The horror endures. We are modern and wise and yet, rape and sexual abuse continues in our midst.
There are basic assertions that still bear repeating:
• Sexual abuse of a minor is not subject to consent.
• Rape is not determined by how a woman dressed or acted before the attack.
• Rape is not determined by whether the victim derived any pleasure from the experience.
In a few short verses, this week’s Torah portion tells of the tragic attack of our ancestor Dina.
For many years our sages have read this story in an effort to understand what happened and inform how we read it.
The 13th C Spanish scholar Nahmanides (Gen 34:1) questions the description of the narrative. He rejects the suggestion of others who posit that the ‘pain’ that the biblical text notes in response to Dina’s rape emerged from physical discomfort or her virginity. Instead Nahmanides describes that the ‘pain’ comes from the basic tenet that Dina’s experience was one of rape. As he says so aptly ‘all sex within the context of rape is called painful.’
Nahmanides acknowledges a basic idea that we are still learning. While there may have been physical discomfort, the pain associated with rape is not limited to that. When there is rape there is pain. Emotional and psychological pain are pain. Pain that we as a society should make every effort to see, support and comfort.
Nahmanides even adds a last note in his commentary praising Dina’s strength in refusing to consent to her rapist against her will even though he was a person of stature and power.
Women and girls, men and boys, continue to bravely share their pain of abuse and rape in every segment of society. I continue to hear stories from people who’s attackers where family, acquaintances or complete strangers; who’s assaults were endured recently or tens of years ago.
I pray that we create space for these stories to be seen and heard, that we can learn to acknowledge their pain in every way that it manifests and find the wisdom to praise their strength even when they do not feel very strong.