No Passes for You, Third-Party Participants
**Research shows the physical and psychological effects of abuse are worse when abuse occurs within an institutional structure upon which the victim has some degree of dependence. Often the institutional betrayal–the institution’s inadequate, inappropriate, and unsupportive responses–are worse than the initial abuse. Read more about institutional betrayal here.**
To the abusers who not only abused our bodies, but also abused our names, the message is simple. Short. We don’t belong to you. Never did. Done.
But to the Congregants of Doublespeak,
Not the steadfast, unmovable congregants, (no, we’ve seen your steadfast goodness–you braved the heat and dared to stand in flames beside us),
We’re addressing the weaker walk-talk juxtapositions, contradictions,
The congregants–the third-party participants–who abused our very existence,
Who, by that abuse, abused our Creator who breathed life into us,
Who explicitly and implicitly shamed us,
Who, in the same breath, called a twenty-one-year-old man a “kid,”
Who judged a teenage girl for “allowing” herself to be abused multiple times for over a year by this man,
Who, in the same breath, told us they couldn’t judge that twenty-one-year-old “kid” who made a “one-time mistake,”
The third party participants who used gaslighting to manipulate us and others, who atrociously obscured reality,
Who tried to convince us a two-hour abusive trip of “inappropriate touching,”
More than a year of a young person’s life spent enduring other inappropriate harassments,
A seven-hour abusive trip of more invasive “inappropriate touching,”
Another seven-hour abusive trip of much worse, more intrusive breaches
Only one, maybe two, non-traumatic, simple, “mistakes” of “just a little touching,”
Who told us that man’s waiting to target a teenager with what–he conceded–were nonconsensual touches during the teenager’s sleep, while she was trapped in a locked, moving car,
Who told us the man’s unbuttoning the nonresponsive teenager’s shirt and putting his hands inside, under her clothes, groping her breasts, light cupping to hard squeezes was ‘only touching,’
Who told us that man’s pulling up the nonresponsive teenager’s skort (purchased from the Junior’s Department), putting his hands up that skort to reach the teenager’s privates, and putting his hands inside her pants to continuously brush his fingers over her pristine places for over an hour, degrading, humiliating, and dehumanizing this teenager for sport–all while his friend drove the car–simply boiled down to “hormones,”
Who condemned us for not regularly attending the church that expected that teenager to share a sanctuary, a stand, a pew, an altar with her abuser,
Who bedeviled us for not regularly attending church beside you–the haters, the condemners, the shamers, the blamers, the secondary harmers (God knows our absence from the church building isn’t only to protect ourselves from the abuser, but also to protect ourselves from you),
Who criticized that teenager after she became a mother for not wanting her repeated molester to have unsupervised access to her child,
Who condescendingly said the guy who targeted and touched this teenager multiple times wasn’t a real offender (because, we can only guess, they didn’t believe the teenager was a real person),
Who acted like it was normal for this abuser to give his child that teenager’s given name, and who, in the same breath, said she–his victim–slandered his name when she spoke truth out of reasonable concern (another tactic colluders use to cover up abuse),
Who questioned that teenager–now a grown woman–for waiting so long to talk when she was the one who spoke out then and now,
When YOU were the ones whose voices could have made a more powerful difference, and you chose silence then and now—you are the double-minded.
Hot and cold. Confusing right and wrong.
Shades. Workers of darkness. Enemies of light.
Your poison silences wounded lambs. You are culpable. The wolf will answer for his action, but you will answer for your inaction. You are untrustworthy, unstable in all your ways.
God put such tests before you, too, and you failed, for when the abuser stuck the knife in our backs, it was you who twisted the blade.
You–you. Third party participants. You are the ones who put our private stock up for public trade. You, who whispered about us in your pews, who gossiped in circles, who thought about it every time we entered our sanctuaries. You made our privacies public.
You, who knew the wrongs and pretended we had no rights.
You who tried to convince us ownership was the best we could hope for.
You dirtied the ivory tower, the holiest house of God by making pulpits instruments for mocking,
You transformed sanctuaries into forts from which you hurled angry darts at the easy, innocent marks in your pews,
You have lost your moral stronghold, and you have no right to silence, or own, our experiences any more than our abusers did.
The abuser hurt us. We’d been hurt before, though.
