Dear Searcher part 2: “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?”

This is my second post responding to search terms that have led people to my blog. You can read the first post here.

The premise of these Dear Searcher posts is that I write an open letter to the person who found my blog using search terms that I find thought provoking or unsettling.

On March 12th, someone found my blog using the search term, “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?” This is an open letter to that person.

search terms_2
Dear person who stumbled upon my blog using the search term, “i didnt report a sexual assault, am i to blame?,”

I recently made this post regarding sexual assault and my own experience, including my decision to not report it, which I hope can help you see that you’re not alone.

I know this can be difficult to accept when it’s about yourself, but the answer to your question is a resounding no. Victims are never to blame. It may still feel that way. It still feels that way for me sometimes. But you were violated against your will. That’s the definition of sexual assault. You cannot be blamed for something happening to you that you didn’t want. Is it your fault if someone you’ve never met is rude to you? If you get mugged, is it your fault?

No.

So why is it that people like us–myself included–often feel like it’s our fault when it comes to sexual assault? There are a myriad of reasons, but a lot of it comes from the way society talks about this particular crime. We’re told so many things over and over again about this: don’t go into dark places, don’t leave your drinks unattended, don’t walk alone at night, don’t wear short shorts, short skirts, low-cut tops, slinky dresses, dresses altogether, or maybe don’t wear pants. That’ll fix it. And sure, we can be cautious, but we can’t possibly account for every twisted fantasy of a potential stranger lurking in the dark. We can’t possibly know until it happens who among our friends and acquaintances is harboring the intention to take advantage of someone. Of us.

What helped me was finding someone I could talk to. I picked one friend and I told them everything. In the process of talking about it, I began to see what had happened with a new found clarity.

Then I wrote about it, nonstop, for no one to see, and gradually became comfortable enough to show people, to tell a few people, to share my writing with my creative writing class in college. Your healing process might be different, but it begins with the knowledge that this happened to you, that it was not your fault, and that the part of this that you control is what happens now.

You have to do what makes the most sense for your life, for your situation, and for your health. In a perfect world, I would urge you to report it, but I know it’s not that simple. I didn’t report mine for many reasons. Lack of evidence for my case, lack of trust in my nation’s police and its criminal justice system in general are all reasons I chose not to report mine. But if I lived somewhere else, maybe I would have. It’s difficult to say what you would do when you’ve never been in that exact situation. Telling your story is hard because it involves reliving it. You want to tell it in a situation of trust and safety, and a police station or a courtroom are simply not most people’s idea of a safe space.

With that being said, there are good things about reporting, and doing so may bring you some much-needed closure. I wish I could say with certainty that my abuser had faced some sort of punishment and hopefully some therapy to address a lot of the psychological issues I saw in him during our time together. I really don’t know what’s happened to him since I cut off communication with him. I also never even looked into the possibility of getting a restraining order, but that can really help some victims when it comes to the issue of safety. Maybe something like that would be helpful for you, depending on your circumstances. Whatever you decide, you should not be judged for it. You have to make the decision that you feel is best. No one can make that decision for you.

Now for some resources. I’m a big fan of Dr. Doe on the YouTube channel called Sexplanations. She did a very good video on sexual assault in which she shares her experience with reporting her sexual assault, and also some resources that might be helpful to you. I recommend checking it out if you’re looking to hear something from someone with more credentials but also the experience to understand what you’re going through. I wish you the best of luck as you move forward after this. I know it’s a major cliche, but things can and often do get a lot better with time.

As always, if you have any thoughts about this feel free to leave a comment. Especially if you have experience with this and know of any resources that you would recommend. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

My Parents’ Bizarre Response to the Child Molestation Accusations in the Catholic Church

church withmaninpewYou may recall from previous posts that my dad used to be the youth minister at my family’s church. He was great at it–way better than the youth minister who took over for him. I know because I used to visit during the retreats he ran, and they were awesome! Their itinerary was filled with fun and games and positive affirmations. But when I was in middle school, before I was old enough to join youth group, my dad stopped running youth ministry at our parish. I’ve always wondered why.

I assumed it was from lack of time. My dad, like me, tends to get involved in too many things. He works full time, he teaches religious education, he’s a lector and a Eucharistic minister at church, he’s involved in the men’s retreat group there too, and he even finds time to do volunteering every once in a while. I figured youth group was just one activity too many. So at the end of year picnic when I was in 7th grade, the youth group bade my dad farewell, and today, many years later, my dad told me why he left:

“There were too many youth ministers getting accused of bad things, and the church was getting sued and good people were losing their money. I didn’t want to risk that.”

