When I was seventeen and a senior in high school, a teacher that I trusted began to abuse that trust. It started out seemingly innocent — we bonded over our love for music, so he started to copy his favorite music onto CD’s for me to listen to. Then it turned into us exchanging phone numbers to talk about music or anything for that matter. I felt it was fine and I also felt cool; the psychology teacher everyone admired was getting close with me.
I have gone back and forth about whether or not to open this can of worms, because when you have already told your counselor(s) and husband, it doesn’t seem necessary to lay yourself bare. However, since I’ve seen men and women alike come to defend Trump’s remarks regarding his flagrant disregard towards sexual harassment and sexual assault, I’m haunted at the thought of not speaking. As if it’s not enough, some of these people who defend his comments also profess to follow the same Jesus I do.
After my teacher asked me out to dinner, I obliged. As innocent as it felt to me, I also started to feel the stares from others at school. Our closeness was beginning to be called into question, and I knew it. What I wanted as the cool, close relationship with a teacher, others perceived as inappropriate — as they should have. What I didn’t know, was that this teacher was also trying to make his way into my life for much more than friendship. This was something that felt familiar.
A few years earlier I had learned that I don’t trust being in the presence of older men.
When I was roughly 12-years-old, my step-dad at the time sexually assaulted me. (For clarification: I have a different step-dad now.) I never told anyone about it out of shame and fear. It didn’t help that he was the parent I was closest to; I loved him and hated him. It wasn’t fair to sit with such conflicting feelings, but I did … I had to. I learned to suppress it and move forward with my life. Like weeds in the cracks of concrete, silenced trauma will find a way to dictate your life. Mine was how I perceived men and myself.
I chose to slowly stop responding to my teacher, and avoiding where he would be at certain hours of the day. I never went forward with what happened out of fear of judgment from others. But I will say that some staff already knew, which made me feel more alone. After I graduated, I learned that his actions stretched to more students. While I was able to draw boundaries before anything more happened, others were manipulated and taken advantage of. I do know that he eventually married a student from the class before mine. Moreover, I also identify with how easy it is to get caught up with someone in authority abusing their power.
I believe it is this same “power” that Trump believes he wields in his entitlement to touch and talk to/about women however he pleases.
And it feels heavy to watch evangelical leaders support this. They are manipulating their followers into — not just voting — but supporting, invalidating and quieting sexual assault (and bigotry, sexism, homophobia, racism…). Which is, by the way, spiritual abuse to do such a thing. Seeing this happen makes me think that Trump is to share blame in the wake of his words and actions. What I mean by that: Trump is merely a collective voice for those who already practice these beliefs (i.e. “Grab them by the pussy.” Approach a girl/boy and have what you will).
Praising the politician over predator, his supporters find a likeness to him they hold to but would never say aloud. Please, do not be fooled, support of any kind is validation of his behavior that he deems “just words.”
I guess it’s not hard to see why victims buy the narrative to remain silent; our surrounding world discourages us by making us, the abused, feel responsible for sexual assault.
For me, my story has redemption. Forgiveness towards my step-dad is slow and in-process, and that’s OK. I have a wonderful therapist (that I will never let go of). I have a loving husband who respects me, my body, my mind, my boldness and temperament. Conversely, I respect his tenderness, grace, affection, and silliness. Most importantly, I thankfully know who Jesus says he is, and how he treated the women of his day — with kindness, respect and equality.
Those like Kelly Oxford or Ana Navarro or the women behind Title IX or this young man — all the those who refuse to lay down and be silent — are all heroes. We all have a platform, but it comes at the cost of choosing to take off the shame we do not deserve and the fear we should have never had … and to speak.