Abuse, church, I kissed dating goodbye, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Spiritual Abuse

Balderdash Indeed.

Recently I’ve been drawn to the topic of #churchtoo.  The prolific outpouring of #metoo stories that are coming from survivors that have either been abused by members or staff of churches OR have disclosed their abuse to staff at the church and have been ignored, shunned, shamed, dismissed, or “dealt with in “biblical ways” (small nods of penance/prayer etc.)  I am a survivor, so #metoo & #churchtoo applies to my story directly, leading to my passion on this topic, as well as my strong empathy for the outpouring of the stories from these strong women.

I blogged EXTENSIVELY about the story of Jules, a young lady from Texas who was sexually assaulted by her youth pastor forcing her to have oral sex with him on a dirt road.  She then disclosed her rape, later on, the pastor was only dismissed from the church in an internal justice thing, as she was asked to keep this quiet (despite the fact that a crime had been committed).  The pastor then, later on, was hired by another church in Tennessee.  Jules then shared her story publically, and the pastor was forced to share in front of his congregation what he had done.  Instead of the shock and awe, he should have faced for the criminal act he had done, the man received a standing ovation.  After the public backlash, the pastor went on leave.  Remember this was a CRIME he got away with, that was covered up by the church.  For a long post on this, please refer to this post.

This is just one example of the #churchtoo stories that are coming to light.  Women are starting to become emboldened to speak their truth, in a patriarchal system that previously silenced them.

Now, before #churchtoo, there was #metoo.  We had permutations that came from that and one of them was #yesallmen.  #Yesallmen brought about huge backlash from the XY community, who knee-jerked into the “but wait, I’m not all men!  I am not a rapist, I don’t sexually assault women!  I don’t do these things!”  However, ALL MEN have been involved at one point in the catcalling, in the group that has made fun of a woman, etc.  All men have been bystanders while something has been said or done to a woman. So #yesallmen.  But before we get too hopped up on that broad term, let’s get a bit more specific.

I recently signed up for Twitter.  I’ve been dreading the form of social media for some reason, I didn’t really find myself connected to it, but I did come across an amazing woman who tweets fantastic content.  Amazingly, she linked a blog from Pastor Russ at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church in Missouri, I’d thrilled to dialogue with him in person, because I’m about to break-down his entire post piece by piece and would be happy to put a face to his words. My hopes are he is woefully misguided and just had a moment of feeling wounded.  “But my church isn’t like that, please don’t write us all off” perhaps is where he was coming from.  I don’t know.  I’d be happy to have a Skype conversation.  You know how to reach me.)

You can read their entire post in sequence here. (Assuming he doesn’t have the proper sense to take it down.  (Though I’ve saved it in a cache and a word doc for posterity.)

I will be writing his words in quote boxes and mine below for the rest of this post.

Maybe you’ve read the articles. The world accuses the Church of fostering a culture of sexual abuse.

Balderdash.

Millions of Christians worldwide daily pursue justice and mercy, goodness and truth, and love for neighbor within their marriages, in their parenting, at work, in church, in their neighborhoods, and in charities and social organizations, quietly modeling the character of Christ day in and day out. Their conduct never makes the news. Christ-like behavior is not nearly as sexy as one Christian whose conduct denies his profession of faith. Scandal sells.

  1.  The world-  This is church-speak for “christians vs. non christians.”  We outside of the church proper are the world, for reference.  He is taking a perspective that this is a church v. non-religious stance, rather than the sexual abusers (and those who empower/harbor/excuse them) vs those who want to make sure they are… not doing that.
  2. Millions pursue justice and mercy etc etc etc.  Sure.  Yes.  Millions of people don’t do the wrong thing. Bravo. It’s kind of like when you serve a sandwich that doesn’t have a hair in it.  That’s kind of the minimum of the sandwich artist, right?  To serve a sandwich without a remnant of the server in it?  I’m not going to cheer that my sandwich did not have a curly purple hair in it.
  3. Scandal sells.  Now at this moment, he jumps the shark. I wasn’t angry about what he said before this very moment.  I was annoyed, maybe?  I was like “yeah, I remember this gaslighting message from before, the smooth-talking “world v. us” mentality” but, Scandal sells?  Seriously?  That’s where you want to go with this?    Survivors are not a story to be monetized.  Scandal sells?  We are talking about sexual abuse, rape etc.  This is a crime in which women (and men) have DEEP DEEP shame.  This is a story that often never gets told because of that shame.  The #Metoo movement has finally brought women to the point where they feel that there are enough survivors out there that there is a safety net of numbers so they feel that they can safely be heard and supported, or they would still be in the shadows.  There is nothing to be gained by stepping out and sharing a story about their rape, their victimization, ESPECIALLY if it happened in the very communities that they share a deep connection like their faith, their friends, their pastors, their religion.

Every day faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, caring for victims, and pursuing justice and accountability, quietly and faithfully. But that’s not newsworthy. Scandal scintillates.

