I am no shrinking violet, I never have been. I find it shocking that I am finding myself in this situation but here I am and I will not back down.
I am 39 years old and I am the victim of an abusive relationship with a 24-year-old classmate while in seminary. I would have never imagined something like this would ever happen to me. I was raised by a single mother who ingrained in me strength and independence. I went to all female schools (high school and college) where we were taught how to protect ourselves. But after my second divorce, I was left broken and vulnerable. That’s where he stepped in.
While preparing to defend myself and my safety by proving in a court of law a preponderance of evidence (in front of a judge and my victimizer) I was able to see exactly how he began to lay the trap that ensnared me. I am not saying he did this intentionally; I still hold out hope that he is just confused and not malicious. This crusade I took on is not an easy one; having grown up in the age of Anita Hill, I know that the first woman to take a stand is pummeled with stones. But I was given the tools to prepare me for this fight (I am imagining myself as a modern day Frodo Baggins, collecting tools that I do not understand and have no concept how I will use them but storing them away, ready to pull them out when the time comes). I have found that of all the tools I have at the ready, the most important skill I have is to reach out to my community and ask for help. If you find yourself in a similar position, please- reach out for help.
The relationship began innocuously enough: I was seeing a fella at home who was unwilling to commit due to my being long distance. When my classmate began flirting with me via IM, I was so vulnerable and desperate for attention. I saw both of them for several months but when Valentine’s Day came around and I realized that neither man cared enough about me to acknowledge me on the holiday, I ended my relationship with both men as I felt that I was not being respected by the open, non-exclusive nature. I respectfully asked my classmate to give me the space to heal. Against my wishes, he continued to text message and instant message me. After a more than a month of unwanted contact, I asked a friend to speak to him to request that he leave me alone, to which he responded that he “got the message loud and clear,” yet two days later he was instant messaging me again. Because I liked him and was emotionally vulnerable after settling a painful divorce, I repeatedly allowed him back into my life. I was very clear about my expectations, namely that I would not have sex with him outside of an exclusive relationship. I would get the impression (whether correctly or not) that he intended to commit to me, but when asked about it he would say that he would not commit. One time this conversation happened as he was trying to unbutton my pants.
This cycle continued until the end of the semester when he messaged me saying that he would like to be exclusive. Against my better judgment, I saw him and we ended up having consensual sex. The relationship then blew up that afternoon; the cause is still open to debate. I was devastated and I behaved badly (including unfriending him on Facebook). He said that he saw no hope for us and we should both walk away, which I did. However, a week later he was back to messaging me again, saying that he missed me. I was in a state of cognitive dissonance, my head knew I shouldn’t take him back but my heart was still crying out for him. Over the objections of everyone, I decided to give him one last shot; he was not willing to commit right away and asked for time to think it over, which I agreed to.
For a week, he was perfect and I was glowing. All the naysayers were beginning to come around and think that he might be a decent guy after all. However, after a week of bliss, it all changed: he came over in the afternoon and we napped and engaged in foreplay. Around 8:00 pm I suggested we grab dinner. At that point he pinned me down (bruising my shoulders in the process) and tried to force penetration against my will. That night I had been very clear about the fact that I would not have sex with him unless we were in a committed relationship and when he tried to force me I verbally reinforced this by saying “No.” The only reason that I was not a victim of date rape is because I am an equestrian and have very strong thighs. I managed to push him off and I went to the hallway to take a breather. After a period of silence, he explained that he was done trying to make the relationship work and that I was “too crazy to date”. Yes, he tried to rape me and then dumped me.
Since he had previously ignored my requests to leave me alone, I advised him that if he contacted me again, I would send the sexually explicit material he had sent me (picture text messages and home video) to his ordaining Bishop, hoping that this would deter him from further contact. This gave me time to figure out how to block him via phone, text message, and online media so that even if he tried he would be unable to contact me.
Despite these steps, he began contacting me again a month later (via private Facebook message) and, most recently, came to my front door uninvited on a Saturday night at 11pm, to which I responded by calling the police, who advised me to file a restraining order against him in order to protect myself. The officer hit me hard with a case of “scared straight”. He explained that this was a man who does not understand “no” and this would not stop. I saw two paths in front of me: one where I stand up and protect myself or the other where I become a statistic on the news.
