A little context for the complementarian-egalitarian debate

In the past few weeks the complementarian-egalitarian debate has again featured prominently in the blogosphere. Perhaps it is time for a little context.

From Allison Dinoia Newcombe at the Huffington Post:

Last week, I visited the spot where a young girl was brutally murdered, set on fire and burned to death in the middle of the street in Los Angeles. I have searched to find answers about her plight, but to no avail; this story barely made local news. She was just 17 years old.
[…]
Every single day, girls in Los Angeles are kidnapped and coerced by traffickers and pimps into a life of sexual slavery and violence. The average age of entry into this life is 12 years old — the age of a child in seventh grade. There are hundreds of children affected by this crisis in LA alone. Alarmingly, yet not surprisingly, estimates consistently show over 70 percent of the children victimized through sex trafficking are foster children. Traffickers know that foster kids are an abused and vulnerable population, and that these girls are desperate for the love and attention that they did not receive from their own families. Lacking the necessary relationships and support, coupled with likely sexual and physical abuse at a young age, these girls are particularly at risk for the organized and pre-meditated tactics of traffickers.

Child sex trafficking, though largely unheard of and often misunderstood, is in fact a domestic crisis. It has become one of the most common organized crimes in the country, third only after the sale of illegal drugs and arms. Gangs, which have been entrenched in Los Angeles neighborhoods for many years, are increasingly becoming involved in child sex trafficking. Gang members have learned that, unlike drugs or weaponry, a young girl’s body is a “commodity” that can be sold time after time. An added benefit for traffickers is the decreased risk: when selling girls, the primary risk falls on the child being sold, who is standing alone on the street, not on the trafficker who is safely out of sight. And while a child is not of age to consent to sex, they can be arrested and charged with the crime of prostitution due to legal loopholes. Just last week I observed a court hearing where a 12-year-old was being charged with the crime of prostitution. Likely pre-menstrual, still with a childish look in her eyes, she sat in court in an orange jumpsuit, with tears streaming down her cheeks, while the judge explained the charges.

Do not miss it: a 17 year old girl, set afire and burned to death in the middle of a street in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Do not miss it: a 12-year old girl, likely brutalized and trafficked by a gang, arrested and charged with prostitution by cops and D.A.s who should know better. With tears on her face she sits in front of a judge who may be too uncaring to set aside unjust laws. Or possibly hindered by a legislature too stupid to change them.

From a Reuters report entitled, “Syrian forces use sexual violence against men, women, children”:

[Human Rights Watch] said many of the assaults were in circumstances in which commanding officers knew or should have known the crimes, such as electric shocks to genitalia, were taking place.

In another face-to-face interview a woman from the Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood of Homs city which was overrun by Assad’s troops said she heard security forces and shabiha militia rape her neighbors while she hid in her apartment in March.

“I could hear one girl fighting with one of (the men)… She pushed him and he shot her in the head,” HRW quoted the woman as saying. She said three girls, the youngest aged 12, were then raped. After the men left the woman went next door.

“The scene on the inside was unreal. The 12-year-old was lying on the ground, blood to her knees… More than one person had raped the 12-year-old… She was torn the length of a forefinger. I will never go back there. It comes to me. I see it in my dreams and I just cry.”

Some interviewees told HRW that victims did not want their families to know about the assault because of fear or shame. In one case, HRW said a female rape victim was willing to be interviewed but her husband forbade it.

Do not miss it: a 12-year old girl gang-raped in an apartment. Brutalized emotionally, psychologically and physically with body ripped as if she had endured a traumatic childbirth.

In fact here’s an entire website dedicated to tragedies being endured by women in Syria: Women Under Siege: Documenting Sexualized Violence in Syria. Recent entries included, “Woman tells Brandeis students Assad soldiers raped her,” “Man reports Republican Guards raped woman, killed men, in Douma apartment building,” “Former officer describes being ordered to rape in Homs,” and more.

Or this from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, September 2012:

Note to parents: Go check your kid’s cellphone. Or Facebook. Just check. Just … check.

Back in April 2010, one mother did just that. Her daughter was 14 at the time, right in the thick of middle school. Should be texting about cute boys or Hannah Montana or pre-algebra problems.

Instead, here’s what showed up in her sent texts.

“Cud u use a condom this time. I’m still not on birth control pills yet.”

You’d freak, right? Ready to wring the neck of some punk seventh-grader? Mom found more texts, all involving a caller known as “Greg.” Police traced the texts back to a cellphone number. Turned out Greg hadn’t been in middle school since the 1970s.

He’s Greg Austin, a 46-year-old Ooltewah father of three and former president of CTC Technologies in Chattanooga.

Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to two charges of statutory rape: having sex with two middle-schoolers in a $45-per-night motel.

Want to know where he is today?

Not in jail.

Thanks to sentencing reform and the fact Austin had no prior record, he received six months of jail, followed by 18 months’ probation and registration as a sex offender.

Even though he pleaded guilty to statutory rape of two girls barely old enough to see a PG-13 movie.

Know how many days in jail he has served for that crime?

“Zero,” said his attorney, Bryan Hoss.

Two middle school girls manipulated into sex–raped–by a man old enough to be their Dad. Probably, he was fantasizing that he was.

Or consider these statistics from Forbes:
–One in every four women have experienced severe physical violence by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
–Stalkers victimize approximately 5.2 million women each year in the U.S, with domestic violence-related stalking the most common type of stalking and often the most dangerous.
–One in ten 9th-12th grade students (mail and female) were physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in 2009 alone.
–One in five women have been raped in their lifetimes, and nearly 1.3 million women in the U.S. are raped every year.
–The statistics are sobering – even more so with our understanding that these types of crimes are often the most underreported. Many victims suffer in silence without confiding in family and friends, much less reaching out for help from hospitals, rape crisis centers, shelters, or even the police.

