Home » Feminism » why believing matters: child sexual abuse and rape

why believing matters: child sexual abuse and rape

sparklers

[trigger warning for rape, rape apologia]

This has been a brutally hard week for me in more than a few ways. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not just emotional and mental pain, but physical. Yesterday’s post, on being hopeful, was one of the weakest posts I’ve ever published because as much as I actually do believe in everything I said, writing it yesterday was . . . difficult. I was hoping that if I put those thoughts into words that they would be a little easier to believe.

I had a personal encounter last Thursday that . . . I honestly don’t know how to describe it. Troubling, I guess. One of the things that came up was a comment he had made in an earlier conversation– that the statistics on rape (1 in 5 women are forcibly raped) are “nonsense” and “bullshit,” and he made this additional comment on Thursday:  “I could understand if you were mad at me if I was denying the Holocaust or something, but I’m not doing that.” What he said was true, in one way. The Holocaust is an event in history unlike any other, and the memory of every person slaughtered– Jew, gay, Christian, political prisoners, the disabled– deserves the honor and respect of not trivializing what happened to them.

But, in another sense, his position that the American rape statistics are “bullshit” is a denial of horrific and ongoing tragedy.

The problem is, he’s not alone. His perspective– that rape is rare, that most accusations are lies, and that rape victims are at least partly responsible for what happens to them– is the one American culture believes. If any week could have driven that point home with a sledgehammer, it was this one, after Dylan Farrow published her letter on Saturday.

Reading her letter broke my heart. What tore it open and left it shattered was the response that came next– Weide’s Daily Beast article (I used donotlink.com), the countless comparisons on twitter to lacrosse teams, all the claims that Dylan’s mother is a lying whore, so Dylan’s probably lying, too. All the comments on facebook stating that they want “objectivity” and “they’re not going to take sides,” the endless stream of posts on how to “separate art from the artist.”

I want to crawl into the deepest, darkest, most obscure hole on the planet where nobody could ever find me and say any of those things to me, ever again.

~~~~~~~~~~

When my abuser and rapist broke our engagement two months before the wedding, the reason he gave me was that I “wasn’t submissive enough.” It took me little over a month to figure out what he was referring to, especially since I’d spent almost three years bending over backwards for him in every possible way. When I realized why I was “not submissive,” I got angry. Furious, actually. It was because, a month before he dumped me, he tried to call me a goddamn fucking bitch and I told him that no, he didn’t get to talk to me like that and he could call me later when he’d calmed down. It was because, when he expected me to service him sexually, I told him no. It was because, after three years, something deep inside of me said no, I am not his bitch.

After he broke our engagement, all of our “mutual” friends instantly pulled away from me. Women who used to shout my name across campus and hug me for no reason refused to look me in the eye or return my hellos. People started declining my invitations to lunch and dinner, and I began eating alone. When I did my best to reconnect with friends my abuser had separated me from, our “mutual” friends told them that “she is such a bitch, you have no reason to be her friend any more, she’s nothing but a waste of your time.” Most of my ‘friends’ made it clear that they would never, ever, speak to me again.

The only person who would pay attention to me, except for three people, was my abuser. He would follow me all over campus, into the cafeteria, into classrooms, at sporting events, in church– and it was always the same. Why won’t you talk to me? I just want to talk to you! And he would keep this up until I would snap. After ignoring him for a solid twenty minutes, he would call me a bitch and something inside would break and I would spin around and scream at him until the cafeteria manager asked me to leave. After pestering me for an hour, continuously, at a soccer game, I finally understood what it meant to see red – and one look from my band director told me everything I needed to know. I left.

I spent countless hours that semester in soundproof practice rooms sobbing, and I didn’t find out until a few months ago why all of that happened. Why everyone withdrew. Why he did his dead-level best into provoking me.

He’d convinced everyone that anything I could possibly say would be a lie. That I was actually crazy, and not worth believing. He successfully did what all abusers and rapists do: he manipulated any of the people who mattered into disbelief. And when I sought counseling for the first time, the only thing anybody said was “well, what did you do that you need to seek forgiveness for?”