I am not proud to say that I still like him but I do. I am scared to death that I will take him back again. But that is how these relationships work- your sense of self and integrity becomes so beaten down that you find yourself doing the unthinkable and in my case, in the previously unimaginable situation of having to acquire a restraining order.
Unfortunately, the horror of this tale is not limited to one abusive man’s behavior. Within a week of the initial assault, I approached a staff member regarding school policy/procedure for such situations with the intention of trying to get him help (I did not want him punished, I believed that he was not beyond redemption provided that he got the help he obviously needs). In the course of our conversation, she asked me what I was wearing when the attempted date rape occurred and suggested that because we were engaging in foreplay I should not be surprised that he would try to go further than I wished; she asked “What did you expect from a 24 year old?” and told me that when she was a student here, her classmates were dysfunctional but got ordained anyway. She advised me that there was no formal policy and that my only course of action was to make a public, formal complaint to the Academic Dean. I felt that she was saying, “well, boys will be boys and there really is nothing that can be done.” Having hit a roadblock with the school, and keeping in mind the safety of his future congregants, it was suggested that I write a letter to his church District Superintendent, who was sympathetic but informed me that he has not yet begun the ordination process so there was nothing to be done on that end.
At this point, I was ready to crawl under my covers and not come out for at least a month and a half. But somehow, when we are on the verge of giving up, Providence steps in and catches us before we fall. Those that supported me initially seemed to be more attracted to the drama and when I attempted to approach the situation as maturely as my ability allowed, they all scattered and I feared that I was being left out to hang. Again, I was at a loss of what to do but my innate ability to reach out saved me. One evening, after a worship meeting, I had intended to go home and mope but somehow found myself in conversation with my friend Leah. She was horrified when I told her all that had transpired. We (mainly Leah) immediately began formulating a plan of attack: to first approach the school and second to attempt to create an intervention to address his behavior. We wrote a letter to the Academic Dean, which included the following demands:
In order to address these concerns and prevent further such incidents, I would like to respectfully but firmly request that the school:
- assist me in addressing the incident by following up with appropriate security and rehabilitative actions;
- create and distribute a list of school, greater university, and police resources for community members to protect themselves in such cases (including sexual assault and sexual orientation-related, racial, or religious harassment)
- develop and distribute policies regarding such harassment and assault, including explicit boundaries between students and between students and faculty/staff and constructive responses to students who have demonstrated boundary issues or harassing behaviors;
- prominently feature this information during new student orientation so that incoming students do not fall victim to such behavior;
- train faculty and staff in these policies and in appropriate, pastoral ways to respond to students who have been victimized or harassed;
- incorporate into each of the above sections addressing new technology (i.e., cyber bullying, IM/text messages, Facebook stalking, etc.).
All of this occurred during summer break and I am fearful of how my classmates will treat me. One has already begun lashing out at me, and several have shown themselves as “less than supportive”. I tell myself to ignore the haters and “that what other people think of me is none of my business”, but we all know that it still stings. I am grateful for those who stand with me; their character is made of the mettle that I am proud to be associated with and I keep this in the front of my mind. And I pray, a lot.
My tale has a happy ending: I was granted my Order of Protection; I am affecting important change here at my school, the school is stepping up to create better policies; I have found that I have the most amazing community, I have amazing friends; and I am healing. The healing is slow going though. My heart still aches for him, even after all this. I am not proud of this, but shame only grows fangs and claws when kept in the dark; by confessing my weaknesses, my community can help me stay strong. It is our secrets that keep us sick. My friend Miranda (who has twice been a victim of date rape) was so inspirational; she told me that she feels called to tell her story, so that women realize that this is not our shame to bear but that this shame belongs to our attackers. I reiterate: this is his shame, not mine. I already knew that if I did nothing and he attacked another woman that would be on my head, but after talking with Miranda I realized that I must speak up publicly about what happened; I am called to be a role model for other women. I must speak up loudly and with strength.
I stand tall… as a victim.
Please share this post widely. If I can help one woman, then it redeems this tragic situation.