The thing I remember most is how calm she was. Almost nonchalant.
“I was assaulted.”
“I got taken advantage of.”
“He wouldn’t stop asking. I finally gave in.”
I noticed she didn’t ever actually use the word “rape.” Maybe she couldn’t. Not yet.
Now, I wish I could tell you that I’ve only had this conversation once. Or even just twice. But the truth is, I’ve had this conversation with three different women. So far.
Each time I drive away from one of these conversations, my mind is yanked back to the first time I listened to a woman share her experience. I shake with rage and fight back tears, sometimes even punching the dashboard until my knuckles bruise and screaming words I’d never use in public. Because suddenly, I’m back there again—back in South Asia.
I did everything right during the ten months I was there. I wore loose-fitting pants and shirts down to my knees. I never left the house without a scarf draped over my chest. I never traveled alone after dark. I rode in the back when a man was driving. I was respectful, decent, and modest.
And it didn’t matter.
“I remember thanking God over and over again that auto-rickshaws couldn’t go fast and didn’t have doors, because that meant I could dive for the safety of the bar ditch if I had to.”
Everywhere I went, men stared. They leered at me at stoplights, their eyes making the disgusting, universal yo-yo act up and down my body. They whistled and yelled at me in Hindi, and I didn’t need a translator to understand. Every time I stepped into a taxi, I looked at the driver and wondered if he would be the one to try something. I remember thanking God over and over again that auto-rickshaws couldn’t go fast and didn’t have doors, because that meant I could dive for the safety of the bar ditch if I had to.
No, I never had to fight anyone off. But I did learn that being a woman in many parts of our world is like drowning all day long, a constant barrage of subtle and unapologetic attacks. My entire schedule was structured around the fear of being raped. I couldn’t yell back at the catcallers. I couldn’t punch them for ogling me. I couldn’t even wear the clothes I wanted. But there’s one thing I could do: I could leave.
My time overseas eventually ended. I got on a plane and flew home. I put on my shorts and my tank top and went back to life in America, but never back to normal.
Weep with Those Who Weep
There is never a day when I would tell a victim of sexual assault that I understand how they feel. I don’t. And I won’t pretend that spending a few months in a blatantly misogynistic culture gives me the right to say I do. But those months abroad did equip me with something survivors need far more than my counterfeit empathy: my tears.
I grew up believing rape is something that happens on Law and Order after I went to bed. I had no frame of reference for it. But those ten months gave me the smallest sliver of common ground with those three precious ladies, and now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If my time in South Asia gave me the strength to take my friends’ hands (if they’re willing) and simply sit with them in their pain as long as they need, then it was worth it.
Rise Up, O Men of God
Those men didn’t treat me like a piece of meat because they are South Asian. They did it because they are lost. As Sir Patrick Stewart put it, “Violence is a choice a man makes,” and the world desperately needs men who will show their brothers that there is a better choice to be made. Men the gospel hasn’t reached need Christian men who will be an example and point them to the Christ of the gospel.
Now, we women have an irreplaceable part to play in the healing and protection of our sisters. Women are absolutely crucial to fulfill the Great Commission, but so are men. And until men—South Asian men, American men, men everywhere—decide that sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are unacceptable, we will always live in a #MeToo culture, no matter what side of the ocean we call home.
Call Sin What It Is
There was a time when I shrugged off the odd catcall or bra snap. I saw a moral difference between sporadic and constant porn use. I honestly thought, “Well, what was she wearing?” was a legitimate question following a sexual assault. I was so very, very wrong. South Asia taught me otherwise, and I pray I never forget the lesson.
We might not sell our daughters to sex traffickers. We might not condone sexual assault or openly ogle our sisters (and brothers) in Christ. But let us not think for one moment that our culture is superior to South Asia’s.
“It’s time for the church to take hold of sexual sin and drag it kicking and screaming into the light.”
Church, our pews are overflowing with men and women who are deeply scarred from the attacks of sexual sin. We’re living in bondage to the abuses we’ve both committed and had committed against us. It’s strangling marriages. It’s killing families. It’s even choking off missions work before it even begins.
It’s time for the church to take hold of sexual sin and drag it kicking and screaming into the light. Men and women of God, we can decide that we will not stand for the Bride of Christ to be violated. When a tearful and shaking woman whispers, “me too,” that’s our cue to stand up and shout on her behalf, “Never again!”
My time overseas opened my eyes and my heart to a world of agony I had no idea existed, but in Christ, I can stare that world down without fear. It’s time to fight, brothers and sisters. He has already bought us the victory.
Jaclyn S. Parrish worked as a writer for IMB in South Asia. She currently serves in the US as a writer, editor, and social media associate for IMB. You can follow her on Twitter at @JaclynSParrish.