I promised myself years ago I would never make these words public…yet here I am writing them…pondering if I have the courage to share this in detail almost 20 years later.
My reason for promising this to myself was mostly protection. Truth as most of us know, can be a double-edged sword. I have learned over the course of my life time, that just because words are true, doesn’t make them pretty or easy to hear. I’ve been afraid of the impact these words might have on my family, my friends, and the church I called home for most of my life. I have debated with myself many times over the years about saying these words. I am not wielding these words for the purpose of pain, retribution or exposure, but as a part of my healing process.
I am also sharing them because as it stands today, this thing, this tragedy is still occurring in the church and under the umbrella of church leadership.
That’s another blog for another day…
But I realized it is time to tell my own story first and put it out there for what it is.
I have to own my story so that it doesn’t any longer own me.
I prayed years ago, that if God could bring anything good or hopeful out of my story, that He would give me the courage to say what was needed.
My story starts at Easter time in a church hallway. It was 1998. I was a junior in high school. Growing up, I was usually part of our church musicals and productions. That year, I was part of our church’s Easter program. There was a man who I knew fairly well because he and his family were friends in our church. Their kids were the same age as my brother and I. They were friends, fellow students and leaders in our church and school community. This man was known to many to be a fun and outgoing person as well as a devoted husband and father. He too was involved in the Easter program. He was always friendly and kind, which at the time I just assumed it was because I was the same age range as his kids.
Until one day…
I was walking down the hall to the main lobby and he was walking the other direction. He stopped in the hallway and gave me a hug. A hug that wasn’t right. His hand went to a place on my body that it shouldn’t have, but it was quick enough and subtle enough that it was hard to tell what had just happened. It wasn’t just the hug though. It was the instant red flag that started shouting at me inside my own head that left me with an uncomfortable and unfamiliar feeling. I mentioned this hug and feeling to my mom later. She agreed that it must have felt uncomfortable. Because there was no obvious reason to doubt this man’s intentions, she explained that it might have been an accident. After all, his height difference might have just made it awkward and that he was as embarrassed as I was. What she said next was something I would remember months later. She told me, “even though we don’t know if that was accidental, if you ever have a check in your spirit about something that happens, do NOT ignore it.” Good advice. Advice I wish I had listened to sooner and that I had spoken up before things got increasingly worse.
Fast forward a few months, I am a Senior in high school and it is Christmas time. I was on the choreography team for our church’s Christmas production. I didn’t realize until years later that this man had essentially started “grooming” me. He would seek me out and ask me about my brother and sports. We were often in the same back stage rooms with multiple people during the show. Many of us would talk, laugh and joke around. He was constantly complimenting me and saying nice things. At the time, it didn’t seem all that weird. I imagined the things he was saying weren’t any different than what he might say to his own kids. That quickly changed as his compliments became more directed and less appropriate. One in particular gave me “that” feeling. Then came a completely unexpected comment. I mentioned needing to go change, and he offered to come help me. It was no longer deniable that he was crossing a line. I kind of laughed uneasily, said “no thanks,” and left the room. For the rest of the day, I kept my distance as best I could. But later that night during the show, while in a dark hallway, the same hallway as before, he came up behind me and put his hand on my rear. It ended as quickly as it happened. It was a risky move for several reasons. One of them being my best guy friend was standing right next to me in the hall when this happened. I think this man assumed that my friend wouldn’t notice since it was dark. But he did notice and shot me this wide eyed questioning look. I gave him the same look in return as I was partially frozen and not sure what to do. This man somehow vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Now, totally confused and freaked out, I did my best to avoid this man the next day, which was Monday. Back then, we had a Monday night performance on the first weekend. I had told myself to just get through this performance and I would have a few days away from him until the next weekend of performances. I parked in the closest parking lot possible which was technically breaking the rules because that parking lot was reserved for the orchestra. As the show was ending that night, this man came to find me and asked if I was leaving. I told him yes and he said that he would walk me out to my car. Feeling completely creeped out, I told him “no thanks, I parked close”. He insisted and waited for me anyway and as I exited the changing room, he followed me out to the lobby where his kids and a mutual friend were standing.
