There was a time when I was sexually assaulted, groped, and harassed by a supervisor several years ago. I desperately tried to get people to listen to me, to believe me. I consistently heard that he was a ‘good guy’, a ‘good pastor’ and would never do such a thing. My words and description of the events were ignored. I began to think I was crazy. Some of his touches could have ‘seemed’ compassionate or ‘not over the line’, but they made me feel small, afraid, and unclean. I cried out for someone to take my feelings and thoughts seriously. Most didn’t.
The aggression of the man became bolder every time he successfully touched me without reproach. When I finally confronted him, the conversation became how I was disrupting his life, how I was callous and blowing the entire ordeal out of proportion by reporting him, how I should think twice about making such extreme allegations without proof.
To this day, six years later, I wonder what “proof” I could have offered that would have made the authorities believe me. He touched me under the table surrounded by people where no one could see or made remarks and sexual innuendos in my ear during what appeared as a hug. He cornered me in a room I was walking through and groped me when no one else was there. I didn’t have witnesses, I didn’t have photos, I didn’t have sworn statements, but I did have anxiety and a strong feeling that I was dirty and disempowered. I had my fear and my MANY attempts to be heard and removed from his supervision, but proof besides my words? I had none.
No DNA was present to test, no one could corroborate my story, I just had my words. I couldn’t seem to yell loud enough or change the perception that I was overreacting. In fact, the more I tried, the more ‘hysterical and emotional’ I seemed. Suddenly the conversation flipped from centering around his inappropriate actions to MY emotional and professional ‘performance’. Was I truly fit for ministry? Was I too emotional or unstable? Was I able to be a minister to men? I was dumb-founded. How did we go from talking about his gross, predatory, and frankly illegal behavior to MY fitness for ministry?
My words were the only proof I had. I didn’t have bruises to show on my skin, and the marks left on my self-esteem were unseen. I didn’t know how to show the bruises to my ego or how my body felt like it was the culprit in the entire situation. It wasn’t the first time that I had experienced sexual assault and just once, I wanted someone who had the power to do someone to believe me and stand up and demand justice on my behalf.
My words weren’t enough as my perpetrator had words of his own, words that made me look crazy, vindictive, ‘slutty’, unprofessional, power-hungry, hateful, or conniving and deceitful. My words that were meant to help save me from the situation were twisted and my tears were my only way to express my rage and pain, as yelling made me appear less reliable.
Years later, I am no longer surprised that my words weren’t enough ‘proof’. Words of women describing events are not enough. This isn’t new, in fact it’s ancient. Mary was a virgin and conceived a child in a time, where her pregnancy could be punishable by death. Her words of innocence and description of her experience with God fell on deaf ears. If it weren’t for an angel appearing to Joseph, her life would have been very different. Joseph didn’t believe her without proof. Fortunately for Mary, proof was given to Joseph and he was able to protect her from reproach and gossip.
One morning Mary and Martha went to a tomb and saw a risen Savior and an empty tomb. They immediately went to tell the disciples of Christ’s resurrection. They had no proof besides their words as an eye-witness account. This wasn’t enough for the disciples. They needed proof, they needed evidence, they needed to corroborate their story, they needed to investigate for themselves.
These two women weren’t believed as they were the first to tell the world of the incarnation and the resurrection. Arguably the most important events in the history of God in the world were told by women who had no proof besides their words. Even when they weren’t believed, they continued to proclaim the truth. Truth they had an eye-witness account to offer as evidence and proof. It wasn’t enough to convince the men in power then and it still might not be. That doesn’t mean we stop speaking and proclaiming the truth and demanding that our eye-witness testimony be accepted as “proof”.
We can still demand to be heard and offered justice years after the fact, even when the event becomes ancient history. As Christians, we deal in ancient history and what happened many years ago still effects our lives today. We are saved, sanctified, redeemed, and offered eternal life by events that happened thousands of years ago, and we are still affected by actions committed against our bodies years and decades after the hands have moved on to the next victim.
Fellow survivors, hear me. Speak your truth if you desire, share your eye-witness testimony. There are people that will believe you and find your words enough and we will hold you and fight for you against those who want more ‘proof’. Not being believed is not the end of your story. You still get to write your story in a way that makes your perpetrator nothing more than a chapter, and God’s healing over time becomes the final chapter.