A few years ago I was at a Christmas party, sitting with a few girls on a couch. When one of the girls got up to get some more punch and a tight spot was left empty beside me, a well dressed acquaintance filled it. He put his arm behind my shoulders, and his hand rested on my right shoulder as he leaned in and commented on my sweater. I froze completely.
I got up and left the room, only for him to find me 10 minutes later and back me up against a closet door and invade personal space I didn’t know I had. I was trying to be polite, so polite, was my face okay? was my sweater okay? how close was I to the kitchen? Oh, nod, yes, mhmm. Lock eyes with someone. “Rescue me.” I fled again, this time into the kitchen with the excuse I needed to help out the hostess.
By this time I’d told someone to keep him away from me. The third time (that same night), he came up so close to me that I backed up in panic. A friend’s arm shot out in instinctive protection to hold my back because in my panic to back away, I almost went backwards down a flight of 12 stairs onto a tile floor. The gut wrenching red-flag alarms God gave us to keep us safe from danger were all going off on high alert. I still think to this day of something I should have said. But I didn’t.
The Silence that Holds Us
I’ve been keeping up with the recent Weinstein Scandal and tonight I had the most revealing conversation with a good friend, which then turned into a 1 hour conversation with my Mom, and conversations with three different women (in the next half hour) who had been sexually harassed. The more we talked, the less I felt comfortable letting it go as if I’d never been talking about it. Simultaneously, I felt extreme protection over these women and a fierce desire to keep their anonymity.
I have 10 such stories as I’ve written above, different in their own ways, some unwanted touch, some harassment, some emotional and verbal abuse, and some clear violation of my wishes in conversations as well in personal space. The more I talk about it, the more I remember memories that have been filed away in my brain as “traumatic” because they were trauma at the time. It’s so odd, because they were “small things”, but still stick in my mind as a time when I felt scared or threatened or vulnerable or violated.
Just one conversation tonight had me in tears. A young friend was touched when she was nine while playing hide & go seek. NINE. Another friend has multiple memories that still affect her of guys coming up behind her and grabbing her shoulders. Last year a guy grabbed my wrist and I almost slapped him out of sheer fight instinct because my first thought is “What if he doesn’t let go?” Another interaction this year left me feeling so vulnerable and threatened and shattered that I was hysterically sobbing unable to speak for 30 minutes. I cried the rest of the day.
And so the silence holds us. It hears our sobs and whispers to us that this is a safe place.
But it isn’t.
The Silence Cannot Rescue Us or Heal Us
Once upon a time, a man in our church told me that my “flight” instinct from any painful or scary situation kept me from fixing problems or relationships. I cried because YES. I always want to run. But even if you’re in a crowd of friends, you can still be looked over, looked down on and talked about like you’re a painting they made themselves.
The silence will tell you that everyone will tell you you’re being “too sensitive”, that “he would never hurt you”, that “that’s just how he is” and “what did you say to him?”. Some will. But if you have good friends, some will leap to your protection, some will tell him to back off, some will counsel you and hug you, and some will not leave your side. Silence may hold you but it cannot rescue you and it cannot heal you. It cannot save you.
It’s easy to say “Tell someone!” when my own life/job/social standing isn’t on the line. When I’m not being stalked by an obsessive, relentless and dirty mouthed stalker. I’ve just been the friend collecting evidence for a lawsuit that won’t happen until there is physical abuse. I’ve just been the friend gripping hands tightly with a friend as tears stood in her eyes as she shared.
About ten years, I got a message from one of my best friends telling me that she’d been raped. I went running and just remember having to stop by this tree because I was going to pass out because I was sobbing so hard. I almost threw up I was so shattered for her. The pain and injustice she underwent is beyond what I can imagine and I hate it.
I’ve never been raped or molested.
I’ve only grieved. I’ve grieved that so many men in our world look at a woman and instead of seeing a beautiful, precious, tender being that God created, they see a soul to extort, distort, hunt and destroy that gentle joy and innocence. It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks yours. We all have been the women holding our friends, or the women speaking with a catch in our throats as we share something too horrible for words.
And so you’re probably wondering why I’m writing this at all. It all boils down to this:
You Matter in our World and to the God Who Made You
I’m talking about this, about you, because it’s important that you know there are safe spaces to talk about this, that what you felt and suffered is important, and that YOU. ARE. IMPORTANT. You matter! You matter so deeply.