I have kicked myself multiple times for what transpired next. What I know now as the “flight, fight or freeze” response, I was definitely in the “freeze” mode. I stopped at the group with kids and his friend were. I looked towards the door and thought to myself, “run, just run out the door”. But my feet stayed firmly planted on the ground. He told the group that he was going to walk me out to my car. One of his kids offered to go with us, and he quickly said, “no, stay here, I will be right back”. Once again, the thought to run was in my mind, and I didn’t. As we walked out to my car, he started telling me how beautiful I looked that night and how he couldn’t take his eyes off me while I was on stage, often with him. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable and not knowing what to say or do next, so I kept walking. When I got to my car door, I said bye and tried to get into my car. He stopped me and put his arm around me in a hug. His hand went to the exact same place as it had months before at Easter. But this time he took it a step further and started massaging the side of my chest while holding me in this hug.
Again, I froze.
He said in my ear, “this makes (his name here) feel really good.” I finally was able to wriggle away and started trying to unlock my door. As he walked away, he said, “I can hardly walk because of what’s going on inside my pants.” In total disgust, I got in my car and turned it on. I back up and as I was starting to drive away, he walked up. I rolled down my window a little to tell him to leave me alone. He tried to reach his hand in and started touching my sweater close to my chest again and I started rolling up the window. I drove off and drove home. That 20 minute drive home felt like an hour. I was shaking the whole way home.
When I came home, I immediately called one of my friends and told her what had happened. I was freaked out and she was too. She asked if I had told my parents. I said no and that I was scared. She told me that if I wouldn’t tell my parents, that she would. Looking back, I am pretty sure I would have told them, though I am grateful she gave me the ultimatum. I went and sat on my bed in my room trying to find the courage and words to repeat to my parents what had just happened. My mom walked by my room and peeked in. I think my facial expression said it all. She came in and sat on my bed and asked what was wrong. I told her through shock and tears what had transpired over the last week and that night. I felt relief that I had told her. She was in shock. She called my dad in and we had to tell him too. I will never forget the look on my dad’s face when I was finished telling him. It’s a look I hadn’t seen til that day and haven’t seen since. It was anger, shock, sadness and all rolled into one expression.
That night they had me type out everything that had happened. Every inappropriate comment and every inappropriate touch was to be recorded in writing. They knew that in the stress of everything, that I might forget stuff and they wanted it all down while it was fresh in my memory. Smart.
The next five days are somewhat of a blur. Some things I remember vividly, still. Others not so much.
I remember knowing that my dad went to the senior pastor and the music pastors with my statement. In that meeting, my dad had him read my written statement and he broke down and cried and confessed to all of it being true. I am not sure what my dad was expecting, but I suppose there was a sense of relief that he didn’t put up a fight or deny it. My dad said it took everything he had in him not to reach across the table and hurt the man. I will never truly understand what kind of restraint that takes. I think we were all super grateful that he confessed and that it didn’t turn into a bigger battle by him denying it.
Within 24 hours of this being reported to the church, my pastor reported to CPS. As a mandated reporter, he did the right thing. I am grateful for that. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that fact as much as I do now. Many people don’t report. Even fewer pastors report this kind of thing. A police report was not filed. I have since learned that it was unknown at the time if it was a chargeable offense, though looking back a police report probably would have been good. CPS and the church required him to go through a minimum of one year of counseling. He did. There were pastors and friends who were overseeing that process and trying to help in the months going forward.
It was that next Saturday morning that I was walking down that same hall and peeked inside one of the rooms and saw his whole family and a couple friends were talking. As if in slow motion, they all turned and looked at me with this look in their eyes. The look that felt like, “something is going on, and it’s your fault.’ I don’t know what they had been told, but they knew something had happened, and that it involved me.
I wish I could say it got better from there, but it didn’t. But we both continued to participate in the Christmas production. BOTH of us, on the same stage. Even confessing to his actions didn’t deter him from looking at me, and this time I was extremely aware of it. My mom, who was in the audience most of that weekend was also extremely aware of it and it made her ill. But more importantly, him confessing didn’t keep him off that stage.
Over the course of those two days, I was confronted by his wife in that same hallway and asked “are you sure that’s what was happening? Are you sure he wasn’t joking?” I looked at her in disbelief. Not only was I feeling cornered, but I was having to remind someone twice my age that it was NOT a joke and that no man should ever joke with a 17 year old like that. I was actually shocked at myself for saying that to her. I was not a confrontational person, but I was proud of myself for having the guts to say that. In retrospect, I don’t know for sure what she had been told at that point. Also, especially now that I am a wife and mom, I can understand why she had a hard time believing it. Had it been me in that position, I would have been desperate to find any possible way that it was untrue.
