Assault, Incest, Rape and the Justice System
Many who are familiar with me know that I am a survivor of severe childhood sexual abuse from multiple family members. I was never able to speak up as a child (at the age of 5 until nearly age 7 I was unable to speak at all due to emotional trauma). So I never received any justice. But to be honest although in my 20s I had to completely cut ties with my family to be safe from continued acts of violence, I had no desire for revenge or justice for myself.
One of my abusers was my older brother. He began abusing me when I was 7 yrs old. When I left the State of Ohio my older brother was then married with 4 daughters. I tried to warn his wife that he will some day abuse one or more of his daughters just as he had me. I hoped she would protect her girls. Years later I found out from a friend in Ohio that my brother had sexually abused one of his daughters. He was charged with “Sexual Imposition” a third degree misdemeanor, he got basically a slap on the wrist. He spent just a few months in jail. How does this deter repeated offense or give justice for the victims?
I’ve said this before, I know sometimes an innocent person gets convicted of crimes, but society has gone too far protecting the perpetrators that there are really no protection or rights for the victims. We need to find a better balance and if the there is an advantage of protection or rights it should be in favor of the victims. Why are we protecting rapists, thieves and murders over their victims? Because no matter how far women think they have come, it is still a man’s world.
I’m not seeking to male bash, I am just saying the “good ol’ boy” system still lives throughout society. The proof is not just seen in how crimes against women and children can often bring no charges or have penalties that are less severe than stealing or manslaughter, but also in how women and children top the lists of hunger, housing and medical needs. If we really valued our women and children don’t you think these statistics would be different? So Why is sexual assault low priority? Sexual assault should be considered a metaphorical manslaughter of the victim’s soul. While a perpetrator gets a few months (if any time at all) in jail, the victims suffer a lifetime of effects. Even those fortunate enough to get good support and counseling will still suffer PTSD symptoms to varying degrees.
I looked up the Ohio laws about Sexual Imposition. It is not based on “she said – he said” that has to be collaborative evidence before charges are even filed. Yet its is still a 3rd degree misdemeanor. It is not a minor incident to the victim.
#MeToo needs to also involve true justice for victims.
As the “Me Too” movement continues to bring down some of Hollywood’s biggest Producers, Directors, Actors and Comedians, response to these revelations tends to fall into two camps. Overall – at least publicly – there is great support for the victims, which is very good. We finally see Companies, Networks and the public taking action to show these behaviors will no longer be tolerated. Responses long over due (and one can only hope that intolerance for sexual abuse of power will finally turn to politics as well, and not just on a hit and miss level). My concern is the responses I’ve heard behind closed doors.
Statements like: “If it was true why did they wait so long to tell?”, “She’s just after money”, “If that happened to me I would have immediately gone to the police!” and so on. Well I am a member of the “Me Too” wave. My perpetrators (yes plural) were not powerful Hollywood men but I’ve heard similar cynical remarks before. I want to say that until sexual assault and rape happens to you, you have no idea how you will respond. Often you are in shock, denial, you start to question yourself, “did I cause this?” “Why did he (or she) do this?” “What if no one believes me?”. Sometimes your first response is to try and forget what happened, and the last thing you want to do is deal with the abuser again. It can be even more overwhelming if you are a child or young adult. Even typically confident adult women and men, can be thrown off kilter in such circumstances and not report an assault. Some will confide in a close friend or family member, others won’t, at least not at first. And yes, some will be able to immediately call the police, and good for them, but statistics show they are in the minority. Many victims never report it. One can only hope that as society turns to become more supportive of victims and demanding of justice, reporting will increase.
Will there be some who were not victimized who try to take advantage of the “Me Too” movement for financial gain? a few perhaps. There are rare cases when false rape claims are made to police, but that is the minority not the rule. Plus, considering how the legal system is skewed against the victim of sexual assault and in favor of the perpetrator, I hope you bear in mind that an innocent verdict does not always mean a rape didn’t happen. I just would like those who have skepticism to give those speaking up the benefit of the doubt and remember that until you find yourself in that position, you really don’t know how you would respond.
I have a sign on the wall in my living room that reads: Grace is when God gives us what us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve. But even living in Grace, life is still hard for many of God’s people. Someone who has struggled with many trials or with particularly difficult, long lasting trials often become tired, even overwhelmed. I’ve been there a few times during my life.
I have faith, I know God is always in control and watching over His people, of which I am one, even so, at times I get weary and I ask God to call me home. I would never do any thing to harm myself, but like Paul I yearn to be with the Lord and leave this world. There are times when I ask God why I am still here. I am not alone. I’ve spoken with others who have admitted they’ve asked God the same question. Perhaps you have had a time in your life, or are currently experiencing such a time. Weariness happens to all of us, after all, we are only human. We all experience weakness and times of trials and that is okay, as long as we never forget that the decisions of life and death are rightfully in God’s hand – not ours.
