My Experience with Sexual Abuse and Misogyny Within the Family and Church
This weekend, I awakened to #ChurchToo and #FamilyToo being trending news topics. These hashtags were created to expose sexual abuse within families and churches. They came on the heels of the resurgence of #MeToo, a movement that was started 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke, in response to the recent Hollywood Sex Scandal and the firestorm of sexual assault allegations against American politicians.
As a survivor of family sexual abuse and pervasive church misogyny, it is disturbing that this is a “thing,” yet not surprising. As sad as the stories being shared are, I am glad that we are breaking the code of silence that surrounds sexual abuse. I once thought this was merely a Black family and Black church epidemic. The two institutions where people are known to cover abuse, tell the survivor to “suck it up,” and everyone still embraces the abuser(s) with no repercussions. I have discovered, however, that this insidious insistence to lie and deny this heinous crime is an issue that does not discriminate based upon demographics. This is painfully obvious by some of the commentary I have seen in the media following the sudden onslaught of sexual abuse claims. What I know as a sexual abuse awareness and survivor advocate, however, is that these charges are nothing new. They are just under-reported.
There are those who believe the Hollywood Sex Scandal opened the floodgates for sexual abuse to become a national discussion. I disagree. It is more likely that happened with the election into presidency of a man who bragged about grabbing women by their vaginas. Speaking of which, there are a few disgruntled citizens who maintain that all of this attention on sexual abuse is unmerited, and it is intended to “distract” us from the real issues hurting America. It’s as if producing broken individuals is not a matter that affects us all.
Whether it’s been the response to the Hollywood Scandal, U.S. Gymnastics-gate, or the uncovering of predatory politicians, the overwhelming response has displayed the great emotion-deficit in American society. Much of the social media commentary shows that it is apparent we live in a country so calloused to sexual abuse, and accepting of a misogynistic patriarchy, that when it comes to abused women in particular, we naturally blame them for the actions of male perpetrators. We go even further when we try to silence them and put the burden on their backs to stop sexual abuse. The sentiments that “You [women] need to watch what you wear” and “Men will be men,” are two examples of this warped mentality that immediately come to mind.
Taking the country’s current landscape- and longstanding history- into consideration when it comes to the equitable treatment of girls and women, I am puzzled when people ask, “Well, why didn’t she tell? What took her so long?” It probably has something to do with the incredulous way the question is posed. Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why people don’t tell. The top three being:
1.) It was a family member- and no one would believe her,
2.) It was someone from the church- and no one would believe her, or
3.) She actually did tell someone she trusted around the time of the incident, but she was told that she was to blame. She, therefore, wrongly internalized guilt and self-blame for years until she simply could no longer bear its weight.
In my journey to overcome incest and rape- I am not going to put the softer “sexual abuse” term on it, because I am no longer here to make abusers and their enablers comfortable- I confided in persons to my spiritual, mental, and emotional detriment. Not only was I not believed, in one case I was accused of doing something to cause it and for having out-of-control anger when the abuser was confronted. To compound this emotional trauma that wrecked that relationship as well as tainted every one I had afterwards, when I spoke about my experience with the “church,” I was told that I just needed to forgive the abusers and those who knew about it but did nothing to help me. On another occasion, a “leader” told me that I needed to look at myself and my actions in relation to my misogynistic treatment by his “prophet” while side-stepping the fact that his “prophet” was the one who pursued me in a sexual manner. It was not the other way around.
“My story isn’t mine to keep, it’s God’s.”
Today I find myself in Grief Recovery Counseling to address not so much the abuse, but the response by those who either claim to love me, or I assume that they should since they like to press the issue of “family over everything.” My life as a survivor who told some family members and friends at an early age and was not supported, has affected how I related to everyone in a family, friendship, and/or business relationship over the past 30 years. The bottom-line is that my experience has led to me having some level of discomfort in most of my relationships because of my internal struggle to trust people’s intentions.
Therapy is helping me to come to terms with the fact that not only has having my pain ignored had a snowball effect on my life, but having a core part of who I am being actively rejected has made a tragic situation worse. That core part of me being my sexual abuse awareness and survivor advocacy ministry. This God-given, fundamental piece of who I am has been wholly shunned, ridiculed, and dismissed as me being “crazy” by persons society tells me should have a different response. Some have even gone as far as to outright tell me to stop “telling the family’s business.” Unfortunately, the “family’s business” is my story. A story which isn’t even mine to keep to myself. It’s my testimony God requires me to share with others.
It is in these moments of feeling abandoned and betrayed that I hold tightly to 2 Cor. 6:17, “Therefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate….” Whether it is your family of origin or your church family, not everyone will receive you, not everyone will be for you. It is okay for you not to be okay with that. It is okay for you not to be thankful for these toxic ties. It is okay for you to shake the dust off your feet and keep moving when people who insist that you fall in line with their relationship demands continue to reject you and deny your story. Relationships take two people, and even God required repentance when there was a break in fellowship. Our family and church connections are no different. Embracing your truth and walking away from those people, places, and things that do not nurture it is an exercise in self-care. Furthermore, despite what you may have heard, you don’t have to be mad to want something different for your life. Seeking a better way does not mean you are holding a grudge. Even if you are, this is your journey to wholeness, and no one can dictate how you travel it.
If you would like to connect with me more on this topic, or you would like information about Grief Recovery Counseling for you or a loved one, you may comment below, e-mail, or find me on Twitter at NowWithNicole.
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