Abuse & The Redemption of our Bodies

Abuse & Redemption of our bodies graphic

Sexual assault is an attack on our bodies.

It is an attack on our physical self at the hands of another. Few things are so degrading and shameful as being used for another’s pleasure to the detriment of ourselves.

Because of this powerful dynamic, the shame of a sexual assault impacts how we see and understand our own bodies. Many victims believe or have even been told that their body caused their assault.

They seduced. They were too attractive. They were immodest. They led on. They were drunk.

The message is sent and received that there is something inherently wrong or sinful about their body that brought on the assault. This can lead victims to believe, “If only I wasn’t _________, this wouldn’t have happened.”

This is a masterful redirect by the perpetrator, or those who support them, to place the responsibility and blame on their victim rather than on the wicked actions of the perpetrator.

What happens in a sexual assault is that our bodies become a place of trauma.

Think about your own life, we often try to avoid returning to places of trauma. Like a soldier who doesn’t desire to return to the battlefield on which he lost his friend, or the family who moves to a new home after losing a loved one, most of us go out of our way to avoid locations of trauma.

But how can we escape the location of our trauma when it is our own bodies? We cannot.

Because sexual assault attacks our bodies and distorts our image of ourselves, it creates an inescapable place of trauma that must be lived in daily. This is a part of the overwhelming nature of sexual assault.

We are in desperate need of God’s truth about our bodies: he is not silent. God’s Word is mighty and speaks truth about the bodies of victims*.

  1. God made your body.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” – Psalm 139:13-14

God is the designer of our bodies. He knit us together. The picture of knitting brings to mind a slow, careful process in which the finished product is exactly what the Creator intended.

God made all of you. Every part of your body that has been used for ill purposes, every part that has been blamed and shamed, every part that feels dirty or used, God has made all of you and he has done so with the love and care of a perfect Creator. And he has proclaimed it wonderful.

We don’t have to be ashamed about our bodies because of what our perpetrator said was seductive, what our friends blamed as immodest, or what we believe is dirty and used. From the mouth of God our bodies have been said to be wonderfully made.

  1. God chose to have his own body

 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” – John 1:14

Jesus Christ, perfect Son of God, God himself, humbled himself from his position of ultimate authority and glory, to one of a physical body. A body just like ours.

Our God, who not only created our bodies, saw fit to put on flesh and become like us. A physical, imperfect and finite body, covered our living, perfect and infinite God.

Rather than look down on the body, rather than judge them harshly or pronounce them as a sinful distraction or barrier to true holiness…God spoke value to our physical bodies through his actions: he put on flesh.

Our God does not have the same attitude towards our bodies as those who degrade them, violate them, speak lies about them, or shame them. Those who blame the bodies of victims for their assault mirror the very people who despised and rejected Jesus as the Messiah because his physical appearance did not fit with their idea of a King (Isaiah 53).

  1. God is willing to live in your body

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” – 1 Corinthians 6:19

The Holy Spirit, God himself, now dwells in the bodies of his people. When we place our faith and our hope in Jesus Christ, the one and only King, to be the sacrifice needed to bring us to God, then our bodies become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The bodies of God’s children are the literal dwelling place of God himself.

God is once more drawing near and elevating the status of his people. We are not merely souls trapped in bodies, we do not merely have physical bodies that are broken and useless….we have been given bodies that act as temples to our God.

God, with the ability and right to dwell wherever he pleases and it be glorious, has chosen to live within his people.

As a victim of sexual assault your body has been a place of trauma. It has been a place of violation, abuse, shame, embarrassment, and perhaps a constant battlefield. But God says differently.

Your body was God’s idea, carefully knot together by his hands for his good purposes.

Rather than judge us from afar, Jesus put on flesh to become like us so that me might empathize with our pain and weakness, and represent us before God.

And now God is willing to reside in your body, the Sovereign of the universe, living within our physical selves.

Against the backdrop of the lies and shame thrown towards the bodies of victims, our God, through his actions, speaks immeasurable value to our physical bodies regardless of the sin done against us.

 

*Content for this blog post was inspired by Diane Langerg’s book On the Threshold of Hope. For a more in depth look at how abuse damages our bodies and how God heals, see Chapters 13 & 18.

Responding to Disclosure (Part 2)

Responding to DisclosureBeing a witness to the disclosure of abuse in someone’s life, past or present, is nearly always unexpected. The best time to prepare to respond to someone telling you about perhaps the darkest, most vulnerable part of them, is not after hearing their disclosure…it is before.