  1. Here, let me fix that for you: “Faithful churches deal carefully and biblically with cases of CRIME, sweeping things under the run, shaming victims (like I’m doing in this post,) hiring would be felons, having no accountability, keeping things quiet (I totally agree with that one, buddy).  And that is newsworthy because that’s what we have been doing for so long and it’s finally coming out, and we are all nervous. Scandal scintillates.  And I’m scared that it might come out about my church, too.”
    Whew, much better.  See how that flows?
  2. Broad swaths of churches are not handling abuse, and the large amounts of disclosures that are happening from victims well.*

For two thousand years the Church of Jesus Christ has inculcated the virtue of self-control (Titus 2:11-12), the importance of love for neighbors (Matthew 22:36-40), and the necessity that men treat women as sisters in Christ (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The Church has been teaching men and women to conduct themselves with sexual integrity since the days of Moses. But that’s just a killjoy. Scandal is so much more intriguing than obedience.

  1. Self control- YES. See, that’s what could keep you from getting in this mess.  The church slut-shame girls and women by telling them how to act, dress, and to keep themselves all prim and proper (Hi, one-piece suits for girls but topless boys,  double standard! I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, I’m looking at you too!), rather than teaching men to keep it in their pants,  control their minds, and not martially rape their wives.
    When we are taught to be submissive, not to be valued; when we are trained, like dogs; when the biggest value we have is hospitality, to be a mother, and a wife, not a member of society, to go to college,  to get an amazing job, to contribute passionately to the world, not our minds, wit, and spirit…
  2. This sexual integrity you speak of is totally not of this church world.  When the church teaches about sexual integrity in the terms of passing around a rose and by the time it gets to the end of the youth group is all smudged and broken and we are told that is what we are when we give part of our heart/spirit away like we are objects… or a piece of paper that gets ripped in half each time we like a boy until there is just this tiiiiiiny piece for the person we marry… see how we are objectified?  This is what the church teaches.  Mind you also, this is ALWAYS DIRECTED TO THE GIRLS.  We are fine china and any chip in the china and we are damaged goods.  Wonder why we don’t disclose abuse and rape? When all of that is shattered when our “purity” is taken from us, and we are disempowered by the very church that tells us it’s ultimate value, that is the power the church has.
  3. “Mansplaining” what it’s like to be in a survivor’s shoes, by this point in your blog is getting offensive.  You’ve started to lace in sexual purity and self-control to the narrative as if the #metoo or #churchtoo movement has to do with a lack of self-control.  RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE IS NOT ABOUT SELF CONTROL ON THE PART OF THE SURVIVOR.  IT IS ON THE PART OF THE AGGRESSOR/ABUSER.

The world expects, nay, it demands, that the Church share its outrage against sexual sin, which is the sin de jour. If a church instead chooses simply to live in fidelity to the truth and in sexual integrity, rather than to make showy, toothless, public proclamations, then that church is—according to the world—complicit. Phrases like “silence is consent” bandy about as the world shames the Church. But if the Church does rebuke sin, and if that sin is not the sin de jour—or if it is a sin that society refuses to call sin—then the world denounces the Church as hateful or racist or misogynistic or any number of other derogatory labels of contempt.

  1. Violence.pngRAPE IS NOT SEXUAL SIN ALONE.  RAPE IS A CRIME. RAPE IS A FELONY IN MOST, IF NOT ALL, STATES.  IT IS NOT THE “SIN DE JOUR”.  IT IS THE “CRIME DE OMG WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN ON THE FOREFRONT OF ALL CHURCHES ALWAYS WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THE TIME AND WHY AM I EVEN HAVING TO SPELL THIS OUT FOR YOU?”
  2. Are you really saying that the world would have an issue with you going “the church will have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual abuse, assault and rape?”  Is this really even something I’m saying?
  3. We ARE shaming the church.  When the church has unprecedented access to vulnerable populations (children, homeless, women, survivors, etc), you ARE held to a high standard of behavior.  There is story after story coming out of staff who are known predators who were hired with known criminal records.  This is UNACCEPTABLE.  This point cannot be argued.

And now you go into your affirmations.  I recall these.  In the church we used to say stuff and just because we said it, it made it true.  We had a gal who had cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition, where the pastor told her that she still had it because of unconfessed sin, but that’s for another time), we spoke it out that she no longer had CF and waited for Jesus to heal her, because anything claimed in his name became true.  She died before she turned 30.  But let’s go into this pastor’s affirmations.  These might go over better.

I affirm that individual professing Christians have been guilty of sin and abuse. I reject the idea that an entire institution is guilty for the sin of an individual.

Onboard.

I affirm that individual churches have mishandled abuse cases, and in so doing have wounded the abused. I reject the idea that every church stands guilty for the sin of one church.

Abuse was an actual CRIME, but okay.

I affirm that entire denominations have failed to speak or have actively covered up sexual sin. I reject the notion that every denomination is thus a nursery for abuse.

