The resounding cry from women in the past few days: that sexual assault happens more frequently than we'd all like to acknowledge. That the reason sexual assaults are under-reported, is because women are afraid that they won't be believed and in reading some of the more aggressive, angry comments, they haven't been.
Several years ago, I participated in a study for women who had just had a baby. As a part of the process, I was interviewed extensively. At one point the interviewer asked me if I had ever been sexually assaulted. Immediately I answered no. I remember feeling surprised by the question, and relieved that I could answer no. It was the following questions that gave me pause.
"Have you ever been touched in a way that made you uncomfortable?"
"Have you ever received unwanted sexual attention?"
"Have you even been kissed, or touched in a sexual way that was unwanted or inappropriate?"
As the memories came flooding back, I can remember just being able to choke out a yes to all three. The memories were so vivid, and attached to deep feelings of inadequacy, self loathing, and shame, that those questions rolled around in my head for days, I talked about it with a few friends. I told them about the different times, when a guy I knew had sidled up to me, pressed against me, blocked me into my seat on the bus. When another thought a kiss was an invitation for a lot more, and another groped me, simply because he had the opportunity. When a grown man used to stare at me, tell me what a nice girl I was, what a good girl, and say over and over what a lucky guy my boyfriend was.
The sad thing? The stories my ladies responded with, were not just as bad, in most cases they were worse. Sweet girl friends of mine have been touched, fondled, kissed, groped, and even raped. Did they report these things? Talk about them at the time? Get help or support? No. Not a single one. Why? These guys were friends, boyfriends, adults in their lives. We had a plethora of excuses for them, he didn't mean it, I didn't think he realized what he was doing, how could he know what he was saying was making me uncomfortable? I didn't say no, or tell him to stop. I let things go too far. It wasn't his fault. I brought it on myself.
Of it all, what I remember most distinctly, is the shame. Of course I couldn't tell anyone at the time. They would look at me and say, you asked for it, didn't you? What was a good Christian girl like you doing, out at night with a boy? I'm not really sure how God is ever going to be able to forgive you, now that you've utterly separated yourself from him. So, I never told anyone, I just left it to bore a deep, dark place, just deep enough to messily cover up, hide, and forget. I blamed myself for each and every time, I thought I had stepped outside of the cover of God's grace, and was irredeemable. Of course, I could make up for it by being "good enough", but the problem is, the shame never really goes away. God couldn't forgive me, because I couldn't forgive myself. Shame, it sits in the back of your throat and chokes the truth away, and in it all, I could never be good enough.
But, I'm learning something about God. That he never left me. Even in those moments, where I was shocked, vulnerable and alone, when I felt dirty, and so low. He was even there, beside me in those times that I was intruded upon in the most intimate way. He loves me in every moment. I thought I hid from him, but was never hidden from him. That in his sight, in his love, shame can't breathe, thrive or exist.
To my sweet friends who have been in these situations, and much worse. Shake free of shame, and speak. I believe you.