The time to be prepared is now.

If we are not prepared to answer graciously and truthfully we will damage our loved ones and increase the size of their wounds tenfold.

Because of how important it is to know what to do what someone discloses abuse, here are some more practical and biblical ways to respond when hearing of sexual abuse.

3. Thankfulness

As we have already said, when someone discloses to you the darkness of the sin done against them, it means they have trusted you with one of the most sensitive and vulnerable areas of their life. This is no small thing, in fact it is a great honor to be told such a tale.

More than likely you have been brought into the most inner circle of their life, it is not uncommon for you be the first (or else on a very short list) person to be told of this happening. Although it is uncomfortable, disconcerting and intimidating, to be told of sexual abuse in someone’s life is a great honor and a great responsibility.

It is appropriate to respond with thanksgiving. First and foremost to God for giving you a unique opportunity to administer grace and represent the love of Christ to that person. Second, it would also be appropriate to respond with thanksgiving to the person who has shared, because they have trusted you and shared a burden with you.

“Thank you for sharing that with me. I am sure it was scary to do that, thank you for trusting me to share this with you.”

A simple sentence that represents truth and can go a long ways in being a right response to a victim.

4. Speak Truth in Love

Ephesians 4:15 – “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Speaking truth to one another, lovingly, is a part of God’s plan to grow us and make us more like Christ. Few times are as important to speak truth as when someone has disclosed a sexual assault in their life to you.

Because of the plethora of lies our culture tells about sexual assault, we must gently speak truth to our loved ones who have disclosed this.

We must speak the truth about responsibility…it is the perpetrator who committed both the sin and the crime against the victim. No one else.

We must speak the truth about the effects of the assault…it is normal for a victim to have fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, confusion or any number of effects. It can be life giving to assure a victim, “It is okay to feel the way you do, it is normal. You aren’t going crazy.”

We must speak the truth about God’s love for them…that no sin done against us can change the love that our God has for us or the value he has placed upon us as human beings made in his image.

There is no end to the truth we must speak, but we most remember to do so gently, appropriately, and timely. Not all truth must be said at once. And not all truth must be said right away. Choose wisely and dispense truth out in the properly sized amounts.

5. Explain options (Allow freedom)

Once these first things have been done, it can be helpful to explain some options to a victim about how they can proceed. But we must be cautious here, it is never okay to demand a victim do something, or even to tell them what to do next. They are the ones who are experiencing this trauma, and it is ultimately their choice how to proceed.

The reason they are a victim is because somebody didn’t respect their desires in a situation. May we not do the same to them.

That being said, most victims (and ourselves) have no idea the options before them. This is why its helpful for us to know different ways we can proceed and have the ability to share them with the victim. It is always good for you to learn about the resources your specific community has to offer in these areas, but I will provide some general options victims have.

  • Go to a rape crisis center

Many cities have a rape or sexual assault crisis center. This can be a great first place to go for a victim, particularly if the assault is recent. Staff are trained in the trauma of sexual assault, are women, and are empathetic towards those who come in. A rape crisis center can provide antibiotics, physical exams, preserve evidence if a victim should ever want to go to a trial, and offers many other resources. If a crisis center is unavailable an ER is a fine option as well for an acute (recent) assault.

  • Get counseling

Victims are in need of care and loving relationships, often times for the long-term, in order to find healing. Many victims will be hesitant to want to go counseling due to the stigma, or fear of opening up or any host of other reasons. It can be helpful to let them know that good counseling is a tremendous option.

If interested, recommend they find counselors with experience in trauma and someone who will treat them with the respect, belief and care they deserve as human beings.

  • File a report

This can also be an intimidating step for victims. Many people see filing a police report as the guarantee they have to go to court where no one will believe them and face their perpetrator. This is not the case.

A victim is completely free to file a report simply to record the event and put the perpetrator’s name into the police system. You do not have to press charges. You do not have to have an investigation done. In fact your perpetrator doesn’t even have to know you filed a police report. The reason this might be suggested is in order to help bring about justice, or at the very least begin a paper trail of the perpetrator to help protect other victims in the future.

Certainly there are other options for victims, these are three general ones that fit nearly every situation. As with everything, talking about these things at the right time and with the right amount of grace is key. Again, make yourself aware of the other options your community has.

Look for women’s shelters such as the YWCA, perhaps a restraining order is needed, talk to a criminal victim advocate, find a volunteer advocate, talk to your church leaders, or another trusted person in your life…there are many options for the victim. Knowing they have steps they can take and options to chose from can help with the feeling of being completely overwhelmed (or at times add to it, be cautious of that).

