Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, and Spiritual Healing by Gina Messina-Dysert


Gina Messina-Dysert profileRecently I had the great pleasure of presenting on the WATER Teleconference Series and dialoguing with women from around the world about how to promote healing in a rape culture. Likewise, in a previous post I discussed rape culture in the Church and its impact on victims of sexual violence and the greater community.  Within a rape culture, those who experience sexual victimization endure physical, emotional, and spiritual wounding. It is a victimization unlike any other, and one that we must continue to discuss in search of healing.

This topic is important to me for obvious reasons. As a woman, mother, and social justice activist, I am passionate about eradicating gender based violence.  This said, I also have direct experience with this brutality that plagues our society. Having worked with rape survivors for more than a decade, I have witnessed the suffering endured as a result of such violence.  My own mother died prematurely as a result of sexual and domestic violence; having come to learn of the horrors she lived through has greatly impacted my understanding of the deep spiritual wounding experienced due to our culture of shaming and blaming – our rape culture.

Han has become a key concept in the way I understand the suffering of the rape victim.  Han is a Korean concept that refers to a multiplicity of sufferings based on social injustice that are compressed together to create the worst suffering one can imagine.  I think it is very appropriate to categorize the suffering resulting from sexual violence in this way.  After all, we teach girls there is nothing worse that can happen in one’s life than to be raped.  The rape culture blames victims for their assaults and then shames them; following sexual violence victims often* feel rejected from their communities, alone, ashamed, and of little worth.  (Let me acknowledge here that I am not attempting to generalize the experience of rape, but describe a particular experience.)

So how can we begin to heal in a culture that re-victimizes those who have been sexually violated; those who have been wronged?  I believe that Han-Pu-Ri offers an important model that deserves attention.  The term Han-Pu-Ri originally arose from Korean shamanistic tradition and offered ghosts who were voiceless the opportunity to speak about their experience of han.  The ritual itself was primarily practiced by women priestesses and called on the community responsible for the social injustice to release the han by either eliminating oppression or comforting the ghosts.  Thus, Han-Pu-Ri can be an opportunity for collective healing and spiritual resurrection for han ridden spirits as well as for collective repentance for the communities that have participated in creating and perpetuating han.

Han-Pu-Ri is comprised of three important steps: Speaking and hearing, naming, and changing.

    1. In speaking and hearing, the shaman provides the persons or ghosts the opportunity to break their silence, express their han, and be heard by the community.
    2. The second step is naming and allows the source of oppression to be identified by the persons or ghosts.
    3. The final step, changing, is the attainment of peace by the persons or ghosts through the transforming of unjust situations through action.

This traditional ritual practiced by Korean women is applicable to rape victims because women who have been sexually assaulted have also experienced social injustice that can be characterized as han.  Like the Korean women who practiced Han-Pu-Ri, rape victims also have no channel to express their han which leads to a sense of isolation and impassibility or “living death.”  However, women who have been sexual assaulted can come together to speak out, confront the rape culture, and experience a sense of accompaniment with those who have shared a similar han. This will begin the spiritual healing process.

“Take Back the Night” is a ritual that can be examined as a means of allowing victims of sexual violence to achieve the steps of Han-Pu-Ri.  Victims become survivors by speaking out, shifting the blame and shame from themselves to society and the rape culture, and experience a kind of transformation.  This said, women can participate in Han-Pu-Ri on any scale.  Community can be two people.  By reaching out to one other individual the rape victim can accomplish the steps and begin her journey of spiritual healing.

Han-Pu-Ri offers a model that achieves acknowledging, confronting, accountability, and healing. Speaking one’s pain, confronting the culture, and demanding accountability is where we must start in order to end injustice and initiate healing.  We cannot heal until we acknowledge that the rape culture is unjust.  Once these steps are taken, transformation is possible.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is a Feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist.  She is Director of the Center for Women’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education at Claremont Graduate University, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University, and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles and the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence.  She is co-editor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the forthcoming anthology, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.

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Categories: Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, Women's Suffering

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4 replies

  1. Gina, I could not agree with you more that breaking the silence and naming violence as violence is the most important first step to breaking the cycles of violence. Perhaps in a follow-up post you will discuss how the Korean concept of ghosts might deepen our discussions and our healing.

    For example, many women who are beaten by partners grew up with violence in the home, and many men who beat women grew up being beaten and witnessing men beat women. Whether or not we believe in life after death, the “ghosts” of beatings past and violence in the past are real in the sense that they continue to affect the psyches of the living. Violence is rarely a “two-way” street, as our culture condones violence in many ways, and in addition many perpetrators and victims have grown up models of violence and accepting violence.

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  2. Brava! I wonder if there’s a way to successfully introduce Han-Pu-Ri into the warrior culture of the military. Any military. But especially the one we’ve got today where the chain-of-command silences victims and promotes rapists. Why are these men heroes?

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  3. Thanks, Gina, for describing Han-Pu-Ri and how it functions in Korean culture. I think you’re right about “Take Back The Night” marches. They certainly helped me to heal from the rape that was perpetrated on me (I can’t say “my” rape), except that the final stage will never be complete until we have a feminist culture, rather than a patriarchal culture. And that won’t happen in my lifetime.

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  4. If only we as humans could be more like our cousins – the bonobos: http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/e-media/podcasts/aloud/bonobo-and-atheist
    No rape, no patriarchal religion, and a matriarchal culture – sounds good to me.

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