Where The Light Belongs
Once again the spotlight is being taken from the only place it has ever belonged. Once again accusations against my parents for allowing a 'secret courtship' to occur between my 14 year-old self and my abuser have been plastered all over the Internet. Comments about my physical appearance as a young teen are being used to redefine the nature of the criminal activity. A severe and dangerous contorting of my story by people who were not there is taking place and while this means a very uncomfortable re-shaming for myself and my family, the deeper concern is what it means for future victims. The marginalization of a serious and devastating crime does not bode well at all for others who will suffer abuse in the future. The church's lack of acknowledgment of mishandling the situation and causing further devastation to myself and my family and to the individuals my abuser would go on to hurt is disheartening and deplorable. It is tarnishing not only Pastor Wilson's reputation but the reputation of every pastor in the CREC denomination and every last member of those churches, for that matter. Another such pastor reached out to me earlier this morning, one removed from this particular situation, and he expressed his severe disappointment in how I and my family were treated and are continuing to be treated. He wanted me to know not everyone in the CREC feels this way and that there is serious questioning happening from within. I have heard from myriads of others, some within the denomination and some not, who are appalled at the way sexual abuse within the church is handled. Personally, I have experienced a wide range of emotions concerning all of this but the overwhelming emotion recently has been sadness - sadness that a pastor's gross misunderstanding of abuse, consent, and criminal behavior has resulted in such harm and shaming and will inevitably result in harm to others who are abused. I am sad that he cannot humbly admit wrongdoing and begin to rebuild a system which is broken, a system which perpetuates abuse and marginalizes victims, which in turn creates a ripple effect of devastation and pain.
Doug was not in my home when my parents discussed allowing Jamin to court me. Doug was not in the room when they spoke about whether or not we should be allowed to hold hands. I imagine he may have something in writing from them, perhaps asking advice or seeking guidance on the situation and this may shed light on the foolishness and naivety of some of my parent's choices. The fact that my parents trusted a dangerous and conniving criminal to respect the boundaries they had set is no secret and yes, it's embarrassing. They have sought my forgiveness heartily over the years and I have unconditionally given it. But I would like to also point at that neither was Doug in the room when my father said, No. I am not comfortable with this. There will be no courtship. There will be no hand-holding. Do not touch my daughter and do not foster a relationship with her. Doug was not with my father as time dragged on and he began to become suspicious of Jamin. He was not in the hallway with my father where he sat on a chair in the middle of the night watching my bedroom door to make sure I was safe and protected. Shortly after this night of intuitive suspicion on my father's part Jamin was kicked out of our home permanently. If only Doug had known my father's heart, and yet he is quick to place blame on two parents who were deceived and manipulated by a calculated criminal. The fact that my parents were deceived does not change the nature of Jamin's crime. The fact that my parents had moments of naivety does not merit letters from a pastor requesting leniency for a man who the prosecuting attorney called 'a textbook pedophile' and place a massive amount of blame on a father already broken by the news of his daughter's abuse. The fact that I was beautiful and stood taller than my abuser does not lessen or change the sickening nature of what he did to me. The fact that I was infatuated with him and lived to please him does not mean that I was asking for it. Nobody asked for it.
In a response published on the widely viewed Christian publication, The American Conservative, earlier today, Doug calls what happened 'sexual behavior'. A conveniently softened term for the abuse that took place.
Doug says about he and the elders, "we wanted him (Jamin) to pay the penalty for that criminal behavior, which was a species of statutory rape." What Jamin did was severe far beyond statutory rape, though it did include that. Jamin targeted, groomed, and molested me for several years while manipulating and deceiving every other person around him in order to cover his crime. Jamin is a sexual predator in every sense of the word.
Doug writes "The reason we did not want it (the crime) treated as pedophilia is that her parents had bizarrely brought Jamin into the house as a boarder so that he could conduct a secret courtship with Natalie. So Jamin was in a romantic relationship with a young girl, her parents knew of the relationship and encouraged it, her parents permitted a certain measure of physical affection to exist between them (e.g. hand-holding), Natalie was a beautiful and striking young woman, and at the time was about eight inches taller than Jamin was. Her parents believed that she was mature enough to be in that relationship, and the standards they set for the relationship would have been reasonable if she had in fact been of age and if the two had not been living under the same roof."
This paragraph is so full of untruths it makes my head spin. I'm not sure if Doug is deliberately twisting the truth or if he is basing his version of events on incomplete information (my sincere hope is that it's the latter), but these allegations are simply false. As I said before, he was not there for any of this. There were discussions of this nature but the truth is that Jamin and I did not develop and maintain a romantic relationship under the encouragement of my parents. It is false, and from where I stand it is dangerously close to slander. Additionally and most importantly, why the hell does it matter? These grandiose and desperate attempts to take the attention away from what matters and place it where it does not belong is truly frightening and it's hurting real people.
Doug is spending an awful lot of time and energy saying things like this "But please note well: Things like her height, apparent maturity, and parental knowledge of the fact of a relationship are simply irrelevant to the morality of Jamin’s behavior. They are irrelevant to the criminality of his behavior. They are irrelevant to whether Jamin was selfishly manipulating a young girl, preying on her for his own selfish ends. They are irrelevant to whether it was statutory rape or not. But such things were not irrelevant to whether it was pedophilia." when he should be spending time and energy saying "We messed up. We defended a really bad guy. I wrote to a judge and an officer on his behalf and it directly effected the outcome of the sentencing. We failed the victim, we didn't extend to her the love of Christ and offer her the resources she so desperately needed. We blamed her parents disproportionately, we talked about her physical appearance and said it changed the nature of Jamin's crimes. We are deeply sorry and we want to learn how we can educate ourselves and how we can do things differently in the future so that more innocent people are not hurt and shamed and subsequently driven away. We want to learn from this mishandled situation."
Will that ever happen? I hope so very much that it will. I hope we can stop talking about the things that don't matter and start talking about things that do, like how we can spot potentially abusive situations before they escalate and destroy lives, how we can educate our youth to have strong voices about their own bodies and sexuality, how we can create a system in which criminals are not readily trusted and given opportunities to re-offend, how we can foster an environment in which victims feel as though they are unconditionally supported and cared for, free of suffocating judgement and blame...This what truly matters.
Doug sums up the way he feels about his role in my situation "...it is also a snarl where it is possible to look back with a clean conscience."
He has no regrets and clearly no intention of apologizing. He has twisted the truth. He has shone a light in a place where there is nothing of relevance to see, and in so doing has pushed into the shadows a hideous truth that promises to grow and swallow Lord knows how many more innocent victims.
That is the story we need to listen to. That is what we should be talking about.
As an added note, a friend drew my attention to something Doug said in his 'reluctant response' which I somehow missed but would like to address: "In the midst of all of this, it is our heartfelt prayer that Natalie will return to Christ—the only place where the kind of wounds she received can ever really be healed." I have never spoken with Doug about my current religious or spiritual beliefs. In fact, I have rarely spoken with anyone in the last 10 years about that part of my life, outside of my husband and a few very close friends. Doug cannot possibly know what is in my heart or where my beliefs lie. All that I will say about this matter is that I hope that the love in my heart rings true in my writing and in the way I live my life and interact with those around me. It is not my style to shout my religious beliefs from the rooftops, and after being utterly betrayed by the church of my youth, my trust in the religious establishment is admittedly not what it once was. The truest, most Christ-like Christians I have ever encountered are not those that wear their theology on their sleeves but rather those that treat the least of men with compassion and love when no one is watching. Lastly, I have found healing from the pains of my past and I am forever grateful for that.