We must be ready for victims to want to do all or none of these things. And that is okay. Gently revisit options throughout the relationship you have with the person, always supporting their decisions, knowing that those of us who aren’t victims can never fully comprehend what this person is going through.

My hope is that through growing our awareness and ability to care for those who have been abused and assaulted we become a people shining the love of God to others, and ready to minister to all who he calls us to. Through friends and family becoming more aware, more prepared, and more empathetic, we may slowly begin to break the power sexual assault has in our city, our country and our world.

(If this post was helpful read Part 1 for more ways to respond to the disclosure of abuse!)

 

 

 

Responding to Disclosure

Responding to Disclosure

It is a privilege to be told a story of abuse in someone’s life.

When someone discloses their story of abuse or assault, they are trusting you with what is very possibly their deepest wound. They are showing that there is a level of trust, or a level of desperate need that they have reached and are courageously speaking up and testing the waters of acknowledging their hurt, potentially for the first time. What a privilege to be counted as worthy to hear such a thing!

And yet in the minutes that follow, those of us who are listeners will be put in a position to be God’s instrument to bring care and healing, or Satan’s to bring shame and condemnation. To be told a story of abuse is a privilege, but it is also to be put in a precarious position to do either great good or great harm.

We are often unprepared for such a conversation, and it is near impossible to predict when these things will come to light, but all of us have people in our lives who are carrying with them the burden of their story and pain and many of us will be given the opportunity to hear and respond to those we care about.

Given the gravity of the conversation, it is natural to ask, what should I do if someone tells me they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused?

  1. Listen

“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak..” – James 1:19

It seems so simple, yet it is the easiest step to skip. When we are told the story of someone’s abuse and victimization, it is so important that we stop and we listen. We don’t rush to say some feel good platitude or change the subject because its uncomfortable, but we pause and we listen.

It is likely you are the first person to be told this story, and your response may determine whether or not this story is ever told again, therefore we want to heed the warning in James, and not speak before we are ready or before the person sharing is ready to hear us. Often the most important thing you can do for a victim is to validate what they are saying and feeling by being a willing listener.

  1. Weep

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

The Christian life is meant to be lived in community, meaning when one member suffers, we are to suffer with them. When someone shares their story of abuse, it is absolutely appropriate and right to weep with them. This means giving the situation the seriousness and the gravity that it deserves. It may or may not involve actual tears, but the message is the same: meet people where they are at.

Don’t try to change their feelings about the situation, don’t let your discomfort affect your ability to feel deeply what they are going through. Jesus felt deeply when his friends experienced difficult times (John 11:35), we ought to do the same.

Don’t be afraid to mourn, something has indeed been lost, in fact in scripture we see people mourn a sexual assault the same way they would mourn the death of a loved one (2 Samuel 13:19), not because hope is lost, but because death is the closest measurement of pain. Engage the emotions of the victim, encourage and do not minimize them, join in what they are feeling. This is what God expects of his people.

  1. Believe

Believe them.

When people share intimate details of their life, when people are open and honest about their wounds and their shame, it is not a time to investigate their claims or poke holes in their story, it is a time to believe and to care.

Many of us are too skeptical for our own good. Being skeptical, not believing, or even giving any sort of hint or hesitation that you might not really believe what they said is to actually fulfill one of a victim’s greatest fears and reinforce a hoard of cultural lies and doubts that they are already battling. To not believe a victim is to stoke the fires of doubt, self-blame, and shame in a victim, some of Satan’s favorite weapons.

Less than 2% of reported sexual assaults are false. There is no benefit to a man or woman making up a shameful and painful story about their life.

Victims need to be believed more than they need to be corrected or questioned.

In fact, rather than assume someone isn’t telling you the truth, the opposite should be done, assume there is more that they aren’t telling you. Often a disclosure is the tip of the iceberg, the minimal amount of details protruding from the surface of their life, perhaps hiding a behemoth of pain under the waters.

False stories of sexual assault are the exception, not the rule.

(Look for part 2 of “Responding to Disclosure” for more ways to respond well to being told about abuse.)

 

Why We Blame Victims (Part 2)

Why Blame rough draftSexual assault is the only crime where there is more prosecution aimed at the victim than the perpetrator. It seems as though people are ready to believe the absolute best about the perpetrator and the absolute worst about the victim.