~~~~~~~~~~

When I first started dating him, I knew that his previous relationship had ended badly, that she was hurtful and manipulative, that she frequently lied. When her best friend tried to reach out to me and tell me how dangerous John* was, I refused to believe anything they said. It was just another manipulation.

When he called me in the middle of the night, two years into our relationship, obviously drunk and sobbing, to confess something he’d done, I refused to even hear what he was actually telling me. It was her fault. It wasn’t rape. She’d provoked him. Just like I had. What could either one of us expect? I forgave him for “cheating” on me, and tried to forget her.

When he broke up with me and two months later was going out with another girl, I thought about warning her of what he was like, but everything inside of me screamed no! there’s no point, she won’t believe you anyway. When she contacted me a year later and told me what he’d done, I desperately wished I could have gone back and done something, anything, to protect her from him.

~~~~~~~~~~

Now, my rapist is a youth pastor. He’s “just fucking fine.”

Now, I am going through the excruciating, traumatic process of figuring out what I can do– with the bone-deep knowledge that anything I do will make no difference, that the most I can even hope for is that when he does rape someone again, that people will know that this is a pattern, that he’s a rapist and an abuser, that maybe, just maybe, that his next victim will be believed.

33 thoughts on “why believing matters: child sexual abuse and rape

  1. This is all so familiar. I’m glad that you’re speaking out about the lies that abusers use to silence their victims and the ways people can lull themselves into not caring. The last few weeks have shown me in some really painful ways how much ignorance there is on this subject, and how much education is still needed.

  2. Could you name him publicly? He could deny it, but these things can sometimes build into something more, like when that Bora guy was publicly named and shamed and eventually fired from his post over his serial sexual harassment.

      • If he’s anything like my Evil Ex, this is a very wise idea. He’s probably exactly the sort of charmer who uses legal strong-arming to get his way, like mine is. When I fled from him, he contacted every single acquaintance we’d ever had to poison their minds against me–and he is so charming and affable and was so obviously suffering that everybody was happy to give him benefit of the doubt. It didn’t even occur to me that he’d do all that, or I might have made better preparations. He’s a youth pastor too, incidentally, and I keep tabs on him (he did after all threaten me physically and stalk me for a year and a half)–the church he’s currently preying upon thinks he’s the most wonderful person ever. There’s no indication he’s harming children or anything I feel really actionable at present, but if I see something like that, I’m going to have a similarly difficult choice. I feel for you, gal.

        You are so very brave and so loving. To have gone through all that and still maintain a sense of optimism and hope is a testament to your spirit. Please know you aren’t alone. Ever.

      • That’s smart. I hope you can find a way to speak out though because sometimes that gives other victims the courage to come forward and lends credence to their story. Either way I’m so disgusted by the way you were treated. I’d like to think it would have been better if you hadn’t been at such a conservative school, but I’m not convinced that’s the case.

      • Ma’am-
        As a 25 year Law Enforcement veteran, I emphatically urge you to file a police report. Statute of Limitations for such assaults can often be as long as 20 years or longer depending on your jurisdiction. Scum who have done what this…”thing” have done will strike again. They need to be stopped. I know it will take considerable strength and bravery on your behalf. I hope and pray you are able to do so.

        By the way, I found your site by doing research on sex abuse by Bill Gothard. The story is coming to light, piece by piece, over at recoveringgrace.org.

        http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/charlottes-stori/

        You will see in Charlotte’s story where she waited and now has limited options to her to get justice.

        I hope you can get justice for yourself. Best wishes.

  3. What has always shocked me is the simple unwillingness people have, when dealing with women who are clearly avoiding their ex-partners, going out of their way not to communicate with the person, working so hard to cut them out of their lives… why people have this deep, instinctive it seems unwillingness to ask themselves WHY she wants to cut her ex out of her life. It happens so often that there is this jump to believe the guy saying “she’s a liar” and no one sits and asks themselves, “But why, if she’s the one lying, is she acting like someone on the run from danger?”

