Happy Valentine’s Day BPFers! I’m heading out today to join up with One Billion Rising, a movement to recognize that over 1 billion women and girls will be sexually abused in their lifetimes, and it’s going to take at least 1 billion of us to rise up together to make a revolution to end this violence.
[Video clip of Dawn dancing to One Billion Rising’s song, “Break the Chain” – if you aren’t watching the video, you are missing out!]
People have been asking, “How does something like this happen? What are the conditions that give rise to sexual abuse?” In my experience as a sexual violence educator for over 10 years now, I find it particularly helpful to look at the differences in power that often exist beforehand between a victim and an abuser. We often find both that abusers will exploit that difference in power, and that after the abuse happens it actually strengthens the difference of power that previously existed in the relationship.
We often talk about violence against women and girls, but we actually see astronomical rates of violence among all communities who are made vulnerable by oppression and by power differentials in our society. So you see huge rates of violence among kids vs. adults, among people of color – particularly Native American women who have faced colonialism for centuries, among immigrants, among queer and trans folks, and among people with disabilities.
A difference in power is in many ways embedded in our Buddhist tradition in this relationship between student and teacher. Often where we see a power difference become problematic is when that difference become fetishized or hardened where there is very little space for the person with less power to have any choice or authority in relationship with the person with more power.
Survivors of abuse are systematically silenced and accused of lying. When will we start naming the institutions so obsessed with hierarchy and power that they’ll cover up sexual abuse as the real liars?
When we look at institutions that have fetishized hierarchies or differences in power – think military, prisons, the Catholic church – there are the places we see the worst cases of ongoing, rampant sexual abuse, as well as elaborate system of lies that are used to cover up that the abuse has ever happened.
These are one set of systematic lies that build empire, that makes billions of us feel less than, powerless, worthless. Which makes us easily exploitable.
As we’re rising today, I invite us to look together at how we participate in any way in a fetishization of the hierarchies in our Buddhist communities.
Do we get sucked in to the ‘cult of personality’ around ‘rock star’ teachers and put them up on pedestals as if they can do no wrong?
Do we, with our own teachers, feel like we have authority to question them? Or if they do something that feels uncomfortable to us, do we just chalk it up to not understanding the teachings?
Do we listen to and believe others who accuse our teachers – even if we are shocked or can’t quite believe that our teacher could do be one to do something like that?
Do we offer resources and options for support when people feel like they’ve been harmed by a teacher?
Collectively, how do we keep the teacher-student relationship balanced within our Buddhist communities?
Do we need advocates who can support students who feel like they’ve been harmed?
Do we need clearer mechanisms of accountability for teachers who abuse their students?
Do we need rituals for healing ourselves, both as individuals and collectively as sanghas?
I’d love to hear others’ reflections on how we rise against abuse in our Buddhist communities. So down in the comments – leave a note, let’s talk about this! I’d love to hear what others are thinking.