I’m on a roll on post ideas, thanks to long conversations with Jori during my visit with her. She gave me permission to tell a story of hers here, for the benefit of anyone else who has perhaps been in a similar position. She says, “Maybe it’ll keep someone from having a similar experience, or maybe a parent will think of it years later and react differently when a daughter comes to them with something like [this].”

Trigger warning: rape, victim blaming.

I think I was 17 when it happened.

I knew it would happen sometime, being a female. But I was surprised it hadn’t happened to me sooner. Before it happened, I had wondered what it would be like when it happened, what I would say, how I would react, who I would tell. If I would cry, if I would know how to respond.

When it happened, it felt surreal, like it was happening to someone else in a cliche movie scene. But it was real life and it was happening.

We were sitting in our favorite coffee shop in Midlothian, the golden morning sunlight painting the wood floor in patches and warming the leather chairs we sat in, both of us with our legs curled up and my shoes were on the floor.  It was the first time we’d seen each other in 6 months, after her family moved to South Carolina. She was holding her cup of coffee in both hands under her chin, her fingers pressing into the ceramic as she held onto it for safety. I was nibbling at my very favorite steaming-hot chocolate chip scone. She didn’t look at me when she started telling me the story.

“So, I met this guy online.”

I froze, transfixed, suspended from reality. It was it. I could feel it.

“We met up at a library while my mom was running errands.”

“He took me to his car. And he wanted to have sex. And I didn’t.”

“And he raped me.”

She was shaking. Her coffee cup was trembling. Her eyes were bright and tearless and wide open, and now she looked at me. “I haven’t told anyone else yet.”

I didn’t know what to say, whether to hug her or hold her hand or to act horrified or shocked. I sat very still. “Oh Jordan,” I said. And I think I picked up my coffee again and sipped it, trying to think.

In retrospect, I think we handled it well, the two of us. She was honest with herself about what happened. I asked her if she had been hurt, if she had taken a pregnancy test. If she was comfortable reporting. That she should go to a doctor to get checked out and I’d go with her if she needed it. Had she told her parents.

She didn’t cry. She was composed, articulate, but shaken and very, very sobered.

We talked for a long time. She made plans to tell her parents, to tell the police, to go to a doctor. I gave her a long, awkward hug, and we parted ways.

I came home quiet, dazed. I went to my mom and said that I needed to talk to her alone, now. I told her the story. She was stunned. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“Well, she wasn’t crying, but I think she was just still in shock. I’m pretty sure she was telling the truth. Why would she lie about something like that?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Mom, you should call her mom and make sure they get her to a doctor and get checked to be sure she’s okay.” [my mom is an RN and frequently provided a reality check for our anti-doctor homeschooling friends]

“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll do that. Just let me know when she’s told them so I can.”

“She’s planning on telling them tonight, I think. So call them tomorrow morning, I guess.”

“Okay, I will.”

***

54% of rapes are never reported to the police.

97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And only 2-8% of rapes claims are “unfounded” (e.g. the authorities didn’t have enough evidence, decided the girl didn’t resist “enough” for it to be “legitimate,” or were patently false.)

***

[two weeks ago, in FL]

Another coffeeshop, catching up after too much time apart. Another pause, another sip, another heart-spill.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Remember how when you came back from SC to visit, you told me that you’d been raped. And how after you told me, your parents took you to the police station and you signed a statement saying it was all a lie, and then your parents made you come over the next day to apologize to me and my parents for lying about it?”

She laughed. “Yeah, that was awful.”

“What really happened? I kind of assumed it was real but your parents didn’t want to believe it, but…? All I remember is that the next morning your mom called my mom and told her that you made it all up, and that you guys were coming over so you could apologize for lying to get attention.”

She sighed. “Yeah, and they made me come over and we all sat on your couches and it was so serious. Dad told me what to say – that it was all a lie to get attention and none of it was true, and I was sorry for being so proud and selfish.”

“Yeah, it felt really strange,” I said.

“You were really quiet that whole time,” she said. “I always wondered what you thought, since your parents kind of did all the talking for you.”

“It was really awkward. I didn’t know what to say. I think I still mostly believed you, but didn’t know what to think. They made you apologize to that other friend you told, too, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, we went over to her house after yours and did the same thing there. I wonder what she thought of it, too.”

