To abuse survivors reading this, the letter below is a real, grainy, high definition account of my abuser’s actions. It could trigger negative images or flashbacks.
There is no angry intent in this. For me, confronting the past head-on was part of my path to healing. Writing this allowed me clarity and reasonable perspective over the criminal acts committed against me.
It allowed me to discard chains of silence, shed the weight of shame, and it gave me back some level of control over the truth. I had listened to peripheral whispers, mistruths, distortions, half-truths, minimizations, excuses. Some of those mistruths were grossly offensive. Others were freely gossiping about my most painful life experiences, but I was chained to my abuser’s misdeeds. His secret keeper. Powerless to correct the false record. That was not okay. There was only darkness and evil in that.
Healing and forgiveness means confronting the whole truth. There are people who would like me to offer blind trust and put confidence in my abuser now. No. I can apply wise trust (see my post), but not blind trust. This guy molested me on a Sunday and handed off the Bible to me in a spontaneous-style, popcorn-testimony-style meeting a few days later. He was the most masterful showman, a true con man. Never skipped a beat in church before, during, or after any of the incidents of molestation. No shred of remorse ever showed outwardly.
Confronting truth was necessary in my case, but this may not be part of your journey. Unfortunately, abuse victims suffer consequences when they speak truth. It is shameful that any churches, schools, workplaces, or any other institutions, would stone the victims who speak, but in our society they do. Jesus is clear such treatment is unholy, ungodly, and outright sinful, but it still happens. I cannot recommend what’s best for you, but please know that a licensed therapist can.
Whatever path you choose, remember that it’s not your burden to carry abuse in silence. It’s not your shame. You bear no fault. Abuse happens to us, but it does not define us. Our identities are more–much, much more–than someone else’s willful acts targeted at us.
To all other readers, please understand that real details of abuse cannot be blurred, watered down, or glossed over. Watering down the real, gritty details allows others to try to rationalize what isn’t rational. It allows minimization of what isn’t minimal. It allows communities and institutions to marginalize victims of serious crimes, deny serious crimes, and define acts of violence as sin when they’re both sins and crimes. (God never said the washing away of sin also blotted out any crimes we committed–one can’t repent of stealing a car and then keep the stolen goods just because the sin is gone).
Recasting accounts in a softer filter allows violent actors who commit serious offenses to escape authentic accountability, without which there can be no authentic change in those actors.
It allows excuses for what isn’t excusable. It allows community members to say, “It wasn’t really that bad. I mean he made one mistake, but he’s not a real predator.” Watering down the truth allows others to control the truth, distort it. It allows abuse to continue. The letter below is the unabashed truth. Telling the truth isn’t wrong. An abuser’s acting criminally and believing he should escape accountability is wrong.
I’m tired. Carrying the burden of your actions, answering for your deeds, is exhausting.
You are a time thief, and you’ve stolen too much of my time.
20 years. 10,512,000 minutes. 630,720,000 seconds. That’s how much time I’ve wasted silencing what you’ve done, recovering from what you’ve done, trying to understand what you’ve done, retelling what you’ve done, conveying the truth of what you’ve done, assuming blame and shame for what you’ve done, being interrogated about what you’ve done, explaining what you’ve done, apologizing for what you’ve done, and feeling guilty for what you’ve done.
Yeah, I’m tired.
Last summer I heard a young, brave woman speak about the sexual assaults she endured as a teenager at the hands of her teacher. She said this about abusers: “They will use our silence to kill us and then say that we enjoyed it.” She spoke so matter-of-factly absent any fear. I admired her freedom, her courage, her strength. I didn’t have that freedom.
When my child was brought to me from Bible School with a “stomach ache” a few years ago, I didn’t know you were volunteering there. When I looked in the Chapel and saw you standing there, the panic I felt was unearthing. I didn’t fear for myself. I feared as a mother. I panicked for my daughter and all of the other innocents. You know my panic was reasonable.
I was the secret keeper, forced into the invisible non-disclosure contract after I spoke up years ago. As a teenage girl, my choices were silence plus salvation or truth plus damnation (certainly, no one communicated to my teenage self that any other option existed). As an adult, as a mother, and as a teacher, I would choose truth every time to protect the innocent, even if truth meant damnation. I don’t care what others think. You know there’s no exaggeration, no hyperbole, here.
Safety for other innocents required truth. Freedom for myself wasn’t possible unless I discarded the chains of silence and released myself from the weight of your deeds. Why should I even have to defend breaking silence and protecting innocents?
Silence made me look guilty, especially with some of your more recent choices. I didn’t randomly reopen healed wounds after years. You did. I put up with whispers about my name…whether and to what degree I was culpable. I had to abide those whispers around the peripherals. But you know I am not worthy of any of the blame, any of the guilt. I had no choice. No one asked for my opinion, my consent, my approval. No one asked if I was ready to jump into these waters again. I was pushed in without warning.
