The Tragedy of Shaming

I've told my story broadly for years and little by little I've delved deeper into certain aspects of it. The long term abuse I suffered as a young teen has many layers and to address them all in detail would take up an entire novel, so I'll do it slowly and as seems fitting and needed in this grander scheme of raising awareness for these issues and helping others develop a greater understanding of a complicated and destructive problem in our society at large and especially within our churches.

My story does not stand alone. It is far from an anomaly. You've probably seen the statistics. We have a responsibility as a culture to know what to do when someone tells us they have been abused, and our words and actions in response to a victim of abuse has the power of great healing or great destruction. Speaking out about something as intimate and uncomfortable as sexual abuse takes so much strength and it places the victim in a highly exposed state which leaves them vulnerable to further trauma if those around them do not respond with love, support, openness, and needed resources for their healing, and that healing will undoubtedly take many years, if not a lifetime. When a victim speaks out and is not met with judgement-free love and support, their feelings of shame and worthlessness are compounded and they internalize feelings of such deep rejection and isolation that many times it is as though they are being traumatized all over again. The act of being marginalized and re-traumatized after sexual abuse can be devastating for victims. Suicide rates among victims of sexual abuse are high.

When I was preparing to tell someone about the abuse I'd suffered, I was terrified. I slept fitfully for months and was very uneasy knowing I would tell someone soon, I knew I couldn't keep it to myself much longer. Once the idea of freedom from my suffering had been planted in my mind I could not suppress it and I felt a sense of an impending tidal wave. Not knowing what to expect, I could only imagine what it would be like to come clean about the abuse. I imagined the people close to me would initially be horrified and then they would probably mourn the loss of my innocence and the pain I'd suffered. Then, I thought, they'll be angry and they'll do something. The police will be told and Jamin will be arrested, he'll go to jail and I'll start figuring out how to deal with all of this. No one else will be hurt by him. It will be scary and embarrassing to talk about it but it's not my fault. It wasn't my fault. I was only just beginning to even attempt convincing myself of that last bit: It wasn't my fault. I needed help to believe that. The words were easy enough to say but the feeling wouldn't register. For years, I had listened to my abuser tell me I was sinful, dirty, flirtatious, seductive and a number of other attributes that slowly and methodically chipped away at my self worth until I loathed myself enough to want to die. It would be years before I'd be able to believe what happened to me wasn't my fault.

One night when I was 17 years old, I called my mother into my room and I tearfully told her what had happened to me. I didn't know all of the words to use but I described what Jamin had done to me, or at least some of it. She held me and cried with me. I told her I was scared and embarrassed and sorry - so sorry for lying to her and not telling her before. She hid the guns and then told my father what happened to me. The next morning I felt like I was in a fog. I was dizzy and disoriented, I didn't know what was supposed to happen next. I didn't know how to be. My mother had been crying most of the night, I could tell by looking at her face. There were hushed whispers between her and my dad behind closed doors and later that morning my dad approached me and broke down in tears. He said he was so sorry I'd been hurt and that they would do their best to take care of everything. Now I know, they didn't know what to do either. They believed me but they didn't know what to do for me. No one had ever given them the manual on what to do when your child tells you they've been abused and raped for years.

What happened next was different than what I'd imagined would happen. There was silence. We had several boarders living with us at that time (my abuser no longer lived with us) and I knew they were quietly talking about it, but no one was talking to me about it. Sure, I had to talk to the police and write a report about what happened to me, and there was some dialogue between my parents and I, but aside from that everyone acted like nothing happened. I was pretty good friends with a few of the college students who lived with us and I'd try to bring it up to them in the weeks and months following me coming out, but they would instantly become very uncomfortable - they'd stammer, look at their feet, and mumble something about not speaking about such things, about forgiving Jamin and moving on. Or worse, they'd tell me I should repent of the part I played in my abuse and stay quiet. Just move past it. I knew the pastors of the Trinity and Christ Church knew what happened, so I figured the elders probably knew as well and while I knew it wasn't customary for the elders to tell their wives everything they knew about congregants, I thought surely some of them must know about what happened to me. Surely someone will talk to me about it. 

Nothing.

