My Talk at the University of Idaho

I was recently invited to tell my story of childhood sexual abuse to a class at the University of Idaho. While I've blogged about my experience of abuse, shaming, and recovery for several years now, this talk marked the first time I've ever spoken publicly about it. The experience of sharing my story in real time and engaging with an audience was really special for me. I feel honored to have had this opportunity to speak, and have also been asked to speak at several other upcoming abuse awareness functions over the next several months. 

I feel like this is the beginning of a new phase of advocacy for me, and one that I'm eager to embrace.

I wrote this on Facebook after my talk at the University, and thought I'd include it here as well, as a preface to the video shared at the bottom of this post:

My goal in telling my story is not to present a sob story, shock anyone, or to demonize any of the people in my story. I want to raise awareness. I want to de-stigmatize talking about sexual abuse. I want to help victims shed their shame by showing them that finding their voices may be terrifying but it is also so powerful and it can change so many lives, not just their own. 
It's also important to make people aware of the fact that our culture, and specifically many churches in our culture, provide environments where abuse can thrive. Perpetrators repent and are too readily believed, while victims suffer further shame because of a general ignorance about how to support and love them.

As we begin to have more open dialogue about these issues I'm hopeful that we will see more healing and connection for victims and more awareness and prevention in the general population. 

What does it take to begin moving toward these changes? 

Empathy, understanding, unconditional and judgment-free love, practical support, and a willingness to truly listen to someone who is suffering.

Many thanks to Professor Ryanne Pilgeram for creating this and other opportunities for me.


And a heartfelt thanks to Peter Roise as well, for giving his time and talent to come and film the talk and do all the video/sound editing.





Comments

  1. Natalie, I have been following your blog for awhile and I want to say that this video is absolutely phenomenal. I hope it gets very wide exposure. I will do what I can to share your story. ~Tim

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    1. Hi Tim, thank you so much for your kind words of support! That means a lot to me. And thank you for willingness to share this video. That's also very important.

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  2. Well done! I am thankful for your voice

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    1. Thank you, Noel. I am thankful for your support.

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  3. You your story touched my heart, words can not express how thankful I am to hear you speak, many struggle with speaking out and having the courage to have our voices heard, your willingness to share will empower many to share their stories. From my heart to yours thank you,

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    1. And thank YOU for the support, Christen.

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  5. I stumbled across this at the Truth About Moscow blog and watched it. Natalie, thank you for allowing this to be filmed; I hope it goes viral--especially within the CREC.

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    1. Hi, thank you so much. I was happy to have it filmed and am really looking forward to several upcoming public speaking engagements for abuse awareness.

      I appreciate your support.

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  6. Well done Natalie...(and Peter too).

    -Mary

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  7. The most heinous thing of all is for you to have finally spoken up and be attacked and called a liar and worse by the "pastor" from whom you thought you would receive healing and grace. To this day, Douglas Wilson has yet to own up to a single mistake and instead has made sport of viciously attacking a victim of abuse.

    I too am thankful for you voice, Natalie.

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    1. You're right. He won't own up. Maybe he never will. But my story will be an example for others and maybe some valuable lessons will be learned from Doug's unwillingness to admit wrongdoing. That's my hope, anyway.

      Thanks for the vehement support you give.

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    1. As always, thanks for the support, Dash. I appreciate you. -Natalie

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  9. Well done Natalie! I have no doubt you will continue to be a great help to others as you speak out. I do wish the questions at the end could be made easier to understand but that's a relatively minor quibble. I think I understand why you answered the question about your current relationship with God as you did. That is, that you at least for now keep that aspect of your life very deep and private to protect it. You've certainly had to deal with God being wildly misrepresented by people who were very influential. And things take time. You have definitely come a long way and I pray the God of all tenderness and compassion will bless you greatly. He is greater than the systems that failed you. - DataLor

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    1. Hi DataLor, Thank you so much for your words of support. And yes, the questions at the end were a little hard to hear...

      Thanks for understanding and respecting my reasoning for keeping my faith & spirituality personal and private, I can't know where I'll be someday but for now, this feels the safest and the most sacred to me. Again, thank you so much for your kindness and support. -Natalie

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  10. Hi Natalie,
    I am another abuse survivor and found your talk immensely helpful. I was also 100% uneducated and brought up in one of the original purity cultures, a kind of Mennonite. I am 58, and I stopped the abuse 40 years ago, but I am still suffering from PTSD, and have only recently realized it. It was my parents who downplayed the abuse and it went on for a year after I disclosed, and I stopped it myself, by telling the abuser to fuck off, when he came near me. He went on to verbally abuse me for many years, until he was finally cut off from the family. At the age of 34, I finally was able to stop seeing him. It was so normalized in our family, that I thought it was a drastic thing, to cut him out of our lives, even though it gave me the creeps to see him playing with my daughter.