***

As we rehashed what happened that night after she first told me about being raped, a whole new story emerged, one that should shock and horrify any compassionate human, but one that doesn’t surprise me at all, given the culture of the church we grew up in.

I haven’t named this church much before, but it was KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, Virginia. But I think it’s worth telling you what church it was, and give you the context. This story is one of many like it and it needs to be told. We both attended KingsWay for approximately 10 years, and her dad had been a pastor there for a year or two before they moved to SC.

This story exists partly because of SGM church culture, a subset of that fundamental/evangelical church culture which unintentionally protects abusers and silences anyone who questions patriarchy or misogyny or abuse. SGM is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the leaders protected abusers and looked the other way when children were molested.

Jori’s rape didn’t occur on the property of a SGM church or at an SGM church event. The rapist was not an SGM church member. But her parents’ response (being a former SGM pastor and his wife) to her story was a response that is very much in keeping with how SGM pastors have historically responded to congregants who were abused. And, for anyone wondering: lots of churches are leaving SGM over the lawsuit, but KingsWay hasn’t left and does not appear to have plans to disassociate itself with SGM.

Jori’s experience was somewhat amplified due to some quirks of her family unique culture. Her family, when we were close, tended to take things to a somewhat dramatic level to prove a point or just because they could. [This was often a really fun thing -- they were the best for creative party games and building things and bringing hilarity to life. But it had a darker side, as Jori discovered.]

Her parents were, like mine, adherents to that school of Christian parenting thought where “first time obedience” is paramount to how godly children relate to their parents. This teaching is authoritarian and usually Calvinist, saying that children are born in rebellion to God and so the parents must “shepherd” and “train” them to be obedient and therefore godly and God-loving. Infants are often spanked for “rebellious” crying, children are punished for interrupting their parents even if the cause is an emergency, and if you tell your parent “just a minute” when they tell you to come, you’re in rebellion and need to be spanked/punished.

This mindset functionally trains children to have no ability to reject adult authority if they’re uncomfortable with something, to have no sense of personal space, privacy, or healthy boundaries, and saps any will in children to stand up for themselves. If they do say no to someone or something they’re uncomfortable with, their “training” has conditioned them to feel overwhelming guilt for being “rebellious” or “disrespectful.”

KingsWay taught these parenting techniques and carried parenting books on this method in its bookstore, promoted them for care group studies, parenting classes, and gifts at baby dedications. Jori’s parents adhered to it all back then, given their time in the SGM Pastor’s College and on the KingsWay leadership team.

Jori later realized that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be both a victim of non-consensual sex (you can’t actively resist an authority figure who wants you to please them and pressures you with guilt trips) and a victim of soft brainwashing — your experience is invalid if it contradicts what the authorities say it should be.

***

When Jori got home that evening after telling me and one other friend about her rape, she felt good about telling her parents, ready to open up to them after receiving affirming and kind responses from her friends. They’d listen, they’d help her report, they’d take her to a doctor and get a pregnancy test and STI testing.

The response she got could not have been more different.

Instead of believing her, they accused her of lying, of having consensual sex and then regretting it, and making up the rape story to cover for her actions.

“This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” they told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Their reason for not believing her? She seemed too composed. She wasn’t disheveled and in tears, and she hadn’t come to them with the story right after it happened. She was too articulate and detailed with her story — it couldn’t be true because she didn’t seem utterly devastated.

Jori is a very smart person, and after such strict parenting and high pressure in our church to have your emotions under control all the time, she became highly skilled at playing social roles that were expected of her. But when something traumatic happened to her, she wasn’t able to connect with her emotions to display them for an audience on command — she was too far gone into trained disassociation with her own feelings.

Angry that their daughter was shameless enough to have sex for fun and then make up a story like this to cover it, and still refuse to admit that she was lying, her parents decided to drive her to the police station for questioning.

When they got there, her dad told the officers that she was saying she’d been raped, that they knew it was a lie, and they needed help finding the loophole in her story.

The officers began questioning her, and again, her lack of tears worked against her. She told me, “I didn’t react the right way — I didn’t burst out crying. And the rest of the night they tried to prove that I was lying.”

