*Trigger Warning: Sexual and religious abuse, and some discussion of self injury. If you can relate, I hope that my story can tell you: you’re not alone. I’m standing with you.
I don’t know for sure when it started, but the earliest I can remember happened when I was about four or five.
I have fragments of memories about him coming into my room, of him touching me, and telling me to do things to him. It happened infrequently, but this man was in our lives for my entire childhood. There are pictures of him smirking at my first birthday, and blurbs of his visits in my baby book. My parents never had a clue, always assumed he was harmless, if a tad quirky. He had odd habits and mood swings. He would disappear for long durations, only to reappear without notice on our front doorstep, laughing and telling corny jokes, as if he had never left. He would range anywhere from a happy- go -lucky jokester to a sullen, withdrawn shadow in a moment’s notice. He was a forty-something year old, single man, with no romantic prospects or steady job, living in his parents’ basement.
He often made comments that, as a parent now, would set off alarms in my head. He would make comments in passing, such as “wanting a daughter just like me.” References to how much I was growing, how I was becoming a young lady. He would read Archie comics with me, voicing all the male characters, and telling me how “bad” Betty and Veronica were for wearing bikinis in front of poor, naive Archie.
My mother would hear these comments, but never seemed to bat an eye. You see, he had a pass: He attended our little Pentecostal church regularly, when he wasn’t faithfully taking his mother to Sunday morning Mass at the local Catholic Church. No one bad, or sinister, could ever attend our church!
Except, they could. I was a very sheltered, extremely affectionate child, raised with the understanding that everyone at church was good, and would look out for me. I was one of very few children who attended long-term, while many others drifted in and out with their respective families. Also being home schooled, it was an often lonely existence, and I spent a majority of my days around adults. In order to maintain some level of respect for my elders, I was made to call many of them “aunt” or “uncle.”
Aside from the aforementioned “uncle,” another man molested me upstairs in his house while his wife hosted a wedding shower in their downstairs living room. He was left in charge of myself and his two grandchildren, one of whom watched, then looked away. He was younger than me by two years, and his eyes still haunt me. He almost got caught that night, when someone came upstairs to use the bathroom. The offender pulled his hands away and pretended to be asleep. As far as I’m aware, nobody ever questioned why he had a seven-year old girl leaning up against him on a couch, her clothes slightly askew.
Both men had the odd and uncomfortable habit of carrying Werther’s Original candies around in their pockets. I formed an aversion to them, and started spitting them out anytime they gave them to me. To this day, I can’t even stand the smell of them.
When my older sister moved out, I was about nine years old. My parents still weren’t comfortable leaving me home alone, so it was decided I needed a babysitter. Uncle number one volunteered, and so my most vivid memories of the abuse began. He had free access to me on those nights, and having full awareness of how I was being taught, he took full advantage. If I didn’t want to ‘play,’ he would scold me and tell me that the Bible said to respect your elders. I was told he would tell my mom that I was being disobedient. Now, that sounds like something an average nine-year old would know isn’t true, but I had always been taught that church meant safety. He was using the Bible, and using the Bible meant it was truth, and if I didn’t want to be punished, I needed to obey. I remember crying while it happened one of the nights.I remember the color of the curtains and watching the sun go down out the window so I wouldn’t have to look at him. From my recollections, he stopped when I was eleven, and started attending public school.
He wasn’t finished, though. We moved away shortly after I turned thirteen for my dad’s job. At the farewell party our church threw us, they asked this man to speak. He got up and took the mic. He never once looked up, as tears rolled down his face, and he kept whispering, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry.”
Nobody asked about it. I suppose they assumed he was apologizing for not being able to talk.
Even after we moved, he continued to haunt me from afar. He sent me birthday, and Valentine’s Day cards. When I turned fifteen, I went back for a visit. He gave me a card that talked about how to have a great party…and playing “Naked Twister.” I read it out loud…people were uncomfortably silent, but again, nobody spoke, or called him out on the inappropriateness of giving such a card to a fifteen year old.
At eighteen, I moved out, and needing to go somewhere familiar but inexpensive to live, I headed back to my little childhood town. I moved in with a relative, who was regularly going for dinners and coffee with this man. He was over a lot, following his old pattern of coming over whenever he wanted, with no notice or warning.
One day he came by, and my relative wasn’t home. I had been told to let him in if this happened, so I did. By now, I had burried what he had done, and had no real recollection of what he had done. It had taken its toll, though, and I felt quite damaged. Even though I had never really dated, I clung to guy friends like a liferaft, and desperately searched for their approval and affection. I had been fighting with my parents, which was what had led me to move away. I was also actively self injuring, and trying desperately to stop.
I was extremely vulnerable. And this man knew it.
He started out by talking about the tightness of my pants. Apparently boys would notice, and boys “only wanted one thing.” I responded in typical teenage fashion, rolling my eyes and jokingly calling him an old man. I wandered into the office, hoping to catch a friend online.