You were the one who acted wantonly, willfully, and criminally, knowing you had no consent. It’s the truth. This shame is yours to carry, no repent, not mine. I don’t want to carry it for you any longer. I am tired of abiding the stares, whispers, and gossip of others for stuff over which I had no control (and you certainly made sure I had no control). I am done keeping secrets.
You stole vital years in my youth. You stole my trust. I grew up with you. As a kid, I admired you for your seemingly laid back, carefree attitude. I liked that you could make people laugh. My family trusted you, and I trusted you. Our families were close, going back generations. You were friends with my older cousin, and you were always around. You knew I admired you, you knew my family trusted you, you used these facts, and you used me. I had known you my entire life, and I had been in a car with you more times than I could count. I had no reason to sense danger.
Mother’s Day Feastmeeting 1996 (here’s the scene as I recall it, but surely you remember it better–you were conscious when I wasn’t). That was the first incident of which I was aware. There may have been earlier incidents, but I’ll never know (you haven’t been so forthcoming with truth). We were carpooling home together from Columbia after a fun, but tiring, weekend. I had just turned 17. You were about to turn 21. You had a girlfriend who was 21, maybe 22. Me? I was talking to another guy.
There was nothing romantic between us, no romantic words, no nonverbal gestures. You were a church friend who was like an extended family member. I rested my head on my pillow and went to sleep while you drove. My sleep was the ugly, open-mouth-snoring, drool-on-shirt kind of tired sleep.
There was nothing enticing or attractive about it. I was out. In the middle of a hazy dream, I started feeling sensations on my chest. The touches seemed part of the dream at first. Then, as the light gropes became harder squeezes, I began to wake up. I was confused and shocked. I didn’t know what was going on. I knew a hand was on me, but I didn’t know whose hand was on me.
When I realized the car was still moving, I panicked. Surely, I thought, we had stopped at a gas station and some predator had stolen the car with me in it. Whoever it was might kill me. I just couldn’t believe–didn’t want to believe–that you were the predator groping me.
Later (maybe even now, I don’t know), you made it sound like all you did was just touch a little, bump against me. Like it wasn’t so serious. No, that’s not right. Truth? It was ongoing for an extended amount of time. There were hundreds of “touches” in varying degrees. It’s not like you tried to make a pass at me while I was awake. Logically, this is something others who thought I had a “crush” on you should consider because guys making moves on girls they know have “crushes” on them don’t need to wait for those girls to be incapacitated to act.
No. You waited for me to be completely asleep, completely unaware, on purpose. That’s what makes what you did so dangerous, and it’s what exacerbates the trauma (along with the absolute betrayal of trust by both you and members of our community afterward). You had plenty of time to consider your acts before acting, and you had plenty of time to re-consider what you were doing during and in between acts. You continued anyway.
I did know I was in danger. I could tell the car was still moving at a dangerous speed, and if I wasn’t careful, if I reacted outwardly with the panic I felt inwardly, then whoever was driving could wreck the car and kill us both. I was buckled in, trapped with no escape. I had to remain reasonably calm until the car stopped and I could safely get out.
The groping didn’t stop until the car stopped. My arm was forcefully shaken and I opened my eyes. We were stopped at a red light, about to turn the corner onto Highway 17. It was you. Within minutes we pulled up to your girlfriend’s house and she met us outside. You hopped out of the car and left me shocked and confused as if nothing had happened. I didn’t know what to do. I drove home and cried. I tried to make sense of it, but there was no sense to it. My first experience having my body touched was that non-consensual encounter. In one short hour, you broke my trust and stole my innocence. In one long hour, you turned my body parts into foreign objects.
I reasoned that maybe I had imagined it all, except my body remembered the realness of every hostile touch.
I didn’t want to remember. I was like the kid sister of the group, and you were like the older brother. I believed you were a good friend, and I loved you as a person. I didn’t want to think you capable of using or hurting me. I prayed that it had all just been some terrible dream. To make matters more confusing, you began coming up close to me and saying things like, “You know I love you. You know I would never hurt you.” I was a teenager, and I knew nothing about sexual abuse or grooming tactics. These words confused me. You duped me into believing you were a good person who couldn’t help but do a bad thing. I felt sorry for you, and I felt responsible for your deeds. I began carrying the weight of your sins then. I stayed silent to keep everyone safe from hurt.
Your words said love. Your hands said hate.