When there are posts like this pastor’s, shunning the speaking up of victims of abuse (you can bet that no one from his flock will because HOLY SHIT, #nothischurch), and being in a system that is male-dominated, and where victims often are told that the abuse will be handled internally, rather than to be encouraged to speak to police, the Church (Big C, meaning any/all) will not be a safe place to disclose abuse.  But don’t just take my word for it.

I affirm that the Church must balance justice and mercy, giving appropriate weight to each when dealing with sin and abuse. I reject the intimation that world knows best how the Church should deal with sin.

There is a whole justice system set up to deal with crimes.  Which is what we are talking about here.  If the church wants to help out with the spiritual side of an abuser, carry on, warriors, but justice and criminal repercussions are handled in the courts.

The world understands neither justice nor mercy, and it certainly knows nothing of how justice and mercy meet in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

Eyeroll.  Just no.

I reject the hubris of the world in presuming to tell the Church what it should or should not do and say.

Here, let me help you out.

  1.  We the church will not hire, abet, encourage, employ or affirm abusers.
  2.  We firmly stand with, affirm, believe, encourage and stand up for the victims of sexual assault, abuse, and rape.
  3. We will IMMEDIATELY contact law enforcement if we become aware of any information that breaks ANY laws regarding sexual crimes involving children.  We will immediately encourage any women to report sexually based crimes to law enforcement.  We will support them FULLY through that process.
  4. We believe in the autonomy of both women and men, and the absolute value of both sexes.

It’s really that simple.  IT’S.NOT. THAT. HARD.

The Church of Jesus Christ—with all her warts, flaws, sins, shortcomings, baggage, failings, and weaknesses—is still the beautiful Bride of Christ whom He will deliver blameless on the last day. The Church still binds and looses, opening and shutting the Kingdom of God through her preaching of Good News. To the Church Jesus has given the oracles and ordinances for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. With the Church He is battering down the gates of hell.

The world is in no position to bad talk the Bride of Christ.

In fact, the world might find that the Church’s husband has been keeping score, and He is jealous for His Bride.

Is that… a threat? Keeping Score?  If I’m keeping score on the bride of christ, you have a chance to do better.

I’m available via skype, OP.  I’d love a dialogue.  I’m a survivor, of a rape that happened IN my church.

The church has an opportunity to call survivors in by acknowledgment of organizational failures (if not singular church failure), rather than call the world out for pointing the finger at the clergy at Large for harboring.

HOW WILL YOU USE IT? 

TRY AGAIN, PASTOR RUSS.

 

* I’m adding this edit: I realize that this pastor is one of the first to come out and attempt a dialogue.  This is hard work.  It’s hard to be male and attempt a dialogue about sexual assault, being that the voices that should be out there should be the victims.  Victims need to be the ones talking, but it takes a lot of emotional labor to be always educating on this issue.

I spent a lot of time on this article, and I also spoke with many people as I wrote it, including quite a few who are in the church themselves to ground my anger with the faith-based responses to the #churchtoo movement.  I do understand that likely this pastor is working to try to understand how the church can meet people where they are.  I imagine there are people in his church that have experienced rape, and I hope that he can find a way to hear their stories without judgment.  Victims deserve to have their perpetrators face justice within the justice system and to have support systems in place to encourage them to speak to authorities if they so choose.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse is not only a sin, it is a crime.  Pastoral staff need to take a stand against this crime and stand with women who are starting to be able to find their voices and boldly step into the light.

 

 

Sexual Assault

When Vengence Eclipses Justice

Today, while Nassar went through another round of sentencing, a father of three abused daughters (two of which were standing next to him in court with tears in their eyes) Randall Margraves begged for just 5 minutes of time with the offender in a room.  He pled with the judge, and after being obviously refused, Margraves decided to take vengeance into his own hands and bolted towards the disgraced abuser.  He was forcefully taken down by court police and cuffed.

I don’t blame him for having a visceral reaction to Nassar.  I can’t imagine the pain Margraves is having, knowing that Nassar abused his daughters.  The people who were supposed to protect me either shamed or discarded me after my assault, so I don’t have a direct frame of reference, but if someone had hurt my child in this way, I likely would have the same desire to set that person straight.  Perhaps with my fists.

But when I watched this tape for the second time, my focus changed.  I could hear his daughters, who had been standing next to him during his impact statement.  They were distressed, and crying in shock as the person they loved was suddenly overcome with anger and subsequently arrested for his courtroom outburst.  Their sounds were those of scared women, scared of losing their person.  The one who is standing there speaking up against the person who abused them.

The internet is calling him a hero.  Likely because Margraves did what we all wanted to do.  Serve a quick punch to the face of justice.  The build-up of pain was a timebomb waiting to happen in the Nassar case.  With so much restraint and elegance among the women, there had to be a breaking point.

And I hear you.  I really do.