For several hours they questioned her, and she didn’t give in. Her story became more clear and detailed as time went on, and these small adjustments caused them to doubt her even further.

At last she decided it wouldn’t be worth it to keep fighting their accusations.

As she told me that morning a few weeks ago:

“‘Okay, it’s not true,’ I said, because it was going nowhere and was so humiliating. I just wanted to leave. They made me sign a statement saying that I had been lying and closed the case, and then lectured me, saying ‘You could have gone to jail for lying about this.’”

The next day her parents showed up at my house and made her apologize to me for lying.

And for the next several years, Jori shut down her memories of the event, telling herself that it must have been consensual sex that she, like the terrible person she was, had gone looking for behind her parents’ backs and then lied about.

Today, she says:

“[my parents’ reaction was] very damaging to me, and I was depressed, scared, and utterly confused for years as a result. But, I’ve moved on from it. I moved on from the actual rape years and years before I moved on from the terrible reaction to it, but it’s old history now.”

***

There are two things going on here.

The first is: fundamentalist Christian parenting methods train children to not resist sexual predators and to not be able to identify it if they’re molested, raped, or harassed. [this is why the Church remains an unintentional haven for sexual predators, and why reporting sexual abuse in the church to authorities is still a question for debate, not an assumed course of action to protect victims.]

The second is: our culture doesn’t like to believe rape victims when they have the courage to speak up, and the negative response they get often leaves them feeling like they must have made it up, that they’re terrible people for thinking that they were really raped, and that they shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.

These assumptions remain for a variety of unfathomably inhumane reasons, assumptions coming from privilege and class hierarchy, assumptions coming from residual patriarchy, assumptions coming from female inability to identify their sexuality apart from the male gaze. [these reasons are why third wave feminism is really necessary.]

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just these things. But this is a starting place. Jori’s story didn’t happen because her parents are terrible people. It happened in a Christian cultural context that didn’t have space in its ideological framework for a woman to be calm and collected when reporting a rape, for a woman to not be raped in a dark alley by a stranger, and for a woman to have any sort of sexual autonomy outside of the parent-led-courtship-and-abstinence relationship model.

Telling about being raped should never, ever be more traumatic than the rape itself.

***

If you or someone you know is in need of help, start here:
(this list is stolen from Dianna Anderson)


  • Tamara Rice

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m glad you named the church. So few are willing to go out on a limb and do that. I have named names too, and there is a high cost associated with doing that, that very few people understand, because so few are willing to do it. I also really appreciated the truth of the strict parenting and how that played into her response, then vulnerability to the push to recant. It’s all really important to understand. Thank you.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Yeah, whenever I name my churches/colleges, people are very upset. But it’s hard to reveal truth when you have to be ambiguous

  • http://www.facebook.com/memilywould Emily Nicole Wood

    thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=69103189 Kate Ulrich

    This is so unjust! I’m so glad that you are writing about these things and the dangers of authoritarian parenting…it’s really valuable to me as a mother because when my son gets old enough to need discipline I don’t want to hurt him. Of course discipline is necessary but the most important thing is that it is done in conjunction with open communication, where the parent is willing to listen and believe the child’s side of the story. It takes a lot of discernment and humility on the parents’ part. Communication
    (LISTENING to the child and also speaking) can’t just happen in the midst of discipline, it must happen when life is happy and good too. This is something Tedd Tripp teaches in Shepherding a Child’s Heart and I think he is right on here. My friend Vicki and her husband apply these methods and from what I have observed their children feel safe, listened to, and like their word is valued and respected, even though they are disciplined rather firmly. For example I saw her discpline her oldest son, but right afterwards she was able to trust his word when the toddler pulled something to the ground off a bench and she asked him what happened…. his manner showed that he did not have a resentful attitude even though had just received discipline. Listening in communication is key.

    Spanking infants is ridiculous. I agree sometimes babies seem like they are being rebellious iwth their crying. but in this case I just give a firm look in they eye with a “no” and continue on with changing clothes or whatever it is. and he gets my point and stops crying on his own. and a lot of the time he just needs compassion.