You stole me—my identity, my rights, my freedom. You were the thief in the darkness who dehumanized me, making me your pet, your chattel, your object to use for your will without concern for my wishes or well-being. You were a taker, a trickster, a swindler, a charlatan. Are you now? I don’t know. But you did take from me so that you could possess me the way a person possesses a trinket on a shelf. You treated me like an object. You controlled me, toyed with me, punished me, damaged me, and broke me. You dehumanized me.
I saw you in the shadows and watched you twist dreams into nightmares. You became my boogeyman.
You imprisoned me in my silence. Remember the things you would say to me? Even in public, crowded spaces? You would sneak behind me or pass by me closely, and then you’d whisper comments and watch my reaction. You emotionally blackmailed me with the truth of what you’d done. You would say things in front of the crowd that contained some embedded, cryptic message. Even though you later said you weren’t sure if I even knew what you did to me during my sleeping moments (and you know I’ll never know all you did), you would say, “Yeah, S—— sure does like to sleep.”
Then you would watch my reaction, knowing I would decode the meaning, or at least watching to see my reactions, to see what I knew and how much. I was terrified you’d tell others that I’d let you touch me. What could I say? No one would believe the real truth. It would be my word against yours. You knew I had to play along, didn’t you? You liked making me squirm.
You were like the cat who releases the mouse just long enough to watch him flee in panic before he pounces on him again and devours him.
Just over a year after the abuse began, I thought you might finally let me be free. Remember this? I had just started officially “courting” someone else. I was wrong. Instead of leaving me alone, letting me be free of you, you punished me for giving my attention to a guy who wasn’t you. You would find me in some church hallway and then whisper things like, “You like this guy, don’t you? And I can tell he likes you.” That’s when things really escalated. You made me terrified to be around a guy I genuinely liked. I didn’t know what you’d do or say. It’s no coincidence that you punished me with hours of multiple assaults during the weekend where I spent harmless, innocent time with this guy friend.
We had a caravan of, what, nearly a dozen young people who rode together to and back from Virginia that weekend, right? On the way to Virginia, I thought I’d be safe in the car with multiple people present. You were driving the car. I was in the backseat. I was shocked when I felt your hand on my thigh. I had my head against the window and my legs across the seat.
You reached behind the passenger’s seat where K was sitting, dropped your hand, and began touching me up my legs. I was angry and disgusted. I knew you weren’t touching me for gratification or pleasure. You wanted me to know you were still in control. You were making it clear that you would harm me on your terms, in your timing, and when I least expected it.
Just like before, you were driving a car at a dangerously high speed and you knew I had no way of escaping. This time, though, you made sure a witness was present who could vouch for you, say she saw nothing out of the ordinary.
But you and I know the truth, don’t we?
I did tell my friend that you had done something “weird.” I asked her if you did anything to her. She began questioning me, rationalizing your “weird” behavior, and I immediately knew she had no clue. I said nothing more except that I didn’t want to ride in the car with you again. And I did not get in your car on the ride home. Why wouldn’t I think I was safe to rest on a seven-hour car ride home when we were in separate cars, and when we weren’t alone?
I should have been safe. It wasn’t unreasonable to want to be safe, to want to sleep in peace without your hands all over me.
Yet, a couple of hours into the trip I woke up to your being in my car and beside me in the backseat, touching me. It was nightmarish. Our friends had to know you were up to something, and I still struggle with my anger towards them for their doing nothing despite knowing that I clearly did not want to ride near you. You knew I didn’t want to ride with you. You knew you were making us all uncomfortable. To this day, I remind myself that you alone are responsible for your actions. I don’t know what you told them. Maybe you made them believe I was “in” on your plans? I don’t know, but I will never understand it. I did everything short of making some big spectacle to keep away from you. Had I made a big spectacle, I would have been the weird one put on trial, not you. But you knew that, too, right? No matter what you led them to believe back then, you and I know.
You knew you had no consent, and you used my body as a weapon to punish me. When I became aware I was being molested, I sat up. You told me I could go back to sleep. You said you could see I was tired, and that I could lay down and stretch my legs across your lap. My answer? “No.” I sat upright, turned towards the window, covered myself with a pillow. Then, I said I felt carsick and needed to stop. I asked to move to the front seat.
You took advantage of the people in the car and used them to muzzle the truth. If I said anything, I would be marginalized as some crazy, hysterical girl because they couldn’t see the extent of what your hands did, and they would never believe you capable of such acts.
I knew no one would believe me if I screamed out and said what you were doing (my concerns then were reasonable given how people have disbelieved, dismissed, minimized now, even calling me atrocious things, accusing me of being all manners of devils–but you and I know better). You unbuttoned my shirt–the pink cotton blouse with orange and white plaid lines. You put your hands into that shirt and you touched my breasts repeatedly. Apologies if it’s unpalatable. It was tough for me to take, too.