I sat in church week after week waiting for someone to approach me and ask how I was doing. I was desperate to be loved, desperate to feel like I wasn't bruised fruit, but no one said a word and I didn't know how to reach out and ask for what I needed. As the silence continued, I drew further and further away from my friends and family. Each time I would try to bring up the abuse with someone close to me they'd reaffirm with their response that I should stay quiet and that discussing topics of sexual nature was unnecessary and unhelpful.

I reached out to one of my older brothers and in his confusion about how to respond he laughed nervously and rushed out of the room.

Another brother asked me why I didn't just say no.

Many friends told me I needed to find the ways I'd sinned and ask God to forgive me. Then I needed to forgive Jamin.

One friend wrote me a letter and suggested that perhaps this was God's way of revealing sin in my life. He said Jamin had surely done something awful but that I should not focus solely on that. Instead I should look inward and find my own failings that led to the sin that took place. I read that letter and sobbed, and inwardly, my shame grew.

At one point, Doug Wilson offered me counseling sessions with his wife, Nancy, who I barely knew and who is untrained to offer counseling to sexual abuse victims. I said no. I needed a safe place to have a healthy dialogue about what happened, and meeting with someone who was practically a stranger didn't feel right to me.

In the sentencing packet there were letters from many mutual friends defending Jamin's character and slandering my own. "Jamin would never do something like this." they'd write, or "Natalie is very beautiful and flirtatious." I remember sitting in the conference room at the courtroom reading those letters. I'd been given privacy and a box of kleenex and as I read what so many people I'd known for many years wrote, I wanted to find a hole to crawl into and die. Facing the world felt impossible.


Truthfully, I quickly regretted my decision to talk about the abuse. Suffering in silence had been a nightmare, but suffering openly and without aid from anyone around me felt worse. When I was 17 years old it never actually occurred to me that people might not fully believe my story. It didn't cross my mind that the man who groomed me and molested me for years might be defended by the people I trusted. I was experiencing a rude awakening and the shame was suffocating me. Additionally, the exposure and vulnerability of speaking openly about what happened to me magnified the effects the abuse itself was having on me. There was no more pretending or hiding from it and yet everyone around me was pretending it never happened.

The blows continued coming. Doug Wilson sat on my abuser's side of the courtroom at the sentencing, and whether or not that's a technical 'thing' it spoke volumes to me. Then I left the church and was consequently placed under church discipline. I'd walk down the main street of our little town and be scowled at by members of Christ Church. When I finally met the man I would eventually marry, a man who treated me with respect and love and was an integral part of my healing process, he received death threats from old church friends of mine who felt he wasn't good for me because he wasn't a Christian. One day, about a year and a half after the abuse had gone public, I was working as a barista at my mother's coffeehouse and a member of Christ Church who I'd known for years and who had never whispered a word of support to me, ordered a coffee from me and then casually told me he'd heard I was dating a Satanist. He said I was making a terribly poor choice and should come back to church. My hands shook as I poured his latte and tried to politely smile. (And for the record, my dear husband is not a Satanist! We giggle about that one now...)


There are many more stories I could tell of the rejection and shaming I experienced at the hand of my church community, but I hope what I've written is enough to shed some light on the severe lack of knowledge and capabilities the church has when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse.

For years I had lived in secrecy, silence and shame. For years I was told that I was unworthy of love, and when I finally found the bravery and the gumption to tell someone about the crimes that had been committed against me and the prison I had been kept in, I only found more condemnation. When I unzipped my soul and trustingly fell into the congregation I'd grown up in, no one caught me. People stepped backward, they put their hands behind their backs, they turned their eyes away from me and I fell to the ground, where I was left alone to pick up the pieces of my broken life.

And for all this, the church should be ashamed, but they are not. Victims will continue to be trampled under the feet of those who proclaim the love of Christ from the pulpit but would rather not be bothered by the real and visceral ugliness of the wounds that truly need tending to, and this is a tragedy of epic proportions that will destroy countless more lives until it is acknowledged and changed.












Comments

  1. Thank you for speaking out. DW's empire will fall.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So beautifully written, this brought tears to my eyes. I am SO sorry about the abuse that you suffered at the hands of your abuser and then the church. Thank you for sharing your story. You are very brave.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Daire, thank you so much for your kindness. I appreciate your words.

