JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (June 9, 2018) — I should have said something.
Tears flowed freely a few years ago when I sat at a table surrounded by women my age attending an event for veterans learning to engage in small business.
We were surrounded by dozens of younger women, many of whom were taking a stand against military sexual assault. After listening to the first female Secretary of the Air Force, they were discussing chain of command and who is overall responsible for providing a safe place for people to serve.
That day I was clobbered with intrusive thoughts that would not stop. I could feel the anguish of the young women – my own desperate heartbeat – shame and fear all wrapped in one.
If I had just told my story earlier and made someone pay. Made the man who assaulted me pay. The thoughts came as freely as the tears I tried to hide behind a large napkin.
Running to the elevator, I mostly bee-hived the remainder of the conference, trying to avoid crowds and loud people.
It’s as if every man who had ever wronged me had become “him” – the man who was my supervisor in the Navy and a deacon in the local Baptist church. He was the man whose children I babysat, the man whose wife I chatted with at baseball games on base.
I realized he was the reason I panicked months earlier every time my new boss insisted on sitting close to me at my desk or trustees reached out to touch or pat me condescendingly after they let me know they didn’t professionally respect me.
And when the presidential election forced me to read story after story of sexual harassment and women’s issues I became more deeply entrenched in wanting revenge – especially when I learned that military sexual trauma continues to be a huge disgrace in our fallen world.
And then came a more intimate knowledge of domestic violence after a close relative divorced her husband and began the fight of her life to get fair time with her two-year-old twins.
I learned more than I wanted to know about the church and its failure to hold women up. I learned there is still so much judgment for victims, so much asked of the same women who some say are the “weaker vessel” and who must be “protected.” I learned there is a valuable lesson in listening and remembering what people say versus what they do.
Thirty some years ago the military was not a culture where I could report my assault, as an 18-year-old, and feel that I would be taken seriously. My fear that my superior would minimize his attack or even punish me for it was also overshadowed by my suspicion that his assault was part of a test for my security clearance and I needed to keep quiet in order to prove my understanding of a “loose lips sinks ships” climate.
I realize now that my fear, although real at the time, was just that, fear. Honestly, that fear also was driven by the fact that I was ashamed of having been called in to speak with my superior about being out too late the night before. I was embarrassed. So he used his power to keep me quiet after he overpowered me.
That is what the #MeToo movement is all about.
Sure, there are times I would like to put a “face” on someone and “name,” in order to call attention to the issue and to also help others who might have been attacked or are in danger. But unlike Megan Lively in the Southeastern Seminary situation, who told the Biblical Recorder recently that she “honestly felt like if people could put … a face and a name with a story, it made it real,” I would like to put the name and face with the person who attacked me. And I would if I could.
Who will I hold accountable otherwise?
Will it be the Officer In Charge (OIC) in charge of Corry Naval Air Station? Or perhaps the Secretary of the Navy? Maybe the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the President himself?
Maybe I should hold accountable the citizens of the United States of America who have allowed an atmosphere for this type of crime to be perpetuated on its women (and men) for far too long with little repercussion? Indeed, that would be about changing a culture, something I would hope that every one of us as believers are about.
The fact that the chief who attacked me was a deacon in the church is perhaps the toughest part sometimes to deal with. That sense of betrayal was the strongest, but for some reason I never thought to hold anyone in the local church accountable — but put the blame squarely on the two people who were in that room.
I am still learning how to forgive myself for having ever landed in his office, and him for his awful misdeeds.
Hold your children tight. Hold each other tight. Cherish and value each other and love and behave in the nature of Christ. Speak with kindness and grace. Hold each one accountable where we fail. But stop short of spewing hypocritical words about protecting women and children while leaders, ministers, teachers, wives, and families are torn apart by denominational politics.
The #MeToo movement deserves more than the SBC.
Remember protection (in addition to reporting criminal activity to local law enforcement) can mean counseling, therapy, and a means to overcome the ravages of assault as well.
Stop preaching that “church discipline” and prayer is the only recourse for those involved while we don’t hesitate to use worldly business practices for separation agreements with “non-disclosure” statements, employment contracts, and to file non-profit tax status for our churches.
Stop preaching that “church discipline” and prayer is the only recourse for those involved while we seek out dentists, doctors and florists for our health and professional needs.
Those who won’t testify, won’t stand up against, and won’t defend those who need defense, and those who are the perpetrators — are the ones who should be held liable.
Thank you Joni. I’m sorry for your experience, proud of your journey.
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Thank you for your kind words Norm. Blessings.
Wow. My experience was basically the same thirty years ago but I was in the Army. I have just discovered your blog and will be following you closely for perspective on this issue with my beloved SBC. Also, I am a student at SWBTS, so the Patterson saga has been personal for me. I look forward to hearing more from you.
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I am so sorry Bonnie, about what you experienced.