But you weren’t done there. You then put my hands up my white skort on my vagina. Someone else said having someone put his hand down your pants constituted real, traumatic abuse. Didn’t believe you had done anything like that. You did, though. Oh sure, you touched my vagina from the outside of the underwear. But you absolutely put your hands there, and you dared going further. You had your fingers at the elastic, in between my skin and the elastic.
Yeah, I remember vividly–I even remember the color and fabric of the underwear. A person tends to remember moments of terror like that well. I sang the song “When the Storm Passes Over” in my head, imagined I was somewhere else, and prayed for you to hurry up, get your kicks, and be done with me. You didn’t hurry. It was no one or two-time touch. Hundreds of touches. Hundreds of violations. Your hands violated me repeatedly for hours, and you didn’t stop until the car pulled into my aunt’s driveway. You didn’t button up my blouse until seconds before the car stopped there. When others asked you about this, were you this clear? Did you tell the others your molestations lasted HOURS?
One-hundred percent, I know you would have gone further and continued the abuse if you’d had more time or more opportunities, but my breakdown after that trip alerted my parents that something very traumatic had occurred. I was balled up on the floor, fetal position, heaving, when I got home.
My mother kept asking, “S, what happened? Just tell me. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
I kept crying, over and over, “I can’t. I just can’t.” I was so ashamed, and my parents loved your family so much. I loved your family so much. I loved our church so much. I felt I would be stabbing them in their hearts with the truth. I couldn’t tell my mom.
A few days later, my parents took me to a doctor. I never attempted suicide, but I had something called suicidal ideation. I wanted the torment to end. I had prayed, read my Bible, prayed more, read more…and you know what? It didn’t stop you. I started imagining ways to end the pain–crashing my car into a tree, driving off a bridge, taking an entire bottle of pills so I wouldn’t have to wake up from sleep. You had me stuck between (1) allowing you to keep escalating the abuse (any other escalation would have been rape) or (2) disclosing the truth and losing everything and everyone I cared about. I was a kid. No adult who knew stepped in, counseled, or let me know any other options existed. And you knew–you still know–how our church thinks. If I lost my church, I would lose any hope of salvation. So I ideated suicide as the only solution to end your tormenting, especially considering my soul was going to be condemned to Hell either way. My goodness–no monolithic silence should ever leave a kid who’s been molested thinking those are his or her options!
In the doctor’s office, in my desperation to live, the dam broke. Everything spilled out. Why no reporting to police then? By then I had reached the 18-year-old threshold. The abuse had been going on for over a year. My doctor couldn’t report the abuse unless I agreed. You and I both know I couldn’t agree. You still had the power. I would be cast out. Shunned. I was already so wounded and so fragile. I wanted my old life back. I wanted to rewind the clock. Fighting to survive was all the fight in me then.
My support consisted of mere threads. I feared losing even that. I was not exaggerating in my belief there would be side-taking. There was side-taking back then, and there’s side-taking again now. It’s sad, and it breaks my heart, but it’s another hard truth. It must break God’s heart. Back then, some close members of my own family took your side. Didn’t believe me. Called me a liar. After you clearly crossed boundaries again these past few years, those family members saw the light. But my seventeen-year-old self was right. My friends and my church did punish me for telling the truth. At least, that’s how it felt. I guess, bravo, if that was your goal. Pardon me, though, for withholding congratulations on that victory. Because I didn’t speak to win anything. I had to protect others. Yeah, I worried about your own daughters, you nieces, your cousins, my friends’ children, my family members’ children (who are now the age, maybe older, than I was then).
Doesn’t matter if the others understand. You do. You can take my church support, fool a congregation, con a church board, even take something as personal as my name (and call it coincidence), but you can never take God from me. And at the end of this life, God will take up my appeal against you’re being able to hurt any other, for if you hurt any other innocent or are conning the congregation now, God will deal. Saying that doesn’t mean I don’t wish the very best for you. Plain and simple, there’s no conning God.
The details of what happened are absolutely disgusting, but the disgust is not mine to carry. My body is not disgusting, my existing is not disgusting, my telling the truth (then or now) is not disgusting. Your criminal acts were and are disgusting. Your pursuit of a sleeping girl was disgusting. Your tormenting that girl was disgusting.
Even some of my best friends put that disgust on me, thought I was to blame. They thought I’d put myself in bad situations. You know. Not true. You could’ve just as easily molested K–. But you didn’t. Was that because a fight with her family would’ve been harder to win? Her family was a lot higher up in the community hierarchy. I don’t know. Some of my friends even believed we had formed some kind of relationship of mutual consent, suggesting that I simply didn’t “turn down” your “advances”! Isn’t that comical? Now that makes me feel disgust. And sadness.