      Delete
  3. I think the most disgusting part in all of this is how the Christ Church hierarchy rallied around Jamin because he was one of their anointed patriarchal protégés-in-training. Of *course* they wanted you to "repent" and "keep your mouth shut"- you're a fly in the ointment of their giant patriarchal game plan. Idiots, all of them. Jackasses, to a man. And Doug Wilson is the Jackass-In-Chief.

    I hate these people and what they stand for. With every fiber of my being I hate them. I'd like to kick Doug Wilson in his smug, obese, complacent ass until I break his coccyx. I'm sorry if that's over-the-top sounding, but actually it's a tame representation of how I *really* feel about all this. To blame a teenager for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a sociopathic sexual predator bespeaks such colossal ignorance and callousness that it makes me livid with homicidal rage.

    You have not now or ever done anything wrong, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have every right to tell your story, and you have every right to have everyone who hears your story rally to your defense. Those who don't rally to your defense upon hearing your story are scumbags and assholes, and I make no apology for my profanity because there are no other words adequate to the task of describing these horrifying people.

    Stay strong.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Again, thanks for weighing in, Dash. I appreciate your fervor and your wishes for strength.

      Delete
  4. At our CREC church, one of our daughters had a boyfriend that she secretly sneaked out to see one night. Once we found out, we stupidly took her to the elders. One elder yelled at her for about 20 minutes, telling her that she was a "goat that needed to get back in the pen". He went on to say that she should make a list of everything she wanted in a guy, post it on her wall in her room, look at it every day and know that hes's not worthy of a man like that. This is not to the level of your situation, but it shows a pattern of shaming sinners, especially women. The damage done to her was so terrible and long lasting. We wept all through church after that meeting because we knew that we had subjected her to that. God have mercy. Peace be with you, Natalie! Love you, even though we've never met.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sincerely hope you're not still attending that church. I refuse to attend *any* church ever again because of that kind of crap. No one tells me how to live.

      Delete
    2. Christian Women,

      I am so glad that you were there for your daughter and recognized that your church's elder(s) had spiritually and emotionally abused her. I am glad that you wept. What you have also described, it sounds like, is the heavy shepherding from the 1970s Shepherding Movement.

      I was ordered to be excommunicated and shunned from my church of 8+ years for protesting the pastors/elders bringing their friend a Megan's List sex offender to church, giving him a membership, a position of trust and leadership, access to all events and kids, and telling no adults/members. I discovered him on Megan's List. The pastors/elders had me in a meeting, screamed and yelled at me (4 men and me by myself, a woman), said I was destined for Hell at the end and read me a Bible verse about it, threatened me by phone to never contact law enforcement again about the sex offender, never reveal the pastors/elders' names to law enforcement or the name of the church.

      After the excommunication/shunning, I didn't receive a single Christmas card (my mail box used to be full of them), not a birthday card, nothing. People I had poured my life in to...vanished into thin air.

      It was brutal. It hurt. But, no, I am not signing up for that kind of jive ever again!! The world is a big place. (Oh yes, and I recovered my ferocious love of The Blues and no longer had to listen to it in secret and not tell anyone.)

      Regards,
      Velour

      Delete
    3. You seem to have a problem with the New Testament and the Apostles. The elders do get to have over sight over how you live, if for anything to protect you from bringing wrath upon yourself for partaking of the lord's supper in a state of grievous sin. You know, what some guy named Paul talked about in that quant book called the Bible. That seemed like a particularly stupid way to deal with a girl sneaking out though.

      Delete
    4. So, Patrick. I'm just trying to understand. In your view, the problem is not the abuse but her view of the Bible? And she brought wrath upon herself for allowing herself to be the victim of a man who had at least two other victims before he went on to attempt to strangle his wife. Is that what you are saying? Just wanting to clarify. Thanks.

      Delete
    5. Maria, Christian Woman, and Anonymous, thanks so much for your support. Love to you all.