    I have made it a point to first and foremost believe survivors. Always. This has led to some pretty intense fights with people over why “I would just take HER SIDE” – like it’s a soccer match and I chose Brazil over Portugal, or something. And if you ask them, “Well, why did you take HIS side?” you get the inevitable “He’s such a nice guy!”

    Yeah, to YOU. In public.

    Dylan Farrow is no exception; that Robert Weide article was disgusting, implying that because Mia Farrow had sex with some people who weren’t Woody Allen that clearly her daughter must be lying about childhood abuse. His arguments were all over the place, they didn’t make any SENSE. “But I know Woody!”

    Yeah, lots of people know child molesters. Joe Paterno was a popular, popular guy. That doesn’t make him not a child molester.

    “He doesn’t LOOK like one!”

    Nice to know all abusers look exactly the same.

    “But he was SO NICE to Dylan when she was a kid!”

    Nice to know ‘grooming behavior’ no longer exists.

    Or, in abusive relationships…

    “But he said he didn’t do it!”

    Yes. Because abusers are functionally incapable of lying. Mmm hmm.

    “No, you should HEAR the way he talked about her, he totally loved her!”

    Yes. He also hurt her. Those things are not mutually exclusive and her safety is more important than his widdle hurt fee fees.

    I recently donated a pile of old business-casual clothing to a regional domestic violence shelter; a man in a van came to pick up the clothes, in a public location we both designated, so he could be sure there wasn’t someone waiting to jump him with me when he got there. We made small talk while he picked out what he thought the women at the shelter would like or be able to use. I told him it had occurred to me that rather than going with Goodwill, I might donate to these ladies because it seemed like work clothes might be something they really need. He looked me in the eys and said, “Last night we had a woman come in the back of a cop car, about your size. She was wearing a nightgown and no socks. That’s it.”

    THAT is why I believe survivors, always and ever. Because there are women escaping danger in their nightgowns and bare feet, running for their lives. To not believe survivors is to support the dangerous assholes who put them in that situation.

  4. I had someone tell others that I was a liar and a paranoid schizophrenic with a chemical imbalance in my brain. It’s a very unsettling experience and to this day (35+ years later) there are still people who seem to believe that lie. I was able to move on and put it behind me because, in the larger scheme of things, it really was trivial even though it did not seem that way at the time. Of course what happened to you was far from trivial. I know that the 1 in 5 statistic is valid, not bullshit, and it concerns me deeply because I have a daughter.

  5. Thank you for writing this. You really have been in my thoughts lately, and I’m sorry things have been so rough for you. I admire your courage in speaking out, no matter how painful it is to do. It breaks my heart that so many refuse to listen and learn from abuse victims. I think some of it goes back to the male-worship of Christianity, and how often male leaders or males in general are set up on this pedestal, and they can never, ever be touched. Bill Gothard comes to mind. It makes me sick.

  6. I don’t know what to say. I am sorry you were hurt and are still hurting. I just want you to know that I believe you, too. I know and have known too many women who were raped and/or sexually abused who live with this exact pain and I ask “how long?”. How long will it take for these crimes to be taken seriously? My heart aches for you. You are not to blame for any of this.

  7. Take heart that you survived, that you are not a victim, that you have stood up here and refused to be silenced.

    My ex and I move in the same circles (loosely) again, 10 years out, and I see him across a room about once a year. One of my good friends started in a relationship with him about a year ago, and I warned her why that would be a bad idea. She listened, but he’s closer and still incredibly charming. There’s a very fine line between being the crazy jealous ex and a concerned friend…and so I had to tell her that I would always be there for her, but that I needed to not have him anywhere in my life.

    You are not alone. Also, 1 in 5 is low. I know that’s what RAINN has as the official stats, but…I did a lit review. 3-5% of cases are reported. Estimated numbers: 35-45% of boys, 45-60% of girls, before 18, are sexually molested, assaulted, or exploited*. Those are the numbers that make me cry at night. Also, strangely, they give me a bit of hope – if they’re that high, then a lot of us have survived.

    *significant articles are in the Journal of Child Welfare, the Journal of Counseling & Treatment, Journal of Sex Research, and the American Journal of Family Therapy.

  8. I would very much hope that the leadership at this guy’s church would be receptive to your account of his vile conduct, and that they would take immediate action. However, in the event that they don’t, what I would repeatedly and simply emphasize to them is /the parents in your congregation have a right to this information./ As a parent of pre-teen daughters, I don’t want someone like this within a thousand miles of my girls, and I would be beyond furious if the church had knowledge of his reprobate character and didn’t act on that knowledge or disclose it to the church community. I would want it dealt with in the clear light of day, not behind closed doors.