Fortunately, my friends weren’t forced to know what you were capable of. Am I really supposed to believe the guy who did those things above used my name as a coincidence? Allowed the use of my name without a side thought of the effect that would have on the girl whose life he permanently altered? I don’t know.
You surely haven’t given me any explanation. No one else can give me a rational explanation. No, it’s not cool. It’s okay for me to say that’s not cool. It’s not cool to my husband and children either, by the way. I think about your children and worry for them. Do you think about this stuff affects my children? Can you imagine having to explain these grownup things to your child to protect him from passing gossip? Having to explain to your teary-eyed kids why people were shunning them?
If you have now accepted sanctifying grace, that is wonderful. I hope that is true. Am I supposed to blindly trust that you’re right with God, though? It’s certainly possible. God’s power is that mighty. With God all things are possible. My question is this: Is it probable?
You say you attend church regularly and participate actively? You did the entire abuse period, too. But you’re married now? You had a girlfriend then.
Bottom line is this: whether this is probable depends on you, and your choices. You’ll have to excuse my skepticism, but your word and the word of others isn’t enough for me to believe you pose no risk, not after so many breaches of trust. I mean, you molested me while I was sleeping on a Sunday and passed me the Bible during a Paul & Silas meeting a few days later. Like nothing had happened. That was pretty bold. You hadn’t the slightest remorse or contrition. You enjoyed what you were getting away with. Never skipped a beat in your church stomping. You may be different now, but surely you can see my reasonable caution given your using my name like this fits right in line with your old patterns and schemes.
So, let’s set the record straight. You absolutely knew I didn’t want to be in a car with you. You absolutely knew I tried to get away from you. You were thrilled by that fact. Shortly after I said I felt sick and moved to the front, you came up with some new excuse. You suddenly felt very awake and wanted to drive. I couldn’t even make up something so crazy, and why would I want to anyway? Yes, it is insane.
You were chasing me in a four-door sedan, daring me to make a scene and expose you at the cost of my own reputation.
You knew they would never believe the young, teenage girl over the older, 20-something guy. They would never believe the girl whose parents didn’t go to church over the guy descended from a long line of church leaders. They would never believe the outsider over the insider. Your actions were calculated, premeditated. Planned. Predatory.
I tried to preserve my reputation, but it didn’t matter. You stole it anyway. That and my truth. When my parents finally found out, I was given an ultimatum. Either I had to confront you, or my parents would. The truth was going to come out, and even though the abuse might end, I was still going to lose. I would be destroyed even more. I knew it, could see it happening in slow motion, but couldn’t stop it. I told two friends who I trusted first. They were skeptical, and they went to speak to you. I don’t know what you said exactly, but they said you admitted what you did (they didn’t know what you really did), you cried, and you told them it was a “one-time mistake.” Oh yeah, and you told them you were sorry. If any of that is wrong, then, please, feel free to correct it as I wasn’t there for the apology you gave them.
Maybe you were sorry, but you weren’t sorry about what you did. You were sorry you got caught. You were sorry I told and that the whole truth might expose the real you. If you were sorry, then why did you wait until I disclosed your deeds before you sought repentance in private prayer? And why did you lie afterward? Why did you say you committed a “one-time mistake,” when it wasn’t?
I confronted you myself (kind of dangerous, but shows how much fight I have in me when alert and not trapped in a locked space). When I did, you said you weren’t even sure if I knew what you had done. You admitted, privately to me at least, that you knew you had no consent to touch me.
I asked you if I had done anything—anything at all—to erroneously give you the idea that touching me was okay. You said, “No.”
But then, and I didn’t understand this at the time, you asked me “how much” I knew. You were still toying with me. I said I knew it happened at least twice. Your answer? Yes, that was all—just twice. You said you’d never done anything before to anyone else. That was a lie. You lied to my friends, and you were lying to me. You knew there was more. You knew you did attempt to do the same to others (another friend described in detail how, before you began abusing me, you once kept nudging her elbow while she was sleeping; only she wasn’t really that asleep, so she sat up and asked you what you were doing–I guess you were practicing, huh?). You did steal into bedrooms at night, at the least, to play voyeur. You may have done more. I will never know, and that’s part of the thrill for you.
Part of your sickness is controlling my truth as a jigsaw puzzle of your design. I’ll never know all of it, for you’ve hidden some of the pieces that complete the picture so that I’d always be under your control.
Your biggest mistake? Thinking I was easy to control. You overestimated my childhood admiration for you. You underestimated the strength in me. See, while I am compassionate to a fault, I am no doormat. I was always strong-willed. And, while I don’t go looking to pick fights (I prefer live and let live), “flight and freeze” isn’t my usual modus operandi in response to attack. I’m a fighter. You would have never been able to harm me while I was awake, if I hadn’t been trapped locked spaces, if there wasn’t such a disparity of power. Maybe you thought your position in the church, your deeper roots gave you a special kind of power over me. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I was the one who could speak–who was called to speak. I was allowed some clarity, reason, and distance other victims with deeper family lines might not have been afforded. As much as I had on the line, I risked losing fewer family members by speaking truth than others might.