AND.  The cycle of violence MUST be broken.  Power was abused over these girls (now women) as they were sexually molested over and over by Nassar.  POWER is what we are talking about here.  Nassar had it and used it in unfathomable ways.  Margraves also was attempting to use his power to assault.

I still stand with the women.  The women in the Nassar case were exceedingly eloquent and powerful in their strength and testimony. But in this case, the women that Margraves supports were in terror of their father’s behavior, as evidenced by the sounds of anguish as he was taken to the ground.

Part two of “I don’t wish rape on my rapist.”

 

 

church, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Sexual Assault, Spiritual Abuse

#ChurchToo

When pastors can get up in front of their congregation and get a standing ovation for admitting that they sexually assaulted a minor, we are CLEARLY missing the mark.

This month, Tennessee Pastor Andy Savage spoke to his church admitting to a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl. This “incident”  involved pressuring this girl to perform oral sex on him. For the rest of this post, I will refer to this “incident” as sexual assault, as that is the correct term.

Previously mentioned in past posts, I find the vast access of clergy to be very problematic in the incidents of sexual assaults because of the implicit trust placed in their hands.

Christianity Today’s Editor, Kately Beaty hits the nail on the head with this response: 

“In these cases, you have a very vertical understanding of forgiveness, something that happens between the perpetrator and God. But we lack a horizontal understanding. There really has to be a reckoning with the wrong done to this woman.”

Let’s call a spade a spade.  Using your spiritual and male privilege to convince a youth to perform oral sex on you, is sexual assault.  It’s not an “incident.”  Until we are able to be direct and blunt about responsibility (the onus is on the person in power of the sexual situation) we will not be able to move forward as a culture, a church, and a movement.

There must be frameworks and expectations put in place, and followed up with by outside agencies when it comes to crimes on church property, or with the clergy.

Churches have an obligation to be a safe haven for people to go.  A place for them to be safe, and to make sure that they are taken care of.  As a young person, this church failed me.

Subsequently to the #metoo movement, I’ve found the #churchtoo hashtag.  This is a bold statement of women and girls to say that the church has been abusive by either being the abuser or enabling abuse to occur on the property or at sponsored events.

Just recently, I asked to meet with my former youth pastor.  I disclosed to him in the early 2000’s about my rape on church property during a youth group night event.  (Side note:  When I disclosed my rape, (which occurred next to a bathroom that was further away from the youth event, but still within the building,) the first thing he said was “well, why were you over there?”  Not, “I’m so sorry.” or “That’s horrible, how can we, the church support you?”) Immediately, (via FB messenger) he avoided my request to meet, even invoking his wife as a reason, stating that he doesn’t meet with women alone.  I responded that if she needed to attend our meeting, I’d be fine with that, giving him no other excuse.

When he further pushed as to the reason of my meeting, I answered that I wanted more information about the reporting he did upon learning of the sexual assault that happened on the property.  He then told me that it happened so long ago, that he didn’t really remember anything.  I pressed him to meet with me for “closure” and my healing, and he told me he’d “pray about it” and get back to me after the holidays.  This was over a year ago, before Christmas 2016.

Just tonight, January 2018, he told me that he wasn’t comfortable with the meeting, to which I let him know that I would be going to the media with my story.  He then suddenly remembered that he had gone to the church leadership and they had “reported” the crime, and I should take up any media attention and direct it at the church itself (with his implication that he shouldn’t be involved.)

Since the police never approached me with the information about the rape, it’s clear that my rape was never actually reported to the authorities.

There are many major issues here.

  1.  The youth pastor likely did not report the rape that occurred during a youth sponsored event, after I disclosed my assault.  If he had,  he would have told me a year ago when I asked in December 2016.
  2. The youth pastor stated that he disclosed my rape to the “leadership” (of which he still has not named) at the church, (this information was “recalled” during a FB message 1/25/2018) who also did not report the rape that happened at a church-sponsored event.  If he cannot name who he spoke to, it makes it sound like he buried it himself, and he’s trying to cover his tracks. There is a pending question of who he spoke to in “leadership” that has been seen, but so far unresponded to, leading me to further believe that he is attempting to cover his tracks.*
  3. If he had been open and reported the crime, why is he elusive about answering basic questions about a life-threatening assault that happened?  Did the church protect one of its own with the hopes that my experience would not come out?  What are the long-reaching implications of this policy, and how many other people over the years have been harmed by this church?
  4. He would be open and honest about who he spoke to, if his intent and interest is doing what is right, not doing what is best for himself or the church.

I’ve yet to come out and name this church or pastor(s) publically, except to a few local people in common with the church and friends.  My intent is NOT to smear the name of the church, but rather to call to account the person(s) involved with keeping a violent crime “in the family” rather than reporting it to authorities, and/or offering me support. (Or I’d name the church right now.)

The Sr. Pastor of the church I was assaulted with is no longer in ministry and has entered the corporate world.  This youth pastor that I’ve interacted with is still in ministry and is a local Sr. Pastor of a church (that he “planted”).  I have deep concerns for any/all youth and young people who are within the church, as they will not be protected or supported by this pastor.

Where do we go from here?  How do we protect our youth and young adults from (1) predators, and (2) an insulated hierarchy of clergy?  Should we not expect transparency from persons in spiritual (and typically male) positions of power?

 

 

*Update: after my last “who did you report it to” question, he finally agreed to a meeting.  I will update after this meeting, but likely no new information will be revealed.

 

#metoo #silenceisnotspiritual #justiceforjules

 

Sexual Assault

This rape survivor doesn’t wish rape on her rapist… An article on Larry Nassar.

A huge win for rape and sexual assault survivors happened this week with the conviction and significant sentencing of Larry Nassar, a doctor for MSU and for the national gymnastics team. Nassar, previously sentenced to 60 years for child pornography, received stunning 40 to 175 years for the violations against a multitude of women during his two-decade tenure, some as young as six years old (and including much of the 2016 Olympic Team.)

As a survivor myself, I watched as the judge who presided over the case gave unprecedented access for survivors to detail to the court the impact Nassar had through the decades he violated these girls.  More than 150 women and girls came forward to tell their stories, while Nassar complained of mental trauma for being required to be in court the entire time. His statement of the complaint via letter to the judge said “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” brought gasps from the people in the court. By not allowing Nassar to avoid hearing each story, this judge gave a powerful message to survivors.  “You are heard, your story matters.”

From the moment Nassar appeared in court, the judge made her wishes known, she would allow other people to sexually assault Nassar in response to the horrible things he had done to women and girls.

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment,” she said. “If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls ― these young women in their childhood ― I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

~ Judge Rosemarie Aquilina

I truly understand this kneejerk reaction.  I really do.

Nassar inflicted pain on others, long-lasting (and often life-long trauma). However, I was shocked to see the cascade of “he will be in jail, and hopefully be raped over and over” responses to his sentencing.

For me, this is counter to the #metoo movement. The very implication that anyone should be raped is triggering for many survivors.  This sets the precedent that rape is a tool for vengeance, punishment, and retribution. There’s justice, and there’s vengeance.  Through the confines of the law, Nassar will be in jail for the rest of his life.  Short of the death penalty, this is the stiffest sentence he could receive from the courts.

Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law commented on this case with succinct accuracy.

Suggesting that it would be fitting for Nassar to be sexually victimized, if only the law allowed it, was “a step too far. She is the representative of the government here,” he said. “From the law’s perspective, we ought to be saying no sexual assault at all.”

~ Charles Gardner Geyh

So now what?  Where do we go from here?

As we reel from the impact of such a massive and public case, our focus must shift.  We need to move from “what a bad man Nassar is” to, “what/who contributed to this man’s ongoing abuse of girls/women” and “why did no one believe these girls as they told their stories over the years?”  Instead of spending our time giving Nassar more attention by wishing harm on him, let’s move to “how do we prevent this in the future.”

In some cases, the parents of these abused minors were in the ROOM when Nassar sexually abused them.  Take a moment and re-read that.

Changes are happening, but shockingly slowly, and in direct proportion to the publicity that Nassar’s case received.  Michigan State University’s president,  Lou Anna Simon just came down last week.

The Karolyi Ranch was recently also dismissed from the USA Gymnastics services for reported knowledge of the abuse and fostering the environment that led to concealment of the abuse by Nassar.    A lawsuit claims the Karolyis created an oppressive, abusive environment at the Ranch that included scratching children until they bled, depriving them of food and water, screaming obscenities and encouraging parents to hit their children, court records state. It alleges that environment enabled Nassar to “groom” children by sneaking them food and acting as their friend in order to sexually abuse them.

Steve Penny, the CEO of USA Gymnastics for more than 10 years, resigned in March 2017 amid the controversy.  Several coaches and other adults knew about the abuse for years and did not pursue the proper legal frameworks in place to prosecute the offenders.

Sexual abuse/assault/rape MUST be taken more seriously across the board, and I am so thankful for the giant leaps that high-profile cases are taking to pave the way for survivors to feel as though they can successfully prosecute their abusers. But, let’s not kid ourselves, there is SO far to go.  Stiffer punishments must be dealt out for people who enable, harbor or otherwise encourage sexual abuse and assault.

I challenge the world to focus on continuing to hear survivors, believe victims, and prosecute abusers, without getting bogged down in retribution.  We MUST support unbiased (AND EXTERNAL) oversight of athletic programs involving children and women.  We MUST continue to clean out places where abusers hide, especially among our most vulnerable populations.

We MUST work on ending the backlog of rape kits, where survivors have bravely faced rape exams to provide valuable biological information on their rapists. The estimate is HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of rape kits sit untested and unprocessed in the United States.  Prosecution of sexually based crimes MUST be treated with equal weight as other physical crimes like assault.

