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.