Shannon the woman isn’t Shannon the girl. I am no longer the high-school superlative, “Most Courteous,” politely pleasing others. I am calling you out. It’s time someone did.
Time–you’ve had a lot of that. You could have used the time you stole from me to make a real apology and prove you’d changed. A real apology is more than lip-service. A real apology requires contrition, a focus on the hurt and harm caused to another, acceptance of all you’ve done (without minimizing or making excuse), accountability for harm, and acting to restore the person harmed. It isn’t a statement given to other people. It isn’t shrouded in self-serving narcissism (“I’m sorry for what I did to your daughter. I know you always thought highly of me and I hope I can one day be restored in your eyes.”). It is acting so not to cause the same harm again.
You say you did apologize? Well, you did write a letter of “apology,” right? But to whom? Not me. You manipulated my family and made them feel sorry for you. You went and cried to my mother so that, instead of pressing charges against you, she ended up consoling you. You cried to my friends and they consoled you. You cleverly avoided being prosecuted. You never gave me a real, authentic apology. Why not? Maybe you weren’t sorry. At least that’s how it seems.
Remember the letter you wrote me? The scathing letter you left on my car? The one where you condemned me for allowing my mother to tell your family what had happened? And why did my mom finally tell you mom (though you begged everyone not to)? She told her when you mom was commenting about all the “problems” I was having. Ha. “Problems.” Yeah, well, that’s what she had heard. Wasn’t it such a shame that such a strong Christian girl was having such problems? In that moment, my mom spoke truth. I didn’t know my mom had said anything. I had nothing to do with that. But you sure did let me have it. The tone of that letter wasn’t remorse. It was an angry letter.
Your acts were acts of hatred.
Acts of abuse are acts of hate. It’s that simple. When you molest a sleeping girl, you inflict your hate on her. When you wrote that scathing, angry letter, you seemed to quickly forget that you committed multiple felony sex crimes against me in three different states. I guess you also forgot that I was a minor when the abuse began, you were an adult, you premeditated your act, you took advantage of someone who was unconscious, and, as if you were shampooing your hair, you rinsed and repeated.
You forgot that my parents could have reported you to police and that you could have spent a decade or more in jail for your crimes. You forgot so quickly that you wrote to me to condemn me, shame me, and guilt me. You condescendingly said, “I thought we were over this…I thought I had put this behind me.” Certainly, you remember that, right? Cause, really? That’s how I feel now.
You blamed me, and you made me blame myself. I felt sorry for you, and I thought there was something terribly wrong with me that I was still bothered by everything. Everyone acted like I should just forgive you and get over it. I tried. I tried acting like it was all some innocent mistake.
One year later I even tried to show you that I was letting bygones be bygones. A mutual friend of ours had a high school graduation shower in North Carolina, and I willingly agreed to ride with you that weekend. This is the only time I ever put myself in a dangerous situation with you, and I have tried to understand it. In my mind, I rationalized my choice to ride with you as an act to prove I believed you’d changed. I thought I was proving to everyone that I was “better,” I was over “the mess” (what a “friend” called your abusing me), and I was being the bigger person, forgiving you, giving you another chance, being a good Christian. Others told me I should trust God’s change in you.
I was on high alert the entire trip, and nothing seemingly inappropriate happened. You were the old funny and charming guy I’d grown up with. It was as if nothing had ever happened. But it was all shallow, superficial. I got home and something snapped. I realized I was being lulled into a false sense of security, and it was dangerous. There had been no real apology. No accountability. It was all too easy.
It was like the scene from the movie The Labyrinth where the Goblin King (David Bowie) seduces Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) into a crystal ball of distortions. Time is ticking away while the Goblin King dances with Sarah at a glamorous masquerade. He entices her to join him and live with him in his world. Only Sarah is the only one not wearing a mask, and she comes to see that it’s all a dangerous, bizarre illusion. It’s a trick.
And that’s what it was for me. A bizarre illusion. It was all too wrong. It felt bad. Sordid. Low.
By blindly accepting you had changed without demanding any accountability, I was degrading myself. It was accepting that I was worth so little as to even warrant more than a hollow, self-serving “I’m sorry I got caught, but how dare you tell anyone” letter of shame. I saw through the illusion, and I ran away from you that weekend–I ran away from my church, my friends, all of it. You had sucked me into a whirlpool of self-loathing and shame, and you had drowned me in your dark pool of distortions. You had made me feel helpless.
You stole so much, and I wanted it back.
