I was up until 4 a.m. writing my last post. I was up until around 1 a.m., I think, working on this post, until I was so tired that I finally decided I was too tired to think and should get some sleep.
I know that I get very passionate when discussing abuse. It’s because I care so very, very deeply about victims. Sometimes when I hear their stories of appalling suffering, I seriously feel as if my heart is breaking in two. My stomach hurts, I can’t sleep, and I feel like crying for them. When my heart aches and my mind is filled with thoughts, I often cannot sleep until I pour it all out into words. I process my thoughts, feelings, experiences in writing and sometimes I just have to write about stuff in order to empty it all out–like taking out the trash–before I can move on.
Yesterday I wrote about the dysfunctional loyalty that causes people to defend, protect, and cover up the crimes of abusers. I explained that this sort of loyalty is not Biblical and that such loyalty to family, institutions, or other groups allows evil to flourish. I have wanted to write about this ever since I heard about the Grand Jury report, but I wanted to wait until I had thought about it, had time to write without interruption, and had my own computer back from the repair shop. Using someone else’s computer feels like driving someone else’s car–they all have the same features, more or less, but everything is in a different place so I want to turn on the wipers but turn on the lights instead. I didn’t want to have that sort of distraction when I needed to focus on expressing my thoughts. It can be difficult writing about difficult topics. It feels almost impossible to take all these complicated things and reduce them to words. I kept putting off writing about it, but it remained like a lump in my stomach until something happened the other day that stirred me to at last write at last. In this post, I want to describe what happened on Sunday and to describe another aspect of abuse that empowers abusers and allows him (or her) to continue hurting others.
Yesterday an abuse advocate who I am friends with at Facebook shared this photo, which was taken at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. Notice that the pastor has his arm around the young woman and his hand is pressing her breast as he introduces her. She is a young actress and singer who sang at the funeral. Along with the photo, my FB friend shared a few thoughts:
Look at this.
Look at the eyes.
Look at the body language.
This is the leer of a predator marking his prey. And the prey has that deer-in-the-headlights look that says “is this really even happening to me?”
Ariana Grande is trying desperately to figure out whether to fight or flee, but that choice is really hard because she’s there to do a job, everyone is watching, and just like so many other victims — she already froze.
This right here is how sexual assault happens in plain sight. This likely isn’t the first time he’s done this to a woman, used his platform and power and position to intimidate. It’s also not the first time a crowd of witnesses have excused it by saying he couldn’t possibly have meant to, or “he’s a PASTOR, it wasn’t like THAT!”
Most of my friends who responded understood the implications of this photo, but one said, “That dress don’t belong in church either.”
This comment distressed me because, without fail, whenever a story about abuse is shared, someone always blames the victim. Seriously. Start paying attention to how often victims are blamed–including how many times YOU believe the victim is to blame for what she suffered. I spoke up and said that no matter how a woman is dressed, she doesn’t deserve to be inappropriately touched. My friend said, “You’re very much entitled to your opinion! In my school, the hos dress as such, are treated as such, and relish the attention. Dressing modestly is my preference. No kid of mine will be allowed to leave the house like that unless she earned her salary on the pole. Behave in a manner in which you wish to be treated. Behaviors also include clothing. You want to be the neighborhood slut? Or do you want to be the neighborhood good girl that attracts a different variety of man.”
Her comment made me feel sick to my stomach. Hardly anyone ever blames the predator, no matter how bad his actions are.
Victims are battered with the accusations from their abusers, but they also are often guilted, shamed, and blamed when they seek help. Christians are especially prone to blaming the victim. It’s so bad that, as one person posted at Facebook, “The other day, I posted that 96 percent of abuse victims who sought help from their churches would NOT recommend that to other victims. Today, I read that 87 percent of pastors surveyed said their churches would be a safe haven for someone experiencing domestic violence. What a profound disconnection.”
Depending on the situation, victims are told things like: “You should have dressed more modestly,” “You shouldn’t have gone to that place,” “You must have provoked him…or led him on,” “You weren’t respectful enough,” “You weren’t submissive enough,” “You should have been more attentive to his needs,” “Why didn’t you scream or fight back?” “You need to honor your father and mother no matter how they treat you,” “I’m sure your (abusive) Mom really loves you.” “You need to focus on your own sins.” When victims speak out about the abuse, they are typically told that they are bitter, angry, negative, gossipy, judgmental, unloving, unforgiving. So when a victim hears statements such as “If you dress like a slut, you have to expect to be treated like one…” a tsunami of guilt, shame, and self-blame overwhelms them–even if they were “the good girl” who didn’t “dress like a slut,” or go to bad places, or do anything to provoke the abuser.