    I found your words about the healing gained by talking about your pain to be especially helpful. My family is shutting me down, lately, and telling me to move on. I will find other places to talk about it, to empathetic ears.

    Thanks for your courage and your words.,keep it up.

    Love and hugs. Janice

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    1. Hi Janice, thank you so much for commenting. I'm deeply sorry that you suffered abuse and are still living with the effects of it. My heart goes out to you, but I also really admire you for having the strength to share that openly. Hearing that your family normalized it is heart breaking and infuriating. I'm glad you've recognized that talking about it with them is not fruitful and doesn't make you feel supported.

      Thanks again for your words and for sharing some of your story.

      Sending much love your way.

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  11. I just watched as it was linked on twitter. Having a hard time typing due to crying but I just wanted to say thank you. I've heard bits of pieces of your story for the last few years but seeing you explain it the way you did really helped cut through all the garbage you see online. What you're doing is pivotal in the lives of so many. Not just the 1 in 4 (or 1 in 6) but the 3-5 in between that just don't know what to say, or how to respond, or reach out. As I posted on twitter, prayers for your continued healing. God bless you.

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    1. Oh Carla, thank you so much for this comment. Reading words like yours really impact me and I'm so grateful for you sharing your thoughts with me. Sending love your way.

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  12. Natalie, I just watched your youtube talk that was linked on facebook and I am so thankful for your courage, strength, and determination to tell your story. I have never taken the time to watch any online video more than a few minutes long but something about yours was different. It was so very powerful! I've never heard about your specific story, but sadly have experienced different levels of abuse throughout my life and those close to me. And now having children myself the attitudes and occurrences of abuse in our culture are even more relevant for me. Thank you again for your voice!

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  13. Hi Natalie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. In the video you said that you have linked to the court documents that included the letters about Jamin's character. I couldn't find them on your site, could you provide that link please?

    Thanks
    Jonathan

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    1. Hi Jonathan,

      I did say that?

      The only letters I have published are the letters from Doug to my father and from Doug to the officer on the case, both of which are in past blog posts. The letters of character recommendation are sealed documents at the courthouse. I have read them but am not allowed to publish them.

      Sorry for the confusion.

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    2. Also, for your reference, here's the list of individuals who wrote character references for Jamin back then:

      Debbie Chambers
      Keith Dimeler
      Peter Leithart
      Erin Lystad
      Kimberly Lystad
      Patrice Lystad
      Jim Miller
      Toby Sumpter
      Douglas Wilson
      Mark Wintz

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    3. In case others don't know, Natalie, I'll add that Peter Leithart has since apologized for supporting Jamin. He has my great respect for that; it isn't easy to step up and publicly say you were wrong, and not many people will do it.

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  14. np...thanks for the list. If I may, why are they sealed?

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    1. I'm not entirely sure. I think it might be a normal part of court proceedings, especially with cases that involve minors. Defendants/victims can also request for documents to be sealed. In my case, I don't know the exact reasons.

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  15. Hi Natalie,

    Did anyone else on that list, Besides Pete Leithart, reach out to you with an apology?

    Also, I've read the letter that Doug wrote to the Sheriff. If you can talk about those character letters can you say if they used the same blame shifting that Doug Wilson did?

    Thanks
    Jonathan

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  16. Hi Jonathan,

    Peter Leithart is the only person who reached out to me with an apology. He did so late last year.

    As far as the other letters go, they were similar. Several of them mentioned my physical appearance and my flirtatious behavior as a 13 year old. I can't recall if they mentioned my parents or not, but I think not.

    -Natalie

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  17. Thanks Natalie....You are a class act.

    Jonathan

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  18. A very strong statement, Natalie, and one that survivors everywhere are grateful to hear. Christ Church will continue its patriarchal abuse and we will continue to speak, with you, for those of us who have been harmed, abused by sick faith. I am so sorry that Jamin has been able to continue to harm others with the church's help. As time goes on, daily life reveals.... in you, it has revealed a woman of strong character and resolve. In Jamin, it has continued to reveal an abuser for Jesus, a man who uses the handy tool of patriarchal religion to harm others.
    Well done, Natalie.... I will continue to weep for your lost childhood and rejoice that you are fully human and can give as you do in spite of the individual and systemic abuse you have faced...
    And don't stop creating your music! That is a special victory!

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    1. Brian...thank you so much for this comment, for your kind words, your support, your condolences, and for sharing in my suffering. It all means so much to me and that's the truth.

      And don't worry, I'll never stop creating music. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't stop! ;-)

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  19. Totally none of my business but you mentioned your parents divorce. It sounds like your church reeked havoc on your entire family.
    I was wondering if your parents are supportive of you now? How are they doing? The stuff your dad went through via Doug W is disgusting. (I will understand if this is too personal to answer.)

