In southern India, " devadasis" are literally slaves of the goddess. When girls dedicated to Yellama reach puberty they are forced to sacrifice their virginity to an older man. What follows is a life of sexual slavery, they become sanctified prostitutes.
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A "Foreign" Phenomena?
It is a safe bet that the majority of Americans reading the above story would be understandably empathetic and outraged at the plight of these girls and women half a world away. But would anyone doubt that this is taking place? How many Americans reading this article would question the actual veracity of the testimony of these unfortunates?
It is not hard for us to imagine these things happening in cultures that are so foreign...so, "other". We often hear stories like this and feel grateful that we in Western First World society are so much more civilized. We are a Christian society with laws against these things. This sort of thing doesn't happen here, thankfully. Or does it?
What would happen to these practices in India if the whole country converted to Christianity and these practices were outlawed? Surely the believers who hold to their pagan ways would obey the rule of law. Wouldn't they? When considering this question, I refer the reader back to a quote from the article:
"Despite campaigns by India's national and state governments, the system of devadasis endures.A pertinent question can then be asked, "What is stronger; fear of punishment or religious belief?" It only takes a cursory glance at peoples and governments throughout history to provide a clear answer to this question. The mere existence of martyrs answers this question. Changing the laws in a society does not change the deep held beliefs of its people, or the practices that grow out of these beliefs especially if those practices are seen as important in the following of the given belief system.
The number of young girls being dedicated is declining. But now the ceremonies happen in secret, so it is impossible to know exact numbers."
So, now let us shift our lens of focus from far away India to a place most readers are more familiar with, the United States of America. Is is possible that people in America today could hold to similar belief systems to those we have just examined in India, and could also view the practice of temple style prostitution or "sacred sex" as an important component of their beliefs? What if the beliefs around this practice were such that it included the exposure of children to such practices; or even the training of certain children in tantric techniques in a worship context and setting with the expectation that these children continue this practice throughout adulthood?
Are there groups of people living in the United States today who hold to a pagan belief system which includes practices such as this that are illegal in a "civilized" Christian society? Doesn't it stand to reason that if there were people in this society who held to these sorts of beliefs and practices, and saw the continuation of them as very important, that they would simply continue these practices only under a cloak of extreme secrecy? If we remember the nature and power of belief in peoples throughout history, we would be forced to logically, but reluctantly concede to the affirmative answer to this question.
A Personal Testimony
The theoretical foundation of this question of whether it is possible that these kinds of practices could be taking place within American society, is laid to hopefully open the mind of the reader to my own personal testimony that yes, these types of beliefs and their associated "sacred" practices are alive and well in the United States. I know because I was raised in a family who believed this way and practiced these things and I was used this way from childhood until I was 39 years old when I finally escaped.
Some may doubt that I am speaking the truth, and may ask why, since this sort of slavery is illegal in this country, I didn't go to the authorities. The answer to that is a simple one. I was told, and I thoroughly believed, that no one would believe me if I told and my life was threatened. I was told and believed that not only would no one believe me, but I would be declared insane and locked in a mental hospital as well. As I have already pointed out in this article, the power of belief is very strong and I believed that no help would come and I would only die or suffer even more as a result.
The helplessness and terror that I experienced was so constant and extreme that I even kept the secret from myself. To endure these things I coped by fragmenting my personality into very distinct pieces so that there were parts of me who knew about and endured the abuse and slavery; and those who did not know...could not know. This was the only way I could function but, unfortunately this was also advantageous to the perpetrators of these crimes against my person. The fact that only some parts of me knew, and they did not live everyday life, meant that these things could continue in complete secrecy. In short, it enabled me to live a double life, behind my own back.
After 39 years of this entrapment I was finally able to start to remember the abuses that had occurred and were occurring. I had to flee the state I was living in to escape and even now I am still being stalked, threatened, and harassed. I continue to stand for my freedom and am working toward healing.
In order to better be able to believe and picture such a thing occurring, a reader may be tempted to picture my family upbringing and the perpetrators involved in these crimes as either some sort of Mafia crime family or some backwoods isolated cult. It is easier for people to picture these sorts of things in these environments for the same reason that they can believe it happens in India. As long as the people engaged in these practices are foreign, most people can reassure themselves that these types of people can be readily identified and therefore avoided. My story does not allow for such convenient ways out. I come from a typical upper middle class background with an unremarkable family history... at least as far as the public record is concerned. The main perpetrator who forcibly used me in sexual rituals for over ten years of my adult life was likewise an upstanding community member and pastor of a mainstream Christian church.
I now expose these things to challenge the status quo in this country and to challenge people to think about why they believe or don't believe certain things. In so doing I hope to make a way for those who are still trapped in this kind of very real slavery in this country to move towards freedom. A crucial first step in that process is to be able to have hope that someone, somewhere may believe their story. It is my hope that through education that eventually it would not be possible for these practices to go on in the shadows and that survivors could find freedom and wholeness.
The basic fact is that even if there are laws against prostitution and slavery, it doesn't matter if the victims are not believed in the first place.