within some Muslim cultures about maintaining the "purity" of women. The most glaring example of this is "honour killing" (an oxymoron, if there ever was one), in which a woman, often young or unmarried, is killed if she is merely suspected of having sexual relations outside of marriage, or inviting sexual attention. The dynamics are complex, but the result is a terrible injustice, and unhealthy attitudes toward women.
There is a disturbing attitude running through some Muslim cultures, and imported to Canada, that the woman is somehow at fault if she is raped or sexually assaulted. A few years ago, an Australian imam caused a furor by saying as much. Thankfully, members of the local and international Muslim community spoke out against him. We need to have these discussions, and we cannot stand in silence in face of such unjust attitudes.
Howard Voss-Altman: What an important insight, Sheema. I hope we can have that conversation in the future. Thank you for your sensitive and eye-opening views. I really appreciate them. And thank you all as always for the discussion. I feel as if we have just scratched the surface. Perhaps we can revisit the topic another day.