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#MeToo: Christian women share stories of assault at the hands of Christian men

In the wake of Hollywood scandal, ordinary women reveal sexual harassment by Christians

In recent days the hashtag #MeToo has been used by women around the world to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault on social media. Eternity has gathered some stories from local Christian women. They want to say #MeToo.

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Holly*

He was my Bible study leader. We started talking online and soon things got too friendly. He said his wife wasn’t sexually fulfilling him and asked me to have sex with him. I said no, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and continued being inappropriate and pressuring me to give him sex. I ended up telling a minister in our church and he was stood down from leading, but I got the blame for the whole thing and was an outcast.

Catherine*

When I was about 18 the elder in my church who was assigned to visit and check on my spiritual health repeatedly touched my breasts, using the excuse of outlining the picture on my jumper (it was a bulky, loose jumper, not a tight jumper – why do I even have to say that?). I felt so horrible about being touched, I couldn’t bear to ever wear my jumper again and I wondered if there was something sinful about it. I made excuses for this man to myself for years because he was supposed to be my spiritual guide. I’ve never told anyone what he did until now.

Taylor*

Under the guise of “teaching me to be a real woman,” from the age of six for several years, he began taking me on walks into the bush where we could talk and gradually perform more and more invasive sexual acts. First exposure, then light touch, arousal, penetration and then finally intercourse. At the end of each “lesson” he’d tell me how I’d done and I’d leave hopeful that I was growing I my ability to please. I knew as a Christian I needed to learn to please God and grow to know how to be the woman God had created me to be, and so I thought this was what he, a Christian leader, was helping me do.

There were times it hurt, when I doubted that what happened was really right, but he was a trusted family friend and leader in his church, who was telling me this was going to help me. So I continued to go with him to the “lessons” and maintained my silence because he said I would get in trouble for telling.

The first time I threatened to talk to someone about the “lessons”, I was tied to a tree and the [assault] proceeded while I was strapped there. – Taylor

The first time I threatened to talk to someone about the lessons, I was tied to a tree and the “lesson” proceeded while I was strapped there. At the end of the lesson, he left me there until it was dark. I was told that that’s what would happen when I did the wrong thing.

Growing up with that experience I learned to never challenge my leaders, parents, adults or anyone who was ‘helping’ me. I learned that I had to please and that there were horrific consequences when I failed to. I learned that my voice should be tied to a tree and left in the dark.

It wasn’t until I was 29 and heard a sermon which left no room for doubt that abuse was wrong that I finally felt safe to admit to myself that I had in fact been abused. It completely ruined me! I fell apart and began having crippling panic attacks; paralysed by the inability to sort through how my whole reality had to be reinterpreted.

Thankfully, the pastor who preached that sermon was committed to helping me survive this new challenge – the challenge of learning who God really is, what He really wanted of me, and what it really meant to be a part of God’s family as HE intended it. This involved finding the right therapist to talk to – which didn’t happen immediately; learning to open my very small circle of trust to more people; and trusting that I could make it through each day in one piece.

I have learned that I am allowed to be anxious about my children’s experience of Christian community. – Taylor

I’m so thankful that God put this pastor in my life. I wish I could repay him for this incredible act of love. The time, energy, and love he gave me was a sacrifice I found difficult to understand and yet desperately needed at the same time. It was a beautiful act of grace, showing me that there was a better way, a truly accurate way, to be the Christian community God intended and it pointed me straight to Jesus.

Without this window of time in my life, I can’t imagine continuing in Christian community; I can’t imagine ever wanting to call myself a leader; I can’t image that I would have gotten married and had children of my own. But I am and I have. I have found a safe, amazing Christian community to be a part of. I have learned it’s okay to let people show that they can be trusted, and that it’s okay for me to question it too. I have learned that I am allowed to be anxious about my children’s experience of Christian community, but that the God who created them – also loves them desperately and does NOT want anyone to have the experience I did, so I can trust them in His hands.

I have learned that I can say no.

Marion*

Throughout our marriage my husband forced me to perform sex acts against my will.

During sex he would slap me hard across the face, pull my hair, and choke me to the point that I was scared I would stop breathing. – Marion

He coerced me into having anal sex, and would sometimes wake me up in the middle of the night [and sexually assault me]. During sex he would slap me hard across the face, pull my hair, and choke me to the point that I was scared I would stop breathing. I never felt safe enough to tell him to stop, and I always came away feeling used.

I mostly feel numb. I feel like an object and not worthy of affection. It really is hard not to blame yourself as a victim, even though the rational side of me knows I didn’t ask for it.

Veronica*

As a small child at my local Baptist church we were taught how good God is, and how He enjoys kids doing things like obeying their parents, respecting older people etc etc. I loved God and wanted to please Him and make Him happy.

