The question mark
Hung at the end of every fear
Is answered by
The promise that you are with me here
And that’s all I’ve got
When the lights go out and I lose my way
So I’ll close my eyes
I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid
As I reach for your hand in the night
When the shadows swallow the light
‘Cause I’m giving up, giving in
Once again a childlike faith
Is my only way
To see in the dark
~ Jason Gray ~
A year after we started Generations Unleashed, I was with two young women – sisters .- and supporting one of them facing traumatic memories. She was not a client then, nor did she ever become one, but I had been asked to meet with her. In her trauma, she curled up on the floor in a fetal position – a tiny little woman – writhing in agony. Heartbroken by what I saw, and with no training, I responded the only way my humanity knew to respond: I picked her up. That lasted only seconds but felt like an eternity, because immediately I felt it take something out of me and sensed God saying, “That’s not yours to give.” Not comfortable laying her back on the floor, I asked her sister to hold her, and she agreed. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was right or fair. I just know it was wrong for me to hold her. And I have never again gone there. About that time I also put my arm around weeping victims and let them cry on my shoulder whenever they wanted.
I have since developed much better practices and have watched people heal far more effectively, by getting to the root of the issue, rather than creating dependence on me. And I have looked my clients in the eye when they ‘craved’ that touch and promised them I will never violate their boundaries or their trust, or take such unnecessary risks. That extended physical touch should not come from the professional/ministry worker who is their mentor, coach or counsellor. It is my duty, first and foremost, to protect them and help them heal. I will not cross that line. It creates unhealthy bonds that eventually have to be broken, and is entirely unprofessional and unhealthy. It has led to affairs, struggle with lesbianism among young Mennonite women (when the person holding them was female), and is all around unfair to them.
This does not happen with LOP seminars that I am aware of, but D certainly did it ‘on the side’… It should cause both those who practice this and those who hear of it to at least pause and ask if it is healthy… When you hear of men holding the vulnerable (sometimes curled up on their lap, faces placed cheek to cheek, and other times more discretely) to comfort them ‘like a daddy would’ or ‘like kind Heavenly daddy’, be aware. Not all who have done that have molested, but many who have been held have felt sexually and spiritually violated. Those being held are incredibly vulnerable, and women are by God’s design very sensitive to tender touch. It’s how we are wired. Do the math. They get sexually aroused being held (this has also happened with females holding females) and go on to deal with sexual shame and confusion all over again.
Women are predominantly stimulated by tender touch – based on my work with them – and are especially vulnerable when they are working through abuse. Some fear touch. Some crave it, but then find themselves deep in sexual feelings for their counsellor (or whoever offers that touch). Some hate it, feeling violated and resenting that feeling of being overpowered. And in every client with a trauma story, there is a power imbalance that makes it even more violating, regardless of the intent of the person touching them. Even when it never feels sexual for either party, damage can be done. For this reason I choose not to take that risk.
Some, like D, have held the hurting ‘like a daddy’ and then gone on to sexually violate the vulnerable individual. And, shamefully, somehow it gets misconstrued as her consent when she was groomed to be victimized. It is, in my opinion, not appropriate for a man to have young women curled up on his lap and call it ministry, but I do know some have done it with what they declare to be the best of intentions.
My advice in any case is, Don’t. Just don’t go there. Because when it gets to court, you will likely be guilty. Nor does it, in reality, typically – if ever – heal the victims. It often intercepts their connection with God and draws them to you and your bandwagon. Just don’t. I have spoken with numerous friends in ministry and urged them to end the practice, telling them that if it ends in court, and I am asked to be involved, I know which side of the court room I will fill. And it won’t be their side. I know the incredible damage this has done in many cases. It is a terrible violation of boundaries – which vulnerable people, especially abuse victims, usually lack – and completely inappropriate.
If we are going to make a dent in the abuses going on, it will require seeing fondling breasts, grabbing buttocks and groping crotches as the vile abuse that they are, and acknowledge the damage they do. It will mean no longer downplaying these things and then deciding the victim’s trauma after the fact is for show or selfishness. It is not only rape that devastates victims. Of all the damage I have seen, none is greater than the damage done by someone who is a ‘spiritual hero’ and then molests those who trust him/her, regardless what that violation is. This is spiritually destructive, and I don’t take that lightly.
Until this past week I kept telling myself that S must not know the truth. After working with him on a case recently, my trust grew shockingly strong, almost instantly. Not without reservation, but limited reservation. When I wrote him last week to make him aware of that bigger story, I discovered at the end of the day that he had taken what I told him right back to D. He insisted I am being lied to. I have assured him that I have been given copies of proof for everything I shared with him that day, except one item. (What I shared that day was different information than the sexual assault and lewd phone calls shared here. It had to do with finances). Regarding the sexual assault and phone calls, I have been given copies of messages validating the victim’s experiences, including some sent by D himself. The evidence is undeniable. Had he taken full ownership, and had there not been molestation of a young woman (I reiterate, she is not a minor), it would still be concerning and there should still be some form of ‘buddy system’ at events where he has blatantly prowled in the past. In this case, had leadership listened to warnings from people close to them who cared deeply, intervention would most likely have prevented the assault. When there are signs of predator-like behaviour, intervention is in the best interest of potential victims, as well as the offender, who ends up carrying shame that could have been avoided.
I do not ask S to hold to my personal values, standards and principles, or to keep the promises we made – this isn’t about that. This is about keeping our promises and commitments to our calling: serving vulnerable people, and exposing those who violate them. The day I cannot do that and fear of facing the fallout and consequences for exposing is greater than my commitment to that calling, is the day I need to resign from ministry. So help me God if I continue without that commitment. This is my calling, and I embrace it. Not comfortably – much like hugging a cactus, really – but I embrace it nonetheless.
It has tormented me, knowing that D assaulted someone, and wondering if LOP leadership was aware, and then discovering they knew and were repeatedly warned about D before the assault, and again after, by people who love them deeply… It has tormented me that if I know and say nothing, and D keeps sponsoring victims, or grooming them, and eventually assaulting another, that I have allowed that through silence. Not to mention that if victims of sexual abuse discover he sexually assaulted a girl recently and I knew and said nothing, that I betray them…
I cannot live with that betrayal of their trust.
I can live with being hated. i can live with being verbally attacked. I can live with being called a drama queen or a nutcracker. I can live with many things. But I cannot live with knowing and being silent.
When I am in a place where I am ‘forced’ to choose between speaking out and being silent about abuse, for any reason (whether out of a sense of duty and loyalty to someone I consider a friend, or to protect family) I will choose to defend the vulnerable no matter what it costs me.
And it has cost me a lot…
But taking a strong position for the vulnerable wasn’t my idea, it was God’s example -and it is His command. It is the Jesus Way. It is the path I choose. Cactus plants and all.
“Open your mouth for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
~ T ~