This is called victim blaming. When a victim of a crime is held responsible, in whole or in part, for the crime committed against them. One of the biggest frustrations for me personally when it comes to victim blaming is the complete inconsistency with which it happens.

We don’t believe that victims who are mugged are responsible. We don’t believe that they were “asking for it” because they were wearing a watch. We don’t blame a company when its profits are embezzled, or the cashier who hands over money to an armed perpetrator. But it seems that all logic and consistency flies out the window when it comes to sexual assault.

In the first part of this post we covered two reasons why we victim blame: ignorance and fear of the darkness. Today let us look at two more reasons society is so prone to blame victims for the sins of their perpetrators

3. Victim Blaming comes from an idol of control

I use the term idol here to refer to something we worship. We all worship something or multiple things in our lives, and I believe much of our victim blaming comes from an absolute worship of the ability to control.

It is an innate human desire to be able to control our own lives. We crave the ability to bring about the good things we desire in life as well as the ability to prevent the bad things in our lives from happening. Even though all of us know better, it seems as though deep down many people continue to operate in the belief that “Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people” and so whenever our experience rubs against this we quickly come up with a way to understand it.

If good things happen to good people, then all we have to do to control our own lives is to be good. We worship the ability to protect ourselves and our loved ones. When we worship something we are willing to go to great lengths to protect it, even such lengths as blaming innocent victims for the horrific things that have happened to them.

To admit that sexual assault happens to innocent people, to “good” people, means we must admit that we too are vulnerable, and this is in direct opposition to our idol of control. So rather than admit that we are vulnerable…we blame victims.

If I blame a victim for being too flirty, all I have to do to feel in control is to not flirt.

If I blame a victim for wearing too short of a skirt, all I have to do to feel in control is wear a longer skirt.

If I blame a victim for drinking, all I have to do to feel in control is not drink.

If I blame a victim for where they went, all I have to do is not go to that location and I feel like I can control my life.

In my own sinful desire to be in complete control, I am forced to explain away the bad things that happen to other people so I can tell myself, “They didn’t control their lives enough. But I can.”

Yet the elephant in the room is that none of us are in control of our lives.

Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of a man plans his way; but the Lord establishes his steps.”

I am not in control, and as a human being, I am vulnerable to others. So are you. We must be willing to admit this or else we will end up placing blame simply to make ourselves feel better.

Which leads to the final aspect of victim blaming….

4. Victim blaming comes from pride. 

All victim blaming in society, ultimately comes from a place of pride. The essence of victim blaming is the idea that, “I would never do what that victim did, therefore this would never happen to me.” Very simply put it is the idea that you and I are better than the victim. That we are smarter, wiser, more ready to defend ourselves, more in control, and mostly: more moral.

Victim blaming at its core, is us reassuring ourselves deep down, “I would never let this happen to me.”

Many of us are too prideful to be willing to admit our thinking is wrong. We are too prideful to learn and grow out of our ignorance.

Many of us are too prideful to admit that we aren’t in control, that in end, we don’t have the final say on what happens in our lives.

I am writing this as a fellow prideful man, who has been wrong on so many topics so many times and am continually being reminded to humble myself. Being humbled is never a pleasant experience, but if all it takes for a victim to be cared for, spoken truth to, and loved, is for us as a society to humbly admit we have been wrong, then I am all in.

May our hearts be softened, and may we give a new ear to victims so that we might fight for them instead of against them and may we be forgiven for blaming victims for the actions of their abusers.

It is not your fault.

We are sorry.

 

Why We Blame Victims (Part 1)

Why Blame rough draft

For anyone who has ever been a victim, taken the time to listen to a victim, or has even read about sexual assault, one of dominant themes is the idea of victim blaming.

Already, by simply reading that, I am sure that particular phrase brings with it a myriad of emotional responses.

To be clear, here is what I mean by victim blaming: whenever a victim of a crime is held responsible—in whole in or in part—for the crimes committed against them.

I am not anti-personal responsibility, in fact just the opposite, I am so FOR personal responsibility that I see a need to call victim blaming out for what it is: denying, excusing, and minimizing the wrongdoing of another person. To victim blame is to deny the perpetrator a chance to take personal responsibility. The exact opposite of what many people perceive victim blaming to be.

So why do we as society feel the need, sometimes intentionally, many times unintentionally, to blame victims of sexual assault for the horrific things that happened to them?

  1. Victim blaming comes from ignorance

This is the tamest and probably nicest (but no less damning to a victim) form of victim blaming. Simply put: some people just don’t know anything about sexual assault. And that’s okay…if they are willing to listen and learn.