    • Hännah

      Kate, I will warn you that the Tripps were one of the books I was referring to. I haven’t read them myself but I heard a lot of parenting discussions from those book studies done in this church, and there was a lot of this sort of thinking that came directly out of time spent in that book.

      However, I think that they are on the “lite” end of this spectrum, and far better than the Pearls or the Ezzos.

    • http://www.facebook.com/xandra.rose.1 Xandra Rose Tyler

      As someone who was spanked in exactly the fashion that you mentioned (communication key, hugging afterwards, my parents read “Shepherding a childs heart”) and i still have trouble connecting with my emotions. When the lesson you learn is that you deserve pain for behaving wrongly, its hard to seperate that when you get older. I used to cut myself as a teenager/young adult, i stopped being able to cry, and yet my parents were always trying to help me, always wondering what was wrong. I didnt have the words then to tell them, but being hit had taught me i needed physical punishment to motivate me, so i cut myself when i needed emotional release. Kate, please consider the REASON spanking is necessary to your instruction. The bible makes it clear, the “rod of discipline” is important, but remember that the rod is the rod a shephard uses, his rod and his staff comfort me etc. You might know this, but you can’t beat sheep, they become paranoid and infertile. The Lord doesnt beat us when we do wrong, he guides us, the Rod is a straight line showing us the way to go. I talked recently with my mom and she apologized for spanking the way the church told her to. Please consider that pain isnt a motivator for children the way parents want it to be. there are real, scientific studies that have information on the way children learn right from wrong. Prayers for you and your darling child.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=69103189 Kate Ulrich

        Xandra thank you for sharing your experience. I truly appreciate it. It really is a confusing subject for a new parent because I honestly have seen Tripp’s methods applied in healthy ways with healthy outcomes…including myself. I wasn’t hurt long-term by my parents spanking me, (they also read Tripp’s book) though I was hurt in other ways (a demanding, fast-paced home culture coupled with lots of yelling). My parents aren’t perfect but compared to other stories I’ve heard I believe I have grown up with a healthy understanding of authority and my relationship with them (and my siblings’) has always been open and loving even though there has been a lot of yelling. The current international, multi-denominational church community we are in, where we had a home-group study based on that book, is worlds away from the church community Hannah describes on this blog, and the community I grew up in is pretty different also. I have always been surrounded by or in touch with diversity so I think I’ve been given a better introduction to grace. STILL, it is very helpful to know of stories like yours, so thank you, and we will definitely approach the issue with lots of prayer. Thanks for yours. I’m so sorry for the scars you’ve been given emotionally and physically. Also I’m interested in those studies you mentioned if you have the titles available.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=69103189 Kate Ulrich

          also I am interested in the those studies you mentioned if you have the titles available.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=69103189 Kate Ulrich

      After thinking about this some more and talking with my husband, I would advise anyone reading this to read Tripp’s book for themselves before they reject it. I’ve witnessed parents who DO apply Tripp’s principles with wisdom, self-awareness and a healthy understanding of grace, and the results in these homes are beautiful, joyful.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=69103189 Kate Ulrich

        http://www.motheringbygrace.com/blog/2011/03/21/tedd-tripps-shepherding-a-childs-heart/

        This article affirms Ted Tripp’s main premise but exposes bad theology in his methods.

        • Susan Gerard

          As a Christian mother of grown sons who read Tripp’s book because all of my friends were using it, I say “garbage”! There is almost never a reason to physically punish a child. Time outs, applied in a consistent and calm manner, is effective, and breaks the cycle of violence as a solution to not having your way. I recommend “123 Magic” as very effective and loving.

          • me

            I am wondering if anyone has ever heard of “What the Bible says about child training” by Fugate. I am not completely opposed to spanking as a form of discipline for very young children, but this book recommended horrific abuse. It was given to my husband and me by our pastor because our two young sons were excited and a bit hyper when they were young.

            It was very traumatic for me because i had been raised in a similar way even though i was a naturally submissive child who always obeyed. I didn’t get spanked often, but if i did, it was for very minor things and it left emotional scars because of the way it was done. i also attended a very fundamentalist school when i was young and had a dysfunctional family with a lot of yelling and screaming and eventually a divorce. i am sure that compounded the trauma.

