When someone is a victim of trauma, they are often not believed. I am not sure which is worse. Not being believed or people believing and not caring about a victims pain. I’ve seen this play out as a teenager enduring my own abuse, as a pastor with congregants that have had pain, as a taxi driver hearing stories in the night, as a boyfriend holding her hand through trauma, and as a father. Victim shaming, victim blaming, gas lighting, it is all so cruel and so hard.
There’s a woman who was, shall we say, groomed by someone in power over her. She gave in. When she realized what was going on and stood for herself and against the sexual assault, the local head of the organization shamed her in front of other students, told her she would amount to nothing, and ensured that she could never come back. The staff member who crossed a line was in the clear, she was painted as the wanton woman.
The reality was she wanted to belong. A lifetime of abuse and objectification made her vulnerable. Leadership saw that, and using the promise of belonging for performing using classic tools of manipulation, she never stood a chance.
It turns out this situation has happened before in that group and will likely happen again. It’s being investigated, but it is a long shot because these matters are hard to prove. The difference between a thief and a con artist is an interesting line. A thief will steal from you, a con artist will convince you to give him your wallet. It is the same with what some call violent rape and grooming someone to do your bidding in the name of spiritual enlightenment by an authority.
In a social event, I saw her face when she realized one of the people instrumental in her pain, shame, and isolation was about to come. She literally had to duck out a back entrance as he entered the front. For legal reasons she can’t speak of the situation in depth. But the response of her friends is that this man is a swell guy and they are both invited to all events because that is fair and equal. When this legal matter is over, we can all be friends, right?
No. That is not how it works. No matter what happens in a court of law, she can never be safe in the presence of these two men again. This idea from the Old Testament where, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” (Isaiah 11:6) is not realistic, healthy, loving, or helpful. Predators eat prey. This warped idea of love and radical inclusion happens everywhere in society.
I find it most maddening and hurtful when it occurs in churches or spaces of alt-spirituality. Why? Because this abusive c0-dependent behavior that harms people is interwoven to the DNA of their theology or philosophy and it part of their definition of love and forgiveness. Predators who hurt others are not obvious black hat wearing bad guys twirling their mustache while Polly Purebread is tied to the tracks. They are charming. They are well liked. Many times they are charismatic.
Most of the time victims are not believed. This is so very hard. But often, the victims are believed and no one cares. It is because of this that we have terms like victim blaming and victim shaming.
What were you wearing? Why didn’t you resist? You are both my friends. Don’t make waves.
My son has never been sexually molested. But he has been a victim and sometimes he is not believed and other times he is believed and no one cares.It is pretty obvious when one is not believed. What does it look like to be believed and not cared about when you are a transgender teenager?
- Your proper pronoun is not used
- You are deliberately misgendered
- Not allowed proper access to the restroom you identify with
- Laws protecting you from employment discrimination being reversed
- Being told by an authority in school that people would not bully you if you were not so different.
We train people to not report or seek justice. It starts with ignoring playground bullying and sexualization. Then comes different definitions of assault and rape. Then victim blaming and shaming. People in power know this. They know they are safe.
We live in a world where the victim has to duck out the back while the predator is welcomed in the front door. In this world, the victim is deemed unreasonable for not wanting to dine with the predator. The prey knows they are the meal. So does the predator. Most of the other ones choose not to believe this or believe it and just don’t care.
As a parent, a fiancee, or a friend, how do you deal with this? How do you stand by someone you love who is in this situation where they have been victimized and are either not believed or believed and no one cares?
There are three steps that I have learned.
- The most important and immediate need to removal from danger. This is our job if they are too weakened from the fight. They are not weak, but being hurt is exhausting.
- Healing and comfort. They will need to heal from the pain of what they endured. They also need to be affirmed and loved as they are. Where they are. This is an area we can help in. We can affirm, accept, believe, and love without harmful definitions.
- Justice. This is not something we can help with. We are not vigilantes. This is up to the authorities who work in a broken system. Sometimes the authorities are the one committing harm. Sometimes victims seek justice, sometimes they do not. We do not get to tell the victim how to handle the matter. Coming forward means facing disbelief or shaming.
I have been in this situation more times than I can count. I have stood with rape victims, victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment. Sadly, I have lost count how many times I have stood with someone but can count on one hand how many times they were fully believed and justice was successfully sought.
Stand by victims. Believe them. Trust them. Love them. They are not weak. They’re not the ones who are broken. And they are certainly not less and did not ask for any of what they endured.
***Special thanks to David Hayward for permission to use his cartoon. If you would like to see how he used it and even purchase a copy, go to his website. ***