The burden MUST shift from “what was she doing to encourage or allow this assault to happen” to “she is not to blame, 100% of rapes are because of rapists.”

Try not to get bogged down in the anger, and feelings of revenge.

Believe women.  Stand with them.

#metoo

Vulnerability

Bypass of the Raw

Perhaps what makes us most vulnerable are the parts of us that we cannot change, but affects the way people see us, treat us… talk to us.. talk about us.

A lengthy conversation started over the comments Matt Damon said about how there is a scale of severity when it comes to sexual assault.  “Why is everyone jumping on Damon?” My male friend asked.  “I mean, it’s true isn’t it, there is a difference between a slap on the ass and rape.”

While not wrong, this guy was still missing the point.  Let’s have a master class about why Damon is missing all the marks.

First, Damon is a man, commenting on the scale of severity in regards to sexual abuse and assault on women.  This has been the state of being for centuries.  Men making decisions on whether a rape occured, whether the assault was serious enough, whether it was “asked for” by the victim in some way.  The rates of conviction (with jail time) for men assaulters are somewhere close to 6/1000.  This demonstrates the patriarchal structure we live in as women.  That is to say, most of the time, men are making the choice about how assaulters will be punished.  Yet another man in power (and even worse so, with a microphone that millions will hear his words from) spoke to trivialize the severity of sexual abuse and assault.

Minnie Driver is quoted saying “I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”

Second, Damon is speaking to the #metoo movement, where all women who have been assaulted/raped/harrassed are included.  By stating guidelines of severity, he is also saying that some sexual assaults are “lesser.”  A victim of a “lesser assault” may not feel like her experience and story “counts.”  This goes against the very cause we are looking to bring awareness to.  The #metoo movement is for all women who have experienced sexual violence.  This club, however we don’t want to belong to it, includes all.  It is a safe place for women to speak their truth boldly.  By having a male break down categories, he was divisive.

Damon also is quoted as saying “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is… the preponderance of men I’ve worked with who don’t do this kind of thing.”

*Blink*  Well, let’s stand up and cheer for all the men who are NOT (and haven’t ever) sexually harrassed, abused or assaulted women.  In fact, all of you who haven’t done that, please stand up.  Nobody?  Right.  That’s the point.  Even the most upstanding male friends have at one point made an unwanted sexually charged comment (action) towards a woman.  This is the culture we are in.  In addition, women are supposed to recognize all the men who haven’t committed sexual violence against them?  Really?? Come on, now.

Third, Minnie Driver states Damon’s lack of ability to speak to this issue eloquently by saying men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” and should not, therefore, attempt to differentiate or explain sexual misconduct against women.   Driver continues with this truth bomb: “Gosh it’s so interesting (profoundly unsurprising) how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem.” This is yet another case of “mansplaining” to women.  As if we don’t know about the various ways we experience sexual violence.

She added: “There is no hierarchy of abuse – that if a woman is raped [it] is much worse than if a woman has a penis exposed to her that she didn’t want or ask for … you cannot tell those women that one is supposed to feel worse than the other.

“And it certainly can’t be prescribed by a man. The idea of tone-deafness is the idea there [is] no equivalency. How about it’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”

Fourth, at this point,  the only productive thing men can do is to be quiet OR unequivocally support the #metoo movement.  The guy I was talking to stated that this was divisive and limiting of potential allies who wanted to be able to ask questions about the movement.  The issue, though, is black and white.  You are either against all sexual violence, or you aren’t.  In addition, we really aren’t concerned about bringing men on board at this point.  The effort is to get women’s voices out there, survivor’s voices.  We are rallying behind a common story, the abuse of men against women. When we live in a world where men are doing most of the talking, most of the legislating, most of the powerful positions, it is TIME for us to speak and men to listen.

Driver says “In the same stereotypical way that we see women being supportive of men in their endeavors,” she said, “I feel that’s what women need of men in this moment. They need men to lean on and not question.

Fifth, Damon spoke to the idea that because Louis C.K. (who admitted copablity to sexual abuse due to a differential of power).  “I don’t know Louis C.K.. I’ve never met him. I’m a fan of his, but I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again. You know what I mean? I imagine the price that he’s paid at this point is so beyond anything that he…” And he trails off.  What price has he paid?  Public humilation for what he did?  The inability to work in the public eye (which is yet to be seen)?  Why is C.K.’s repercussion somehow the concern?  With the majority of sexual abusers not getting any charges brought up against them, and a large majority of those who are charged not getting any consequences, the public’s view of C.K. (Cosby, Weinstein, Franken, et all.)

Driver goes on to say “Men can rally and they can support, but I don’t think its appropriate, per se, for men to have an opinion about how women should be metabolizing abuse. Ever.”

Sixth, Damon is not the reliable voice on this issue.  In 2004, a reporter started to look into Weinstein’s sexual exploits, Damon allegedly called the reporter to vouch for Weinstein and try to kill the story. He also knew about Weinstein’s sexual harrasment of Gweneth Paltrow and continued to work with him.  Thus, his reliablity is increbily suspect.

