By Sandie Syke
June 2018 – Kerala, India: A nun filed a complaint against a Bishop claiming he had raped her at least 13 times between 2014 and 2016.
Understandably, this generated a lot of reactions. What followed is a story we are all too familiar with, one of victim blaming, victim character assassination, lies and attempted bribery.
Three months later, after various protests and a hunger strike by a social activist, the alleged rapist stepped down from his role as Bishop and was arrested following the realization of doctored videos and conflicting testimonies by the accused. Three weeks after his arrest, the Bishop was released on bail and returned to his diocese where he was welcomed by some of his supporters.
Since the complaint in June, many people had been instrumental in moving the case forward, most prominently, the five nuns who protested until the Bishop was arrested and a key witness, a reverend father, who passed away suddenly a month after the arrest of the Bishop (I smell Conspiracy).
These five nuns have now recently come under fire as the Congregation they pledged their lives to seem to be turning their backs on them. The nuns have all being transferred out of the convent in Kuravilangad in Kottayam, Kerala where they have been staying with the victim since the protests started in September 2018. This was done by the order of the Superior General and comes on the heels of the lack of protection of these nuns by the church as recommended by the police in Kerala because the church said it did not have the financial means to provide such protection.
Furthermore, a nun who has been vocal about her support for the victim was recently served a warning letter requesting her to appear before a church panel to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against her for talking in public and granting interviews without the knowledge of her superiors.
The five nuns are expressing fears for their safety should they be moved to different convents as ordered and citing the sudden death of the key witness reverend father as the basis for their fears. The case is still ongoing.
Unfortunately, the events unfolding in the Kerala Rape Case are not surprising. Various organized religious bodies have had a long, sordid history of protecting sexual predators and rapists. Most times it is out of the misguided need to protect the image of the religious body which is prioritized over the welfare of the victim. In doing so, organized religions shield and protect the accused person within their walls and may even go as far as to harm the victim. The fact that it took the victim so long to report this rape points to the dilemma that must have gone on in her mind, there are some comments from family members noting that the victim seemed to be depressed following the first incident in 2014.
Anecdotal evidence abounds regarding the futility of seeking solace within religious organizations in cases of sexual assault. Victims often share that after a reported assault or rape, they are often blamed or told that they brought it upon themselves in one way or another. They are often asked to forgive their attackers and move on, or ‘leave the judgement up to God’.
Should a victim decide to pursue the case legally they would often find themselves alone and ostracized by the same community that’s supposed to provide solace for them.
We are yet a long way from change in this regard, but this is why the work STER is doing is so important. Knowledge is power, and the ability to find solace in a community like STER is vital. Victims need to know that they are not alone and there are people out there who believe them and will walk with them through the long tortuous road ahead. For the vast majority of people, this knowledge alone would significantly improve how they cope psychologically with the fact of the assault, regardless of what they decide to pursue legally or otherwise.
As individuals, we can all strive to make our immediate environment that of support and understanding, we should speak up immediately we see an assault at church or elsewhere and we should reach out to those around us who seem to be carrying a heavy burden. Sometimes all that’s needed is a listening ear, you can be that person for someone in their darkest moments.