Please set aside your politics. This post is not about the 2016 presidential election or a particular candidate. Let me emphasize, NOT about any particular candidate. It is about something much more important.
News cycles for the past week have been filled with allegations, conjecture, denials and deflections related to sexual exploitation and abuse of numerous women. Both major party candidates have their individual baggage related to the issue, and every voter will make his or her decision about who to support as the chaos continues.
Listening to the barrage of media commentary in recent days, I have been struck by the dehumanizing and calloused discussions among individuals on both sides of the political fence. Among the many alarming comments I’ve heard is the questioning of why a victim of unwanted sexual touch would wait “so long” to bring it up. I’d like to offer my perspective on that one.
It is the summer of 1984. I am 16-years-old. I am a camper at a Bible camp in North Carolina. It is just after midnight of the first night. I wake up in the middle of a thunderstorm and discover that my sleeping bag is soaking wet; there is a leak in the roof above my top bunk. I lay awake for what seemed like eternity, not wanting to bother anyone with my problem. Eventually I muster the courage to wake up an adult chaperone in the cabin, a youth minister popular in that region. I inform him that my bunk is wet and ask what I should do. He responds, “You can sleep with me.”
He opens his sleeping bag and instructs me to lay down next to him. I just want to go to sleep. He wants something very different. What happens next should never happen to anyone, but it happens. It is unwanted, non-consensual and devastating. Eventually I pretend to be asleep. It stops. I am silent…for 17 years.
I type these words sitting in a Chick-fil-A surrounded by the spectacular beauty of Superior, CO. I have dealt with my abuse experience in therapy. I have shared this story on four continents and across the US as a speaker on sexual issues. I have a masters degree in counseling and specialized training in sexual trauma & abuse. I have worked with scores of sexual trauma survivors over the past 10 years. Yet, I am still holding back tears as I write and sipping on my second Cookies and Cream milkshake to calm the emotion that has been stirred. The effects of unwanted sexual touch are a deep mine shaft drilled long ago – always there.
The fact that I was abused 32 years ago does not lessen the impact it had on my life. The fact that I waited 17 years to disclose the details does not mean it did not happen! The fact that I have not confronted the youth minister that perpetrated the abuse does not excuse his behavior or remove his responsibility for it. And what HE did most definitely is not MY fault.
The abuse that occurred in a relatively brief period of time resulted in consequences that hurt me, my wife and my children. Sexuality is attached to the core of our being, and it effects every aspect of our person – mental, emotional, behavioral, relational and spiritual. Trivializing the impact of sexual abuse, devaluing victims or attempting to silence their voices, be it from perpetrators or society at large, are inexcusable responses! Male or female, as individuals made in the image of the Creator, every person deserves much, much better than that.
If you are voting in the 2016 American presidential election, by all means vote for the candidate you choose to support. But please, please don’t allow your political fervor to turn a topic deserving of respect and sensitivity into a political chess piece. I choose to believe that we are still better than that. We certainly should be.
Thank you for sharing your heart and your life with us, Steve! You’ve given us a lot to think about.
Amen. Unfortunately, I can relate. I was 12. It never leaves you.
Thank you Steve. May you heal and help heal others.
Jason Tomlinson says
Thank you so much, Steve. Love you, brother.
Debbie Curry says
Wow. Thank you for your candor. And, thanks be to God that you have chosen a life dedicated to helping others deal with the pain and shame associated with sexual abuse. Blessings on you and your ministry, Steve.
Joshua Palmeri says
Steve, I can’t thank you enough for your complete vulnerability so that others will heal. Bless you brother.
Tonnye Fletcher says
Thank you Steve! I am so thankful you do what you do to help other people deal with horrid things that happen and I appreciate your thoughts here. Thank you for sharing what I know had to be an absolutely devastating experience with the hope that it will help. That’s what living for Jesus is all about and you are modeling that for all of us. Much love and respect, Brother! Blessings!
I understand how difficult this is to share…thank you. No matter how long ago, or if just a moment ago…the scar remains.
Lisa Gohmann says
Thank you Steve for an honest and thoughtful blogpost. I appreciate your willingness to share your experience. I am grateful for healing and redemption and what God has done through you!
Cindy Pribble says
I am so very proud of you for sharing this, Steve. This was an event requiring life long healing. Keep the faith. You are in my prayers.
Edwina Conaway says
I respect you , Steve & believe in your choice to share & know this comes from deep within! God has given you a difficult task & you have done well, and are leading others to OVERCOME! Carry on!
Kevin herrmann says
Thank you for continuing to share your heart and reminding us there is more at stake that just an election. May Go’s continue to strengthen His Spirit within you to continue the work He has put before you.
Charles Delcambre says
It has been 52 years since my brother, 10 years older than me, did it…. I have never told it, except to my wife.
Thank you for your words, your work, and your prayers.
Sondra Ford says
This is very well- said Steve, Im so sorry this happened to you. I hope and pray your honesty will help someone who reads this. I have no doubt though that you have already helped numerous individuals through your ministry. I am very thankful for what you have done for GO. God bless you and your beautiful family always!
Steve Holladay says
Thanks to all for your supportive and encouraging comments. And thanks to those of you who shared about your own experiences. May the darkness be brought to light and healing occur in our culture.
Danisha Koone says
Steve you councild me as a teenager and even though things have gotten much worse in my adult life, I still think about you and Holly giving me strength. I am still facing so many demons but am slowly trying to work through them. But sexual assault has completely destroyed my life, my marriage, my relationships with my kids and just people in general. I am so happy to know you and Holly are spreading this message because women AND men need to know. Sometimes I still wish I had you to talk to. Your one of the few people I trusted in my life. Thank you so much for spreading you grace and love around the world.
Steve Holladay says
Thank you for your encouraging words and for sharing openly about the pain sexual assault has caused in your life. Sorry to hear you have lived with such hurt, blessings as you take steps to work through it all. Feel free to make contact if Holly and I can be voices of encouragement along the way.