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Sunday Reflections: That’s Me in the Corner . . .

TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE

svyalit

This year was more triggering for me then I ever could have imagined. 8th grade, the worst year of my life. The year of betrayal at the hands of a man who swore to keep me safe, a man I trusted. The year my teenage daughter was now entering into. This was the year I dreaded since learning I would become a mother, and to daughters.

I thought at the beginning of the year, if I can just keep her safe this year then everything will be okay. If we just can make it through the 8t grade, she’ll be safe.

It turns out, that is a lie.

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

This election peeled off the scab that had formed over the wounds of my own experience with sexual violence. As election night drew near, my heart sank. I drove through my town and watched as more and more signs for Donald Trump went up, despite the fact that we had all heard the audio of this man openly boasting about sexual violence. I heard pundits and friends and family dismissing this behavior as locker room talk. I read the letter sent out by my church from Franklin Graham assuring me that the only right way to vote was for the sanctity of life.

But whose life?

You see that’s what this election has made clear, we do not value the sanctity of all lives equally. We made that clear when we put a man in the White House who is on record as saying that he can grab any woman he wants by the pussy. A man who filled his cabinet with at least 3 men who have been accused of domestic violence. A man whose first act as president was to sign a piece of paper in a room full of men that rescinded some of the rights of women both in healthcare and in the workplace.

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

So I look at my daughter and I realize, even if I get her safely through this 8th grade year, if she can get through this year without being touched by a man against her will, she still isn’t safe. Not really.

Last year, as the election drew to a close and it was announced that Donald Trump would be the 45th president, I wrote a letter on my FB page to the church universal. I poured out my heart to the universe about how I would not be able to go to church the following Sunday knowing that the church didn’t care about me, a survivor of sexual violence. It was me pouring out my pain and my fear and the rejection I felt from my safe place, my faith, because they had just voted a man into the highest office who said out loud the very things victims of sexual violence have to live with. It was angry, it was real, and it was raw.

My best friend unfriended me. My church abandoned me. I was told I was a sinner who needed to get right with God. I was left standing, alone, in my despair as I realized that power, a Supreme Court judge, and a few key issues were more important than the safety of women, the safety of my daughters. It was in this moment that I truly I understood my place in the Christian faith, and my sorrow knew no bounds. I was an outsider in this place I was supposed to call my home, my family.

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

All of those feelings came surging back again this week as more and more news came out about Bill O’Reilly. I have never personally been a big viewer of Fox News, but I know that it is the channel endorsed by my church and most of my Christian friends. I also knew about the sexual harassment accusations and ousting of Roger Ailes. And now comes news of Bill O’Reilly. And I am reminded again, many people are willing to sacrifice the safety of women for whatever it is they perceive they gain by propping up these men, by looking the other way. For Bill O’Reilly, it’s rating and money. For Donald Trump, it’s power and money. The safety of women, it appears, can be easily bought.

What do I tell me daughter as she reads, once again, about the sexual harassment of women? Brock Turner. Bill Cosby. Donald Trump. The Baylor football team. Bill O’Reilly. It’s everywhere. A new name comes up before the old name is even able to leave fully formed from our lips. The list grows longer. The world grows less safe as we become more aware of how prevalent sexual harassment, abuse and violence really is.

This world feels fundamentally unsafe for women. We’re willing to look past crimes against them because we want comfort, power, a conservative Supreme Court judge . . . We are willing to sacrifice women at the altar of male power. The truth of it burns deep into the core of me; I am a fire that can not be quenched any longer with platitudes and niceties. I am rage. I am despair. I feel like I might finally understand what it means when we describe God as a vengeful God, as a heartbroken parent, as a rejected bridegroom . . . I feel cast aside, and I alternate between despair and a need for vengeance. I want to rain down a cleansing fire and hold our daughters in our hearts and whisper to them, you are loved, you are valued, you are safe.

How do I help my daughter feel like she is precious in the eyes of God when the church is willing to sacrifice her to the wolves? How do I make her feel valuable in this world when men in power call her a host and pass laws that make her powerless over her body? How do I make her feel safe when legislators and judges try to explain away rape by trying to say it’s not legitimate rape? How do I make her feel confident and motivated and worthy of an education when schools punish girls for having bodies and put the responsibility of boys education on them somehow by calling girls distractions? How, how, how . . .

How do I raise a daughter who is whole and healthy and confident and chosen when everything about this world seems designed to tell her that she is none of those things, and doesn’t deserve to be?