There was an older, respected man, of high standing in the church who was very friendly and “handsy” with me. To the point where I felt very uncomfortable and would have my stomach in knots being around him. He would ask for kisses on the cheek and grab me and sit me on his lap. Everyone just laughed at my “shyness” and thought he was an affectionate grandfather type.

What happened to me was nothing compared to what he did to one of the girls my age that he babysat. – Veronica

I felt 2 things: First, maybe there was something wrong with me for feeling this way around him, seeing that all the other adults seemed to think this was ok. Second, saying “no” or telling him or other adults I didn’t like it would be rebellious and non-submissive. That taking a stand against what was happening to me, would put me in God’s bad books, and that I owed this man respect and submission (which I equated with blind obedience) whether or not I liked it.

What a thing for a child to feel – that God required them to tolerate evil done to them as it showed “a submissive heart”.

As it turns out, it was not just me. In fact, what happened to me was nothing compared to what he did to one of the girls my age that he babysat. Revelations of his abuse of her did not surface until she was an adult. It breaks my heart that I did not say something. That there were probably a fair few children over the years who felt they could not say something.

Stella*

My friend’s dad (who is a Christian) would always ask for a hug and fully wrap his arms around me and hold me tight for longer than I felt comfortable.

I had boobs and he would squeeze me chest to chest. – Stella

What’s being touched inappropriately? He never touched a “private area” but I had boobs and he would squeeze me chest to chest. My arms were held tight by his grip around me. I would tap him on the back and release and move away and he would hold me there. It felt ridiculously uncomfortable. But I guess it was “polite” to say “goodbye” that way.

Candace

I used to work for a large IT company.  A Christian colleague sexually assaulted me by “helping me” me stand up, from a kneeling position.  I was about 21 years old and didn’t need the help.  He was standing behind me, placed his hands on my hips then slid his hands up to be able to reach the side of my breast.  I was completely shocked, but all I managed was a very civil “don’t touch me please”.

How on earth could I report a Christian for sexual assault in a secular workplace – how would that make Jesus look? – Candace

That night I spoke to my husband about whether or not I should say anything.  I thought it wasn’t “that bad”, just a minor infraction on a scale of 1 to 10. Maybe it was an accident?  But the fact he was a Christian made it so much more complicated.  How could I report a Christian co-worker for sexual harassment?  What about Bible verses that talk about not suing – would it be wrong for me to pursue justice?  What about unity and love and forgiveness between believers?  If Christ will be known for our love for one another, how could I say something and create a divide?  What about his wife and kids?  Would I ruin a marriage?  But mostly – how on earth could I report a Christian for sexual assault in a secular workplace – how would that make Jesus look?

In the end, I decided to speak up, not for my sake but for the sake of others.  Perhaps I could save someone else going through the same thing. I discovered I was the fifth woman to make an informal complaint, but none of the others would make it formal – so he had never been spoken to and it was not part of his HR record.  Again, motivated by the thought i could help others, I made the first formal complaint.

Trudy*

In my late teens a friend and I were at a Bible study together and he started following me home every week after Bible study. A while later, we went out for social drinks with some other friends from church. He bought me a few drinks and pretty quickly I was inebriated, so said I should go home. He offered me a lift, but drove me to an isolated location and molested me. I never spoke to him after that, and never told anyone else.

Sylvia*

The first time my breasts were felt by a male, it wasn’t by an awkward pimply faced teenager exploring sexuality, as I kind of wish it had been. It was by a male who was married to the senior lady who played the organ at our church. He was at least 18 years older than my father, and he made it into a funny little joke. It didn’t happen just once, each time, he implied it was my fault because, he’d say, “You’re so cheeky and smiley, of course you like the attention”. I always felt really really unwell, severely unwell, every time we had to go to church.

If I was talking to people he would come and stand beside me, and grab a fist full of bottom. – Sylvia

There was another man. He too was older than my father, he was one of the “up-the-front-praying-receiving-the-offering-ushering” men, I was always afraid of him. I didn’t know why, my stomach just told me to be afraid of him. When I was in the later part of my adolescent years, I realised why I’d always been afraid of him. He was sly, and sneaky in his behaviours. His words, “I like big round bottoms.” When I would walk in his vicinity, he would pat my bottom, or grab it, or pinch it. I would try my best to avoid him. But he would facilitate contact. If I was talking to people he would come and stand beside me, and grab a fist full of bottom, and if I tried to get away or make any fuss, he would act as though nothing had even happened or I’d been acting out about an accidental contact being made on my person.

I reached a point where I was convinced there was no point at all saying a single word, because these were respected grown-ups, and I was just some stinking rebellious attention-seeking youth who obviously loved the attention, because I was always outgoing friendly to everyone and smiling most of the time. Except the part where I hated going to church. And I wished with all my might I didn’t have to go. I wished with all my might that my choice wasn’t getting yelled at by my father for missing church or get felt up for going to church.