You stole my body, my peaceful sleep, my faith in humanity, my ability to trust, my truth, my reputation, my church, my community, my friends, my family, my scholarships, my self-worth, my autonomy, my faith. You stole my identity. You stole me. Then you left me in Hell. That was where I was when God picked me up. He took the pieces out of the ashes and put me back together. He helped me reclaim small bits of what you took. He made me stronger, and He gave me a new identity, one you couldn’t touch. I became strong. You had no power over me any more. What else could you do to me, right?
Recently, a friend of ours said you weren’t a real predator. She’s known you all of her life, too, but she’s never really known you at all, has she? She said if you were a dangerous predator that you’d have more victims. Maybe you should answer that one because you and I both know you do.
Out of over 325,000,000 people in the United States, only about 350,000 share my first name. Did you know that the name “Shannon” isn’t even a top 100 baby name? For males, it hasn’t even been in the top 1000 names in the past 10 years. 81% of all “Shannons” are female. Do you want to know how many male babies were named Shannon the year you named your son?
Fewer than .01%.
Yet, that’s the name you chose for your son. And please understand, it breaks my heart that your son has my first name. What a beautiful, innocent child.
But, applying a little logical reasoning, there is no other way to interpret this deliberation other than disturbing and dangerous. If I am, as our mutual friend alleged, your only victim, then why on earth would you choose to give your son your only victim’s name? As you know, I’ve have three children myself. Naming them was no easy, casual task. My husband and I made many lists, discussed, debated, changed our minds, researched, and carefully deliberated over each child to make sure we’d gotten it right. A name follows someone for life. It’s part of a person’s permanent identity. It’s a big responsibility to choose a child’s name.
So, let’s consider a hypothetical. Imagine, in some parallel world, I had stolen your name. Can you even think of what a scandal it would have been, how my husband, my friends, my family, or our church would have reacted, had I named one of my sons —–? Even if, somehow, my husband had been dead set on naming our child —– after some hypothetical favorite great uncle who shared the same name, the fact that another guy with that name committed violent crimes against me in my youth would automatically disqualify it.
Certainly, I would never want a permanent, daily reminder of something I’d worked so hard to put behind me. But more than that, I would never want to weigh my son with such notoriety. Doing so would be making him a pawn, dehumanizing him. It would make him a victim, too. It would be narcissistic, self-serving, insensitive, and cruel. I could never do that to my child.
But you could–you did–do that to yours.
Children are naturally curious creatures. Your son will one day want to know why you named him “S——” Just today, there’s one of those silly Facebook lists circulating taking personal inventory, and the first question on it is this: “Who were you named after?” What will you say when you son asks you this? How will you justify your decision if or when he ever learns that the name you gave him also, coincidentally, was the name of some woman you sexually assaulted multiple times while she was unconscious?
Don’t you dare ever blame me for any hurt that child suffers from your self-serving, empathy-lacking act. Can’t help but feel that. I’m old enough to know your conduct is more than mere “mistakes.” You–you alone–made the choice to allow your victim’s name to be tethered to your child. You alone knew how that would appear. You alone are responsible. You made the child a victim, and any harm that results from your actions (I pray none) is on you. You are blessed with a good family–kind-hearted, compassionate, church-going parents (who I pray will one day understand I did not consent to how their son made my church a very uncomfortable and unsafe reminder of unconscionable harms–if there are consequences for not going to church, then there are most definitely consequences for those who make church unsafe). You are blessed with loving siblings; a church-going wife; generous, faithful in-laws. You are surrounded by a supportive church. I know you would hurt me because you hate me, but how could you hurt all of these others? It’s on you to explain it, take responsibility for it, and own the hurt you’ve caused.
Here’s what’s on me. It’s on me to tell the truth, whatever the cost. It’s the only way you will ever be accountable for your bad behavior. I used to think my silence protected me from losing even more. I knew I’d likely be shunned in our church if I told the truth (how messed up is that?), but it doesn’t matter. You are a danger to others, and that’s what matters.
Silence never protected me. It only allowed you to escape accountability and continue hurting everyone I love, everyone you say you love.
I don’t know how you explain away some of the grooming behaviors you revived in my presence a few years ago, but c’mon. You knew what you were doing. Why were you looking at my daughter, why did you think it was okay to sit beside me, look at her, and then tell me how “cute” she was? Why did you think it was okay to talk to my son about books (and how you never liked to read, but how I did)? Why were you volunteering around my child in Bible School that week? It was creepily close. The unearthing of the Mama Bear in me was absolutely warranted. You know why, and if anyone has issues with me bringing that up, then you should explain such persons.