I nearly flipped my shit. It doesn’t take much guessing to infer what he meant by “bad things.” There have been many accusations of child molestation in churches, particularly Catholic ones. Usually it’s priests who get accused, but youth ministers have had their fair share of accusations. I asked if that was what he meant, and he said yes, adding, “People want to get money from priests and youth ministers. They’re accusing good priests for the money.” This was followed by a rant about our sue-happy society and how that’s apparently affecting the church.

A priest my dad knew was once accused. He has since passed away. My dad always insisted the accusation was false–but I’ve always wondered. (To my knowledge, he was not convicted.) It’s hard to know what people do behind closed doors. Even if he is innocent, that’s only one person–not exactly a large sample of the population of accused. Yet my dad honestly thinks that the vast majority of the accusations are false.

While the number of false rape accusations nationwide is not a knowable number right now–we simply do not have the data to give a number with confidence–because of how under reported rape is as a crime in general, I have a hard time believing that the majority of accusations are false. In fact, while the percentage of false accusations is not knowable, the data we do have seems to suggest a low number, which is logical considering how rape victims are treated in this country.

It’s definitely not a situation fraught with wanted attention for a false accuser. Bringing a rape accusation to this criminal justice system involves a lot of questioning, some testing to put together a “rape kit” if the rape was recent enough, and a high possibility that there won’t be enough evidence to even have a trial of the accused. Rape victims are generally not believed, and even face a great deal of scrutiny regarding details that have nothing to do with whether or not a rape occurred. Questions like “What were you wearing?” and “Have you two had sex before?” plague rape victims to this day. Many victims, like in the case of Bill Cosby, are so worried about not being believed that they don’t come forward for YEARS, allowing the statute of limitation to expire, and making it impossible for the accused to be tried for the crime.

This is not to say that the innocent-until-proven-guilty model doesn’t apply to rape. It does, and should. It’s constitutional that everyone deserves a fair trial. With that being said, my dad was talking about child molestation–a situation in which, by definition, the younger party cannot give consent. When my dad suggests that the majority of church child molestation charges are false, I get very defensive, because we’re usually not talking about sue happy adults here, we’re talking about children. There have been many, many accused who have been convicted, often of serial rape, and who were moved from one parish to another by superiors who knew what was going on but decided letting more children get raped was worth it to keep another precious priest from being defrocked and arrested.

Something that I don’t see covered much in stories about this widespread child abuse and their cover ups is that the church has an incentive for moving child molesting priests around instead of punishing them. There’s a severe shortage of Catholic priests right now, which has been worsening for as long as I can remember. There simply aren’t many new priests coming in, and the old ones are dying, retiring, or leaving the faith.

My generation is possibly the least religious one in all of American history, and it’s part of a continuing trend of decreasing religiosity. Throughout my childhood, I was told to “pray for vocations” and young boys were encouraged to consider priesthood. Yet one could quickly see that for most children, unmarried life was not appealing. They didn’t even know about sex, and they still didn’t want to be unmarried. I for one always viewed priesthood and religious life–whether of a cloistered nun or even an non-cloistered sister– as lonely and unnecessarily strict. I wanted more freedom than religious vows allow. More than that though, I wanted to get married. I think Catholic boys, even religious ones, often do too. It’s part of the American dream, after all.

So when the church realizes it can’t get new priests easily, it clings desperately to its old ones. Even, sadly, to the disgusting child rapist monsters the faith organization has been protecting.

I love my parents. I sincerely hope that this delusion my father has about the rape accusations being mostly false is isolated to him. Unfortunately however, I’ve never seen any indication that that is the case. As long as the church maintains this idea, it will keep on protecting the accused from investigation, clinging to its priests instead of protecting children and youths. If you’re Catholic and you’re reading this, I implore you to keep your eyes open. Your parish priests may be perfectly wonderful people, your youth ministers the epitome of piety, and I hope that’s the case. But if you find out that that is not the case, don’t alert the pastor, or the bishop. Go to the police immediately, because as we’ve seen in recent years, the church authorities can’t be trusted to take this problem seriously.

As always, feel free to leave a comment. If you want to defend the church or argue against its actions, go ahead. Just be respectful to other people and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking

-Nancy