2 Samuel 13:16, 20b
“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”
(b) And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.
Quotes: Tarana Burke
'Me Too' became the way to succinctly, and powerfully, connect with other people and give people permission to start their journey to heal. ~Tarana Burke
The work is more than just about the amplification of survivors and quantifying their numbers. The work is really about survivors talking to each other and saying, 'I see you. I support you. I get it.' ~Tarana Burke
Two simple words, “Me Too,” that started an international uprising that has shined a much-needed light on sexual violence and assault. When I was choosing the women for this series, I knew immediately that I wanted to do something around Tamar and Tarana Burke. This is a topic that we whisper about, but rarely discuss in church settings. It feels as though everyone is super uncomfortable talking about sexual violence and assault, and rightly so. Everything associated with sexual crimes has been shrouded in silence for so long that we don’t know how to respond.
In truth, sexual violence and assault happens more frequently than we want to admit; it just isn’t something that we talk about, especially in church. Although, the trend is changing. Many historically black churches have started groups called, “The Friends of Tamar” which clearly identifies the group as a survivor’s group—those who have survived sexual violence or assault. The “MeToo” movement has helped these types of groups take shape as more and more individuals come forward and tell their stories.
As a trauma therapist who worked primarily in the substance use field, I encountered a lot of women who had experienced sexual violence and/or assault. Many were reliving that trauma daily whenever they would use their bodies as a way to support their habit, an added layer of trauma on top of the initial trauma. It was heartbreaking to see how so much violence had shaped their lives.
At the heart of this kind of trauma is shame, followed closely by fear and silence. In working with women through their trauma, what I discovered is that our stories have value, and that by telling our stories, we are able to release the shame, fear, and silence that binds us.
In the story of Tamar, she was raped by her ½ brother Amnon. In the ancient world, rape was frowned upon, BUT the definition of rape was not nearly as robust as it is today. Age of consent didn’t really exist. The way a man “married” a woman was by having sexual intercourse with her. In the ancient Hebrew world, they really didn’t have “wedding ceremonies” like we do today. Marriages could be arranged by families, but it was more of a promise from one family to another.
An odd fact, the biblical text talks about sexual violence more than it talks about homosexuality, but not as much as it talks about divorce. What we are willing to talk about in the church, though, is limited by our level of comfort. We think of church as the place we go to feel good about ourselves. But I don’t think that was Jesus’ original plan for churches, to only feel good about themselves. The early churches were tackling some of the most difficult social problems of the day. Jesus wanted the church to be at the forefront of standing up for the most marginalized in their society, which included women and the misuse of power and authority by the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day.
What we discover in the story of Tamar is that the more offensive act was that Amnon dismisses her after he rapes her. It was not uncommon for “family” members to “marry” one another. In the Hebrew world, at the time of Tamar, polygamy was still practiced, and the various children produced by the many wives were not restricted from marrying within the family. What was uncommon, though, was for a man to have intercourse with a woman and then not see that union as binding. If a man dismissed a woman, it reduced her to prostitute status and left her with no options for future marriage. For a woman, this was tragic because this also meant there was no one to take care of her, and there would be no children, who often defined a woman’s status.
In our present day, women who have been raped often describe the sensation of having their very soul ripped from their body. It can be difficult for women to ever trust again, to be able to engage in healthy relationships, and to function in everyday society without mental health challenges. This is what Tarana Burke discovered working with young women in a youth development program in Alabama. She started the #metoo movement as a way for girls/women to finally acknowledge the hurt and the pain of being violated, and to recognize that they were not alone in their suffering. What no one expected was in one year, the hashtag “metoo” would be used 19 million times on Twitter alone. This movement shocked the world with its brutal honesty and paved the way for high profile abusers to finally be exposed and convicted of their long-time misuse of power.
Today Tarana Burke continues her work with women as the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equality in Brooklyn, NY. Just like Tamar, Tarana found a way to be known to the world, and to stand up for what is right and just in a society that has for too long devalued women’s bodies and overlooked their minds.
As we continue our study of women, we stand with those who have experienced sexual violence and assault, and where possible, we join in the chorus of the #metoo movement, once again shining a light into dark spaces so that we rip the cover off of shame, fear, and silence. We stand ready to listen to the stories of those who have been impacted by violence, and we become allies of the highest order—those who can listen without judgment, and who can offer love and support without shame.