It only gets dangerous when someone wants to add their voice without taking any time to grow in their knowledge or understanding. Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

A large percentage of our current population has very little knowledge or understanding of sexual assault, the acute damage it leaves to victims, and what it means for a perpetrator to take personal responsibility for their actions.

“Well…she was being pretty flirty.”

“Did you see what she was wearing? She was practically asking for it.”

“If you sleep around all the time, this is bound to happen.”

“She was drunk. So that’s what happens.”

The primary thing missing from all of these statements, and ones like them, is any mention whatsoever of the perpetrator, the one who actually made a decisions, broke the law, and violated a human being.

Yet for those of us unwilling to learn, we will often accidentally add our voice to the victim blaming crowd instead of holding a perpetrator accountable to their actions and caring for victims.

  1. Victim Blaming comes from a fear of darkness

Let’s be honest: none of us love to run into evil. None of us want to admit that real evil, real oppression, real darkness, and real violence happen in our lives. We prefer to keep those things to movie screens and novel pages, anywhere but in the lives of people we know and love.

This isn’t all bad, in fact often times the belief that evil is far away is what enables us to function at a high level on a day to day basis. If you left your house every day believing evil was certain in your near future you would be crippled. However, when our fear of facing evil turns into victim blaming we have gone too far.

All of us have positive illusions about life. It can be summed up this way: to an extent, every single one of us wants to believe that the world is the place we desire it to be.

Think about that. There is a type of world I want to live in, a world where bad things don’t happen to good people, where bad guys are always caught and held accountable, and where my friends and loved ones are safe from harm. This isn’t the world we live it. Yet deep down, we all wrestle with the temptation to believe that the world is the way we want it to be.

We are afraid to face the fact there is very real evil in our world, even more problematic, there is an evil that is far closer than we ever thought. And we don’t like to admit that those we know, hidden beneath innocent faces and likable personalities, have the potential to be masking an inner darkness.

We don’t like to admit that people we know could be sexual predators. So instead of facing the darkness, we blame the innocent. Because as long as we can place the blame on the innocent party, we can continue to live in denial that truly evil people exist and take advantage of others in our lives.

God speaks to this in his word. In Ephesians 5:11, God says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” We are called to not participate in evil, and blaming innocent victims is certainly participating in evil.

More than that though, God’s standard is that we not only keep from adding to evil, but we actively work against it and expose it. This means we absolutely must face the reality that evil is alive and well even if this thought scares and unsettles us.

Thankfully God has more to say. He tells us that as Christians “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13) and that he is “The light the world” (John 8:12).

You see, we are called to face evil and darkness, but we are given the hope that Christ has faced the evil first on our behalf so that we as children of the light might be able to as well.

And we are promised that the light will always have victory.

John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

So yes, we are called into the uncomfortable and the scary, we are called to stand up against darkness, but we know that God promises victory because he has conquered the darkness on our behalf on the cross. So for the Christian, we have no reason to fear standing up for light and truth.

God has defeated darkness, therefore we have no reason to fear. Let us be brave in the face of evil and place the appropriate responsibility on those who perpetrate crimes rather than the innocent.

(Look for Part 2 of “Why We Blame Victims” in the near future)

The Impossibility of Neutrality

The Impossibility of Neutrality graphic

To stare in the face of evil and to do nothing, is evil in itself.

As people we are often taught that neutrality is a virtue. We are taught to not take sides, to be an objective observer or even mediator, to treat everyone the same and never be to hasty to cast our lot with one particular person over another.

There are many times in life this advice is both prudent and Godly. In fact scripture even promotes the idea of having third parties involved in conflict to help bring peace.

However, true neutrality is a myth. None of us are neutral. I have all sorts of unique life experiences, formulated worldviews, and ways that I understand the world. And I bring all of these presuppositions and experiences into every situation. I can never truly be neutral, and neither can you.

Yet when it comes to sexual assault, far too many people believe neutrality is the best option. That we must remain “neutral and objective” in any situation in order to avoid the potential of making a mistake or “siding with the wrong person”. Yet to claim neutrality is often our first, and at times even most fatal, mistake.

To be neutral in a case of sexual assault is to actually place yourself on the side of the perpetrator. To do nothing, is in fact to do something.

Judith Herman states this well in her book Trauma & Recovery. She writes…

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

To remain “neutral” is to side with the perpetrator of sexual assault. Why? Because sexual assault is no mere personal conflict, but rather it is a form of oppression. To say sexual assault is a conflict, is a category error which leads us to try and remedy the evil with the wrong cure.