      Delete
  5. Dear Natalie, I am so sorry for what was done to you. It was so infuriating to read. You had NO blame in this what so ever. As a fellow abuse survivor who has never told my story, I know the shame you speak of. What that church did to you is inexcusable. Unfortunately, it is all too common for the "church" to protect the abuser. My abuser is now dead and he really never had any consequences to his actions and I was never able to talk in depth to anybody about it. I did tell my mom and aunt when I was 19 because there was another accusation against him and he was being defended and the victim was not being believed. I told them to believe it because he did it to me too. They never asked me any questions and it was never talked about again. I feel like when I read other peoples stories, it somehow gives me a voice. Thank you so much for sharing and I hope you are doing well today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous, thank you so much for your words. I am so sorry to hear of your past of abuse, I'm sorry to hear that you were not heard or validated. That is so grievous. Those who have had their voices taken away through abuse deserve more than anything to finally be heard. We must stop robbing personhood from victims.

      Sending love and light to you.

      Delete
  6. I hope you are finding peace and healing in your life. The blame and betrayal you experienced from the church community is unforgiveable. I hope your streagth with help those who are trapped in the daily shaming and abuse of Christ Church and Trinity Church. I grew up in Christ Church and I sometimes I feel it could not have been as bad on the inside as I remember, but I know it was. Thank you for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Meg, thank you so much for your kind words and your support. Much love to you!

      Delete
  7. Another very eloquent, heart-felt testimony, Natalie. You were never to blame. When Doug Wilson blamed and shamed you, he was completely, utterly wrong. He harmed you greatly in his ministry and still insists on doing it. He calls it love. Just because someone proclaims the love of Christ does not mean they are not men who revel in harming others. The patriarchal church is full of bullies and backward men. I am so happy you found a man outside that miserable church. Be well, Natalie, and ever strong. Your voice is so important in these days of continued abuse of women and children. You were never guilty in this matter. There was nothing you could have done to have been guilty of the harm done to you as a youngster of 14. Doug Wilson is paid to shame and blame and calls it ministering, the gospel with teeth-bared. I call it reptile-heart ministry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is the difference between a "patriarchal church" and one that is not so? Is there any formal difference or is it just a different culture that predominates amongst the elders?

      Delete
    2. Brian, thanks again weighing in, for your support and your kindness. It's always good to see what you have to say.

      Delete
  8. Natalie, I've been meaning to say this for a while:
    Even IF you were an adult Satanist, Jamin was a *seminary student studying to be a Christian pastor* -- what he did was very wrong just in the sheer fact that he was professing his desire to be a spiritual leader. That alone should have automatically meant heavy consequences for him to bear. The fact that you were a child -- my head explodes with how you've been treated and how HE was treated. You're a brave person. Please don't ever forget that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tess, thank you so much for your words. It is good to hear words of truth when it comes to abuse. We need more of this.

      Much love to you!

      Delete
  9. Thanks for putting words to what so many feel.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Natalie,
    I found this post through a dear friend of mine, Keely Emerine Mix. I don't know much about Doug Wilson and this church, but I want to tell you that my heart is with you and that like many others, your speaking out has given a voice to many. My abuser was not in the church, but I come from a very deeply rooted southern baptist family with the head pastor being my grandfather. When I spoke out about the sexual abuse I was 14, I experienced a very similar eerie silence. When I did bring it up, and search for people to lean on, I received a similar response of uncomfort and direction towards "forgiving" the abuser. In the years after, still during my adolescence, my family was constantly giving me lectures about being too friendly with older men and how it is my responsibility not give them ideas. For example, when I was 15 and babysitting the child of a family friend, we all went to the beach (the child, the mother, and her neighbors, a couple in their late twenties) and the male neighbor kept seeking conversation with me. I didn't want to seem rude, so I spoke with him throughout the day but in full view of everyone else. That evening, I was subjected to what I would even call an intervention of sorts. The mother of the child I babysat was uncomfortable with the contact I had with that neighbor and told my family, resulting in a huge lecture about what "effect" I had on older men and how I needed to learn to stop encouraging them. The compounding of shame from the original abuse from my church and family was relentless, and my only healing came from marrying a truly wonderful man and literally moving a thousand miles away from their insanity, never to step foot in a church again. It brings tears to me eyes and fire to my soul to read your words, because I feel each one of them as a burning ache of familiarity in my own heart. Thank you for standing up, thank you for not apologizing, thank you for taking on the immense emotional toll of continuing to speak out. I can only speak for myself when I say how much it means to me, but I know so many like us feel the same way. Love and Positive Energy to you <3
    - Kimberly

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kimberly, Thank you so much for weighing in here. Your story of abuse breaks my heart, I'm so sorry you experienced that, and then to be shamed...it makes my skin crawl, it's so backward and wrong.