Now, it must be said, this guy I was speaking to IS supportive of the #metoo movement and stands on firm moral ground regarding sexual abuse.  He was surprised to hear about the differential of power always leaning towards men.  Women are taught to have their phones out when walking around at night, with their keys in their other hand.  We are taught how to dress, even dress codes in most organizations are written BY men.  Rape culture is everywhere.

Alyssa Milano says this: “I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny… We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture. We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gaslighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.”

I get cat-called frequently, with men looking me up and down when I walk by.  We notice these things, but at a certain point, we even gloss over them because they are so common.  This is our daily framework we operate in. I am in the skin of a woman’s body.  This culture is a given for us.

It’s time for men to get woke and hear what we experience every day.

 

church, Spiritual Abuse

Responsibility of the Religious

How do we hold the powerful accountable?

In the current climate of sexual assault revelations, one particular story caught my eye.  Danny Ray Johnson, a pastor and a legislator from Kentucky died by suicide when allegations of sexual assault became public from 2012.

Following up with the post I wrote (I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye), a recent FB post came across my feed that also got me thinking. The question was:

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, and listening to the women who spoke up about feeling obligated to comply because of the status of the male figure, I can’t help but feel like perhaps mary felt the same way.
What higher status of “man” is there than the god we literally believe in?
Do we worship a god of rape?

The final sentence blew my mind.  My answer is yes, and here’s why.

The power differential between a young girl and an all-powerful god is extreme.  No matter what, I’d imagine that Mary couldn’t say no if she wanted to.

Picture this, the object of your worship comes down in some form and says “Mary, I need to have a baby.  Would you be the mother of that baby?”  I’m imagining this as a human now.  If I found out that, as a young girl, there was an omnipotent being who could take my life in an instant with his smiting wand, and he came down to me in a booming voice and asked me to conceive his child, damn right I’d say yes.

Let’s bring this to practical terms.  In many churches, the pastor IS the voice of god.  (Especially to young people.)  I recall the churches I was a part of, and I recall this perceived spiritual distance and prestige that the leadership had.  They could do no wrong, and whatever they told us to do, we would.  Our parents would also back them up.

So, here comes this 17-year-old girl, in 2012, and her pastor.  The pastor, during a sleepover at the church, molested this girl.  The victim states that she thought of her pastor as a “second dad,” giving him emotional access to her.  She brought a case against the pastor, which was later closed (under shady circumstances). Recently the abuse came out in the media, and the pastor subsequently shot himself after an incredibly odd sing-along presser.

This “pastor” called himself Pope, and also had odd statements that conflicted with reality (he created a morgue, as a private citizen at the twin towers on 9-11, for which he got some compensation from PTSD developed from this incident.)

What does this boil down to, and why are Male Pastors so dangerous?

 

They are generally male, and placed in a “father” role.

Female senior pastors are still rare (though becoming more common every day, listed at 9% of positions in the clergy) and thus males continue to hold senior responsibilities and roles in the church body.  Consider the population of church-goers as well.  The pastor is the “head of the church” and men are “head of the family.”  It’s not a big jump to say that pastors are then placed as a father figure to many, especially for the vulnerable and the young.

Take Johnson, again.  This man gained access to this girl by befriending her, and subsequently took advantage at a church sleepover.  Some may ask, “Well, where are the parents?”  To which I’d answer “What sounds safer than a sleepover at a church?”

They often have illusions of grandeur.

Pastors are “set apart” from their congregants in many ways.  They stand in front of their parishioners weekly and interpret the bible for people to listen to.  Often this is the ONLY exposure people will have to the bible, and many take a clergy member’s view as fact.  Imagine if you were perceived to be the sole person in charge of a group’s spiritual well-being.  This gives you a lot of power and control.  As seen in the case of Johnson, he actually took the title of “Pope” (otherwise referred to as “His Holiness.”)

They are not held accountable for their actions, even if they are wrong.  

Putting aside the current rape-apologist culture we live in, Pastors are rarely called to task for mistakes (regardless of severity.) In this example, the Johnson continued to “serve” as the church head for more than 5 years after the assault occurred.  At the presser Johnson held, he literally was sung to by faithful congregants.  The Governor of Kentucky said Johnson was “an embarrassment” but would not call for his resignation from Congress.

Their power is often unchecked, and has no bounds.  In some cases, they are “overseen” by a board of some form, but again, these boards are mostly male as well.  As a result, sexual crimes are not taken seriously.

Cover-ups from the church come from a feeling of shame and guilt.  The embarrassment of having a pastor who isn’t following the law, or the moral obligations he speaks to weekly is too much to bear. Thus, any “indiscretions” are swept under the rug with the hopes they are not found out. In some extreme cases, pastors resign amidst controversy if the rug gets too bumpy from all the dust bunnies the pastors put there.  Rarely are formal charges filed for crimes.

 

Bringing this back to Johnson:

The “pope” dies. If you look on the FB pages that are linked to the press releases, there is a LOT of victim blaming going on.

First, the 17-year-old is listed as a woman.  (Now, she is CURRENTLY of age, but at the time of the assault, was a girl.)  This diminishes the power of the crime he was accused of.  Rape is awful, no matter what (I say this as a survivor myself), but underage abuse and assault is another layer of awful.

Second, there is a LOT of support for the pastor in this situation, and not as much for the sexual assault victim.  The suicide is linked directly to the recent publication of the sexual assault, placing the onus of his death squarely on her shoulders.  100% of sexual assaults are caused by the assaulters.  Subsequent actions as a result of guilt must also be placed squarely on the shoulders of the abuser, not on the person who spoke up.  His death is 100% NOT.HER.FAULT.  However, the outcry of support for him is dauntingly loud.

Bringing this back to Mary:

So, why are these points relevant? Imagine you are Mary, an unread, simple girl who knows of god as an omnipotent being who can create and destroy at will and on a whim.  God, in whatever form, speaks to her and lets her know he’s picked HER to be the mother of his baby.  The bible expresses that she consents, and TADA a fetus is developed.

Let’s look at the verse in question:

Luke 1-26-38. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Breaking that down:

  1. Mary is shocked by the appearance of something clearly more powerful than her. (Don’t be afraid of me, Mary, God thinks you are cool.)
  2. Mary has been deemed worthy by an all-powerful being, (Woah, the creator of the universe has his eye on me, and thinks I’m awesome.)
  3. She is TOLD that she will be the incubator of god’s baby. She will name him Jesus.  (So, she is TOLD what will happen by god. See, no consent here thus far.)
  4. She replies that she is a servant of god, and acquiesces to god’s statement. (Imagine this in the context of a slave owner to a slave.  The owner has ultimate control of her fate, and thus is she ever even able to say no if she wanted to?  I would submit that any consent is suspect at a minimum, and likely not even an option.)

But could she ever actually SAY NO? It’d be like sitting with a nuclear weapon pointed at you and having someone say “hey, would you be my baby mama?” Is it really even a question, from the woman/girl’s perspective? I would humbly submit that the power differential is so extreme that we don’t even have context for it in modern concrete terms.

In concrete terms, the pastor has an incredible amount of power, being the voice and interpreter of god.  In many churches I attended, the leadership complained about the amount of responsibility they held and the inability to fail in any area of their lives.

Surely, pastors should be allowed to be human, they will make mistakes.  But, when they took the job of spiritual leader of the many, they ARE held to a higher standard of morality than the layman.  Abuse of their access and power MUST require that they be held accountable, not just within the church structure (with a public repentance, temporary leave of absence, or resignation) but with a public outcry of accountability within the community (and when appropriate, through the legal system with the full support of the congregation.)

Where does that leave us?

People in power need to use their power effectively and for good, with subsequent and appropriate oversight.

 

 

Uncategorized

The Body Keeps the Score

CW: Rape & Trauma Processing

Recently I’ve been faced with a health challenge that is draining my physical reserves.  The cell phone battery of my body charges to an unpredictable level… when I wake up, usual daily chores/activities are taking everything for me to get through.  Often even walking upstairs causes me to need to lie down for a bit.

This lack of autonomy/function in my body has caused me to have increased flashbacks as of late.  My heart is already racing from basic activity, so it doesn’t take much for my mind to jump into a PTSD moment.  Something as simple as my child accidentally scaring me, or even the sound of a male voice can fast-forward my memories into trauma.

Flashbacks aren’t new to the survivor, and I’ve certainly had them before, but the flavor of these have been particularly intense.  During the actual assault, I did what many people do in traumatic events, disassociated.  I recall leaving my body behind and watching from above.  In the actual moments, I don’t recall feeling pain, as my body protected me from the physical trauma by disconnecting my body from my brain.  However, in the past month, my flashbacks have incorporated split seconds of “pain memories.”

The first time I remember feeling actual pain was in the hospital after the assault.  I was numb, and I don’t actually know how I got there (obviously I drove, but I don’t remember the act of getting there).   I looked down as I stood on the collection paper, and saw blood, and a lot of it.  In that moment, I started to “wake up” and realize what I had seen wasn’t a movie, but rather something that happened TO me.

My body told the tale that my mind protected me from.

Very quickly, though, my brain shut down those pain feelings… and filed them.  Until just recently.

The lack of autonomy that I feel in a body that is not at its best is wildly triggering.  I sit in therapy trying to hear what she’s saying… at the same time as I hear voices in the foyer that are male and try to manage the flashes that happen.  When I’m alone at home, it’s even harder as my mind spins on the possibilities of what “could” happen. I check the doors, make sure they are all locked and crawl into bed and wait for the moment to pass.  Sometimes it passes quickly, but more often than not it lasts for what feels like an eternity.

PTSD is a bitch.