It wasn’t just my life that was altered that day.
His family’s life was altered too.
Unfortunately, I was also confronted by their family friend in a very public church lobby and verbally scolded for telling. I don’t think she caught the irony about where she was scolding me for telling. I was also threatened by this same person not to tell anyone else. She somehow knew that I had explained to my best guy friend all that had transpired since that initial incident in the hallway and scolded me for it.
I always wondered if she ever scolded the man for what he did to me.
But the worst part? The worst part was being followed by his kids through the church lobby as they hissed in my ear behind me that I was going to “get my ass kicked” and calling me names. It got so bad that seconds before both of us were supposed to be on stage, I found my Senior Pastor on the stairwell of the stage and through tears I told him that I couldn’t take it anymore. He was angry that it was happening and said he would deal with it. I remember hearing that he did have a talk with them to leave me alone. Thankfully the production ended that day.
Though the actions of his kids scared and frustrated me, I have learned to see it differently. Like my earlier statement about wanting this to never be true of my spouse, I can imagine it’s even worse for the kids. We are naturally protective of our parents, and I would never want to believe my dad was capable of something like this. Ever. It would be easy to vilify the “other person” and convince myself that they were to blame. This realization did not make the healing process easier, but what God did was replace anger with compassion for them. They were victims too.
What complicated the next few months was that I was only halfway through my senior year and because this family was involved at my school, I saw at least one of them almost every day, including him. So moving on and forgetting these people was literally impossible. Every afternoon, I would see their car parked in the parking lot with him in it waiting to pick them up. I knew he could see me, and it made me feel sick every time. I started going out of my way to go around the back of buildings so I wouldn’t have to see that car.
Not even two months after what happened, I was at church on a random Sunday morning when I walked towards that same hallway and there he was, standing close to another teenage girl. He was leaning in, smiling and talking to her. My stomach did a somersault and I got angry. I immediately found my parents and told them what was happening. They reported this incident to our pastor.
We also found out during this time that I was not the first to complain about this man. At least one woman had come forward about inappropriate comments made. I don’t know if he was ever talked to or told to keep his comments appropriate. I don’t think they ever anticipated it coming to this.
My parents tell me that when this all happened, that the church had offered me free counseling at the counseling center and that I didn’t want to go. I don’t remember that, but much of the time afterward was kind of a blur. I was in shock. They were in shock. We were ALL doing what we could to survive the rest of my senior year.
That summer after I graduated, I started dating my future husband. 5 days short of 2 years later, we got married. Before I got married, my mom sat down with me and explained that the stuff I had gone through with this man could resurface upon entering a sexual relationship. She talked about how many woman are triggered by sexual activity even when it’s a healthy, loving relationship. She reminded me that if/when that happened, that I could get help.
She was dead on correct.
Within 6 months of being married, I was having multiple nightmares about what had happened, and one dream in particular was pretty traumatizing. It was a more violent assault by this man, but the worst part was that I was calling for help and all my family and friends were standing there, doing nothing. The nightmares made the touch of my loving husband seem untrustworthy. My husband saying things about my body would (in my mind) translate to the man saying the same kind of things and it would make me cringe inside. It was extremely hard to talk to my new husband about what was going on. I didn’t think he would understand how to help me. How could he? Mostly I suffered silently, but I did tell him about the dreams on occasion. I was able to pray it away at times, but over time, it just got to be too much. One day at work, I broke down. I called my former pastor and through sobs on the phone he listened as I explained that I was struggling. He told me the offer for the church to cover counseling still stood and that he would set it up. I accepted and went to a few sessions. For a time, it seemed to help, but even I was unaware of how much I had shoved down and wouldn’t touch…until about 16 years later. I went to that counselor for a few months thinking I had dealt with it. I was wrong. I had only begun to scratch the surface.
I wish I could say this was the only way it affected my marriage too. The most recent layers in all this have allowed me to see how I reacted to normal marital issues early on. I didn’t trust my own judgement. I never thought Jeremy would hurt me that way, and he didn’t. But I didn’t think this man would either and I was wrong. So even when words were said or simple issues came up, it would trigger a response in me that was way over the top because I felt unsafe. This was one of the most surprising side effects of having gone through this and I would be willing to bet that both men and woman who have survived assault/abuse have struggled with intimate connections with their spouses. This is especially true if they haven’t healed from it.