I am sure you have at some point in your life heard another saying: God never gives us more than we can handle. But that is not quite true. There are many who experience more than they can deal with, but if you have Christ you can rest in the assurance that we never experience more than Christ can carry. Trials and weariness comes, we live in a world of ever increasing violence, hate and turmoil. The world economy is a roller-coaster, in our own country many wonder if they will have medical insurance, or even a job in the near future. Many of our politicians are more concerned in continuing to fight and at times amp up a battle between republicans and democrats, than find solutions. While our president – well let’s just say people either love him or hate him. His rhetoric and behavior leaves little room for a middle ground. There are countries who threaten the U.S. who have developed nuclear missiles that can now reach our country. As Christians we deal with hate and hostility from the LGBT community and pro-abortion groups to name just a couple. We all, to varying degrees have a lot of stress in our lives. It is enough to cause some Christians to desire to be absent from the body and present with Christ.
Scripture admonishes us to bear each other’s burdens but to do that we need to be honest about our weaknesses. We need to consider such honesty not as a sign of weakness, but as a step towards strength in Christ and His body – the church. We need to end the stigma of weakness and weariness. Are you willing to listen to another? Are you willing to share some of your own struggles and ask not just God, but your brothers and sisters in the church to pray for you and encourage you? True strength doesn’t deny, hide nor run from weakness, you need to trust God in the midst of your weakness. He promises to walk with us even through the valley of the shadow of death.
Have you ever been going about the day to day tasks of your life only to suddenly feel pulled down by a memory? or perhaps an unfulfilled dream? or Something in your day that just didn’t go your way. A thought starts to rise in your heart – becoming ever louder in your mind, and slowly tearing at your soul like a thousand paper cuts.
I experienced the start of such a downward spiral yesterday. I was at the birthday party of a friend who was turning 75. He was surrounded by family and friends. His college freshman grandson wrote and was singing a song to the Grandpa he loved. At that moment a thought crept into my mind saying “these are things you will never experience.” For I am a single, disabled woman in my late 50s, with no family and multiple health problems. The thought almost made me tear up as I began to feel sorry for myself. But I took a deep breath and shook my head ever so slightly “NO!”
“NO I am not going to dwell on such thoughts. I had learned over time that I can choose to focus on the blessings I do have in life.” It was not an easy lesson to take hold of, it took time, but I did finally come to believe the fact that I can choose what I let my mind dwell on. I had a chaplain at college who used to tell me repeatedly that I can choose to focus on what I do have, rather than on what I don’t yet – and yes, may never have. It was a foreign concept that the choice could be mine. And with all sincerity I say, it is making a choice between life and death.
If I focus on what is not part of my life, I spiral down into the depths of depression and self-pity. I have in the past let the pain bring me to consider ending my life. I would at times even make a plan. I would give up on life, myself, and most importantly God. No good ever came from allowing myself to focus on what I think is missing in my life.
However, when I choose to focus on the joy of the moment, on the many good things I do experience in life, such as: dear friends who include me in family holiday celebrations; a Christ focused church that believes in “Living the Truth, Acting in Love”; a safe roof over my head; creative gifts I can use to enrich my life and bless others; and even a couple of friends who share my interests in fun things like watching shows about Bigfoot hunters, playing Catopoly and dominoes and more, I find my heart welling up with tears of joy and laughter. I am greatly blessed by God.
Is my life what I used to believe it needed to be? Is it what I spent years hoping for? No. Am I unhappy about that? No. If I open my eyes to see the good, I see that I am very richly blessed in this life. And I choose to focus on what brings life to my spirit rather than what brings death to my soul. What will you choose to focus on when painful thoughts stir in your heart? Please choose life.
Once again the news is filled with a debate about the authenticity of women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by a prominent powerful man. Last year it was a well loved comedian, this year it is a billionaire who is now running for the most powerful political office of our country. I am not going to debate the moral and political issues here. I want to speak up for victims/survivors of sexual assault, of which I am also, as once again we hear the charges that “if the assault was true why didn’t she speak up at that time or press charges?”
I know the questions well. When I share my experiences of incestuous abuse by five family members, of being raped at 14 and nearly raped as an adult. I am asked, ‘Why didn’t you tell someone, or run away from home? Why (as a child) didn’t you say no? Did you try to get away? If the abuse was as bad as you claim why didn’t you leave your family until you were 28 years old?’ For me and many victims the questions feel like piercing indictments skepticism that subtly questions our truthfulness.
