These accounts have been rejected and dismissed for too long. The rise of Women’s Marches, the #MeToo Movement, and the #ChurchToo Movement are giving victims of sexual harassment and assault a platform to tell their stories, to be heard, and most importantly, to be believed.
I was believed.
I have repeatedly thanked my mother for hearing, believing, and taking action.
We were on our way to “Deep Freeze,” a Christian youth retreat. Our youth leader was driving a station wagon full of teenagers. I was seated next to him, so I could choose the music stations on the radio. I was tired and wanted some sleep, so I leaned on the shoulder of my friend, Laura, who was sitting on the other side of me. I woke up with a start. The youth leader’s hand was inappropriately touching me. Out of sorts, I wasn’t sure what was happening. I felt afraid, insecure, ashamed, and guilty. Laura could tell that I was upset and scared. She asked if I was alright. Almost automatically, I said “I’m fine.” I was feeling so confused and humiliated. What could I do? I sat up straight and moved over. I was sixteen — my dad died only a few months prior — and I felt totally vulnerable. The youth leader was my dad’s friend from church, and his wife was one of my mom’s closest friends from church.
Any spiritual nurture from the retreat was truncated by my experience in the car. When I finally told another young couple, who were assisting with our youth group, I wasn’t taken seriously. “He wouldn’t do that!” was the dismissive reply. No one addressed the incident during the retreat. But another friend insisted that she would sit next to the youth leader on the ride home. The return trip occurred without incident.
When I arrived home, I immediately told my mother. She had a hard time accepting that the abuse had occurred. She was concerned for the reputation of our church, but in her heart she trusted my account. So she approached a trusted elder of our church, who then confronted the youth leader with his misconduct. The elder asked if he would ever want his own young daughter to experience this same abusive behavior? “Of course not,” he replied. I’m not sure of the exact words. My mom recounted the exchange to me after the elder explained it to her. I don’t remember whether I ever heard an apology. There were many years of awkwardness and unaddressed shame for me. The abuse caused a fractured and fragile sense of myself. I felt unworthy. Regrettably, there was no counseling or talk therapy to address my broken heart or to reassure me of God’s love and valuation of me. Instead, I felt as if any accounting would tarnish Christ’s body, the church.
Speaking up was awful, feeling the abuse was confusing. Living through awkwardness without counseling or affirmation of my value was difficult – but God has affirmed me and led me into counseling. God has, indeed, restored and renewed me and redeemed the abuse. What’s more, God has given me fresh confidence, security, and value.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10).
The youth leader was asked to step down as a youth leader, and he was denied from being considered to become the president of our denomination’s missions board.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org for 24/7 help and support.