I recently attended the screening of an important documentary, “The Invisible War,” about the epidemic of sexual assault in the US armed forces. All branches of the military were represented, and the personal stories told and the statistics given were not only riveting and compelling, but also upsetting and thought provoking. After an organized discussion about the film, I left the theater deep in thought about this tragic situation and asking myself what could I do – what steps could I take? Should I give money for legal defense work, show the film to friends, or just agonize about the statistics spinning through my head?
I kept thinking about the ideas presented at the end of the film: The rates of sexual assault in the US military are double what they are in civilian society, yet women make up only 14 percent of all active-duty service members, and only 4 percent of reported incidents are prosecuted. Americans need to do something, I kept thinking. And then, like everything in my life, I turned to the one thing that always calms me – prayer and the assertion that an all-loving, eternal presence, God, is in command. He is our commanding officer.
I remembered how my husband prayed years ago about a wave of rape cases that was sweeping through our city. He was in graduate school, and working at night for our city police department in the crime analysis unit, computerizing the daily statistics of crime in our large metropolitan city. The statistics that greeted my husband nightly said a wave of rape cases was sweeping through the area, growing each day.
On his way to work one night, he thought about words from Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 476-477). My husband realized that with this correct view of man, there was neither a victim nor a victimizer, neither a vulnerable individual nor a lurking criminal. We could see everyone as a beloved, beautiful expression of God’s creating.
The following days and until my husband’s contract was over with the police department, no further rapes were reported. My husband and I felt that his prayers contributed to that remarkable decline. We knew that specific prayers for our community did have an effect, even if those results weren’t acknowledged in the media. Our prayers for the safety of our neighbors, city, nation, or world can be seen and felt.
I continued to hold to that statement of Mrs. Eddy’s as my own work led us overseas several years later. I was working in a US embassy in Africa and in charge of American Citizen Services, helping Americans abroad who needed assistance for everything from new passports to help when victimized or in distress. A case of rape was reported to the embassy, and I was the officer in charge. As I assisted the young American woman with protection, reporting the crime, and physical care, these words from a hymn in the “Christian Science Hymnal” stayed with me: “Cared for, watched over, beloved and protected,/ Walk thou with courage each step of the way” (No. 278).
I knew that the innate goodness of all the daughters of God could never have been defiled or taken from them. I found myself sharing some of these comforting words with the young woman. I also knew that we could walk with courage and take proper steps to bring this case to trial and a conclusion.
We were successful in obtaining local legal counsel for the woman, and the authorities located the perpetrator and brought him into custody. I assisted the woman in identifying the man. The state-appointed prosecutor was extremely helpful in bringing the case to trial.
Throughout all the duties and legal steps I took on behalf of this American citizen, I felt a calm and peace about the case, the young woman, and the embassy’s ability to liaise with local authorities. The woman returned to the United States to continue her studies, and while the man received a conviction, the greatest triumph for me was seeing this woman’s faith and confidence in herself restored. We stayed in touch when she took up her graduate studies again, and the outpouring of gratitude from her family, halfway around the world, found its way to our ambassador’s desk.
These experiences have solidified in me the abilities we do have to do something about rape waves and sexual assaults in our communities. We can take a stand for God’s law and for seeing the “perfect man.” We can go forward with the expectation of good in our lives.