I don’t care if you were wearing a bikini. I don’t care if you had more than one cocktail.
I don’t care about the million excuses our society tells you that you deserved it.
Your experience or attack doesn’t make you someone you are not. What a man or woman sinned against you is not your sin. Your memories will tell you it’s your fault. It isn’t.
And in a world that doesn’t talk about it enough….what happened to you was not right. It was wrong and it is heartbreaking and I long for the day when you are healed from it.
In the meantime, remind to your heart that you matter deeply, and the reasons that you matter will never ever be altered or affected by whether a man laid his hands on you and hurt you. You matter because YOU are a beloved child of God, YOU are made like Him.
The God Who SEES You
The whole world would be in an uproar if a member of royalty was sexually assaulted, and what you have yet to understand fully is that you ARE royalty to the God Who made you. We are invisible royalty with our promised awaiting crowns and thrones seated next to our Father King. Mankind with blinded eyes cannot see this, but we know it.
In your trauma and in your pain and in your silence and in your agony, you are SEEN.
When you stood there with your dress torn and tears on your face and you had to stand at the hospital while they scraped underneath your fingernails and took pictures for evidence and then gave you no justice after you reported it to the police, God saw you.
When you were little hiding in the closet because you were scared and didn’t want to mess up by telling on someone when someone bigger hurt you, God saw you.
When you were sitting in the group of well-meaning-but-poorly-spoken Christian women at your church and someone dropped the comment: “If you dress like that, expect to be raped.” and “this is why modesty is important, to keep our men pure” or “if men lust after you, you need to repent because it’s your fault”, God saw you and your tears.
When you waited for rescue and none came and you bore the words, God saw you.
When you struggled to get away or woke up the next morning bloody, God saw you.
And He is the God of Justice. And He will not stay silent.
The God Who created you will not stand for injustice against the most beautiful and precious and beloved thing He ever created. Such deep sin would never go unpunished, would never go unseen, would never be inconsequential to such a loving Father as He.
We can trust that when He promises to judge the wicked, that He WILL.
We can trust the God of the Bible, the Jesus Who crossed ALL the racial and societal boundaries while walking our earth to SEE women for who they were, and LOVE them. To the whore, to the shunned women, to the adulteress, He spoke to them where they were and called them to Himself. He threw off their shame. He crowned them with love.
Believe that He is that for you. He is the Rescuer. He is the Judge. He is the Redeemer.
Look for the men spoken of in this quote by Desiring God: “Men with gospel-filled souls won’t see women as things to manipulate or control but as treasures to honor and guard.”
I know men who wouldn’t dare disrespect a women by touching her. I suspect I know men who would, and who see women as dirty things to use. And God sees them all.
You are worth protecting
I told my friend tonight that I had no idea how to tie up this article, and 1800 words later, it’s still true. I just wanted to give some respectful space to sharing about this hard thing we keep in our wounded bodies and in silence. I wish silence wouldn’t hold us in so well.
I wanted you to know that you can find safe people to talk about it, and I wanted to tell you that I don’t care if you’re in the strictest church ever, immediately call the police. If your family believes that you are made in the image of God, they’ll want you to be safe and secure. Tell someone you trust and if they do nothing, find someone new.
You are worth protecting. You are worth everything.
Tell that man or woman to back off. Voice your concerns. Listen to your warning bells.
If something feels wrong: say something. It’s hard but I’ve done it many times.
Let’s be each other’s safety. Let’s be each other’s bravery. Let’s look at each other with the eyes that God gave us and see each other as the beautiful, made-in-God’s-image people we are. Let’s speak out in peaceful voices and tender hearts and let’s be gentle to one another. Let’s pull one another in to be safe places for the wounded to heal.
And please everyone read this article on sexual harassment: “That Time I Danced Too Close” by Rachael Watson. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic, and was so moved I wrote this article! I couldn’t even come close to her words. So good.
As I close, I just want to say how proud I am and how much I pray for my friends who have undergone numerous sexual harassments and rape. You are in my heart. The ways you show grace and forgiveness and the way you bravely live in joy and friendship makes me look for ways I can exemplify you and can also be Jesus to a broken world.
I love you.