Sexual Abuse & Violence: Introduction

At long last, here I am tapping out my thoughts on computer keys, sharing bits and pieces of my story, or perhaps your story, if you’ve given me permission to do so. I am in the process of overcoming my worst case of writer’s block, since 2001, when I first transitioned from paper—where I struggled often with writer’s block—to computer. There is something fascinating about the way my thoughts spill out on the screen. It has, for the most part, put an end to writer’s block for me. Except for this topic on sexual abuse.

I know it needs to be said, I know it needs to be addressed, but I have, for weeks now, tried to find a good starting point, and have remained stuck. I’ve written some things to share down the road. But there seems to be no good place to begin, so I am going to start ‘chattering’ the thoughts in my head, and hopefully present them in comprehensible form for you to read.

Like a unravelled yarn, so tangled together that there is no way of unravelling it, I have pulled, and studied, and contemplated….

That got me pondering this whole thing of how it is in reality with sexual abuse. Where does it really begin? Or is it a thread of shame and corruption, a perversion of God’s plan, and violation of innocence that began, somewhere in Genesis, and never really stopped?

I have friends who were perpetrators, and hearing their stories has given me much insight into this cycle of abuse. (For the purpose of this series on Sexual Abuse & Violence I will define perpetrator as someone aged 16 or older.) I have many friends who violated children in their early years, for most a one-time act, prior to age 10 or 12, and a few between the ages of 13 and 15. I do not refer to them as perpetrators. Besides the fact that most of them were sexual abuse victims, they were innocent children, in a culture that gave no knowledge on how to manage their sex drive, their natural sexual feelings, and were made to feel dirty and shameful about their sexuality. The only advice that I know of in the culture, with most families was to say ‘thou shalt not’, and ‘you’ll go to hell if you do’. There is so much more to it than that. I will write about that another time.

Even those older than age 15 are ill-equipped and hardly responsible, due to ignorance. In two separate incidences, 16-yr-old boys violated me, when I was around thirteen or fourteen. Because of a lack of education, and healthy sexual awareness, I cannot hold them too hard for what they did. Yes, they took ownership and both apologized to me, but ignorance is a curse, not bliss. They did not fully understand how they wronged me.

In the one case, had my brother not appeared, and had I stayed alone with the young man any longer, odds are high he would have raped me. A man much older than him—(a man who dressed like a Mennonite and travelled across Canada, victimizing young men)—had raped him, and he, in turn, had already violated other youth in the church. Out of his experience and trauma, along with the church’s silence, he became a perpetrator. God only knows where or if that cycle ever stopped.

The worst part was that our church leaders knew the ‘Mennonite poser’ had violated the young man, and the church knew the young man had violated other boys, but nothing constructive was done to protect us. Instead, because he was the son of a leader, they covered it. This led to his victims victimizing other boys, and so the cycle was set in motion and chains started.

At around age twelve or thirteen, I made a vow that I would not have any sexual involvement with anyone. I took care of anything I knew of that had happened in my childhood, before age eleven, and started over with a clean slate. When the young man from church violated me, it set in motion a host of struggles, including very low self-esteem and sexual confusion. Because men had all the power and seemingly had the ‘right’ to violate us, I wanted desperately to be a male so I would not need to surrender to it. I was angry with God for making me a girl, a victim, an object.

Boys wore normal clothes and acted like nothing happened when they violated us. We were stuck in home made dresses, giving males easy access, and still the bulk of responsibility fell on us. When they violated us, it was because we must have behaved in a sensual manner, dressed inappropriately, or perhaps flirted with them. They couldn’t help their sex drive and if only we would behave right and dress right, we would protect them.

How ironic. In a male-dominant culture, where men were portrayed to be the godly leaders, the strong ones, they were not required to be men at all. All they had to do was cry, “she asked for it” and the onus was on us. And even if they didn’t cry it, that was a given. There was nothing of teaching young men and boys to honour, respect, love and protect a woman. Nothing of saying, “if you find her naked, be man enough to cover her and protect her”.

Real men do that. They don’t victimize the younger, the weaker, the innocent. Because of their good character, they take authority over their desires, and choose rather to protect and do the right thing. Jesus was a real man. He was human and could have violated the prostitutes who came to him. He didn’t.

Selfish men use and abuse. Weak men use and abuse. Confused boys also use and abuse.

But the culture failed men terribly through silence. It failed us all. They were not equipped for the hormone surge, and we only knew how to dress ‘right’, not what to do in a vulnerable situation. Many years later I would learn that this is a Christian culture problem, not a Mennonite church problem.

