What is Sexual Abuse?

“Perpetrator. How I hate that word. I’ve still been reading your blog regularly, tho not quite as enthusiastically as awhile ago. I have read the word “perpetrator” more times than I would have cared to. I am wondering, how exactly do you define “perpetrator”? And how do you define sexual abuse? How “minor” does it have to be before you would define it as abuse? Some explanations would be appreciated…”

I received the above note from one of my blog readers today and wrote back with a brief explanation and a promise to write more about it here.

The individual went on to, somewhat apologetically, acknowledge that the message may sound harsh. Harsh? Not to me. It’s truth. It’s honest. It’s refreshing. I appreciate that. And I recognize that not all my writing is for everyone all the time. Having said that, I’ve had the highest consistent visits on my blog in the last several weeks. Where it’s not working, or where readers have concerns or questions, I appreciate hearing from you.

The word perpetrator is a broad term commonly used for anyone who commits a wrongdoing, especially in sexually inappropriate offences. It covers everything from the person who exposes himself or herself, violating others visually, to the people who rape, molest or otherwise abuse others sexually.

I use it in story telling because it allows me to write about the offender without giving away name, gender or the details of the violation. (To share those details, by calling the offender a rapist, is something I rarely do. In The Travelling Missionary… Rapist I did this, because I am hoping people will recognize him and get help if they or a loved one were one of the many who were violated by him.)

I’m not a big fan of changing names, though I do it on occasion, and rather refer to the person as a perpetrator. For better or worse, I’ll probably keep using it.

Defining Sexual Abuse is also not without challenge. There are various types and ‘degrees’ of  violation, but any sexual exploitation, regardless how minor, or whether it involves touching, or not, is Sexual Abuse. Within that there are various definitions for different forms of abuse.

Molestation, for example, is typically used to describe unsolicited sexual contact with a woman, if it does not progress to rape, and also refers to all sexual contact with children. If children ‘consent’ they are still considered victims of molestation.

Sexual assault is a broad term used to define ‘knowingly causing another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act, by threat or by force.’ Sexual Assault, in legal terms, has for the most part replaced ‘rape’ and ‘sexual abuse’ or any form of sexual violation.

(In searching for answers as to when and why rape was redefined as sexual assault, I found Bill C-127, in 1983. The purpose was to include male and female victims, and make the law stricter and clearer by defining levels of assault. StatCan)

The person who exposes him/herself sexually in any way, is referred to as a perpetrator, and can be charged. (This is referred to as exhibitionism) The person to whom they exposed themselves is the victim.

Any sexual interaction with a minor is abuse, and is usually referred to as molestation or sexual assault. If it is two minors, it can be innocent exploring, or, more likely, the result of a victimized child introducing another child to what they have experienced, or are experiencing. These children are not perpetrators, though it can still have damaging or negative impact on one or both children. In a legal sense, adolescents and adults can be perpetrators of sexual abuse and adolescents are typically referred to as those between 11, or 12, and 19.

There are varying degrees of impact, and what some refer to as ‘minor’ abuse can have major psychological impact on the victim’s life. In any case, abuse is abuse, and victims need to be helped, while the offender needs to be held accountable and helped.

I’m not a big fan of assigning levels and degrees of abuse. If it happened, and it traumatized you, you need healing. If it impacted your behaviour, caused you to get involved in any unhealthy sexual behaviours, even in childhood, and left you feeling guilty or ashamed, then you need healing.

I’ve had women share things, reluctantly, worrying that they are being petty about something that happened in early childhood. It isn’t petty. If it felt wrong, and if it felt like it violated your right to be respected and protected, then deal with it on the level of abuse, regardless of the other person’s intent. To excuse it leaves you in bondage.

The best example I can think of is a young girl completely naked, or partially undressed, in her room, and someone marches in without knocking, to get something, to spank her, to yell at her or some other intrusive behaviour that has nothing to do with sexual intent. Even if the young girl is not touched, or even ‘looked at’ with sexual intent, she will likely feel violated. The sexual intent is not always there, for the violation to  happen.