            Anyway, back to the child abuse book. It was terrible for me to read and i noticed that my pastor gave it to another couple with a 2 year old boy who was happy, healthy, and just liked to roam around. We received harsh criticism from the pastor and other leaders because they thought that our children were out of control.We couldn’t even leave right away because we were living in the house owned by the church and my husband was an intern. It was a terrible experience. I just wondered if anyone had ever heard of the book or had similar experiences.

            By the way, our boys are doing great and have outgrown their rambunctiousness. It took a lot of effort to detangle ourselves from the horrible situation, but if we had stayed, I am convinced that our family and especially our oldest child would have been irreparably harmed.

  • sarahoverthemoon

    Telling my parents about being raped led to my dad telling me, “If you’d listened to me about dating [I wasn't allowed to date until 21 but did anyway at 16] this wouldn’t have happened.” They believed me, but used it as a chance to say “I told you so.” So when you talk about responses to rape being more or just as traumatic as rape itself, yeah. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576336920 Deanna Joy Torres

    Wow, Hännah! You’re an amazing writer! I had read your story on how you were trained to hide your beauty instead of letting your hair reflect the gold of the sun, but I hadn’t realized you had this whole blog!

    I am in such shock about this. My dad would have threatened to kill the guy himself if the police didn’t step in quickly. But I suppose that when a girl is already emotionally detached from her life, the ones who should be helping her instead cause worse problems like you said.

  • http://twitter.com/TinyandFierce__ Cassie Chang

    Thank you so much for this post. And thank you to Jori for being brave enough to share her story. I am so, so angry that she had to go through this. And that this happens in churches makes is all the more appalling. Thank you both again for this post, and for lifting the lid on such a shameful part of Christian fundamentalism.

  • Cari Watts-Savage

    Great post. I get so angry when I hear people blaming the victim. Our culture needs a serious overhaul – including many of our churches.

  • Emily_Maynard

    I whispered, ‘I believe you, Jori.” And then I recommitted to do whatever I can to be a safe person, a listener, and a loud angry shut it down whatever it takes to stop abuse and abuse apologism kind of woman.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

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  • Chrissy Morgan

    I love the honesty of this blog, and calling things out that are too often hidden. We all need to be safe people for the oppressed.

  • Susan Gerard

    Thank you for this very sad but instructional post. My heart goes out to Jori.

    Adam Walsh’s father spoke up many years ago in favor of teaching children that it’s OK for them to say “no” to adults, and blames himself for never having given that tool to Adam, who might still be alive today if he were not so obedient. Similarly, Elizabeth Smart speaks out today about how to prevent abuse. This piece speaks of how children are unintentionally (yet in fact) abused in their own families. And thank you for speaking out against SGM. This needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

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  • jon edwards

    Just out of curiosity, what is the percent chance that Jori is lying to you? Shame on those who did not believe her if she is telling the truth. But you write with fire from a position of authority, denigrating (implicitly) the parents and church of this young woman. Why is your reader to believe your account of the story, and to thus assume that Jori would never lie to you? Is it really the case that parents requiring obedience from their kids is the explanation for rape? Or might it be the rapist?
    It seems to me you are so ready to wield the axe that you wield it blindly. I daresay you don’t actually know what happened in this case. If your account is true, my heart breaks for Jori. But you don’t know that it is. If it is not, my heart breaks for her parents (and still for her, though in a different sense). Your bitterness toward your own parents has you ready to crucify any family with a concern for their kids’ spiritual well-being that would cause them to require obedience. I think you should slow your role; especially when you come on the scene breathing fire where you are only moderately sure of the actual facts.

  • disqus_DOw9yUxAza

    This is fine and all, but don’t be a dumb feminist and try to prove that bullshit “rape culture” from one incident.

    • Brian

      The rape culture proves itself through thousands of instances.

    • C

      If the instances which support the rape culture theory are invisible to you, you might be part of the problem.

  • http://www.wineandmarble.com/ Hännah

    Thanks for the lively discussion, all. I’m closing comments on this thread now — I don’t take kindly to challenging rape victims’ stories, seeing as a quick Google search on the statistics of those who don’t report should clear up any questions about that and the continuing (and horrific) prevalence of rape culture.