When it comes to Sexual Abuse and Violence, much of secular society, for all its corruption, is more godly than most Christians. In the secular world, silence is discouraged and protecting the innocent, however lacking the methods, is a high priority.

If ever we want to reclaim influence, as the people of God, we will need to take a stand against sin in the church–in particular, the victimization of the vulnerable–and let the light of Jesus shine in.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Spiritual Abuse Part 16__Men of God, Rise Up! Protect Your Marriage!

By nature I default to the stronger leader as long as the leader stays grounded on Biblical truth. I also default to male leadership, most likely because of my upbringing, and because my husband truly is a leader worthy of my respect, honour and… yes, the ‘s’ word… submission.

Tim is a man of integrity, unlike any I have ever known before. We have been happily married for eighteen and a half years. Well, most of them were happy years. We did have some very rough times as well. Times when we were not certain our marriage would make it. Or at least I wasn’t certain. Tim never, for even one millisecond, entertained another option.

About eleven years ago I had given up on our marriage. I wanted out. It all felt too complicated and I felt I had lost myself somewhere along the way. I started to look into other living options, started to plan how I would survive without Tim, how we would share our five children and not make it a big ugly fight.

 

Leading up to this, in the first seven years of marriage, Tim and I had never had a ‘fight’, really. We had disagreements but, for the most part, we are as compatible as two people can be. So why would I want to leave a man who never treated me abusively, or harmed me emotionally or physically? When life was ‘peaceful’, why would I want out?

We had grown apathetic in our marriage. We merely co-existed. We didn’t understand each other. We were both ‘nice’ and kind, but the depth was lacking. I wanted desperately to ‘know’ him and ‘be known’ by him. I wanted him to pursue my heart, to enter into my inner world, and I wanted to be part of his. Yet, both of us had retreated.

Add to this a health crisis, on my part, that left me physically weak and psychologically fragile, and I simply could not cope with distance in our relationship. Dark thoughts and hopelessness invaded my heart and mind.

When I proposed to Tim that we part ways, peacefully, and told him I wanted out of the marriage, he was crushed. The pain I saw in his eyes that day, told me more about his deep love for me than I had understood before. He heard my heart, no defences. I shared with him how abandoned I felt, how distant I felt from him, emotionally, and like I was the one who constantly had to keep our marriage alive.

Tim showed leadership that changed our marriage. He stepped into my heart, so to speak, and got to know who I am. He apologized for hurting me, for not protecting me and not ‘knowing’ me.

I don’t know how it came about, but Hilco and Joyce, a couple from the church we attended at that time, Koinonia Christian Fellowship, came to see us. They listened to us, prayed with us and gave us some basic tools to help us fight for our marriage together.

Beyond being ‘nice’, he made a promise to know and care for my heart, and invest himself in building our marriage, in protecting me and fighting for me and our children. Being a man of his word, he did just that. This leadership has continued over the years. We’ve had gaps, but through those ‘seasons’ we learned to fight ‘together’ for our relationship.

The greatest gift Tim has given me, over the years, is his unconditional love. No strings attached, he has embraced me, as I am. In every situation, when the storms hit, and ‘life’ threatened our marriage, he has taken it seriously and ‘tuned in’ and sought God with me. He has always treated me as equal, and has not withheld important information from me, and has included me in decision-making.  He hears me, and listens to my advice and then together we make decisions, with the final call being up to him, in many cases.

This respect, and feeling valued, has made it easy for me to submit myself to Tim’s leadership.  I trust his heart toward me and know, without question, that he longs only to bless me. (He does this from his heart, but the pay-off for him is pretty good too.) On the flip side, there have been times when Tim gave up something he felt strongly about, or wanted, because I was not at peace with it. That is part of healthy relationship.

We were created for relationship, for mutual respect, and in love to submit to one another. Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church. Lead with a servant heart. Spiritual Abuse makes room for control, abandonment and expecting to be served, but that is not the example that Christ gave you. You will win your wife, if you hear her heart and validate her feelings. Take time to pursue her—she longs to be the apple of your eye. Be quick to say, “I’m sorry”, if you have wronged her. It will build trust. Pray with her. Get to know what makes her ‘tick’ and speak her love language.

Ladies, be patient with your husbands as they learn a better way. Encourage them. Be your husband’s number one cheerleader. Don’t leave that for another woman.  Believe in him and support him. It is a two-way street, and God has given us a lot of influence over our husbands. Above all, pray for him and with him, rather than trying to change him.

