When we discuss sexual abuse within the church, we usually assume we’re talking about young boys who were sexually abused by priests. There are several other types of victims that don’t get as much attention but have also suffered within our churches.
Last year, when #churchtoo started trending on Twitter, I wondered if I was the “right” kind of victim. I’d certainly been victimized within my church, but not in the way people would immediately assume. I was never sexually assaulted by anyone in church leadership.
There are more kinds of abuse going on within our churches than child sexual abuse.
I see a lot of focus on the abuse of boys within Catholicism, but girls have been sexually abused as well. Nuns have been sexually abused.
Adult men and women have been sexually abused. Priests and other church leaders sometimes use their authority to manipulate adults into sexual relationships. The uneven power dynamic makes these relationships sexually exploitative and abusive.
It’s not wrong to call attention to the young boys who have been abused. We should absolutely be talking about them, but we shouldn’t ignore all the other victims out there who don’t fit neatly into the easiest categories for us.
When #MeToo started trending, some women were slow to come forward, not because they didn’t support it, but because they didn’t think their experiences of sexual assault were as bad as what other women had experienced. They were trying to compare their trauma to other women’s trauma.
We shouldn’t downplay sexualized violence, no matter what form it takes.
We can’t say, “Well, you were groped without your consent, but at least you weren’t raped.”
With that sort of logic, I may as well go rob the local gas station because, hey, at least I didn’t rob the bank.
We all get there in different ways, but trauma is trauma. We make space for every victim. All traumatic experiences are valid.
Sometimes people contact me after reading Act Normal and want to tell me about their own traumatic experiences in their church. Almost every time, they preface their message with, “My experience is nothing compared to yours…”
Their experience isn’t nothing. It’s something. It stands on its own, independent of what happened to me.
If a person was victimized within a church, in whatever form that took, it’s a horror.
It’s wrong if a young boy was sexually abused by a priest, church leader, or congregant.
It’s wrong if a girl was sexually abused by a priest, church leader, or congregant.
It’s wrong if a teenage girl was stalked and threatened (sometimes sexually) within a church that allowed it to happen.
It’s wrong if an adult man or woman was manipulated into a sexual relationship with someone who claimed to have religious authority.
It’s wrong if someone was sexually harassed within their church.
It’s wrong when a person in power grooms a vulnerable person for a sexual relationship, even if they never end up touching them.
It’s wrong if a child learned such damaging things about sex within the church they struggle with mental health issues as an adult.
It’s wrong if anyone is traumatized within a church in any way.
I’m not always an easy victim for people to wrap their minds around. They want a simple story, but so many of our stories aren’t simple. They’re complicated. Most of our stories require people to understand power differentials and the ways so many Christians openly objectify girls and women while pretending to shield them.
A lot of people are out there, wondering if they count because they don’t fit into the neat narrative everyone’s talking about.
My experience counts. It was traumatic and had a definite sexual aspect. If you’ve been traumatized within your religious community in a way that relates to sex, you count too.