Institutionalized Sexual Abuse and Slavery

So the blood of almost 2000 American soldiers shed in Afghanistan has come to this… a new bill passed in the Afghan parliament, although yet to be signed by Karzai, will make it illegal for family members, witnesses, children, doctors, and defense attorneys  to testify against anyone accused of rape or child sexual abuse in Afghanistan.

Recently on the PBS evening news, Rev. Thomas Rosica, CEO of the Catholic Salt & Light Network, called the recent United Nations report on the church’s long history of providing cover to rapists and sexual abusers distorted and over-reaching and he questioned the authority of the UN to issue such a report. I was raised a Catholic and was stunned.

The US Military is just beginning to confront its long history of overlooking sexual abuse and it still opposes efforts to impose oversight outside of the chain of command which has consistently failed to respond to reported abuse.

In India tribal elders, who constitute the village council or khap panchayat, ordered a young girl raped by the council members as punishment for an engagement of which they did not approve. The elders were men her father’s age. They’ve been arrested, but in small villages in India the practice remains widespread.

Throughout history, men have found legal, tribal or religious means to subjugate and abuse women and girls sexually. To stop it, we must look at it institutionally. The Catholic Church, to its great shame and loss, has had to be forced into rigorous self-examination. The collective sin of its many abusers is made worse by its extensive effort to cover up the abuse and deny victims the opportunity to heal. And while Catholicism is in the spotlight now, fundamentalist Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic sects all have a deep history of misogynous behavior, sexual slavery, and child abuse. Mormonism has justly been criticized for its historical promotion of polygamy and child brides. Some separatist sects of Orthodox Judaism have also been tainted by scandal.

The French term “le droit du Seigneur” meaning “the right of the sovereign” came into common usage in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historically, there’s no evidence that it was ever codified in law, but it was commonly written about and alluded to in spoken usage. It is believed to have lent moral authority to the deflowering of coming-of-age peasant girls by the feudal lord.

Vast disparities in wealth and economic opportunity have made sexual predation a growth industry. Even today, countless children with few options are sold or seduced into sexual slavery with impunity.

We have long been both inured to and appalled by reports of sexual predation and violence, but only now are we beginning to realize how men have used religion, as well as primitive and modern tribalism including communes, fraternal organization, and government institutions to condone or obscure the abuse of women and girls. Only economic justice and the bright light of popular vigilance can bring this centuries-old brutality to an end.

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