Dear 100 Hour Board,
Throughout my life my mom has always told me that it'd be worse for a girl if she were raped rather than murdered. I've never understood this. If you're raped you still get to live. Yeah, you'll have problems and need to go to therapy but you're alive, right? Is there something I'm missing? Why would my mom think that?
Although I've met many women who agree with your mom, I'd be the first to admit that I'd rather be raped than murdered.
(Wow, typing it out plain as day for everyone to read for some reason feels a little awkward. Yes, I think about these things, okay?)
Proceeding with the caveat that neither has ever happened to me, I'm inclined to agree with you - if you've been raped but not murdered, at least you're alive, right?
I think there are a couple reasons that some people feel the way your mom does, though. The first (which I believe is totally valid) is that I don't think we can really understand what rape does to a person's psyche. Where death promises an end to pain and earthly woes, a rape victim may suffer for the rest of his or her life with PTSD, depression, flashbacks, or sexually transmitted diseases. A true comprehension of the utter violation that rape represents - not only of body and principle, but of mind, identity, and self - could lead a person to believe that it would be better to be murdered. Especially for someone who actually has been raped, death may present a preferable alternative.
The second reason (which I think is less valid, and which actually makes me a teeny bit angry) is usually the position adopted by people who are thinking in hypotheticals and trying to take the moral high ground. They value chastity over life itself. I don't know that my own priorities are the same, but I can respect these people (yea, even admire them) for it. The problem with this mindset, however, is that it conflates rape with a violation of the law of chastity. Yes oh yes it's a violation for the perpetrator, who will suffer for that sin (and worse) when confronted by God at the judgment bar. If the victim does everything possible to fight back,* however, he or she is not at all responsible - NOT AT ALL, YA HEAR? - for the actions of the assailant.
A lot of people say that being raped is worse than being murdered because it defiles God's sacred gift of purity, which they believe more valuable than the gift of life. Here's the way I see it: if I am forcibly raped, my body may have been violated, but my purity before God remains intact. I have no reason to hang my head or be ashamed or feel guilt over what has happened.
There may be other reasons; these are just the two that occurred to me. I also hope I'm not offending anyone. My own understanding is inevitably limited, and there could be dimensions that I'm completely overlooking. Please feel free to disagree with me. I'd also like to reiterate my above disclaimer: I've never had to make the choice between being raped or being murdered, so I don't really have much authority to speak on the topic. But those are my two cents, in case anyone wanted them.
*I realize that someone's ability to "fight back" is totally subjective and dependent on the circumstances. I believe each person will be judged accordingly.
I've heard this sentiment a few times before in the LDS community, and I think there are a few reasons for that.
First, we believe strongly in the importance of keeping the law of chastity, and many people confuse being raped with violating the law of chastity (more on this later). For instance, we have Alma's counsel to Corianton that fornication is worse than everything except murder or denying the Holy Ghost (Alma 34:3–5). And as Sky Bones pointed out, there's also Moroni 9:9, which describes "chastity and virtue" as "that which [is] most dear and precious above all things." The modern Church places a heavy emphasis on sins related to the law of chastity as well; for instance, sexual sins can easily lead to excommunication.
Secondly, there are quotes from modern-day prophets that can easily be misunderstood to support your mom's point of view. One quote that I've often seen is from President Spencer W. Kimball, who wrote, "It is better to die in defending one's virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle" (chapter 14 ("Restitution") of The Miracle of Forgiveness). However, note that he does not say that it's better to die than to be raped. In fact, the sentence immediately before this quote says "There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation."
Board Question #20217 asks a similar question (and Board Question #20523 is a follow-up comment), and it has a few other quotes from Church leaders that I feel may be misunderstood. Regardless, as Pa Grape points out in that question, the Church emphatically does not condemn victims of rape, nor does it teach that they have violated the law of chastity, nor does it teach that it is better to die than be raped. In the Gospel Topics listing for "Abuse," the Church says:
Victims of abuse should be assured that they are not to blame for the harmful behavior of others. They do not need to feel guilt. If they have been a victim of rape or other sexual abuse, whether they have been abused by an acquaintance, a stranger, or even a family member, victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sexual sin.
Personally, I would much rather live than die, and I would want the same for my loved ones.
I don't think being raped is worse than being murdered, but I have worked with people whose traumas (including rape) made them feel as if they would have rather died than experience those traumas. Sometimes it is hard to understand this kind of reaction from people until we've been there, but I just wanted to say that your mom's response is valid, too. I this Laser Jock has an incredible point above. I'm so glad he wrote his response. I just wanted to point out that people outside of Mormondom who have experience rape or other traumas sometimes feel this way because of guilt, shame, stigma, flashbacks, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, co-occurring mental health problems, or any of the other terrible consequences. The point of treatment is to help the person improve their quality of life and find meaning in their life, but your mom isn't the only one with this idea.
- The Black Sheep