We’d experienced actual, simple inappropriate touches before–
When the kid in sixth grade grabbed our butt a few times in passing, we stopped it and moved on,
When the guy in college, who thought he was being cute, grabbed our crotch, we stopped it and moved on,
When we worked with the one guy during college who made a habit out of making lewd, highly inappropriate comments to us, we stopped it and moved on,
We knew too well what a “little inappropriate touching” looked and felt like, and
We knew too well what more than ‘only touching’ looked and felt like.
What was different this time?
Besides the duration of assaults,
Besides the psychological harassment between assaults,
Besides the sudden attacks during our sleep (yes, being attacked during your sleep is pretty traumatic),
Besides the trauma of being trapped in a moving car (such that “getting away” would mean jumping into a highway of cars and risking great bodily harm or death),
Besides the power plays and coercive tactics,
The other difference was this.
You, third-party participants, joined league with our abusers.
When we came to you with our hurt, you turned us away. Then and now.
When we showed you our wounds, you chided us as if they were self-inflicted before bandaging us in shame.
You treated us worse than the least. You called us enemies. You slayed, then shoved us into shadows.
When we needed empathy, championing voices, love…you had none.
Worse, you sarcastically said “the devil made us do it,” made us speak (when you know Satan hates the truth).
To you we say this:
No more. You’ve made yourself a participant, and you get no pass. While we hope you forgive us any harshness of tone here, we want you to understand this.
We can disagree on many, many things and, yet, still love one another,
We can love you, and we can forgive you,
We unapologetically draw a bold line in the sand at the place where your disagreement is rooted in our oppression, our silence, our ownership, our harm, and your denial of our right to peaceable existence.
We aren’t sorry for your discomfort.
We bear witness, along with angels above.
We hope to displease you because, according to the King James Bible (a book we love and read, too), displeasing that–that ungodliness above–is the only way to please God.
Make your wrongs right.
You’ve betrayed us, broken our trust. We need more than your private, passive apology.
God, the angels above, and survivors are watching. Waiting. Hoping.
Reach out to victims and survivors with empathy and love. Listen to them, believe them, call them, visit them, pray with them, write to them, encourage them, sit with them, eat with them, talk with them, share with them, treat them as equals. Love them.
Not with an inauthentic show of feigned love forced through gritted teeth (survivors of abuse have experience at seeing through charades, and they have a special distaste for fake or token gestures).
If you authentically reach out, understand this. Even though survivors may not be able to respond to your outreach immediately, you are helping them. Your treating survivors with dignity shows good outweighs evil. You are demonstrating the power of love, and you are reminding survivors that they, too, are worthy.
To those who don’t see themselves as third-party participants, the ones who do believe victims and survivors, but who prefer to avoid the conflict of rippling the waters,
Silent support isn’t enough.
Silent support is an oxymoron. Silence is betrayal, and betrayal causes the deepest of pain.
Victims and survivors need your voice, not your silence. Boldly speak up for victims and survivors (to those who have, we’ve noticed, we see your heart, and know, you’re producing good fruit). That’s what the Bible calls you to do.
“Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and the needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9
If you’re a true Christian, then be one in deed, not just word.
When you hear another third-party participant saying hurtful, prejudicial, poisonous things about a survivor, call her out. Let the third-party know it is unacceptable and just plain WRONG to ever lay any blame, criticism, or shame upon someone who had the unfortunate luck of being a violent person’s target.
Vocally lend support when a survivor courageously risks personal reputation and public exposure of personal pain in an effort to reasonably warn others of real, known danger.
Shut down gaslighting and minimizing tactics. Call out euphemisms. Don’t allow anyone else to muddy the waters.
When you hear someone call a violation of another’s body “only touching,” stop them and rephrase, “You mean sexual assault.” When someone says a man who molested sleeping victims is not a “real sexual offender,” respond by saying, yes, a man who acts with a deviant preference/interest for nonconsensual sexual contact with another is the very definition of sexual offender.
When you hear others decry victims or survivors who report crimes, ask them if they think crimes should go unreported. When you hear them denigrate victims who speak openly about what they experienced, ask them why. Ask them if they would say the same about an identity-theft victim speaking about her experience. Ask them if they believe truth, instead, should be concealed (the very definition of “cover-up”). Direct accountability back to the source, the abuser.
Simply put, do what’s right.