    As a parent, I would strongly encourage you to follow your instinct and bring this to the church’s attention, and insist that your primary concern is that the parents have a right to know. You can definitely make a difference. Parents have a hair trigger where their kids’ safety is concerned.

    • I’m familiar with the church and its leadership, and unfortunately… I’m 99% sure they’d do absolutely nothing, and the church itself and its parents probably wouldn’t react much better. He’s been their youth pastor for almost a year now, and they’ve known him since he was a child. I doubt they’d believe me.

  9. Wonderful, courageous post. I’m so proud of us women that so many more are speaking up with strength and courage and honesty and really getting in the face of those who would deny abuse, and who would blame the victims. Thank you for your writing, and I hope that it contributes to a restored sense of your wholeness and well-being.

  10. Thank you all for your life experiences shared here and elsewhere. While you may feel stuck, and don’t know which way to turn, or how to deal with a situation, your struggle and your sharing is immensely helpful. Because you have shared your experiences, I have the ability to hear the experiences of the people I meet in my chaplaincy with open and empathetic ears and heart. I am more aware of my ingrained attitudes, my words, and actions and the damage that I can inflict through them. It is difficult emotionally to read your experiences, but my pain cannot even touch the pain and agony you have gone through. Because you haved shared, I have a chance to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. God bless you! Mark

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this. The link to Dylan’s letter also was much appreciated, as I had not read it before. I don’t know what else to say, other than I think you are really helping in the fight against rape culture. One blog post at a time, it really does help.

  12. I was molested during my childhood by my great uncle I narrowly avoided being raped as a young adult. What was so terrible about it was that he had been inappropriate in his physical displays of affection–eg French kissing me–right in front of my parents! I was only a child and my parents kept telling me how lucky I was that my uncle “loved” me so much. After he tried to rape me, I called & spoke to my mom, who commented that she thought it was “odd” that he was so close to me as a child, & she wasn’t at all surprised by what he did. Can you imagine the anger that surfaced in me? Where were they when I was little? And, my mom told me to stay away from him, & did not support going to the police. Who would believe me?

    My own daughter was sexually assaulted by a roller skating coach when she was in junior high. Thank God her guidance counselor believed her & notified us immediately. We pressed charges. Unfortunately, the one friend who witnessed one of the assaults (this guy was on top of my daughter who was pushing him away) was not permitted by her mother to testify. A couple of other girls who had been touched inappropriately refused to testify. It took over a year before a grand jury was convened, and they no-billed it. The worst part of the whole thing was that my daughter was CRUSHED that the grand jury didn’t believe her. She has never been quite the same.

    The assault happened over 15 years ago & it’s still with her. When I read this blog post, my chest was tight & I sat here crying. I know your pain. I grieve with you. And, I doubt it would make any difference at all if you try to bring charges against this guy. Forget his church–that is a lost cause. I’m just so angry & so grieved!

  13. And I give thanks to God for J., who WAS brave enough to approach me as I walked back to my dorm from the guy I just started dating, and she had dated just before, and ask, “does he ever seem a bit, um, forceful?” (in fact, he had been, and had made light of my “no” several times while we were making out). Thank you, J., for saving me from what you went through.

    And I am thankful that I did not take her to be the bitter ex, looking for revenge.

  14. Wow! This too is so familiar. I was told by my ex that no one would ever believe me if I ever told on him. And that’s exactly what happened. I lost all of my friends, except the pastor’s daughter who I later found out was only befriending me because the elders were making sure I was not attempting to bad mouth my ex. My own mother made sure that knew it was all my fault too. I was told I had single handedly brought shame on our family, and that it was all my fault my father could never be an elder again. It’s sad to see that this has happened to other people too, but encouraging that I’m not alone.

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