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    1. Hi! Thank you for commenting here. My parents are both wonderfully supportive of me now and I have a great relationship with each of them. The church wreaked terrible havoc on my family, it was heartbreaking and I'm glad to be years down the road past so much of that brokenness. My parents are both doing well now.

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  20. Natalie, your blogs bring up a lot for me. Fortunately I have never been the victim of abuse. However, I was a member of Christ Church (not called that back then) and also Living Faith Fellowship, 30-35 years ago. It took me YEARS -- about 25 years -- to come to realize how badly served I was by patriarchal Christianity. While in those churches, I tried so hard to fit in, to be approved of by the leadership and be a really "good" Christian. What prevented that, and now I see what was truly a blessing, is that I wasn't good at submitting to their authority when what they wanted didn't make sense to me. However, I always felt like I was a second- or third-rate Christian. It was a long journey over many years that brought me to the realization that I am not a Christian. I don't miss Christianity at all. I DO miss the sense of there being something in the universe bigger than it all, something awesome and worthy of my -- what? -- my faith? My devotion? My praise? And at the same time something connected to me. What really saddens me, and infuriates me too, is that those who take it upon themselves to guide us to connection to that awesome power, instead burden us with that heavy sense of sin. My sin was thinking; it was doubt and questioning; it was balking at the hand of authority; and it was mental illness. The leadership in those churches were in a position to guide, nurture and help heal; but instead they wanted obedience above all, and honestly I think what drove them was power, ego and self-aggrandizement.

    It makes me crazy to see that the Doug Wilsons and the heirs of Karl Barden still attract so many. As your experience shows, there is so much danger lurking within the walls of patriarchal churches. Thank you so much for speaking out. I hope that today's newspaper article will lead other victims to realize that they aren't the guilty, and embolden them to throw off that leadership, to excommunicate those pharisees from their lives.

    One more thing -- I miss church hymns! Thanks so much for sharing your gorgeous voice with the congregation I now embrace.

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    1. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this here. I loved reading your words and I feel honored that you chose to share them.

      (I sometimes miss church hymns, too. They're lovely.)

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  21. Just watched your presentation....you my dear, are quite powerful, a strong voice for the mute and expose a gaggle of false prophets and their tin leader. I continue to be amazed at the power Doug Wilson wields over people and the lives he destroys. Reminds me of how Jamin groomed you, Wilson grooms his victims as well.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting here and for your kind, supportive words. They mean the world to me. It is terrifying that sometimes the most evil men stay in power the longest. It's why I can never stop telling my story.

      Thanks again.

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  22. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am also a survivor of sexual abuse, and I of course identified with everything you shared--the fear and shame that everyone knew what happened, the naive faith--relief--that if nothing else it was finally over and everything would go back to normal, and the utter disbelief and violation that nothing was ever normal again. It's so hard to impart that experience in a way that helps people empathize with survivors.

    Sexual abuse is so emotional and taboo at the same time--everyone has an opinion about the responsibility spectrum between abusers and victims, and it seems so black and white. Why would you protect your abuser? Why didn't you scream for help...The answers don't make sense unless you've been there, and they don't make sense even then. I thought it was my fault, and I didn't want to get in trouble.

    Years later with all of the strength and wisdom I've gathered, with my beautiful daughters and family, I'm still just a child with respect to my abuse. I'm 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 years old spilling my guts to a well-meaning guidance counselor. I'm still in shock that extended-family gatherings (aunts, cousins, uncles) are awkward--that our jolly dynamic hasn't bounced back. I mourn that loss, and I ask myself--less frequently since I've had children--was telling really worth it? Sometimes the answer is "absolutely not."

    I'm commenting, because I know Christ Church. I know Doug Wilson, and many of his supporters. I know them in a completely separate context from yours, but my experience with them left me shaken--damaged. And I think my survivor-shame (that term makes my flesh crawl) contributed to the power I gave Wilson's opinions over my self image. I really doubted my abilities as a professional, as a mother, as a wife...He said vicious things in a very public setting, and his statements were so obviously wrong and contradictory of the images that I associate with God and love. And no matter what he sounded off about: his character somehow remained unsullied. I never understood that.Thank you so much for your courage.

    What I really want to share: I often tell people, "my faith belongs to me." I'm very protective of my relationship to God. I never wondered why that was until I listened to your story.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting here. Wow. Your words are powerful and really moved me. I am so sorry you suffered the pain of sexual abuse and the lasting scars and wounds it leaves. No one ever deserves that. Not ever. You're spot on about the guilt and the shame and how it still doesn't completely make sense.

      And I absolutely love your last bit: What I really want to share: I often tell people, "my faith belongs to me." I'm very protective of my relationship to God.

      YES. I don't feel the need to explain my faith to people or justify why I'm so private about it. It is something sacred that no one can ever snatch away or demean, and it's safest stored away in my heart.

      Sending you love and light tonight, and thank you again for commenting.

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