Secrets No More: When Sexual Harassment & Assault Happen & How We Can Help

I never told my folks about the hand-shaped bruise he left on my forearm the year I turned seventeen. His anger caught me off guard and his iron grip kept me exactly where he intended. When his unwanted words & gestures ended, I was grateful to be in the backroom at work & not in a parked car or empty hotel room but still, it took only moments for him to take advantage and leave his mark.

Fingertips purple wrapping their way around me as if to claim the skin they lay upon. Whispered demands I refused to meet scattered across the concrete floor.

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Later, he was sorry for it, but I could no longer recognize my childhood friend as he stood before me, only a teenager, yet fully grown into a man that wielded a physical power over me I wanted no part of. I accepted his apology. What else could I do? Tell someone? Create more salon talk in a small town? Embarrass both our families? What was done could not be undone. Trust was broken even if my bone was not. Never again could I blindly afford to trust. And I kept that secret, like so many others, tucked behind the door of my heart. I whispered it to no one & suspicion became my constant companion.

Twenty plus years later I can admit that wasn't the only time unwanted things were shoved my way. Sadly, as a woman, it is commonplace. Lewd jokes, crude gestures, unwelcome touches, and unnecessary references to out bodies are simply part of our lives. More often than not, they come from people we know; people we should be able to trust. And this sick kind of disregard to the holiness of women does not discriminate. It doesn't matter what age, what race or nationality, what physical characteristics you possess, or what social status you have; someone, somewhere will seek to take advantage of you.

No one is immune to the darkness of human nature.

So what can we do when faced with this kind of prevalent, soul stealing work that threatens our friends, our children, and ourselves? Well, for starters, how about we call that sin out for exactly what it is?

A perversion of God's creation.

God created us in his image and gave us bodies in which the Holy Spirit, a gift from God himself, can reside. To take these gifts and strip away a person's ability to control what their body is subjected to is to defile the work of God and in doing so one defiles God himself.

We owe it to ourselves and the people in our lives to stop being silent about the everyday offenses that are happening to us. I would never want one of my children to experience what I did, but as a teenage kid I was not equipped to articulate what occurred. I was ashamed, and certainly didn't want to talk about it. If we want the people we love to be safe then we have to talk about how these things happen BEFORE they happen. They need to know how to respond before the need ever arises. They need to know that with us they have a safe place to fall and that their experiences will not be ignored or marginalized.

We need to stop glorifying a culture that treats bodies as if they are common and disposable. The root of this problem stems from people viewing others as mere objects for their personal pleasure. They are intent on missing the magic of God's glory stored within these human hearts and souls. We are fearfully & wonderfully made but if we want the next generation to live like we are then we will have to raise them upThis means being actively involved with our kids about their views & treatment of the opposite sex. This means we will have to talk about SEX. As in, OUT LOUD, without fear of shame. We have got to be able to explain to them why certain movies, shows, and music are destructive. We need to ban "locker room talk" and explain why it's wrong. We need to be holding our people to a higher standard than the earth sets. If we are followers of Christ then we must take hold of the heavenly standard. We must be prepared for some super uncomfortable conversations that we never expected to have, but here's a thought. I'd rather be having that uncomfortable conversations with my sons now then have a whole different set later with a girl's parents and a judge after he's crossed a line he cannot uncross.

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Finally, we need to be bold enough to give voice to those who have been wronged & support them as they seek justice. For too long we have viewed the traumatized with suspicion or worse we've been active participants in their defamation. "What was she wearing? What did she say? Why didn't she tell someone? Surely, she misunderstood his intent?" The list of the ways in which we drag the character of victims through the sexualized mud of the world is unprecedented. We have to start asking why the aggressor felt their behavior was appropriate? We have to begin to unravel the male dominance of our society that prevents victims from freely seeking help. And we must stand with them, regardless of our differing beliefs, as they try to put the pieces of their lives back together again.

When I look back on who I was all those years ago I can see that the secret I kept actually kept me. It kept me from trusting. It kept me from loving. It kept me captive to the idea that my body was not my own. It distorted my views on friendship & family. It robbed me of my ability to trust myself. The chains of dominance that were wrapped around my arm that day took years to cut away. And because girls like my daughters deserve better I'm not keeping this secret anymore and I'm encouraging you not to keep yours either.

It's never just a word.

It's never just a touch.

When it's unwanted it's a violation.