Jan. 15, 2018

#sowhat #shutup

Note: This story is used by permission. The name and exact details have been changed to protect the young woman’s identity as well as the perpetrator’s family.

She was most likely a little naïve for her age. She grew up in a well-protected environment. She was taught to help people who asked for help. She was taught not to judge other people. She was taught to be a nice girl.

It worked well until she entered her late 20’s. She became friends with an older man. He was a little mysterious. He was a loner. He moved into her life ever so carefully. When she realized something was wrong with him, her friends belittled her for being a prude. Her church friends said she was judging him and “maybe he just needed the Lord.”

She trusted those closest to her. She ignored the red flags and let her guard down. Within a few months, she was being stalked. This occurred before stalking was defined and made illegal. She reached out a second time to people she trusted only to be told she was making too big of a deal out of the entire situation. She was told it was all in her head. She, once again, believed those closest to her.

After the sexual assault, she didn’t tell anyone what happened. She felt guilty. Was it something she said to lead him on? Was it something she’d done? Maybe she wasn’t a good enough Christian? She felt like a total failure. She didn’t lead him to Christ and she ended up devastated.

She went months without telling anyone. She was embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, and he convinced her that no one would believe her because he was a successful man in their community. He’d even begun attending church with her. He reminded her people knew she invited him to church and saw her sit with him. He managed to manipulate the entire relationship and continued to manipulate her response to the sexual assault. He told her no one would believe her because she chose to be his friend.

Looking back, she shares, “While the entire assault was frightening, the emotional confusion that came afterwards was even worse. I felt dirty. I felt sinful. I felt I did something to deserve it. I examined everything about myself, but never held him accountable for what he did to me.”

She continued to share that the greatest heartache came around six months after the attack. She was at church talking with friends in the church foyer. Someone came up behind her and whispered, “Hey, why didn’t you tell me you and <his name> were an item?” She realized, while he told her not to tell anyone because they would not believe her, he made certain he told everyone slanting the story to make himself look good.

What transpired in the months ahead was shocking and cruel. Her church friends began talking about her behind her back. Some of those closest to her told the worst stories. Not only did she have to deal with the memories of the assault; not only did she have to cope with the fact she didn’t report it; now, she was forced to deal with the gossip that ensued at her church within her church family.

I worked with the young woman for many years as she attempted to cope with what happened to her. She did find the courage to file a report; although too much time had passed for there to be any evidence. The policewoman, while very supportive, was honest in sharing that any court case would become a “he said/she said” battle. He’d spent so many months belittling her and beating her down emotionally, she felt in her heart no one would believe her. She opted out of filing charges, but was empowered by filing a report. If nothing else, the law enforcement officials knew. If something happened down the line, if he did it again to someone else, there would be evidence that it happened before.

Now that time has passed, her greatest pain still stems from those who should have been there to support her. Instead, they turned on her adding to her agony and shame.  In the world of #metoo, many women turn on other women by saying #sowhat #shutup. Our society, women in particular, tend to shame the victims and list the reasons they are to blame. All the while overlooking the man’s accountability and role. It seems only fair that we would at least stop long enough to hear the woman’s side of the story. It seems we’d grow up as a society and stop pretending women ask for it by the way they dress or talk in order for us to feel safer. Doing so only shows our lack of maturity. Sexual harassment and assault have less to do with sex and more to do with power. Women who turn on other women hand power to the perpetrators.

The young woman was no longer naïve. She also understood that church people are often the harshest critics. It took many years for her to work through and resolve the experience in her mind and in her body. The greatest challenge was to deal with the spiritual implications that came from the betrayal she felt from her Christian friends. God, in His goodness, made certain she knew #HEknows and #HEcares.