I was emotionally abused, not sexually abused, but I still have to battle guilt: “Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I am not loving enough. Maybe I’m not forgiving enough. Maybe I am a terrible person. Maybe if I had said this instead of that…maybe if I had done this and not the other thing…what if I’m the monster and not them?” EJ often tells me during these times, “You are not the monster and it wasn’t your fault.” I have to remind myself of the truth in order to beat back the false guilt, which is why I often quote Scripture when I’m describing abuse. I have to hold to it or I will sink.
Here’s something I tried to explain the other night:
Yeah, we could get into a long discussion about modesty and what a woman should/shouldn’t wear. I would agree that I wouldn’t go out dressed like Ariana Grande did and I wouldn’t want my daughter (if I had one) to dress like this. By the way, I also think it’s really stupid and inappropriate for guys to wear their pants below their butts. Seriously, I have no desire to see their underwear. We could also have discussions about whether it’s wise for a woman–or man–to go out partying and drinking. But this isn’t really an issue about modesty or unwise places. It’s an issue about predators and sexual abuse.
It is a common belief that a woman who “dresses like a slut” has to expect to be treated like one and she pretty much deserves what she gets. But let’s examine this: If that belief is true then logically we have to assume that a woman who is a “good girl” who dresses modestly wouldn’t ever get sexually assaulted. And if it’s true that a woman who goes out partying shouldn’t be surprised if she gets assaulted then we should assume that a woman who goes to a “safe place” like a church wouldn’t ever get assaulted. Yet, many women who dress modestly and many people who go to church are sexually assaulted.
The reality is that a sexual abuser doesn’t assault his victim because of what she is wearing, but because he is a sexual abuser and has the opportunity to do so. A rapist rapes because he is a rapist. A molester molests children because he is a molester. An abuser abuses because he is an abuser. These predators carefully seek out places where they can find victims (i.e., a molester will go to places where he can access children). They seek opportunity. Abusers LOVE the church because they can find people there who will believe the best about them and give them unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance, no matter what they do, and with no accountability.
If the young woman in the photo above had dressed modestly at the funeral, it is very probable that the pastor would have still touched her inappropriately because he is a predator. What she wore–whether immodest or modest, whether wise or unwise–wouldn’t have mattered to him. In fact, I have a friend who loves God, attends church, and never dresses “like a slut.” She is a wonderful godly woman. She gave me permission to share what she told me privately today: “I’ve been completely covered and had older men hold my arm in such a way that their fingers brushed my breast, and I KNOW they had to recalculate to make it happen.” Do you understand? With predators, opportunity matters, not clothing. A victim will be abused no matter how good or perfectly or wisely she acts because an abuser abuses. It is not the victim’s fault. The abuser chose to abuse. The guilt belongs to the abuser, not the victim. Stop blaming the victim!
Sam Powell is a pastor and abuse advocate. I love what he shared today on his Facebook pagestop:
I have to add that I read an interesting discussion on Sam Powell’s Facebook page yesterday. He posted that “Just so you know, Bathsheba wasn’t taking a long, languid bubble bath on the roof. She was doing a ritual purification, commanded in the law, most likely after menstruation. She was preparing for worship.” Sam and others continued the discussion:
“And she wasn’t on the roof. David was on the roof, she was most likely within the walls of her own courtyard or possibly at the river or well.”
“What an example of how prone societies are to victim blaming that we have spoken of her as bathing on a roof for thousands of years when it was him that was described as being on the roof!”
“I have heard more sermons from the pulpit on Bathsheba enticing David and inappropriately tempting him. Because they were there, obviously, even though the Bible never portrays this.”
“Nathan referred to Bathsheba as the lamb, and David as the wealthy predator.”
“At least Nathan didn’t blame Bathsheba like most modern-day laymen and pastors would. He laid it squarely on David.”
“To this day, that analogy that Nathan used makes me cringe. Makes me want to cry, because it was so intense and tragic how he described David’s sin. Very much on point, of course. David didn’t see it that way (at first), but that is how the Lord saw it, which made it 100% valid and true. When a person is violated and abused (or sinned against in general; these are just a few examples), this is how I believe the Lord views it from above: You are taking a sweet, precious lamb and killing it for your own selfish, sinful purposes. You are stealing something that doesn’t belong to you, and have no right to take. Yet you take it anyway, regardless of the consequences.”
I share a lot about abuse on my personal Facebook page. I do so because 1. Too many people are ignorant about the dynamics of abuse, and because they are ignorant, they end up causing victims/survivors more trauma, more guilt, more shame. 2. If people do not learn about abuse, they are more likely to become victims themselves and/or find themselves being deceived by abusers and supporting, defending, and enabling them. 3. I know the guilt and shame that abuse survivors struggle with, and I want them to understand that it wasn’t their fault. They didn’t deserve the abuse. Their actions–wise or unwise–didn’t cause the abuse, the predator chose to abuse.
I love this scene from the movie, Goodwill Hunting, which takes place between a young man who had been abused and his therapist. I can never get through it without sobbing. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault.