It isn’t just Catholics

I cling to Christ.

It really isn’t.

I was moved and grateful for the words of a staunch and devout Catholic friend that I’ve made here, BeautyBeyondBones, in reference to the avalanche of horrifying news that has overtaken the Catholic church in the past few weeks. But I feel very strongly that she, and the rest of us who profess any form of the Christian faith, ought to know by now (or be emphatically reassured if we don’t) that this isn’t, in ANY degree, a problem primarily constrained to the Catholic form of worship.

To that degree, I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity WORLD magazine took this week to prioritize a report on the rampancy of sexual abuse within Protestant circles. WORLD’s reporting on this and related topics have grown increasingly more thorough, and I hope they continue the trend, as there is room for more growth; but this is a solid installment. I am especially appreciative of how Olasky (editor in chief) and his team have called on the expertise of Rachel Denhollander (Christian, lawyer, and first to bring charges against Larry Nassar) and the profoundly RIGHT example of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in handling the discovery of a predator in their midst.

Here is the link to the full WORLD article: Crouching at every door

And here are a few choice quotes:

 

“Although the decentralized nature of Protestantism makes statistics very hard to find, we’ve particularly found opportunities for abuse and cover-ups in three kinds of situations.

“(1) Some congregations have dominating pastors with unchecked authority.

“(2) Evangelical culture has a conference and lecture circuit with celebrities and quasi-celebrities who come to cities for weekend workshops and one-night lectures that provide opportunities to sin and go, leaving behind casualties.

“(3) Megachurch leaders face the ordinary temptations but also extraordinary pressure to cover up problems, knowing that a sniff of scandal will summon packs of critical reporters.”

 

“Mary Lou Davidson Redding, a retired editor of The Upper Room magazine, says she warned conference directors about Hensley for many years. Here’s her account: In the early 1990s at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference at Eastern Carolina State University, Hensley had tried to slip his hands onto her breasts while she was in a dormitory hall, stopping only when someone walked in on them. When Redding later told a friend what happened, that friend rolled her eyes and replied, ‘Oh, is he still doing that? He was supposed to stop.’

“More from Redding: ‘People knew his behavior, and he was still being invited to conferences.’ She decided to warn people about him. When she saw his name on a conference brochure, she called the directors to tell them about her experience with him. No director she warned ever disinvited him: ‘They overwhelmingly said to me they want their conference to be a success, that people are coming because he’s going to be there.'”

 

“The few cases mentioned in this story should highlight the fact that sexual abuse is not just a Catholic problem. It’s also a Protestant problem, and a deeply human one.

“Our investigations show that many churches and ministries have not always done a good job protecting and empowering the victims. As cries of #MeToo reverberate across the nation, so too have stories of #ChurchToo, in which men and women within evangelical churches voice their own tales of long-suppressed guilt, shame, and anguish. They say their trauma isn’t just from the violating act itself: Trauma festered when trusted church authorities failed to believe or protect them, failed to report the crime to legal authorities, failed to change the institutional culture that enables and minimizes the severity of sexual abuse.

“Yet because this issue has become so public, more and more churches are acknowledging the existence and severity of sexual abuse within their communities, as shown in many cases mentioned above. More churches are asking for help to help the vulnerable, so this could be a wake-up call for the Protestant world.”

 

Let it be so.

–GM

 

This happened at the downtown Tulsa, OK library.

#BoysToo

Yesterday, a dear friend who also happens to be a child sexual abuse victim advocate (because she is a child sex abuse survivor) shared this on her public Facebook page:

“I watched the video of this kiss and found it really upsetting. This was not okay on so many levels!”

Katy Perry sexually harassed a contestant on American Idol.

American Idol contestant says Katy Perry’s kiss ‘made him uncomfortable’

If you read the article, you’ll find details like (emphases mine), “The singer beckoned him over for a kiss on the cheek, but then kissed his lips. . . . Glaze [the contestant] . . . looked visibly shocked by the incident and fell to the ground, while 33-year-old Perry high-fived Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan saying: ‘Yeah, I got him.'”

And, “Glaze later told The New York Times he had wanted to save his first kiss for his first relationship. ‘I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately,’ he said. ‘I wanted my first kiss to be special.'”

And, “But writing on Facebook on Wednesday, Glaze said he was ‘not complaining about the kiss from Katy Perry at all’. . . . I should have been able to perform under pressure. . . . I do not think I was sexually harassed by Katy Perry.”

And, “Glaze added that he did not think his views had been ‘appropriately communicated through the media’.”

Now, let me tell you what I see in all this:

  1. A double standard. Plenty of people will spot it right away, and plenty of others have sounded off on it before me, but it bears endless repeating: THIS IS A DOUBLE STANDARD. If K.P. had been a man kissing a contestant on nationwide television, there would have been MASSIVE public outcry. And let me point out that would not change if the contestant in question was male or female!

2. A sexually harassed young man. Benjamin Glaze says he wasn’t, and people, you need to realize that. means. nothing. Victims cover for perpetrators all the time, refusing to see, report, or acknowledge the harm done to them. (The reasons for this are numerous and deeply complicated, and if you want more details, I highly recommend reading Natalie’s blog account of three years of sexual abuse in her own home.) Granted, this is not a severe example. But it does in fact illustrate the textbook definition of sexual harassment. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded or in denial–including poor Benjamin.

3. A shamed young man. Why would Benjamin readily report his strongly negative reaction, then hasten to cover for K.P. AND assume all the blame for his botched music performance?? I can tell you why SO MANY survivors of sex abuse would do such a thing: they’re ashamed of looking like a victim. They’re ashamed of being called a whiner, a complainer, a wuss. They’re ashamed of people mocking them for having such a strong reaction to “such a little thing! No big deal!” They’re sick of being told they’re “just looking for attention.” And, in the case of men, they are shamed by this response: “It’s not harassment–you’re a man!”

As an isolated incident, it’s arguably not worth crying over this glass of spilled milk. But, ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t an isolated incident. It is one of many, many symptoms of a diseased culture in which a person’s body is worth less than the entertainment or pleasure or gain that others derive from assaulting its sovereignty. And in particular, this incident stands for countless other far worse abuses that take place in the shadows–abuses that target boys just as well as girls and women.


 

Another friend shared this story on Facebook many weeks ago, and I’ve been waiting to post it until the right moment presented itself: Attempted molestation of a 10-year-old boy at a Tulsa, OK public library. This is a photograph of the note passed to the boy right under his mother’s nose:

This happened at the downtown Tulsa, OK library.

My friend lives in Tulsa and actually knows a friend of the aunt of the boy who received this piece of paper. It really happened. It really happens.

I need to take a moment to point out here that IN MOST DOCUMENTED CASES, harassment and molestation is not committed by strangers. Most typically, a perpetrator is a known and trusted friend or family member who grooms a victim for months before abuse begins and is enabled, wittingly or unwittingly, by family members and/or establishments. The most well-known example of this right now is Larry Nassar, which I trust you’ve heard of.

But I’ve chosen these two examples–Benjamin Graze and the boy in Tulsa–to put a spotlight on a particular part of this problem: the part that abuses boys and men.

This part doesn’t receive enough press. It doesn’t receive enough understanding. It *certainly* doesn’t receive enough support, respect, and defense.

As someone who personally knows two men whose lives were affected by sexual harassment or abuse, and who knows the wife of a third, and ESPECIALLY as a mother of two darling boys, I’m telling you: this has to change.


 

How can you help?

Look for opportunities to ask the men and boys around you if they’ve ever endured situations that made them physically uncomfortable. Let them know you’re a safe, believing, supportive ear. If they share something, and you learn they are in immediate danger, contact the authorities and do not leave them alone until help arrives (this is most important for children).

Let men know there is absolutely no shame in telling their stories of abuse–in fact, let them know you’re be incredibly proud of them for speaking up. Tell them doing so is a show of incredible strength, integrity, and fortitude. Affirm their agency and ability to push back against harmful treatment and unwanted interactions. Remind them that EVERYONE’S body is equal: equally human, equally worthy of respect, and equally sovereign.

And remember to keep just as close an eye on your boys as you do your daughters. Build a relationship with them where they can trust you enough to tell you about EVERY awkward or unnerving incident. Teach them bodily autonomy at the same time you teach them to respect others’ boundaries. Give them every reason to believe you love them first and will hear them first, before any respected coach, beloved family member, or trusted friend.

And every time you hear one of these stories, spread the word. Reach out to the survivors. Let them know you respect and affirm the skin-crawling reaction and gut-twisting shame they are suffering. Let them know they are heard and that you stand between them and the world that would tear them down or shove them back into the dark.

Cast a light–spread the warmth of hearth fire–leave no one out in the cold.

With love,

–GM

 

“Fault and Responsibility”: No Free Lunch Edition

Yesterday I took my little boy out for lunch after a successful trip to the ophthalmologist.

We went to a popular cafe, both ordered mac ‘n cheese, and plunked ourselves down in a booth. It was right across from the ladies’ room, which called me plaintively.

I looked at my kid, contemplating. He’s just a few weeks shy of 4 years old, self-aware, very obedient, but has no problem with semi-verbal aggression when asked to do something he doesn’t want to. I was toying with the idea of leaving him at the booth while I made a 2-minute potty run. The cafe is well-lit, had plenty of motherly sorts seated nearby, and waitstaff constantly scurrying through the aisles. It seemed safe enough.

So I asked J if he could sit quietly in the booth while I relieved myself, and he protested. I’m not sure why, but I think he just didn’t want to be left alone. While we enjoy this restaurant, it’s not a place we frequent regularly, and I bet he didn’t feel as comfortable as he would have at our local coffee shop (where he regularly runs around the place as if it’s his second living room… and to be fair, it basically is).

Then I noticed that his seat at our booth was literally three feet from one of the exits to the outdoors. Someone could coax him out of the building and be off, just like that.

