On The Moral Agency Of Victims

I'd like to briefly talk about the moral agency of victims.

The topic of my own moral agency has been raised a few times, so I'll discuss my own sense of guilt during and after the abuse. Abuse creates a prison of shame and guilt around the victim. I blamed myself for every aspect of the abusive relationship I was in with Jamin. I felt guilty for deceiving my parents when they'd ask if I had anything I needed to share with them. I felt guilty for the myriad of character shortcomings Jamin pointed out in me. I felt guilty for cutting my friends out of my life. I felt guilty for telling my dad I didn't want him to hug me goodnight or hold my hand anymore. I felt guilty for begging God's forgiveness for the 'sexual sin' I was in and then doing it again the next day. As for the sexual acts themselves, I didn't blame Jamin for those because he told me I was the one seducing him. 

I was ruled by guilt.

In order to get to a place where I felt comfortable enough to talk about what happened to me, I had to find a place for much of the guilt I'd carried for years. Some of that guilt was merited. Most of it was not. 

The guilt I felt about my years long deception toward my parents was merited. The night I told my mom about the abuse I asked her forgiveness for lying to her for over 4 years about what had been going on. I knew that was wrong. It didn't matter why I'd lied to her, I was raised to honor and respect my parents and lying to them was wrong.

So yes, I did have a moral responsibility to be my honest to my parents and I didn't do that. I asked for my parent's forgiveness and they gave it, and that guilt was gone. 

The unmerited guilt far outweighed the rest, and I've carried the remnants of that guilt for 13 years even though it was never rightly mine. 

Abuse tarnishes its victims from the inside out and our job is to help accomplish exactly the opposite of that. When we insist on discussing the moral agency of victims before we've adequately loved them and reassured them they're worthy of love, we alienate them and further break down trust. Learning to trust again after abuse is a delicate process and one that demands mindfulness and patience. It demands that we set aside our judgement and open our arms. 

Giving victims a safe place to shed their tears is far more important than giving them something else to grieve over. 


  1. You have nothing to feel guilty about. None of this is your fault. We all love you.

  2. You have a human moral responsibility to be as honest as you can be but that does not mean that I agree with your guilt about withholding your abuse.
    First, you were thirteen freakin' years old! Your family was under the spell of patriarchal Christianity at Pastor (sic) Wilson's church. That you shut down and protected your sanity/life as it came under attack from a man training in Wilson's theology is not a reason to use the word guilt as you do here, as if you failed to share when you should have....It was not the need to hide that was wrong: That was survival and all of us who have been harmed do it when we feel is is unsafe and our lives are in danger. I do not believe you failed to share and I submit that you are still under the spell of bullshit Christianity of the patriarchal toxin. Children love their parents unconditionally and they share their hearts openly until sick and judgmental religion terrorizes them, tells them they are born in sin and are going to hell. Kids shut down when under assault and they do it to survive the hell of their life.
    I do not agree with your statement about honoring your parents with the truth because you did that and you did it when you found the strength to do it. Children victims and victims in general must never face the toxic teachings you seem to refer to as if you failed in some way. You did not fail. You were the victim of a criminally sick man in a toxic patriarchal church environment. You shut down, Natalie. When your personal strength became available to you, you told the truth and it was an honor to your mother that you shared your heart. No loving parent would wish any guilt on their injured child!
    I detest judgmental religion a la DW that harms people and cries, Jesus said! What bullshit.
    All the rest of your post is dead-on, full support and love for victims. ALL the guilt belongs to Jamin, the criminal. DW will disagree and say you knew you were wrong and should have jumped up and cried the truth. He will say that it is your father's fault, that your mother holds some responsibility too. I say that DW is a bully of worst kind, one that uses a bible as a weapon.
    It deeply saddens me that people actually come under the spell of DW and don't run from him as if from a church burning down.

  3. I remember a friend, who was a veteran search and rescue coordinator saying that when searching for a young child, the child often will not respond when hearing their name being called. They are afraid of getting in trouble---even though they are at the same time in a dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation.

    This reminds me very much of a child in an abusive situation--and the fact that DW uses your stature (at the time of your abuse) and beauty as justification for 'understanding how it happened' is extremely scary and absurd.


  4. Natalie, you have much support in what you do and your courage does not go unnoticed:


  5. I have a 16 year old daughter. If at any point she came and told me she was in an abusive sexual relationship, all i would want to do is protect her. I would not blame her for not telling me sooner. I know enough about the dynamics of sexual abuse to know that victims hide what happened. That is how it works for many reasons. I don't expect my daughter to be different, and to act in a way that few victims do. I imagine she would feel guilty, and say she was sorry for not telling us sooner, and I would explain that that is normal, and not a moral failing.
    I did talk about this with my daughter a year ago, because the daughter of a close friend was assaulted, and she hid it from everyone for a year, and then finally told her parents and even blogged about what happened. I had a long talk with my daughter, and told her stories of friends I've known who hid assault from parents, and why they did so. I asked her to please tell us if anything happens, and ways to be safe.
    I admire you so much for engaging and bringing this topic into the public sphere, esp. in light of the pushback you are getting. I really hope that this new generation will be a watershed in the treatment of women worldwide, moving towards equality. Bringing the truth about what patriarchal systems do to women into the light is an important part of the change.

    PS. Doug may have tried to hold your height and beauty against you, but every time I see how tall, strong and regal you are, I feel that women are unstoppable.

  6. I saw the movie "Spotlight" not long ago which addresses the sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church. Those victims (mostly male in those cases), many which were your age when they were being groomed, were silent for years. The courts that sued on behalf of those children did not consider the victims to be responsible for their abuse in any way. Natalie, DW shows his ignorance, and furthermore reveals his callousness when attempting to ascribe any sort of blame to you for the abuse that you suffered. Such a man who has shown no empathy toward victims of sexual abuse should not be a pastor.


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