Interpersonal conflict involves two parties who have mutually sinned against each other. Both parties bring their wrongdoing to the table, with respect and equal power, at times with a third party, and resolve their differences. In interpersonal conflict each owns their mistakes, forgives one another, and hopefully gains their sibling in Christ back.

But sexual assault is a form of oppression. It is an abuse of power, a display of violence and manipulation and must not be treated as an interpersonal conflict.

Ecclesiastes 4:1 describes the power involved in oppression, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.”

To be an oppressor is to wield power.

 To claim neutrality is to always side with those who hold the power.

Oppression is unjust treatment or control. And scripture has a completely different formula for dealing with oppression than it does for dealing with conflict. Oppression takes courageous men and women to stand up for what is right and what is true. To come face to face with oppression is to be forced to pick a side.

If you are walking down the street and you see a large man, physically beating a small boy can you remain neutral? No, your ability to be a neutral party has just been taken from you. You are no longer free to be neutral, you must make a choice. To walk onward is to side with the powerful. To stop and stand up for the young boy is to intervene and stand up to oppression.

God doesn’t call us resolve our differences in oppression…he calls us to stand up for the weak.

Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression”

Sometimes as human beings, we are faced with the reality of such great darkness that we are put at a moral crossroads: to claim neutrality in these moments is to do nothing and ultimately to give approval to the darkness itself.

To know of abuse and to do nothing is to strengthen the hand of the abuser.

We are called into the uncomfortable and the unknown, to step out in faith and side with the weak and the oppressed, the very people whom God so closely identifies with.

May we have the courage to do what is right, even at great cost to ourselves. May we have the courage to stand with victims and break the chains of abuse and oppression that have been set upon them by others.

 

 

 

Sexual Assault: A conversation with local experts (Part 2)

12521_Q_&_A_TimeI recently sat down with two local Missoula experts, Detective Connie Brueckner, who specializes in sexual assault cases, as well as Crime Victim Advocate Erin Shreder to grow in my understanding of sexual assault and how to properly handle this complex issue as a Pastor.

The following is a summery of my conversation with them, put into my own words, with their stamp of approval. My hope and prayer is this begins the conversation on how we as Pastors have failed victims in the past and how we can properly care for them in the future.

Participants:

Detective Connie Brueckner. Criminal Victim Advcoate Erin Shreder. Pastor Mark Resch

Q: What legal options does a victim have?

A: Victims have three options when it comes to reporting a crime. An advocate can help with all three of these options, reporting a crime is not something a victim must do alone.

The first is a blind report. This report is the lowest form of police report someone can fill out. A third party (such as a friend who thinks they know something) can fill one of these out. It is often handwritten and put into a file drawer. It is not put into the official police computer system. Often these are left alone, if investigating another case, detectives may go through the blind reports simply to see if the perpetrator’s name comes up anywhere else but this will rarely if ever result in a call back to the one who filed a blind report. Nothing that is shared in a blind report would ever be used in a criminal investigation without a victim’s consent. The point of the blind report option is to allow for third party reporting and increased confidentiality for victims.

The second option is an official police report. This involves no investigation, but it does put actual names and facts into the police system. This type of report can be taken by a uniformed officer and involves more detail than simply a blind report, but it will not involve a long interview by a detective. This report can be done at the Crime Victim Advocacy office as well as the police station. This type of report does not result in an investigation. However victims can leave notes on their report such as, “If this name gets other hits, call me back I might want to press charges.” For example if a woman is hesitant to press charges, but they fill out a report and realize they are the 4th victim of the perpetrator, they may want to change their response to it.

Finally there is a full on investigation. This would require a police report to be filled out and a request for an investigation. The victim will be contacted in the next couple days by a detective who will conduct a longer and more in depth interview. This takes place at the crime victim advocacy office rather than the police station. An advocate will be present to help support the victim, answer any questions, and provide crisis counseling.

The accused will also be contacted and brought in for an interview.

At any point during this process (prior to a criminal charge) the victim can decide they have had enough and withdraw the investigation and it will be closed, no questions asked. An advocate can be present for any of these, as well as family and friends. With an actual interview though, family and friends can be present, but the actual interview takes place between the detective, the victim, and an advocate.

Victims again are in the driver seat as far as how they want things to proceed. For example a victim can fill out a police report, request interviews (for themselves and the accused) and then say that’s as far as they want to go with it.

Q: How do you encourage women who are afraid of not being believed?

