I am a nobody really. Before you protest… let me tell you flatly – that this is just fine with me. It occurs to me that the definition of “somebody” in this world and “somebody” in the kingdom of God – are two vastly different things. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that we come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. This is enough to raise the head of any beggar and lower the head of any king. You have before you, the words from the powerful pen of a powerless beggar trying to be brave; nothing more and nothing less.
“To try to be brave is to be brave.” G. MacDonald
Originally from the east coast of Canada, I am the final child of my mother, who birthed four children by three different men. My father was an alcoholic, sadistic pedophile. I was just under two years old when my mother left with my oldest sister who had been one of his many repeated rape victims by the age of ten. She left the remaining children at his mercy.
My personhood and personality were formed in the context of severe physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuse and utter neglect. My father remarried a woman who knew about his molestation of my sisters and I. Sadly, she saw my sister and I as competition for the sexual advances of my father, her then husband. As a youngster, my stepmother blamed the children in her care for the sexual abuse they endured. She provided daily assaults on any and all forms of femininity, brutally crushing anything beautiful. All beatings were witnessed by her until I was unconscious, often the last thing I heard was, “don’t kill her – you’ll go to jail.” Her concern was for the predator, not the victim. Beauty grows in the most desolate of places… and as I grew, the crushing continued to increase in intensity.
I grew up a silent, soft-spoken, compliant, and hyper-vigilant child. I was desperate to become more than what I knew my circumstances had set me up for. My older sister thought all families lived the way we did. Yet somehow, even without much outside information, I knew this was not the case. I have worked part-time since I was eleven years old, strove in school to achieve, loved learning and saw education as a ticket out of the abject poverty and desperation that defined my life. To drink or to do drugs would be to let down my guard, therefore I, fortunately, escaped acquiring any addictions.
I did, however, have one place where heartache has reigned, where the past has constantly crept into the present to haunt, hunt and harm. I have longed to be loved and cared for like a father’s daughter. It is safe to say that my daughterhood and my body have always been literally and figuratively up for grabs. My father was charged with molestation of a minor (me) for the second time, I had to testify against him. I feared him, I believed him to be all-powerful – I had reliable reasons to be frightened for my life. He had been jailed for molestation of my sister five years earlier. This time he was not convicted, as it was his word against mine; it was one of many miscarriages of justice for me.
I was shattered when I left home at fifteen, moving from the country to the city. I wrote poetry as a means of self-expression as a teenager. I had brought with me a book of my writing, which I promptly lost in a local shop. Written on the inside cover was the English department heads name of the high school I was to attend – the book was turned into him. That was the beginning of the next trap. He was a well-known teacher at my new high school and became a weekly, if not daily confidant. By the time I left high school, he professed his love… I was confused and devastated because I loved him as a father, not as a lover. At the time I was able to grapple with the issue and reject the notion that I might also be in love with him – I could still see myself as a child and him thirty years my senior. There were many more such predators to come, from male managers in the workplace to a high-level physician in our community, to pious predators in the pulpit.
When I reflect these betrayals, the truth is, that I really wanted those men to be who they said they were. They were all in a position of power, all older… I didn’t realize it, but all in their own way, they were well educated, articulate, polished and pious predators. I was far to easily led astray by the hope that someone bigger, wiser, and more powerful could love me like a child. Given that I had made a careful study of my father for years, I foolishly thought I had predation down pat – I was wrong. Predators are not exclusively the easily identified pagan peddlers of innocence that I understood so well – tattooed, toothless, trashy men who torture children. I have personally suffered at the hands of predators in education, healthcare, clergy, and industry. Evidence indicates that predators who are the most nefarious are commonly upstanding, contributing, pious men.
I have recently been accepted into a graduate program for Child Advocacy and Policy. It is my hope to continue on to study clergy malfeasance at a Ph.D. level. There is a unique interplay of social, emotional and psychological variables that confounds trauma when someone is victimized in a faith community. We are all, far too easily fooled. My specific goal is first to study, then to educate and widely communicate on, the anatomy of sexual abuse in a faith-based community. To quote Jim Collins, there are two ways to change the world, “the pen (the use of ideas) and the sword (the use of power). In the face of powerlessness – I have chosen the pen. It is my conviction that people in pain are best served by compassionate, caring individuals who are well informed and armed with evidence-based information. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and study, with a view to serving others through evidence-based, empathic communication.
Please remember that integral to successful predation is the set up of a double life. I would caution you to never, not ever, tell yourself that someone could never “do such a thing.” We have this false notion that because we “know” someone to be upstanding in the light, that somehow they are upstanding in the dark. This does not bear out with the lived experience of millions of survivors or evidence. I leave you with these cautions, but urge you to educate yourself. It is true as believers we perish, or our children perish, for our lack of knowledge.
1. When it comes to sexual abuse, Madeline L’Engle’s admonition applies, “This is a place to be suspicious.” You simply CANNOT know who is and who is not a predator. All evidence suggests that we believe we will know… Flat out – we are easily deceived.
2. Be very aware of your own hunger/vulnerability. I say this with a mother heart and a sister’s sorrow. Where were are starving, we will readily eat poison without knowing it. Even foul water is refreshing to a parched land.
3. Predators are very charming. Watch out for flattery. Flattery feels very good – but it is poppycock and cotton floss. Someone who does not deeply know you and has a good reason to know you does not have the right to give you praise or excessive positive feedback.
4. Be conscious of any man who is not your partner, or clearly wanting to date you, who is taking liberties that seem small but seductive. Ex. dropping in unannounced, inviting you to private coffee, commenting on your appearance, flattering your skills etc.
5. Stay connected to good friends, healthy family members, and life filled community. The moment you start keeping secrets you are in danger. The grooming process takes time… lots of time. Make sure you don’t give him the time of day.