I feel like we’re living in history making days. Things are shifting. Big things. Terribly uncomfortable, but incredibly necessary things. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought much to light for many in our country. There’s a feeling of our entire country being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, while too many are still trying to shift the blame back to the victims. I’ve spent a bunch of time processing my experiences and feelings as someone who has also suffered sexual abuse on more than one occasion.
I recently shared in a post about the first time I was abused by an older neighborhood boy, but that wasn’t the last time. There was the time a family member repeatedly came in while I was bathing (age 8 or 9) and touched me inappropriately. I knew it was icky, but until years later when a friend shared about the incestuous relationship between her father and sister, I couldn’t give the incident context. There was the man who graduated a decade before my friend and I who would drive down our country road and slow down to expose himself to us when we were in elementary school walking to meet each other for playdates. There was a time an older boy from the middle school showed up at my elementary school and pinned me up against a wall, while telling me how pretty I was and attempting to unzip my blue jeans with my Tony the Tiger iron-on on my knee before I pretended someone was walking in behind him and ran away as he was distracted. There was the time I was babysitting for three families – two of the dads were brothers – and one of the men showed up just after I had gotten the kids to bed and became quite sexually aggressive. He was laying on top of me on the couch, I scrambled for the phone and pretended to dial a number, threatening to call his wife. He watched me dial the phone, accusing me of not knowing her number. In our town at that time, EVERYONE’s numbers began with 266-4. He wasn’t incredibly intelligent and left quickly as I dialed the 4, saying something about this not being finished as he walked out the door. I can still feel the relief wash over me as I fell against the wall next to the phone. I called no one, not my mother, not a friend. I gathered myself and began to clean the kitchen up. A couple of hours later his inebriated brother showed up and scolded me for not being ‘nice” to his brother during his earlier visit. I was 11 or 12 years old. I continued to babysit for these families for years. I would invite a friend or keep the children in close proximity, often having one sleep on the couch in the living room. In all honesty, there were very few families that I babysat for that I didn’t have to deal with an overattentive “father.” It was commonplace for my girl friends and I to talk about this happening to nearly everyone. We would warn each other about the really bad ones. There were also teachers who were inappropriate in middle school and high school. Again, we discussed which teachers to avoid being alone with or getting too close to in proximity for fear they would “unintentionally” brush up against us or touch us inappropriately. These conversations were often laced with giggles as we tried to minimize the fear we felt in the normalized sexual abuse culture we were growing up in.
I recall talking about this with my girl friends in front of boys and their comments would generally insinuate that we should take it as a compliment because grown men shouldn’t be expected to have self-control around those they considered attractive teenage girls. And, if I’m honest, I believe most of us bought into that theory. On some level I know I felt some confirmation that I was attractive if men showed interest in me, even if it was perverted and/or abusive. I also believed that it must be my fault because every time a girl or woman spoke out about sexual abuse, I watched the adults in my life, as well as my peers, find a way to blame the victim or convince themselves that she was lying – that it never really happened or if it did, she wanted it to.
At a football game at the beginning of my senior year of high school, some friends and I were drinking. I remember running into a much older friend of my brother’s. He told me he would give me and my friend a ride to a party after the game. We were drinking alcohol before going to the game and I was tipsy, but not drunk. He gave me something to drink on the way to the party. I don’t remember much after a vague memory of an outdoor party with loud music and then getting into his vehicle. I don’t remember getting home. I know I woke up in the morning with bruises on both of my inner thighs and what appeared to be semen on my pubic area. Every time I saw that man over the next several years, he treated me as if he was disgusted with me. When I finally shared this story with a friend who knew that man, she became very uncomfortable and told me that I couldn’t really know what happened, especially since I had been so drunk and may have even encouraged him. She then made it clear that she was done talking about it. I walked away from that conversation wondering if I had wanted something to happen with that man or at the very least wondering if I deserved it. I have never blacked out in my life except for that night. I often wonder if he put something in my drink. I wonder a lot of things, but the truth is, I’ll never know what happened that night.
I remember as an adult being violently knocked around for hours in my home, kicked, shoved and slapped, and then raped by a man I was in a relationship with, as I tried to break things off with him. When he left that afternoon I showered and got dressed before going to a family gathering. I choked on my sobs during my shower, but I didn’t allow myself to cry because I was afraid he would return, hear me and continue his violent attack. I focused on behaving normally during the gathering, numbing myself to what had happened earlier that day. Because my family didn’t want me to date this person, I never told them about what actually happened that day. He stalked me at my college, getting my class schedule somehow. I changed my number twice because he got the first number change and kept calling me to let me know it wasn’t over. A month or so later, he showed up at my house late at night, watching me through the glass door I had just walked through, arms full of groceries and I had sex with him because I was terrified he would kill me. I was all alone and I didn’t know any other way to get him to leave. I remember telling him I loved him as he left to insure he would keep walking out the door. Later when I shared it in a detached way with my boyfriend (now, husband), his initial reaction was to blame me for not fighting harder and to accuse me of wanting to have sex with my rapist. I was filled with shame for a long time about the choices I made because I didn’t understand them and I loathed myself for being weak and trampy.
I think the thing that keeps blowing my mind about this is that women aren’t really shocked about any of this. We’ve been sharing stories with each other, sometimes supporting one another, sometimes blaming one another, since the beginning of time. The reality is, it is a rare (and extremely blessed) girl over the age of 8 that hasn’t been sexually abused in some manner. It’s even less rare to find an adult woman who hasn’t been sexually abused by more than one person in her life.
Think about that for a moment. In a recent poll they found that over 80% of women have been sexually harassed or assaulted. There is also evidence that women will often block memories out of their minds or minimize it if they weren’t forcibly raped by a stranger, blaming themselves on some level if they knew the abuser and not acknowledging abuse less than full-on rape. I know that just a few years ago I would’ve said I was never really sexually abused because I always knew my abusers. The few times I shared my stories with others I was usually filled with shame. It wasn’t unusual for the listener to question what I was wearing at the time, what I said or did, or to ask why I didn’t do something else, especially if the listener was a man and/or a christian.
We wonder why women don’t speak out.
I wonder why we don’t see that victimized women, by and large, don’t think they are worth fighting for in these situations, until others are possibly in harm’s way. Then, when they courageously speak up, we make them reopen their deep wounds while we coldly inspect them with doubt and judgement only to usually find a way to blame them or disbelieve them.
We wonder why victims don’t speak out.
Several of my abusers were family members, close friends, bosses, and teachers. I should have, as a young and very innocent girl, been able to trust these authority figures, these loved ones. I should’ve felt safe. Instead I felt like my discomfort wasn’t important enough to disrupt the “peace.” I didn’t believe I would be believed. I believed people would think I was to blame.
I didn’t feel safe at home, at school, at some friends’, at my babysitting jobs. Why would I speak out? Who would I have trusted?
Of all of the men I’ve told you about only the flashing car driver ever got in any trouble for what he’d done. One of them became an attorney. One of them was serving on a school board, last I knew. Both of these men were known for their sexual deviance in that little village, students even joked about it. The adults never did anything about it because we have a “boys will be boys” mentality in this country. We hush and shame anyone who tries to bring it out into the light, so that the people in power get to stay in power.
Although I say women aren’t surprised because the vast majority of us have endured sexual abuse, from threats to violent attacks, I have to admit I haven’t often shared the abuse I’ve gone through because I believed something must be extra wrong with me because it’s happened so many times. In recent months as I’ve had conversations with other women of varied ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, I’ve come to realize that not only is the frequency of times I’ve been abused or harassed not excessive in comparison to the women I’ve spoken with, but the degree to which I’ve experienced abuse and harassment is less than almost all of the women who have shared their stories with me.
While I haven’t enjoyed that the incredibly painful abuse of too many women has stirred up memories I’d rather pretend to forget, I am entirely indebted to the amazingly courageous women who have chosen to lay bare their deep and horrific wounds to an audience that has a less-than-shiny track record, at the risk of everything: their jobs, their income, their reputations, their families, and at times their sanity. They have jeopardized everything so that we can finally begin to purge this evil from our society. It’s way past time to speak openly, even when it makes us uncomfortable (like when I typed semen up there) because bringing this scourge up from the depths of darkness and exposing the numerous layers of accomplice for how awful and harmful it is may be the only path to beginning a different way, the way I pray my daughter and granddaughters can walk fully in – the way I pray my sons and grandsons can walk fully in.
We have to look this misogynistic way of living full in the face, with all of its discomfort, own our part in the ugliness of the perverted abuse dance and then stand for and live in what is right. Begin by understanding that ALL people, women as well as men, people of color as well as white people, are truly EQUAL. When we begin to listen to women and people of color as equals, while believing their stories, the entire everything will shift in the most glorious way.
It’s past time
- to believe victims and stop blaming them
- to empower women and people of color
- to reject our “boys will be boys” acceptance of abusive, predatory behavior
- to hold abuser accountable
- to make this a safe place to hear the truth and change our destructive pattern
I don’t want to wonder why. I want to be a part of a community and culture that holds ourselves to a standard of respect, love and humanity. Women shouldn’t have to dress a certain way, lest men can’t help but violate them. Victims shouldn’t alone bear the burden of proof in a culture that shames us for stirring the pot when we accuse our aggressors. This way isn’t working. Sexual sin can’t just keep being covered up. The rug isn’t that big. God isn’t that complacent. He loves us too much to turn a blind eye for very long. It’s time for His children to take their just punishment and turn away from this too common debauchery. It’s time for the church to stop dressing up the misogyny of white men in an expensive suit holding a Bible, and downplaying the abuse of the women and children whom Jesus calls to be honored as His beloved.
Ephesians 5:1 Be imitators of God in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. 2 And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. 3 And have nothing to do with sexual immorality, lust, or greed—for you are his holy ones and let no one be able to accuse you of them in any form.
It’s WAY past time, isn’t it?