According to the newly released documentary, The Invisible War, which gathered its statistics from the United States government, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire; over 20% of female veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the US army; of 3,192 sexual-assault reports in 2011 only 191 members of the military were convicted at courts martial. Further, as reported by ABC News,

As terrible as the rape was, the repercussions were almost as horrendous — [single] women were accused of adultery (if the perpetrator happened to be married) or “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Kori Cioca

Cori Cioca, formerly of the United States Coast Guard, alleges assault and rape by a superior officer [Image credit]

They lost rank, they were accused of having “set up the men.” When one of the women reported a rape — the third that week in one particular unit — she was asked, “You girls think this is a game; are you all in cahoots?”
[…]
A Navy study conducted anonymously reported that 15 percent of incoming recruits had attempted or committed rape before entering the military, twice the percentage of an equivalent civilian population. Women who’ve been raped in the military have a higher PTSD rate than men in combat. In 2010, there were 2,617 military victims (women and men), but that represented only about 14% of the estimated number of victims; 86% did not report they had been sexually assaulted.

Until early 2012 military regulations required rapes be reported to one’s supervising officer. It was all to common, in cases where the victim was female, for that officer to be her rapist.

If you have not seen The Invisible War check out iTunes, Amazon.com, Vudu.com or the website above.

While on the subject of the military do not forget the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is women, many of them veterans.

Native American women? How about this?

The official number is bad enough: One in three American Indian women have experienced rape or attempted rape, a rate more than twice the national average. But it gets worse: One survey finds that in some rural villages, the rate of sexual violence is as much as 12 times the national rate, and interviews by the New York Times found that sexual assault is so common that few, if any, Native American women living on tribal reservations escape it.

The Times article relays wrenching stories (the 19-year-old rape victim who never received a return phone call from tribal police), offers more heartbreaking statistics (just 10% of sex assaults on reservations are reported, and arrests are made in just 13% of those cases), and details the myriad problems contributing to the tragic situation: isolated villages; alcohol abuse and a breakdown of the family structure; a lack of sexual assault training.

Look at this picture of Tarana Akbari, a young Afghani girl. She survived a suicide bomber’s attack that claimed seven members of her family and injured nine of her other relatives. This is anger. This is hurt. This is the face of one suffering inexplicable injustice. This is real; not manufactured. Complementarian vs egalitarian? It does not even get into the ballpark.

An egalitarian friend of mine read this yesterday to provide feedback. She wrote back:

Feminist and womanist theologians in the Third World have long accused white Western feminists of focusing on semantics and meaningless symbols (like female language for God) instead of doing real things to help real women suffering all over the world.

Now, go ahead and tell me how wrong it was that you did not get to teach that Sunday School class because there were men in it. Tell me how some couple is in sin because she cuts the grass and he vacuums the house rather than holding traditional gender roles. Tell me how debates about semantics and theology even come close to the tragedies endured by women–from those born to those unborn–on whom Satanic war has been waged since the Garden of Eden.

I wonder if these victims of inhuman barbarity wake up each day frustrated because they were not allowed to speak at a panel discussion, did not have their CV considered by a pastor search team, or thinking their dad was too patriarchal. Think about these stories when you are trying to decide whether a women testifying in church can speak behind the pulpit or must stand on the floor so as not to be confused with the preacher.

Tell me instead how unborn girls have a right to live. Tell me 12 year olds have a right to not be sexually brutalized 70 or more times a week. Tell me how women have a right not to be raped by soldiers or law enforcement officers. Tell me teenage girls should not be shot for wanting an education. Tell me seventeen year olds should not be burned to death in the street.

Tell me the gospel matters for more than discussion, debate and division. Tell me these women matter more than the luxury we have for endless disagreements.

If they do matter then why do we not redeem the time in a way reflecting it?

Below is a brief TED Talk called, “Every 15 Seconds.” It was presented by Matt Friedman at TEDxSanJoaquin. The title refers to the frequency people around the globe are sold into some kind of human slavery. Women, girls, men, and boys.

Listen to him talk about professional rapists. Do not even try to hold your anger.

  • Hannah

    I’ll tell you why it matters. When women have a seat at the table and are viewed as having equal value and authority, abuse against women and girls (and boys) is much less likely to be dismissed and swept under the rug.

    I grew up in a nice complementatian home. And when I was twelve, my nice complementarian father started coming into my bedroom at night several times a week to sexually assault me. My nice complementarian youth pastor sure didn’t want to hear about that, because he didn’t want to have to call the cops and potentially break up a nice complementarian family. Divorce is wrong after all and my dad was just such a nice christian man! Nope, he thought it was much better for me (and my sisters) to have to submit to the authority of my nice compelmentarian rapist father until we turned 18 and could move out.

    It’s so much easier to get angry at violence against women and girls if it’s perpetrated by the Muslims or the chinese or someone else you view as an “other”. But what about your fellow evangelical men?

    • martyduren

      Hannah-
      I have no idea how I missed your comment, but I apologize.

      I’m not defending complementarianism as a theological system. That seems obvious in the post.

      What your father did was wrong and he should be in jail. What your youth pastor did was wrong and he should have been charged with failure to report. Any other adult who knew should have been charged as well.

      There is no excuse for what happened to you. None.