As a child I was taught saying “no” was never an option for me. I certainly had no right to say no to the adults in my family – to even look at my mother with any negative expression was to bring down more anger and abuse. I was told from the age of four or five that I was to obey my older brother at all times and that any complaints I might have would not be listened to. By the time I was a teenager I had been so programed to accept the sexual abuse, running away from home was not even on the radar of my mind.
When I was gang raped by 5 classmates at the age of 14, I did say no (they weren’t family so I somehow found the power to say no) but it did no good. I was out numbered and thus physically powerless. Why didn’t I tell someone then? Because as soon as I stood up from the river bank and brushed away the sand, I also brushed the memory from my conscious thoughts, I buried it in my mind. When it finally rose to the surface I was in my mid twenties. I did tell some people then, one friend was supportive, another didn’t believe I could bury such a trauma so completely, and my family accused me of inciting my attackers and being a willing participant. That night my grandfather tried to get into my bed in the middle of the night (he and my grandmother had separate bedrooms). I finally found the voice to say “no” to a childhood family abuser, and he did stop and left my room. I then spent the rest of the night sitting up in the bed shaking as I kept watch of the bedroom door in case he tried to return. Early in the morning my grandmother found me crying in the garage. I told her what had happened and she blamed me, saying I got him worked up by telling them about being rape when a 14 yr. old.
In my late twenties a neighbor in my apartment building that I had spoken with many times in the hall way (never once did I mention my past history of sexual assault) invited me in for a cup of tea. Once seated on his sofa he soon began to force himself upon me. I had to wrestle my way out of his apartment. I was so shaken I immediately went to see a female friend down the hall and told her what had just happened. She blamed me for going into his apartment. I told the management of the HUD subsidized building what happened, and they told me it was my word against his so they would take no action.
My abusers were not powerful by the world’s standards. They had no funds to hire pricey attorneys to bog me down with lawsuits or jeopardize my financial or work situation. So I understand completely why women often don’t report assaults unless something potentially more terrible is about to happen, like a perpetrator seeking the most powerful office of our country. Then the fear of not speaking out becomes greater than the fear of being called a liar and having your name and reputation dragged through the mud.
It will be October in a couple of days. I am enjoying the change in weather, but there is also a tightness that runs through my body with the month of October that continues until my birthday at the end of January. This four month block of time ushers in a series of painful anniversary dates of severe abuse as well as birthdays that are reminders of my abusers, and even though several of my abusers have died in the last decade, I can’t keep from thinking of them as their birthday approaches any more than I can forget my own birth date.
Those who have not lived through severe, almost daily abuse for their entire childhood rarely understand how major anniversary dates related to the abuse or the abuser can trouble a survivor even decades later. Often friends and others think and sometimes say aloud that we should “get over it already”, “let go of the past”, “put it behind you”, “forgive and forget.” But it is not so simple. I (and most other survivors) don’t choose to be overwhelmed with memories or depression and anxiety from past experiences. Denial doesn’t help – it was years of denial that left us so psychologically and spiritually lost for a large part of our lives. And while I have come a long way in healing this pain, I also admit I have a long way to go. Life is better than it has ever been, but I am still broken in some places psychologically and physically. To those who can’t understand that, or just won’t accept that as truth but prefer to see it as an excuse, I am sorry for your issues.
Many survivors are doing the best they can. Yet, with the onset of October I feel the anxiety and sadness stirring in the pit of my stomach, invading my dreams, stealing my energy. It makes me a little emotional at times, it keeps me home a little more often for both physical and emotional struggles. My prayer is that my friends (and the friends of anyone who deals with PTSD issues from childhood or assault trauma – or from the trauma of war, like many of our returning veterans deal with) will be understanding, patient and perhaps a few will even reach out and share a cup of tea or watch a movie with me. Or maybe they will send an encouraging note, give me a hug at church, let me know I am in their prayers. I hope the Church of Christ Jesus will take even a few moments of time to encourage and help those who are struggling feel included in the body of Christ, even if they look okay on the outside.
As a survivor with PTSD, knowing I am not alone (and I am not speaking of just physical alone-ness) but that I have friends and am part of the family of Christ – not just in theory, but in real life, is a powerful act of love friends and a church family can gift to survivors.
To those who will have ears and hearts to hear this message, Thank You and may God bless your kindness and love.
It is finally here, my book Surrounded by Evil Saved by God has been out in paperback since February of this year, but it is now available in electronic format at Amazon for $4.99
Please check it out. The book has gotten some very good reviews (but can always use some more if you have read it and are willing to write a review for me). Thank you everyone.