      My tears fall for you as well. We are all in this together. Sending so much love and light your way.

      Delete
  11. I am so glad that you are sharing your story with us, Natalie. It is helpful for countless people. I believe the statistics are that 1 out of 3 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18 and 1 out of 6 boys is sexually abused by age 18. We have an epidemic of child sexual abuse.

    Congratulations to you and your husband. You chose well. Your husband is more of a "Real Man" than many of the posers in these "churches".

    Hugs,

    Velour

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Velour, thank you so much for your kind words of support. The statistics are terrifying, aren't they?

      And yes, my husband is quite the man.

      ((hugs))

      Delete
  12. Abusers love to make you feel like you are alone. And then for the pastor, Douglas Wilson, to further the abuse with more silence is a common sign of an abusive church. Because once the pastor gets you to feel that you are really alone you begin to think you are carzy and you fall into depression.

    And then it just goes on and on and the pastor can then point to the wreckage that was once you and begin laying the blame and shame on you. And because you are already so kicked and down you put on that shame he's meted out and wear it. Because he's spritually abused you and made you believe it's your fault. Asshole. (Is that one word or two?)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Natalie, you may be interested to know that your story has encouraged at least one more survivor of abuse by an NSA seminary student to come forward:

    http://kbotkin.com/2015/10/18/for-shame/#comment-8672

    You're a superhero in my eyes. You remind me of River Tam, Lisbeth Salander, Black Widow, Beatrix Kiddo, and Ronda Rousey (or Holly Holm, depending on who wins UFC 193). Good on you. Don't back down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dash, shucks! I'm blushing. Thank you so much for being such a vehement and supportive voice in all of this.

      Delete
  14. Natalie, I support you. I hear your voice. You're beautiful, brave and good. There are many of us here in Moscow on your side. Sending love ....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna, thank you so much for your sweet, sweet words. They mean a lot to me.

      Sending love right back to you!!

      Delete
  15. Natalie....it's almost as if you're writing my own feelings and thoughts. I love that you have started this blog and in one morning, I've read the majority of your posts. Keep writing. As I read I keep thinking of that verse, "like a voice crying out in the wilderness." You will be heard. And every individual you touch is evidence of the redemption that is taking place little by little. Thank you. -Nebin (Instagram nebinfaus)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have been reading each of these blog posts today, as well as other articles on the topic and what I could stomach of Doug Wilson's blog, to try to understand what has happened to my home town. I never attended a church while I grew up there, but we talked about Christ Church and this environment of religious misogyny taking over our community back in the nineties when I was still in high school. I left Idaho entirely after I realized I could never raise a daughter in a place where no one believed females have value.

    Natalie, your story has riveted me because it is every woman's untold story of inner self-loathing, the hindsight of open eyes that finally see, and men, always men, who rewrite history to suit their palates and perpetuate the trauma and hurt. As I read your words, I think constantly of prevention. How do I interact with my daughter- a little girl not yet ten- to ensure she is never treated as you have been treated? What do I say to teach her that she has value, that no man has the right to make her feel worthless, that she is beautiful without some predatory slimeball preying on her self-doubt? And if she is victimized regardless of my every effort to give her an adult woman's confidence and foresight, how do I make her see that she should always come to me? That I will always help her, love her, protect her, and fight for her?

    It is so hard to read your posts, and many times I've cried today, because I want to reach into your story and rescue that little girl. I'm so grateful to you as a mother for sharing it, though. You are giving every little girl a gift with your strength and bravery. You are opening so many eyes. You are helping to prevent these tragedies, and to prevent the spiral of tragedy that follows when the victim is further victimized by onlookers and judgement. I know how hard it can be to live somewhere like Moscow and feel like that is the whole world, and that your whole world is sizing you up and putting you on trial. I think I saw in one of your comments that you are leaving Moscow... If this is true, then I am very happy for you. I myself live in a small town just outside of Portland now. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how much bigger the world is, and how little some place like Moscow even matters at all.

    I'm thrilled to know there are people like you roaming around this world. We need more of you. Your children are very lucky to have such a shining example of how to endure, thrive, and lead with your heart. I wish you and your family the very best.

    And keep this up. This is the kind of ass-kicking that shifts cultures.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts