Silent Screaming - 2 Samuel 13

Rape. Not a subject you hear much about on Sunday mornings in church. Not a subject you talk about over dinner. Not a subject anyone really likes to talk about. Yet here it is in the middle of 2 Samuel; rape is exposed, written about and brought out into the open. There is a reason this story is in the Bible, and it’s not something we should skip over because we find the subject difficult.

Rape is a daily reality for women all over the world. In the UK there are 167 reported rapes per day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health found that a woman is raped every 85 seconds. A woman made in the image of God, being abused by another made in the image of God. This is a destruction of humanity at its very core.

Let’s get one myth out of the way: rape is about power, control and the destruction of a woman . It is not about lust. And let’s tackle a second myth: apart from places (like the DRC) where rape is used as a weapon of war, a woman is far more likely to be raped by someone she knows and trusts than by a complete stranger.

And so it is with Amnon’s rape of Tamar, his sister.

It’s all too simple to point the finger at Amnon, the rapist, and disassociate ourselves from him – we’d never rape anyone, right? But what about the others in the story? Each step of the way we find men involved in making choices that either enable the rape to occur or prevent justice following it.

There’s Jonadab, the friend and cousin of Amnon, the one that came up with the plan of how to get what Amnon wanted. He chooses to place the idea of rape into Amnon’s head. Then there’s Absalom, Amnon’s brother, who adds to Tamar’s silence by telling her to keep quiet about the rape. Instead of seeking real justice for Tamar he used the events for his own selfish revenge, killing his brother later on. And then there’s King David who is furious when he hears about the rape but does nothing. He is the King. He has the ability to intervene and bring justice into this devastating situation but he chooses to do nothing. Tamar’s own father lets her down. Finally, the servants leave Tamar alone with her brother. They would have heard her cries and screams for help, yet they turned a blind eye. When Tamar begged not to be put out of the house, the servants complied instead with their orders.

The servants didn’t rape Tamar but they could have stopped it. They were complicit by their silence. They knew rape was occurring they turned away and chose not to help. Afterwards, they could have reported it or helped Tamar but instead they did nothing.

We can of course make excuses for each of the people involved here. King David was compromised by his own affair with Bathsheba so probably thought he could hardly chastise his son. Absalom may have wanted to protect his sister from public disgrace and shame. The servants probably wanted to keep their jobs (and maybe even their lives) and had families to feed. Yet as UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon says, ‘Violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.’

Do we make our own excuses for not getting involved? Do we still think it’s none of our business?

The consequences of rape can be, and often are, lifelong. If you survive the rape with your life, you face the immediate physical effects: STI’s, HIV, vaginal infections, abdominal pain, muscle pain, difficulty urinating, passing faeces, menstrual cycle affected (increased bleeding, stops, alteration to cycle), unwanted pregnancy, abortion (and all the long term physical consequences associated with it), sterilisation, forced sterilisation, difficulty in future sexual intercourse, bruises, cuts, grazes, black eyes, broken bones, gashes, infections, internal organ damage, fistulas. Add onto this the psychological, emotional and social scars of fear, insomnia, depression, loss of self worth & value, suicidal feelings, rage, guilt, constant reminders of the events, nightmares, fear of men, fear of going out alone, fear of going out at night or anything related to the attack, fear no-one will believe me, it could happen again, he could rape me again. I feel dirty, cheap, valueless. The litany of consequences can be endless and lifelong.

You may have noticed reading through that list that it started off at a distance but ended with I statements. Using the words ’they’ and ‘them’ create boundaries and distance. Using the words ‘us’, ‘we’ & ‘I’ close the gap and makes it personal. Rape is happening to the body of Christ. And we are all part of that body; when one part hurts then we all suffer. Yet in the case of rape, one part is screaming whilst the other often turns a blind eye, unable to look at the horror happening.

This is a brutal reality for the church culture we live in and have all participated in creating. Unless we are providing safe spaces for women to speak out about abuse (1 in 4 women in the UK and 1 in 3 women globally will suffer abuse in her lifetime), we may – like Jonadab, Absalom, David and his servants – be complicit in creating a culture of silence. There may be silently screaming women in our congregations. Just as Tamar’s voice never makes it to the pages of 2 Samuel without being instantly silenced, we need to ask ourselves ‘Where is the voice of women being lost?’ If we turn away, ignore, or want to forget the reality, are we being complicit in creating an enabling environment for the abuse of women to continue?

Are we deaf to the silent screaming?

Restored is an International Christian Alliance to transform relationships and end violence against women. Restored exists to break the silence and equip the church to raise awareness and take action. There is a free downloadable church pack on the website www.restoredrelationships.org along with PowerPoint’s, videos and information about what you can do to end violence against women.

In June, Restored is launching First Man Standing, a campaign jointly with CVM, aimed at engaging men in ending violence against women. We are asking men to
1. Respect all women
2. Challenge other men on offensive attitudes and behaviours and,
3. To join the cause of ending violence against women
You can sign up at the website to receive more information about praying for Restored, First Man Standing, and how to get involved.

Most of all – do something – do not turn away.

Mandy Marshall is Co-Director of Restored.