He followed me, and started tickling my feet. Uncomfortable, I pulled my foot away and told him to quit it. The next thing I knew, he was tickling my knee and moving up gradually. I started to panic, and kicked him away as hard as I could, yelling loudly “I said, No!”
He fell back and caught himself on a chair. He stared at me for a moment, before grabbing my hands and chastizing me for wearing purple nail polish. The last thing he said to me was, “I’m very disappointed in how you turned out.”
I was shaking all over, and ran downstairs to cut in the bathroom. My relative finally came home, and I packed a bag and left. I stayed at a friends’ house for three nights. Her husband bandaged me and called my relative, explaining what happened, and told the man to stay away from me.
He continued to stalk me, showing up at my workplace and forcing me to serve him. The panic attacks I had a result affected my work, and I was fired.
It was then that I found out from a friend that he was asking odd questions just before I came into town. He asked her when I was arriving, and then asked, “When in a woman’s cycle is the best time to get her pregnant?”
He still had no girlfriend at this time.
I moved away again, not feeling safe there anymore. My new church was into a lot of charismatic things that made me uncomfortable, and I was shamed by the pastor and no longer welcomed as a result. My cuts were revealed and I was told I was in sin, had a divisive spirit and bad fruit, and therefore had nothing of value to say spiritually. I was even ostracized from the children in the congregation, some of whom I had played with and felt a deep affection for. I had also told the pastor about what the abuser had done, at the insistence of a woman who grew concerned at my fear of walking home alone. The pastor did have the deacons patrol the front of the church, and made him leave on a few occasions when he showed up, but no counseling was ever offered or suggested, and the police were never contacted.
I started to remember the abuse from my childhood, and after moving around for awhile, an old youth leader of mine helped me find a counselor. Being a mandated reporter, once I told what happened, she had to report it. I decided to take charge, and told the police what happened. I had it all on record, even giving them the cards he had sent me, pictures and a video of his giving me the infamous twister birthday card. I decided to press charges.
My parents found out, after my mom stumbled across an old poem I had written detailing some of the abuse. My mother grilled me for details. I was only able to tell her the barest of details. She then made me repeat it verbatim for my dad, and then said it herself when I cried and begged him not to make me say it out loud. Her response almost seemed to be one of relief, as she said “Well, at least he didn’t have sex with you.” I also told her about the other man in the upstairs of his house. My mother looked confused. “What do you mean, he fondeled your chest? You didn’t even have anything worth touching yet!”
She also maintained that the first man probably didn’t ‘mean’ to abuse me. After I told about an instance involving a bath, she said that he must have become tempted by seeing me naked, and a demon “jumped” on him, making him do it.
My dad just shut down. He told me he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to come to the court case, if there was one, because he “didn’t know what he would do if he did.” I was told in no uncertain terms that I was on my own, and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. My mom ended the painful discussion by saying, “I hope you know, it’s not your fault.”
…No, apparently it was the devil’s, using my body to accomplish it.
The case was dropped, due to lack of evidence. I was told at one point that he must have moved, because they couldn’t find him. (In a small town, of about nine thousand at that time.) Devastated and feeling worthless, I got involved in an abusive relationship, which I have written about here before.
My family went back for a visit last summer, so I could show my husband where I grew up. I thought it was safe, as I had been told he had moved. Someone innocently mentioned I was in town, and called, congratulating me “on the birth of my son.” He then showed up at the front door…my husband had told the people we were staying with in no uncertain terms to not tell him anything or let him see me. Thankfully, the woman answering the door took it seriously, and made him leave without ever glimpsing me. It shook me up, though, and I spent a lot of the trip being afraid.
Fast forward to today. I am thirty-seven and a half weeks pregnant with our second child, a girl. I posted an article about the Duggars, and how the abuse was allowed to happen, and what we can do to help prevent such travesties of justice. While I did get a lot of positive responses, a gut reaction of others was to dismiss it as untrue, or in another case, accuse me of slander and gossip, and then be chided for not posting on other, “celebratory” topics. Well, this isn’t celebratory, but it is about me. It’s about why I won’t stop bringing abuse into the light. It’s about teaching my own children that just because someone says they are Christian, doesn’t mean they are safe.
People see the Duggars in the tabloids, and scream “Persecution! People are just trying to take down the Christians! What about forgiveness?”
I could go into how all evidence points to it having actually happened, about the police report and personal admissions on the part of their family…but I won’t.
I can say I forgive my parents, and their church, for leaving me vulnerable, for burying it when my abuser started stalking teenage girls, and just “talking” to him about it. I can do all that, but it doesn’t make anyone else less in danger. It is not up to me, and it is not my fault. Neither is it the devil’s. It is his. And until we recognize that, and stop making excuses, we are enabling, and being accomplices, in those crimes. Grace doesn’t mean there is no consequence. And admitting to your crimes when they have already been exposed, like the Duggars did, is not courage. Surviving, and choosing to call out the darkness for what it is: That is Courage.