Equally shaken and relieved that this had occurred to me *before* I acted, I asked him if he just wanted to make the trip with me. He was happy with that. He waited and chattered on the opposite side of the stall, almost opened the door before I was done, and washed his hands while asking how the soap dispenser worked.

We got back to our booth right before our food came. The manager of the store–a smartly dressed man of late middle age–brought it himself, saying with a smile, “I know whose this is!” And J giggled with delight as the macaroni landed in front of him.

J at cafe

The manager laughed, pleased, and asked J if he needed anything else. I said, “No, thank you,” smiling, and J echoed the sentiment, following my lead. The manager pressed, “Are you sure? Not even a cookie… a little chocolate?” I looked at J, who was rather surprised to be addressed at length–the manager looked primarily at him through this–and unsure how to respond. The exchange seemed unusual to me, too–and I wasn’t sure if the treat was offered freely or if it would be added to my bill. So I guided, “Oh, no thank you, he’s already had chocolate today, so we’re fine”–which was true, as J received some after his doctor’s visit. J echoed me again–“No, I already had some,” remarkably content with the pronouncement.

“Well, ok–you just let me know if you change your mind, then. I have lots of cookies! Chocolate chip! You just let me know!”

“Ok, thank you!” I said. Then the manager left, and I felt oddly relieved.

We started in on our lunch, and I reached over to stir J’s food to help it cool off. Thirty seconds into this, somebody comes up behind me, reaches around, and places a giant M&M cookie in front of my child.

“A little birdie told me you wanted a cookie! Here you go! But you can’t have it now; you have to wait until later.”

So we smiled and said “thank you,” and despite J’s excitement, I put the cookie in my purse for later. He had his mac ‘n cheese and chips, so he was ok with this, too.

Then I sat and pondered the exchange for a few minutes while I forked salad into my mouth and forgot to talk to my lunch date.

Is this normal? Fellow parents, I ask you: would you have been comfortable with this?

Certainly it was a super-nice gesture, and I won’t turn away (most) free cookies when offered. Was this just a nice guy being nice?

We’ve interacted with him plenty before, and even afterwards, and this guy has always come across as professionally attentive, generally kind; that’s it.

But this still came out of left field for me. Why was *my* child singled out for attention? I was pretty sure others were in the cafe at the time. I remembered, then, that the manager had chuckled to himself to watch J obediently and happily traipsing after me through the restaurant to find a seat. Apparently we had caught his eye. J is pretty cute and sweet, and he does get complimented semi-routinely… but this still felt like a bit much.

Then I remembered my decision not to leave J in the seat by himself while I went to the bathroom, and I was suddenly really really glad I decided he’s still too young for that.

The best information we have on child abuse, particularly regarding sexual predators, tells us that the perp is generally someone the child and family know and trust. Someone who has groomed the child over an extended period–weeks or months. It’s usually a very nice, sweet person with a good reputation in the community. They are often phenomenal emotional and social manipulators.

They look just like your average nice guy with nothing to hide.

As I bustled J into the car after lunch, still pondering this, I remembered a recent clip of Will Smith detailing the difference between fault and responsibility. Here it is:

And that’s the thing. Mr. Cafe Manager might have a hidden agenda; or he actually might not. If I automatically have reason to suspect him, given what I know about child abuser psychology, that’s pretty unfortunate for him if he’s actually blameless.

But whose fault is this? Mine, for not being savvy enough to know which it actually is? His, for not being more aware of how his actions might be interpreted?

Neither. It’s the fault of all those actual child molesters out there who’ve given us reason to fear.

But whose responsibility is it to deal with fallout from that reality?

Mine. And the restaurant manager’s.

It’s the manager’s responsibility to educate himself about sex offender pathology and avoid anything that suggests it in his interactions with the public. That’s just wisdom in a broken world.

It’s my responsibility to regard my child’s safety and security above another person’s comfort or reputation, even through interactions that ought to be innocuous. That’s just parenting in a broken world.

A lot of people would jump on the regrettable possibility of ruining a good person’s reputation and stay there. They would forget about the other possibility–the one wherein children (because it’s never just one) are groomed, manipulated, and molested–sheerly due to the unfairness inherent in suspecting someone despite potential innocence.

But life isn’t fair. And of the two people directly threatened by this exchange, I gotta say my primary concern is for my son. Not just cause he’s mine, but because he’s a child. (Of course because he’s mine; but I would also prioritize any other child in such an encounter.)

I’m not sharing what restaurant this was or any identifying information about the manager because it’s not something local police can or should act upon.

But I’m sharing the story and my corresponding heeby-jeebies to make a point: threat or no, interactions like this should strike us as weird. Suspicious. Not to be ignored. That’s the world we live in. Maybe we’ve always lived there, but now we’re starting to realize it. And it exposes our children when we act like anything else is the case.

Is this damaging to any number of relationships and social interactions? Yes. Is that unfair? Certainly. Now, what are we going to do about it?