The Unbearable Kindness

assume

He made me feel sorry for him. It was one of his strongest defenses. Whenever I began to question his treatment of me, instead of responding he would tell me about horrible things that had happened to him. He would cry. I mean full-on weep about being bullied as a child (he did not get the irony that he was a current adult and I a minor), talk about his family’s dysfunctions, his own time spent in institutions. All of this drowned out my protests, making my voice smaller and smaller as the waves of his emotions flooded my lungs.

 

It was such a strange turn around- me crying after he raped me, and then him weeping and asking me for comfort. I would have his head in my lap, and feel like I needed to tell him it was okay. The thing is, an adult can outsmart a child every time. I had no prior experience with which to gauge the level of his utter bullshit.

 

And then there was the unbearable kindness. It would crush me with guilt. It would give me pause before I said anything against him. He would grandly proclaim his love for me. He praised my smallest accomplishments. He gave me gifts. I liked what he liked. I was less sure what I liked if you took him out of the equation. If I expressed interest in anything he didn’t like, he made sure I knew it was stupid and I was mistaken. He would overlook my lapses in judgment because I was, after all, so young.

 

The kindness extended to the crying times. He would try to repair my wounds. He would cry and apologize. He would fold me into his muscular arms and hold me while he prayed for our souls, or just say he was sorry. Or he would softly blame me with compliments- I was too pretty; he could not control himself around me. He would lie and tell me he needed to hurt me so he wouldn’t hurt anyone else (Liar-he raped others). I was special, and he loved me so very much.

 

I think the kindness was one of the most dangerous aspects to the abuse. When I was trying to learn good people from bad people, I didn’t realize bad people could be nice. I thought they were always obviously bad- walking around with horns or something. His kindness made it hard to throw him into the BAD category where he belonged. People liked him. He had friends. I had to learn that people have both good and bad qualities, and that sometimes what appears good is actually bad.

 

Rapists can give gifts. They can have friends. They can wear stylish clothing. They can be charming. But I won’t ever listen to their crying again.

Excuses, Excuses

 After I disclose my history of sexual abuse in a religious setting, I know I will hear arguments. Usually, I brush them aside as irrelevant, but I know a lot of people are swayed.

 Here are some prime arguments:

Rape happens everywhere.

They weren’t really christians, so it doesn’t count.

You shouldn’t talk about this. You seem angry. If you ask god to open your heart to forgiveness, you will be free.

Rape happens everywhere. I know. The statistics are heart breaking: Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. There is an average of 267,868 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault each year. 44% of victims are under age 18.
 *statistics from www.rainn.org

 But I am not talking about everywhere. I am talking about my personal experience, which was in a religious community that had a culture of rape. The fact that people are raped outside of this context does not make my personal experiences carry less weight. Religion should not exempt the abusers from taking responsibility.

The fact is that the religious environment I was in fostered an abusive atmosphere that made repeated abuse possible. One problem is that it was insular. People are indoctrinated to fear the outside world, and that anyone seeking outside help is inviting the devil in. How easy for a rapist to commit crimes when everyone in the community works to shame the victim into silence! There is no recourse for a victim of sexual assault when his/her community condemns seeking help.

Then there is the victim blaming that is justified using scripture. People are taught that it is a girl’s responsibility to not tempt grown men. Virginity culture proclaimed anyone who strayed outside the marriage bed was sinful. Somehow rape victims were included in the list of adulterers. I was told by church propaganda that a touched girl was dirty, and then had the idea reinforced by my abusers. It was cemented when I dared to disclose the abuse and was called a slut, and blamed for my various infractions (such as having male friends, wearing makeup, being worldly) by members of the community. I stress: I was a minor being called a whore by adults because other adults had raped me. As I wrote in this post, one of my rapists who admitted to his crimes was readily forgiven, and provided sympathy because of everything I had put him though.

I’ve been assured that the people I dealt with weren’t really christians, so it doesn’t count. I can now experience god’s real love through their church. This hardly deserves a response. Who can decide who is really a christian, and why should that lessen the pain of having experienced abuse justified by the bible?

This brings me to forgiveness. I believe in forgiving small mistakes, for example if someone accidentally knocked over my favorite tea cup. If they apologized and it was truly a mistake, I would forgive them. If, instead, they brutally raped me and then demanded my forgiveness while continuing to abuse me I tend to be less forgiving. The rapist needs me to forgive so I can be a participant. He can use my forgiveness as a way to avoid possible punishment. If anyone says something accusatory to him, he will point out that he has my forgiveness so it wasn’t all that bad.
 
 If a community intent on keeping everything private demands I forgive because it was prayed about I still do not need to forgive. If people who are not even part of the community hear my story and believe I should forgive, I still don’t need to forgive. Some things don’t deserve forgiveness- Especially when no steps have been taken to ensure it does not happen again (sorry, prayer doesn’t count). In fact, there is no reason at all that I need to say I forgive my abusers. I don’t. I don’t need to. It will not release me. I released myself when I left the community that they flourish in.

I am angry. I feel it is a justified anger. I don’t know how anyone could hear about systematic abuse of children and not be angry. People know these things are happening, but because the rapist is crying religious freedom he is left alone. It baffles me. There is no group of people with a greater need to protect than children- certainly not a religious institution.

 

Donut Story

donutpin

(photo credit: pinterest)

I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed.

The youth pastor finally entered the room like a Vegas magician, so proud of his show. I could tell he was really revving up for this one. He looked around the room, then focused his eyes on me. “Once you are touched, no one will want you. No one will marry you. No one wants to eat a donut that someone else already took a bite from. They throw it away.”

The other kids looked at me curiously. If they did not know, now they did. I was the donut. I was touched, I was impure, and he knew it. I was raped by someone the guy knew, and here he was telling me God thought I was a disposable tissue now in front of everyone. He went on and on about the virtues of virginity while I had that sensation of being swallowed by the floor.

His words began to melt together. I got up, and left the chapel. I did not return. I think that was the last time I went to the church.

I grew up. I met people who did not think that being a virgin was a prerequisite for being a good person. I told myself a million times that the metaphor was boring and stupid, but still, at night I would dream of it. I would feel unworthy. I would remember what he said in painful detail, and how he looked right at me in a room of teenagers to say it. It felt staged just to point out to the holy kids that I was not.

It speaks to the education on abstinence. If someone loses their hymen, we need to believe they still are worthy. Virginity as a commodity is foolish, and makes vulnerable people more so out of the shame society levels on them. Who wants to raise their hand in the chapel to say they are the donut?