A: Both detectives and advocates will readily communicate belief in a victim. An advocate’s job is to believe and support what the victim shares with them. The detective may also believe, but must remain slightly more neutral during an investigation.

Both advocates and detectives are trained in the complexities of sexual assault and understand the fear of disbelief as well as the negative impact it can have on victims to not be believed or to be blamed. Neither of these should happen.

There is also a difference between a detective believing this particular case will be a challenge to charge, and not believing a victim. A detective may give the impression this case will be a challenge, but it does not follow that they do not believe a victim.

Detectives are also trained to give reasoning for the questions they ask and the things they do which will help dissuade any notion of disbelief or lack of understanding on the side of the victim.

Side note: Things that victims disclose cannot get them in trouble. For example, even if a victim was under the influence of illegal drugs, they can feel free to be honest about that. The details are needed to establish state of mind during the assault, but they cannot come back on the victim. There ought to be no fear of repercussions for being honest with detectives. In fact honesty is the most important thing a victim can provide.

Q: How does a he said/she said situation get resolved?

A: Nearly all situations are at the surface level a he said/she said. This is not uncommon. It is the job of a detective to take people beyond the simple problem of two differing stories. This is why we have trained investigators whose job it is to draw out what other people miss. There is far more evidence than we often realize regarding a case. This doesn’t mean every case will get charged, but it is an oversimplification to say all situations just come down to two different stories. Just because a victim and a perpetrator have differing accounts does not mean truth cannot be found.

Q: As a pastor, what should I not do when talking with a potential victim?

A: The primary thing to avoid in talking with men or women who are victims is to blame the victim, or even give any possible impression of unbelief. The role of a pastor ought to be much like the advocate. There are trained investigators to figure out if it is not true.

Q: What advice do you have for perpetrators?

A: As advocates and detectives, we see our job as one of holding people accountable to their actions. Accountability can heal wounds. Perpetrators should be encouraged and instructed to own up to their actions and take responsibility. This is the most freeing thing they can do to escape their own guilt.

In fact, a perpetrator taking responsibility inspires compassion, from judges, juries, even victims. A perpetrator taking responsibility is the most healing thing that can happen for a victim, even more than a charge.

It is one thing for a judge and jury to believe you. It is a whole different thing when a perpetrator acknowledges the pain they have done to a victim. Perpetrator repentance is the most powerful possible outcome in these situations.

Conclusion: 

A huge thanks to both Erin and Connie for their time and willingness to share their expertise on a such a difficult and complicated topic. My hope is this interview will have grown you in your awareness and ability to minister to men and women who disclose their own stories of abuse.

 

 

Sexual Assault: A conversation with local experts (Part 1)

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(This is the 1st of a 2 part blog post)

I recently sat down with two local Missoula experts, Detective Connie Brueckner, who specializes in sexual assault cases, as well as Crime Victim Advocate Erin Shreder to grow in my understanding of sexual assault and how to properly handle this complex issue as a Pastor.

The following is a summery of my conversation with them, put into my own words, with their stamp of approval. My hope and prayer is this begins the conversation on how we as Pastors have failed victims in the past and how we can properly care for them in the future.

Participants:

Detective Connie Brueckner. Criminal Victim Advcoate Erin Shreder. Pastor Mark Resch

Q: What are some of the most common misconceptions about sexual assault? How can there be a shift in thinking?

A: The first misconception is the idea that all rape or sexual assault is a stranger in the bushes with a gun, when in reality nearly all sexual assaults occur between people who have a relationship. Often times it is a friend or  a boyfriend, and more often than not there is alcohol involved. In fact, many sexual assaults even occur in a house with roommates. This can lead to much disbelief of actual events or guilt on the part of the victim.

The second misconception would be there is an unfair emphasis on the victim rather than the perpetrators. We need to re-align our focus on the perpetrator and rightly place blame on them rather than the victim. There is a tendency to disbelief victims or blame them for the situation they put themselves in, or even how they reacted during the event. The truth of the matter is during an assault many victims freeze and are unable to call out or wake a roommate. The emphasis needs to be moved from the victim to the perpetrator.

A third misconception would be that there is a rash of false accusations when the truth is a completely false accusation is a rare event. A false accusation will rarely have an actual name attached to it; more often it is simply someone who desires to get a certain type of attention or help. A false accuser will not usually name an actual perpetrator. More than that, we often don’t understand the depth of pain involved in speaking up about this particular crime. No part of what a victim has to go through is fun. Most people who believe someone is falsely accusing have never been through, or seen what a victim goes through after speaking up. It involves the most personal aspects of their lives, often a close relationship with someone they trusted as well as questions about their sex life.