Gentlemen, fight for your marriages, it is worth it. Take it from someone who almost lost the best years of her marriage. Someone whose husband refused to let pride stand in the way.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/

Nobody’s Doormat

I have been pondering ‘authority’ in relationships and the need to set healthy boundaries. Specifically when the person with whom we need to establish those boundaries is someone who has authority over us, or is in a co-leadership position with us. It is a sensitive thing at the best of times, and more so when someone in authority over us violates us and boundaries need defining.

We all have the ‘right’ to be respected. It is not just a human rights issue—it is a right that God has given us. He made us in His image, to reflect His heart and His likeness. Each of us, in our individuality, is made to uniquely represent Him, here on earth. This is true whether we are Christians or not.  The effectiveness and impact of that, whether we allow that God-likeness to flow through us or not, is to an extent dependent on our faith in Him, but regardless of our beliefs, God’s likeness is in us.

When we function under leadership and authority, whether that person is a boss, a father or mother, a husband or any other leader, we should expect to be treated with dignity and respect. When that doesn’t happen, we have a choice; we choose silence and allow victimization—usually ending up feeling sorry for ourselves, or we confront (hopefully gently so that we are heard), or sometimes we may need to first reach out for help. We may not initially have the strength to confront, or, alternatively, we may come off too strong because of personal defences.

Years ago, as a young woman working as a secretary, someone in leadership asked me to do something illegal—I was to ‘fudge the books’ to make things look differently than they really are.  I was the person that signed off on documents for the government reports and to do so would have not only risked the company being slapped with a huge fine, but I would have been responsible.  In submitting documentation I always signed the typical ‘I confirm that the information contained in the report is true…’ and to sign that, knowing I was intentionally doctoring reports, was not something I could do.

However, because it was a leader who asked me to do this, I was in a conundrum. Should I defy my leader and not say anything? Should I do what I was asked? Should I confront?

Me, being me, I opted for confrontation. It’s not that I like confrontation, but silence, either way, would have made me feel victimized and I don’t tend towards accepting that role.

I walked into my boss’s office, defences high, and asked him to explain exactly what it is he wants me to do. Again, he outlined the exact steps I was to take in reporting.

“But that’s illegal,” I said.

He mumbled something that didn’t support me doing the right thing and, without a further thought, I leaned over his desk, handed him the reports and told him, quite boldly, “It’s illegal, and if you want it done that way, you will have to go do it yourself!”

Stunned, he looked at me without a word. After the pause, he told me to go do the right thing.

Back at my desk, my heart was still beating like a drum in my chest. Had I really just done that? My head was spinning. I was proud of myself for taking a stand but felt bad… almost sick, over how I had done it. And yet, it had been the truth.

Maximizing Impact

My boss’s son, having heard the exchange, walked over to my desk. A quiet gentleman, only a few years older than me, he spoke with great wisdom a lesson I have taken with me for life, “Trudy, what you have to say is often bang on. If you would learn to say it differently, it would be easier to receive and would have more impact.”

I don’t remember if those were his exact words, but they were pretty close. That advice has changed the way I address leadership. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren..”

In my pursuit of healthy boundaries I made some pretty big mistakes. And that’s okay. I was learning a new and better way. It is better to make mistakes on the journey, than to choose apathetic disinterest in growth. It is in making mistakes that we learn to do it right.

The next time my boss asked me to do something sketchy, I calmly rose from my chair at my desk, looked him in the eye, ushered him to sit down and calmly said, “If you want that done, you will need to do it yourself. I find it offensive.”

Again my boss looked surprised, but this time was different. With a new respect he said not to worry about doing it. He never again put me in that kind of a position.

When it comes to family, especially a father, mother or spouse, the familiarity can cause us instinctively to do one of two things. It can make us defensive, angry and disrespectful, or cause us to completely withdraw in fear or anxiety.  Like their wives, this can be a very real part of a husband’s journey. If we overcome these tendencies and learn to calmly speak the truth—that we have value and are not willing to be a doormat—we will have much more impact.

Recently, watching a video series on working through various issues, the one example jumped out at me, illustrating how to do this well. The speaker guided her audience on a gentle approach to establishing a strong boundary. In her example she was addressing a father, and the words were something to this effect: “Dad, I have worth. God sees value in me. I am His daughter and He treats me with respect. You need to treat me with respect and talk to me with respect. Until you can do that, I am not willing to subject myself to abuse.”

Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” More is said in the tone of voice than in the words we speak. The truth, when spoken with calmness, has authority. The same truth, when spoken in loud or angry tone, loses impact.

The key to ending the doormat lifestyle is to first see that we have worth and value, and then to live a life that commands respect, in word and in deed.

© Trudy Metzger 2012