Over the years, I struggled with talking to my parents about this because one of my biggest fears was that they would feel worse. In my mind, I knew that they did everything they could and that they knew to do at the time to help me through it. They were in shock like I was. They were trying to protect me, but also handle it in a Christlike way. They were worried of what the potential gossip or stories would do to me. That said, my heart had questions. I never could reconcile why this man was ever allowed to be near me just hours after confessing to this. I can imagine my parents not knowing how to approach that at the time. They were trying to help get me through it. They told me they knew I was protected at that point physically. This man was also being watched. But at the end of the day, a predator was allowed to remain close and mentally, it made a lasting mark. My parents have been extremely understanding and supportive in my process of this. They have understood and heard my questions. They have understood my frustration at this one element.
Pastors and leaders at this church that I loved and respected allowed this as well and I never understood. Amidst the questions, I still love these pastors. Many of these pastors are still friends and people I love dearly. I know the timing of the production was unfortunate at best. That said, I can’t help but wonder if any of those pastors would have allowed this man to stay near their daughter had this happened to them. I wonder if that thought even crossed their minds. To me, it sends the message that this thing gets swept under the rug and that it’s not a big deal. It also sends the message that a Christmas production or his role in it was more important than protection of a minor’s emotional and mental state. I also think that it sends my offender the message that if you assault a kid, you can still go on with “business as usual”. That was not likely the message they intended to send. They were at a different vantage point. Often, when things hit the fan, we go into damage control and survivor mode. On the flip side, one of my pastor’s wives who was also a friend and mentor was heavily involved in talking to my parents and me in that time frame as well as the months that followed. Youth leaders were reaching out. There were people that were helping. For that, I remain thankful.
The hardest thing in all of this that it has haunted me all this time that I don’t know if it happened to anyone else as a result of not pressing charges. I always told myself I was the only one he ever touched. I had to come to grips with a hard reality just this week. I was likely not the only victim of this man. His actions and his words were not those of an amateur. As I have talked and walked through this with trusted friends(without them even knowing his name), it was pointed out to me that his boldness didn’t come out of nowhere and that he had probably already gotten away with it before me. That thought made me ill to my stomach. I had always told myself I was the first, and hopefully the only one. Perhaps that is part of my own denial. I will never be able to know for sure, and the question to whether I was the first or the last still bothers me.
Two months ago, at a sporting event, I saw my offender for the first time in over a decade. I walked up behind him and the second I saw him from behind, I was paralyzed. I would be willing to bet all color drained from my face in that moment. As I said the words “Jeremy, he is here”, his kid stood up right in front of me and looked me dead in the eye. I saw one of his kids for the first time back in January. I froze the first time I saw them too. It was the first time seeing them since this all happened, and instantly, it was as if no time had passed. I have always known though, that living in the same city meant the chances of seeing him were there. Having seen his kid off and on for months somewhat prepared me for seeing him…or so I thought.
But that day I saw him…
It was hard to concentrate on anything else, though I fiercely tried. The thought of him being in a room with hundreds of teen girls (including my own daughter) creeped me out and made me feel sick. Only God knows what kind of spiral that would have sent me in to had I not already started my healing journey. It’s just another layer.
I have forgiven this man and his family, but I still need to work through some things.
I am grateful for my parents and my friends who have listened, and who have walked me through this. They have given the permission and the freedom to call it what it was. Assault. Not inappropriate touching. Not inappropriate words. According to our own law, it is considered assault. They have also encouraged me not to compare my story with anyone else’s and not to downplay it.
It happened. TO ME. It affected me.
I still struggle with not downplaying it. I still sometimes sit and ask myself if I am crazy or if I just imagined all this? I know I didn’t imagine it, but holding this in over time can do some crazy things to your mind. I have had to sort through a lot.