When thinking through how the outside world processes sexual assault it is important to add that we know through research that victims of trauma often have difficulty with memory and recall. This can be a part of being a victim of an assault. Their statements may not all be crystal clear and/or they may do things that don’t make sense to others given their experience. For example a victim may even drive a perpetrator home after a rape. We know victims engage in counter intuitive behavior. Victims should not be dismissed because of this behavior and/or because of inconsistent statements. While these can present complexities in cases they are also evidence of actual trauma having taken place. Trust that trained detectives and prosecutors can deal with these types of disclosures.

Q: What steps should a woman who is a victim take?

A: If the assault is acute (generally within 1-10 days) the victim should immediately go to First Step at St. Patrick’s Hospital*. The reason for this is to have them get a free medical exam regarding the assault. These are highly trained women, medically and in victim trauma, and will be incredibly careful and empathetic towards a woman who is receiving an exam. The victim has all the power to decide what they want done. They will offer antibiotics for STI’s and a medical exam. Even if a victim only wants antibiotics they can request that. The details of the exam are completely up to the victim. If they simply want their fingernails scraped they can say that, if they only want an exam from the waste up that is acceptable as well. The victim can decide about each individual part of the exam and how much they want to go through. While at First Step, an advocate will be offered to help support a victim through the medical process.

The second step a woman could take is to contact an advocate at the Crime Victim Advocacy. The advocates at the CVA help with criminal cases and order of protections. The victim can also contact the YWCA for a community advocate, and the University has their own Student Advocacy Resource Center (SARC). Any of these places will happily provide a free advocate to be with the victim during exams, interviews, or even just personal conversation. An advocate’s primary focus is to be with the victim, get them whatever they need, and care for them. A victim advocate relationship is 100% confidential. Nothing is shared with the investigator or anyone else for any reason unless the victim wants something to be shared.

Finally a victim of sexual assault must make sure they are safe. They should not return to a situation where they may be in danger.

* First Step is open during normal business hours. It is located next to the Providence Center on North Orange Street. It is best to call and make an appointment through first step during business hours or people can call St. Pats and they will reach out to have a nurse meet a victim at First Step after hours.

(Look for part 2 of this blog post, where legal options, the problem of disbelief and perpetrators are discussed)

 

“What do my abuser’s actions say about me?”

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When sexual abuse happens it is only natural that victims are overwhelmed with questions. What happened? Why did this happen? What did I do wrong?

Sadly, one of the most common feelings a victim faces when they have been abused is a deep abiding shame. Shame is often a feeling of deep humiliation, to the point where it can feel unbearable.

It is natural to feel shame if you have been abused. Someone has done something shameful to you, it is okay to feel that way. The feeling of shame is your body affirming that something evil and shameful was indeed done to you.

What we must be aware of is that shame can disguise itself as guilt very easily. Shame and guilt can feel similar in our hearts, which leads many victims to take the natural and right feeling of shame and understand it as guilt which leads to the false assumption: my abuse was my fault.

It doesn’t take long for guilt to distort a victim’s self-image and feel as though something is wrong with them. It is possible for the voice of the abuser to ring louder in the victim’s life than the voice of God. Actions always speak loudest, and the dark and shameful acts of an abuser shout lies to victims.

So what do my abuser’s actions say about me?

Throughout scripture we are taught that actions are always an overflow of our hearts.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, not again does a bad tree bear good fruit…The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:43 & 45

Jesus makes the claim that our actions are always connected to our hearts. What is external reflects what is internal.

The actions of our hands reveal the intentions of our hearts.

This idea is further reinforced in James 4:1-3

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

Actions, sins, and wicked deeds, are always connected to the heart of the person doing them. We must become more equipped to biblically hold perpetrator’s accountable to their actions.

The actions of an abuser reveal the state of their own heart, never the victims.

Let me say this again, when we are tempted to believe what our abuser has said about us either with their words our their actions let us remember: The actions of an abuser always reflect their heart, and never reflect the heart of the victim.

What do the actions of my abuser say about me? Nothing. But they sure say a lot about the abuser.

If you are a victim of abuse, the actions done against you say nothing about the kind of person you are or the state of your own heart. There is not a biblical leg to stand on to say that an abusers actions reflect anything about their victim.

You are not responsible for the sins done against you.

The sins of an abuser reflect their own hearts, never the victims.