The scenarios I mention have happened and have left women struggling.  I presume a boy could feel the same way, though I have not heard testimony to that fact, so I cannot speak to it.

These are some of the definitions of sexual abuse. If you have perpetrated in these crimes, there is hope, forgiveness and healing. You do not need to be defined by, or stay in bondage to what you have done, however, you do need to find help.

As always, whether you are a victim or perpetrator, if you need help finding someone to talk to in your area, email info ‘at’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com. We will do our best to help, anywhere in Canada and USA.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series

Sexual Abuse & Violence: The Travelling Missionary… Rapist

Life at home had remained sporadically abusive and dysfunctional, with seasons of peace.

During the peaceful times I loved life. We spent a lot of time playing games, especially outdoor activities like shadow tag, prisoner’s base, baseball and soccer. Besides denial, humour was our survival mechanism during hard times, so that carried over to times when life was good. Practical jokes done by older siblings, like hanging a bucket of water over a door for the next unsuspecting victim, and other pranks, impressed and entertained us.  Sometimes life was wonderful. But then it would take a sudden twist.

Three years after we moved to Canada, our family met the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonites, as we referred to them. Our parents were quickly drawn into their culture and beliefs, convinced that if we embraced their lifestyle, things would be good. Dad’s desperate pursuit of God and His acceptance, would finally be fulfilled, and we would be safe.

High hopes in humanity seldom end well. People, regardless of culture, religion, or any other belief system, are simply human beings. They looked so peaceful, presented so well… with such purity, that it was hard to envision anything lurking beneath that exterior.

It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in the Conservative Mennonite churches of Ontario, where we least expected it, when I was a young preteen….

A single man, a ‘missionary’ with many reels of film, maps, atlases, and picture albums, whom we will call Harold, travelled from Mennonite community to Mennonite community, all across Canada. ‘Harold’ visited many churches out West, and also frequented our little community, near Bayfield Ontario.

What was unique about this man, is that he dressed conservative, even though he was not Mennonite. Not quite like our culture, but close enough to be accepted, though more conservative.

Harold told stories, an engaging speaker, and had a way with children. I loved when he visited our community and especially loved when he spent time in our home. As children we crowded around him to get the best view of the photo albums that brought his stories to life.

I couldn’t understand why some of my siblings were not so engaged, why they withdrew–especially my older sisters. They couldn’t tolerate him. I had hopes that maybe he would marry one of my sisters and become my brother-in-law. But I was only a child then, of about age eleven.

At church I eventually overheard rumblings of negative opinion, criticizing Harold, but that was normal for ‘outsiders’. We never had a visitor that someone could not find fault with, whether it was their cowboy boots, the sideburns, long hair or some other detail that wasn’t within our church constitution. There was simply no one else quite as good as we were. We had a cutting edge on practical Christianity.

Gradually he came around less frequently, until he all but vanished and I all but forgot he existed.

Years later I learned that Harold left a trail of victims in his wake, having seduced young men, raped boys, and made attempts on others unsuccessfully.

What remains troubling to me is that the church leaders knew who Harold was, and that he victimized multiple people, and they did nothing. They could not help what he was, and what he did, but to remain silent and not report him is inexcusable. I do not know or understand their reasoning, and it wasn’t that their lives remained untouched. At least one leader’s family was directly impacted,, triggering a chain effect of abuse, as his victims became perpetrators and their victims became perpetrators. Still the church remained silent.

While I got by with no extreme violations, through the chain effect, others close to me were not so fortunate. In recent years some have shared their stories with me.

Why tell this now? Why not leave the past in the past and only look ahead? On a personal life experience level I have left it in the past. But in breaking the silence it needs to be addressed.

If I was convinced it was in the past, I would leave it there. But I am not and there are a few good reasons to speak up. First of all, people need to be aware that this kind of thing happens, and their children need to be protected. Only a few years ago I learned that his man still travels across Canada, from community to community.

Secondly, if you or your child was victimized by Harold, or anyone else, there is help available. If you don’t know where to turn for help, and don’t know how to access resources available, I will gladly assist you. (info ‘at’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com)

Thirdly, it is an appeal to the church to begin speaking up and taking a stand. We are called to protect innocent victims under our care as much as possible. They need us. Jesus said that whoever offends one of these little ones, it would be better to have a mill stone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea. God does not take lightly the abuse of children.

As the body of Christ we cannot always help what enters our churches. But when innocent children are at risk, and crimes are committed, we have a moral and legal obligation to report crime to authorities and let the law deal with them.

We do not need to stand helplessly by. Together we can make a difference. Together we can stop the ‘Harold’s’ of this world and create accountability.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series

 

Sexual Abuse & Violence: Unexpected Hope in the Old Order Amish

Not long after the seminar on sexual abuse in closed cultures, I received a phone call. An Old Order woman, whom I had met at that end of the seminar, wondered if I had time to talk. She wanted to share her story with me.

I called Lydia yesterday to tell her that I am writing about Sexual Abuse on my blog, and to ask permission to write about her story. Her only request was to not disclose her real name and location, so to protect her identity, I have called her Lydia.

Lydia was not the typical childhood sexual abuse victim that we tend to hear about in Mennonite cultures. To my knowledge, adult sexual abuse is much less common, with this being one of very few cases I am aware of, unlike childhood sexual abuse, which is rampant.

Lydia worked as a school teacher at a parochial school, run by the Old Order church. A man from her church, whom we will call Elam, and the father of some of her students, sexually assaulted Lydia. Not knowing what to do, she internalized it and became depressed. People noticed that something was wrong, so the school board sent one of the church leaders in to check on her and find out what was going on.

Rather than giving Lydia a safe place to share, the church leader paid her a visit at the end of a school day, when she was all alone. With no witnesses, he further victimized Lydia.

In hopes of leaving it all behind, Lydia started teaching at one of their other schools. A new start. A new world. A new life. But, thanks to prayer requests and other gossip lines, some ill-intending man in the new church paid her a visit. Again Lydia was sexually assaulted by one of her own.

This time Lydia decided she had enough, so she approached her leaders to expose the abuse she faced at every turn. But, rather than receiving help or support, the church found her guilty of ‘sowing discord in the brotherhood’, lying and falsely accusing brothers in the church.  Consequently, Lydia was placed on church discipline.

It was over that time that Lydia and I connected most frequently. Her resilience and determination remain an inspiration to me, to this day. While Lydia grieved the treatment she received, she did not surrender or feel sorry for herself.

“Trudy, I could leave the church. But if I do that, who would fight for the others? I believe God wants me to stay and keep fighting for the truth,” Lydia said.

I have never been more proud of a woman in my life. Lydia did her best to hold her head up, attending church Sunday after Sunday, with the ‘mark’ of church discipline on her. When her time came to be restored, there was some debate whether they could accept her into fellowship but she challenged them. What sin had she committed? What in her life was not in line with God’s Word and the church’s rules? They had nothing on her, so they accepted her back into fellowship.

I can’t recall if that was the end of it, or if she went through a second round of discipline, but laying aside those details, she stayed the course, determined to make it safe for victims to ask for help.

This determination led her to persist, gently, with her Bishop and his wife, asking them to hear her heart and help her. At first it was a battle. The treatment she received was not very kind. Still she continued to interact, to ask for meetings, to share her heart.

Eventually she won their trust and received an apology from them for the way they had treated her. Some things she had to choose to ‘forgive and release’, like the church discipline, knowing it would never truly be ‘made right’ by the church.

As Lydia continued to share her story, discreetly and for the purpose of redemption, doors began to open for her to help other victims. That fiasco was a lot of years ago. Lydia and I still stay in touch, from time to time, and she still mentors other victims in the church. God is opening doors, and Lydia remains a voice of hope and healing, breaking the silence of sexual abuse.

If we look for it, there is always a thread of grace in our stories. It is out of Lydia’s tragic story of abuse that she is now able to break that silence. Nothing is lost with God, if we allow Him to redeem our experiences.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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