The Vice President of the United States recently revealed that he can’t have dinner alone with a woman, preventing women from being involved in business and government as his equal. We are lesser objects, temptresses, bodies to be feared, not minds and heart and voices to be included and respected.

When I was twenty, I was engaged to the man who is now my husband. We have been married 22 years this year. But at the time, I was living in Southern California, renting a room from a family in my church. They called me their daughter. Their children called me sister. This arrangement was made because I wasn’t safe in the house I was living in. For two years, I called their house my home and I called them family.

One day, the mother came to me and told me that she and the kids were going on a two week vacation and I would have to find somewhere else to live while they were gone. It was then that I knew that it was all a lie. I was not family, I was not a fellow Christian, I was as I have always been a female body that couldn’t be seen as anything more than a sexual object, a temptation, a lesser being. I packed up my belongings and went to the only place that was open to me, the place that they had supposedly been keeping me safe from for the last two years.

That was 24 years ago and the world feels less safe now than it did then. Then the church universal still pretended to care about the sanctity and safety of women, but now the curtain has torn and the sheep have taken off their costumes to reveal the wolves underneath. The church no longer feels like a sanctuary but a pit of vipers thriving off of my fear.

I close my eyes at night and I see the leaders of the church as monsters, gnashing their teeth at the tether of female safety, willing to sacrifice us all for power. The 44-year-old sexual assault survivor, the 8th grader whose mom just wants her to be safe, the 8-year-old who doesn’t yet understand what it means to have wolves in office. Women are all on the sacrificial altar when it comes to maintaining money and power.

svyalitgraphic

In this lifetime, 1 in 4 women will be the victims of sexual violence of one kind or another. Many of us have been fighting hard to raise awareness and to help lower these statistics. But now, we have put a predator in office who has surrounded himself by others who appear to hate women, and most days it feels like we have lost the fight. How do we tell the current generation of boys growing up how to treat a woman when we have contradicted ourselves by the men we put in power? How do we tell them we value consent and respect when they can go on YouTube and hear their president speaking the way he does about women? We have legitimized the very thing I have been fighting again.

I recently started going to another church. I listen every week waiting to hear someone say that what is happening in our world is not okay. I’m waiting for a man – any man –  to stand at the pulpit and say, without hesitation or doubt, but in the boldness that comes from speaking the truth, that sexual violence against women is not under any circumstances okay. That women shouldn’t be given a numeric value, that women’s health matters, that consent is the only acceptable option.

I’m waiting for the letter from Frankly Graham that says the only right way to vote is for the candidate that values the sanctity and safety of women. That it is never acceptable to have a sexual predator in our highest government office.

I’m waiting for the world to tell me that my daughters deserve to be safe and loved and respected.

I’m desperately waiting.

faith and Spirituality

I need to know that my church, that my faith, values me. Values my daughters.

I need to know that moving forward, we will no longer continue to tolerate propping up men who abuse women – not for ratings, not for profit, and not for power. Not for a Supreme Court justice. Not for a majority in Congress. Not for the power to make laws that make men richer.

That’s me in the corner, sitting on a pew, waiting for my church to tell me that I am safe among them. But slowly, so slowly, I am losing my religion. Because I refuse to take my daughters to a place of worship that thinks their value and safety is something that can be sacrificed.

And now, I finally understand the song. I’m losing my religion, though I am trying desperately to hang on to my faith.

Title and quoted lyrics are from LOSING MY RELIGION by R.E.M.

#SVYALit (2014)

The Sexual Violence in YA Project, using YA literature to discussion sexual violence in the life of teens

#FSYALit (2015)

The Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit Discussion, using YA literature to discussion a diversity of faiths in the life of teens

Comments

  1. Powerful powerful words here, Karen. Thank you.

  2. The day after the election I had a panic attack and spent the day getting talked through it by the incredibly kind people at the rape survivor’s hotline. I’ve been perfectly fine for 20 years. I spent my 20s going to therapy, group therapy, reading books, taking classes so that I could be just fine. I did everything I was supposed to do and was proud of myself for being self-aware. And then we get a sexual assaulter elected in our highest government office and I was back to being a child. I got anxiety medication and I’m doing better right now. I want you to know I do understand how you feel. I lost my religion a lot sooner then you but it does hurt. It feels like the hypocrites rule the world and the true meaning of peace and love has been replaced by power and tyranny. Women always suffer at those hands. I wish you the best and send you love. You and your family deserve it. Don’t let the cruelty change your heart.

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