The Silence and Blame Surrounding Sexual Abuse
Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyers Debra S. Katz (L) and Michael R. Bromwich. Photo: Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images
“Young ladies, as the old folks used to say, keep a nickel between your knees! The Bible says that your body is a temple. And just like Adam couldn’t resist Eve, you can’t expect these knuckle-headed boys to not be tempted by you. YOU have to be strong and preserve yourself for marriage as God intended.”
Ever since I graduated from children’s church at age 12, I could expect to hear a similar sermon, usually during Youth Revival Week, exhorting the blooming girls of our congregation to bear the burden of sexuality on behalf of our male counterparts. Although all had sinned, there was a special place in hell for girls who allowed their sexuality to lure well-meaning Christian boys into sin.
It was human nature for boys to pursue and cajole until they could conquer girls and quench the desire that had driven them into a frenzy. This was a normal phase for boys, even good Christian ones who were raised well, and would pass. It was our duty as Christian girls to support our future leaders and husbands until they were no longer ruled by the urges of the flesh. And if we failed and succumbed, it was also our job to repent and not put ourselves in similar positions in the future, lest we become the Jezebels of our communities.
As a teenager, I knew my place in the world as it related to sex and sexuality. Women and girls who had sex before marriage were dirty. They were failures. They were bad people. And women who were married were ordained by God to please their mates. There was no middle ground, and although there was room for redemption, fortune favored those who abstained. And I wanted so much to be favored and to be a good Christian girl living in God’s purpose. Sadly for me, our religious leaders, who served as a moral compass and authority for our community, had already made it clear that I was damaged goods.
Before I started kindergarten, I was molested by an extended family member. This heinous act led to a succession of violations from multiple perpetrators that extended into my sophomore year of college. And whenever a male whom I had previously trusted touched me inappropriately, I remembered my Christian upbringing. Somehow the Eve in me was luring otherwise well-meaning, good men to do the unthinkable. During the act, I would freeze, so disappointed in myself that I had somehow failed again. And after the act I would pray. “Lord make me clean. Lord make me whole. Lord make me better.”
There were a few moments along the way, usually at school, where we would watch a video about children who had been victims of sexual abuse. And every once in a while I would share what happened to me with a trusted adult. We tried to confront the people who hurt me. We tried to convince me of my self-worth. We tried to assure me it was not my fault. But we never, ever reported it.
For far too long, the words of so many pastors rang in my ears, and I believed we could not expect these boys (and men) to resist temptation, even from the youngest of Jezebels. I will always be grateful for the people who helped me heal. Yet while several people focused on my healing, no one focused on bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Why didn’t we report? Because male sexual aggression is part of American culture. This culture is upheld by the caring and well-meaning people who support victims in silence to protect them from the oppressive shame and blame associated with being a survivor. It is reinforced when the frightened few speak out and are forced to relive their trauma as guilty until proven innocent. And it will persist if we distract ourselves with political divides instead of confronting our shared guilt in allowing sexual misconduct to be an implicit norm in our society.
I’m not asking you to change your politics. I’m not asking you to choose sides between Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Instead ask yourself, in this pervasive and unspoken culture that is preserved in even our holiest of institutions, would YOU report if this happened to you? Or would you join the silent sisterhood of girls and women who survive in spite of a culture that denies we are the rule, not the exception?