Certainly, you would have to admit you were trying to intimidate me with your presence this past Campmeeting, right? You know I am not the only witness to your conduct. Maybe you could describe for everyone how my husband caught you following my daughter into the foyer of the cafeteria (you most likely hoped to alarm me, but caught his attention instead). Why, of the 30+ tables in the cafeteria, did you decide to sit at the table beside mine, in a seat directly facing me, and then coldly stare at me in the window’s reflection? Explain sitting in the row in front of my family at the children’s program, or how in the big, open outdoors, you decided to stand just inches behind me outside of the Chapel when I and dozens of others were waiting to pick up our kids from Bible School. Your actions are bold, unapologetic, and purposed. Oh, I know. Right…all coincidences. Others you’ve duped may still try to rationalize the long string of acts, but would you really expect me to buy any of it?
Answer this. Why do you still insist on making the one place that should be safe a place of terror? You know I know the dark side of you, a side many others have never seen. Has God replaced it? I sure hope so. I didn’t ask to know that side, and I didn’t want to know that side, but I know it. There are some in our church who don’t think that side of you ever existed–that is dangerous. I do know you realize this. I have outgrown my fear of you. However, I also know your propensity to harm.
So if you want to tell everyone you simply forgot one of your victim’s names, allow me to refresh your memory: “Shannon” is the name of teenage girl you groomed, isolated, and attacked during her sleep–not once, not twice, but many times for many hours.
You did not have my permission to use my name no more than you had my permission to abuse me.When you did use my name you violated my boundaries, my rights, and you made it impossible for me to remain anonymous, a right the law affords every abuse victim. I know the law, I am armed with my rights, and I will hold you accountable for any harm you cause to me or my family. You don’t get to abuse God’s gift of salvation, manipulate it, and use it to create your own “get out of jail free” card, and then continue to act badly.
Actions have consequences.
A person who murders someone can be forgiven and have salvation, but that doesn’t mean the person is “off the hook” for his crime. He still must serve his sentence. His sin is forgiven, but his crime has repercussions. The cold apathy to that–by you or any around you–is not of God. I hope you don’t cost others their souls over this.
While I hope you have real forgiveness and authentic salvation, you are not excused from accountability for your actions. Certainly, I am accountable for any sins I commit. And I have repented and been absolved of my anger toward you. But you most definitely are accountable for your conduct, too. You are responsible for reopening this closed chapter. Shallow emotions or sympathy from congregants who know no better won’t absolve you of that. God’s gift isn’t to be mocked so that you may excuse yourself from responsibility or protect your pride. You don’t get to behave badly, criminally, and then make yourself out as some victim when others hold you accountable for the consequences of your crime.
I forgive you, but because of your purposeful, wanton, willful actions, I don’t trust you.
I cannot imagine I will ever feel comfortable sitting beside you, across from you, in front of you, behind you. I don’t feel comfortable sharing a pew with you. I most certainly don’t feel comfortable having you around my children. I wish I could feel comfortable there, but you have made sure I cannot. You should know that, understand that, and respect that, especially if you are truly sorry. Thankfully, there is distance between us. Our encounters are generally limited to one time per year, and yet, even one annual encounter is enough opportunity for you to cause a lifetime of hurt.
No, you are no victim, but you are deserving of some sympathy. You are weak (you have been weak). You need real, authentic help. Maybe professional help (I’m not an expert). Maybe your actions cause you suffering, too. I don’t know. If that’s case, then why would you do the things you’ve done, not decades ago, but within the past few years?
I don’t care how many people drag me through the mud. They’re anger is based the fog. They have no clear vision, and I can’t blame them for what they know nothing about. But you know. God knows, and you know God knows.
I will not be held hostage to the past, and I refuse to give you opportunity to hurt the people dearest to me. You need expert help from those who understand your particular weakness, treatment tailored to your diagnosis. If any close to you read this, then I hope they help you find such treatment.
All the best available treatment in the world won’t help you if you don’t want to be helped.
If you can’t seek help for yourself, then I hope you’ll think of your family. You have such a beautiful family. I feel sorry for you in that you chose to put yourself in this place again, but my heart hurts for them. You think your actions destroy me, and you don’t mind that because you hate me, but your actions hurt us all–you, me, my family, your family, and our church. Sure, people who don’t understand your patterns and schemes will think I am hurting you and your family. They won’t understand, and I forgive them that. However, the reality is these are your crimes. You know your patterns of behavior. No one deserves to be entangled in your crimes.
If you are at all capable of empathy, then, at the least, think of your family. Be completely honest. Come clean on all of your crimes. Then, for your family, get some treatment, counseling, something. Your method of coping with stress when you’re “low” (your words) is victimizing others. There are experts who work with such persons. Your family will likely need to be a part of that treatment so that they may understand your behaviors, so that they may help keep you accountable, and so that they, too, can heal from the pain you’ve caused.