Before #metoo even became a thing, you might remember the Josh Duggar case, followed by the Stanford Swimmer rape case, and the many other stories that have filled our news feeds. One day, my husband and I were discussing the Stanford case, and he said something that triggered me and I went into a rage. I stood there and for a split second and I grouped him in with the men who dismiss this kind of thing. I saw him as the enemy when he was my friend who didn’t understand what it meant to be a victim. He sat there, completely dumbfounded as to what he could have said. What he said, and what I heard were two completely different things. It was something even I was surprised and confused by. Since then, he has stood by me as I have begun to unpack the story that is mine. It has been a bumpy road, but I am grateful to say I have him along with a handful of people who have walked me through this. What I was really triggered by that day, was the realization that this Stanford guy was never going to really pay for what he did. The realization that justice seemed like a fairy tale. Even now, whenever I see stories where people hurt others and it seems like they get away with it, it brings it all back up. When I see people dismiss it or rationalize it, it burns inside of me. It’s something that I constantly have to pray through.
**With the exception of a few trusted friends and family, I have never publicly disclosed this man’s identity. I am still unsure if I ever will. I vacillate between exposing him and taking it to my grave. That said, his family is never far from my thoughts in this. I truly understand why some survivors don’t expose. There are more people connected to this than just him. That said, I have to wrestle with the feelings that come with that. It feels like injustice. It feels like he gets to be protected when I was not. Yes, I know that God will deal with him, but I still struggle with it. Once I say the name, I can never go back. Selfishly, I am not sure I would be able to handle the fallout. That alone makes me feel like a complete coward, and it’s incredibly conflicting. There are too many mutual friends, too many people that can be hurt by it.
All of that said, if you are reading this, and you think you know who this is. I am asking you not to reveal his identity. Not here, or in the comments or anywhere online. I am not looking for vindication or retribution. I am not looking to expose at this point. I am in this for personal freedom and healing. Nothing else, nothing more. It is why I have been as vague as humanly possible on here while still being true to my experience.
This is my #metoo. There is definitely more to my story and to my healing in the years in between. I have been blessed with an amazing husband and 3 amazing kids. I have an amazing church and thriving friendships with people who have walked by my side and have supported me. As hard as this situation was, and as much as it affected certain areas of my life, God has done a lot in my life. He gave me safe place to heal and move forward. I believe that this step in the process is important for me. I truly believe with all my heart that this is something I am supposed to help people with going forward. I believe God wants to bring not just healing for me, but for others who have experienced similar things. I want to advocate for those who don’t feel like they have a voice.
For those that are reading, thank you for taking the time to read my story. It is not easy to tell, but it was time to tell it. For years, I have let fear make that decision. I felt trapped, like I couldn’t say anything, when in reality, only one person ever told me not to. But the enemy wanted to keep me trapped. He wanted me tied to this. He wanted to silence me. I can’t stay silent anymore. Not now. Not in the midst of the #metoo movement where assault and abuse are rampant. Not when others are suffering in silence because they are also afraid of the ripple effect of their own story.
As a friend and fellow survivor posted recently, “There is a reason the enemy does not want you to share your story. One of the most powerful weapons we have against the enemy is our story. When we share our story, we move into Satan’s territory and it’s intimidating to him! Our story is powerful and irrefutable.”This same friend just went public with his story and has started a ministry to help those who have been abused, especially men. He has an incredible testimony and I can’t wait to see the freedom others will walk in because of it.
I also have other friends who have experienced horrific things. They have told their stories and are in their own healing journeys. Watching their courageous steps forward in their own healing process has only added to the knowledge that I need to take my own steps. My own healing isn’t complete yet. I am still in the process.
Final thoughts…My hope and prayer in sharing my own story is that anyone reading this will understand a little more how these things affect people. It’s normal for people who have experienced this to not deal with it right away. But I hope if you have been assaulted or experienced abuse, that you will reach out and get help. I also want you to know that if you are like me and you are now in a committed relationship, but you are struggling…it is completely understandable. It is NOT too late to get help so that you can work together and have the best possible marriage or relationship. My husband has learned a lot about what it means to be married to someone who has gone through this. He has been a blessing and a source of healing and comfort, especially now.
To any young man or woman reading this, please hear me.
You are worth protecting.
And if anyone, ever gives you “that feeling”, I can tell you that it is not you being paranoid. It is not you being overly sensitive. The Holy Spirit speaks to us and warns us. Don’t ignore it. Find someone you trust and share with them. Proceed with caution and know that not one person is immune from really bad choices.
Lastly, YOU are stronger and braver than you think and you will get through.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope to share more about my healing journey as time goes on.