Jane*

We met at church and his whole family were Christians. He was a Bible-quoting, tongue-speaking, street-evangelising Christian. It was a domestic violence marriage. I was married to him for several years before I finally understood it to be sexual harassment and rape also.

If I didn’t do everything he wanted he would tell our Christian friends and family that I was denying him his marital rights. – Jane

He would grope me, including in public and in front of family and I would ask him to stop repeatedly, but he believed a wife’s body was not her own. He would dirty talk even when I asked him to stop. He would force me to do sexual acts as it was a “husband’s right” and a “wife’s duty” and so if I didn’t do everything he wanted he would rage for days, punish me and then tell our Christian friends and family that I was denying him his marital rights.

Cynthia*

When I was a university student I was heavily involved in student ministry. As a student leader I interacted a lot with other student leaders. One of these leaders was Jon*. Jon always made me feel a little bit uncomfortable; he made many of the women in the group feel a little bit uncomfortable – he made awkward jokes about women and sexuality, and sat closer than he might have needed. I was 20 when Jon asked me to be his girlfriend and I said no. I tried to let him down gently because it’s always horrible when you express feelings and they aren’t returned.

He told me that God had told him to be praying for me and therefore I needed to share how I was and my prayer points with him. – Cynthia

After that Jon started sending me a lot of email and text messages. At one point he gave me money because he “just wanted to bless me” and then he told me that God had told him to be praying for me and therefore I needed to share how I was and my prayer points with him. I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable. I gave [the money] back because I felt like there were expectations that went along with it. But I also felt silly for feeling so uncomfortable, so vulnerable; all he wanted was to pray for me, and prayer is good, right?

I was at a friend’s house when Jon called me one night. He said that he was going to kill himself unless I went to his house and sat with him to stop him. I told him that he lived 90 minutes away and I couldn’t do that, that I wouldn’t do that. I asked for his exact address because if he was going to hurt himself I needed to let the emergency services know so that they could help him because I couldn’t. In the end, I called one of the workers from the campus ministry who took over talking to Jon. I felt awful, I felt like a horrible person for not going, but I was also angry because I knew that I was being manipulated. Jon was told that he needed to stay away from me if he wanted to keep being part of the student group. He did but then he also did similar things to other women I know. He’s not a Christian any more; I saw on social media that the reason is that Christian girls wouldn’t date him. I feel bad that he isn’t a Christian any more, but a decade on I am also angry that he would blame the women around him for his loss of faith, for his decision to walk away.

Gloria*

I was manipulated by a Christian man 18 years my senior after entering into a relationship with him. He was dishonest about his marriage breakdown (it was more recent then what I was led to believe – he hadn’t even filed for divorce).

I was asked to leave my church. – Gloria

He would explode at me regarding looking at/being in contact with other guys. Then he developed a drinking problem and used to call me [while] drunk and verbally abuse me and threaten to take his life if I left him. I was asked to leave my church (of five years) because I was an adulteress. (We weren’t even having sex at that point but for them, technically, he was still married, just separated).

Jenny*

During discussion of business at a church meeting, the other women in the group and I had been interrupted five or six times by an older male who was an elder of the church. He was regularly contradicting and dismissing the input of the women.

He called me a “hot woman with a personality to match” while looking me up and down. – Jenny

At his next attempt to interrupt me, I said “excuse me, could you wait till I am finished speaking please?” He called me a “hot woman with a personality to match” while looking me up and down. None of the other people in the meeting pulled him up on his behaviour or his comments.

Grace*

Once we were married, he would want sex two or more times a day and if I was just about to deliver or had just delivered one of our seven children, it didn’t matter what the doctor said. Some days he would tell me we were having sex up to seven times a day.  At first, I was OK with this, being taught that it was my duty to keep him happy and that never withholding would keep him from eyeing other women.

He threatened me twice with a loaded gun. – Grace

But I really knew something was wrong when “wanting what he wanted when he wanted it” started interfering with common sense and responsibilities. If one of the little ones fell and an older sibling brought him to the bedroom door bleeding and crying, I was not allowed to go tend to the child until he gave his permission. If having sex made me late to teach a music lesson, he didn’t care.

After 30 years of walking on eggshells and doing everything in my power to please him and sweetly forgive and serve him “without a word” (1 Peter 3), it became a pattern that he would trump up accusations that he termed unsubmissive and threaten to call our sending pastor and tell on me. He threatened me twice with a loaded gun and his pattern was to rant or maybe 2 or 3 hours while he locked me in the room with him. If I could escape, he would follow me room to room, but usually, he’d block my escape by grabbing my long hair or pinning me against the wall and choking. He would hold my chin, forcing me to look him in the eyes while he said horrible things and wished me dead.

*All names changed to protect identities and safety.

If you or someone you know needs help please call the Domestic Violence hotline on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If it’s an emergency dial 000.

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