My name is Jennifer. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. My abuser has never been stopped from abusing people, even though he has been accused multiple times by multiple people.
I grew up in a small, Midwestern town in the sixties and seventies. I was born with a difference; I am one-handed. In a small, Midwestern town, we didn’t get very many “different” people, so I experienced a lot of overstated reactions as a child. People would gasp, point, cringe, and pity, and almost everyone I met asked “what happened to your arm?” I didn’t know how to answer. Nothing happened to my arm, so I would answer ‘I was born this way.”
7th and 8th grades were particularly hard for me. I wanted more than ever to fit in – be accepted – and couldn’t. I found it difficult to talk to my parents about things, so I turned to my youth group pastor for counseling. He was a wonderful man. All the youth loved him, and he always made time if you needed to talk. We did a lot of talking and I finally started to feel as though someone really cared and accepted me. Then he left. He decided he wasn’t cut out for ministry and he left the church.
In my denomination, pastors were assigned by the bishop. The conference was having some problems with another pastor who had gotten into an argument with his secretary and slapped her. She sued for assault and won. The bishop decided that a new start was what this man needed, so he was assigned to my parish as the senior pastor.
I see now that I had already been groomed to be his victim. I was isolated, depressed, hungering for acceptance and love. I didn’t talk to my parents, I didn’t have many friends, and I was eager to please. He must have been salivating the day I walked into his study and introduced myself, asking for help. He dropped everything, stopped his unpacking his new office and he listened to me describe my fears, anxieties and woes for over an hour. At the end of my visit, he hugged me long and hard, and told me that he hoped I would come back. He mentioned that Saturday mornings were a good time to visit because it was quiet in the church and he could spend more time with me.
On one hand, he was very quick to act. He was touching me on the hips, buttocks and small of my back the first time he met me. On the other hand, he was so very patient. He waited months for me to decide that he must be in love with me and (in my mind) for me “make the first move”. He asked me to show him around the new church, asked for my opinion about decisions he had to make, and caressed me when he talked to me in private. We were sitting and talking one day on a couch in a Sunday School room, and eventually started hugging. When I stood up to go, I noticed a lump in the front of his pants. It so happened that we were studying human reproduction in Biology class at the time and soon after, I saw an animated film that told how when a man is in love with a woman and they want to make love that a man gets an erection. Suddenly, I knew! — he was in love with me and didn’t know how to tell me! The next time we met, I let him know that I loved him too, but I wasn’t sure that it was right that we have sex. Again, he was so very patient, but his touches became much more sexual. I would have done anything for him at 15 years old, and I did –for three and a half years. This is how a predator grooms a victim.
The first adult that I told about what I understood as “my affair with the pastor” was also a minister, who served at the denominational college I attended (recommended by my pastor, who continued to see me on visits to campus). I was having trouble in a class at college and this man was asked to look in on me. When I confessed to him what was going on, he said he was outraged at my pastor. But apparently in his outrage, he never considered turning-in his colleague and friend. It remained a secret, as I started going to him for counseling. For the next year or so, we talked frequently and he tried to help me understand what had happened to me. He admitted that he too had been attracted to girls my age when he was a pastor at a church and he told me how tempting some girls were. He made it sound like it was just one of those things…wrong but sometimes inevitable. He asked me in our counseling sessions when was the first time I pleasured myself, concluding that I was one of those “early sexual girls”. We eventually stopped “counseling” but remained friends while I was at college. Just before I graduated, he started trying to have sex with me. I guess he finally couldn’t resist.
The second person I told about what happened to me in my church was the Campus minister. He informed me that if I wanted to, I could bring church charges against the pastor. He explained it in a way that made it the last thing I would ever want to do. He said that if I chose to bring church charges, that I should be prepared to put my family through hell and have my entire sexual history exposed. He recommended that instead, I focus on healing my own pain and guilt. Basically, he treated me for sexual addiction.
The third person I went to for help was also a minister, from another denomination. I was having a lot of flashbacks at the time and felt I needed to try pastoral counseling again. He waited three days after I told him about my childhood abuse to start molesting me. I think hearing about it turned him on. He said he would love me like no one else ever had. I was 25. He was 65. When I tried to break it off, he became enraged. He wrote letters to my boss, my friends and my husband describing the sexual contact we had been having. He was defrocked by his congregation and forced into retirement.
The first non-minister, woman I told about my abuse was a professional counselor at the college where I was getting my masters. She invited me to join a support group for survivors of sexual abuse. We had a group of five and met regularly. The group encouraged me to report my first abuser to the church, which I did. I wrote the Bishop and told him that I had been molested as a minor, and named him. I received a letter back from the Bishop weeks later saying he was very sorry about the abuse but the statute of limitations had run out and there was nothing that could be done. I’m sure that if my counselor at that time had known of his response, she would have been outraged. She never got to see it, though. She was killed in a car accident on the way to work. The group disbanded.
From that point on, I went through periods of time, when I tucked my abuse away, other times when I went to therapists and worked on issues. Little by little, I got healthier and understood more about myself. But, for the next 20 years I carried one very unhealthy belief with me. Deep down, I still believed that what happened to me at 15 was somehow special…unique, and that I was at least partially responsible. That changed when I found out in 2008 that another woman had brought church charges against my abuser AND HAD LOST! Suddenly, I realized that what happened to me was in no way special or unique. For the first time in my life, I owned that I was a victim. A victim of a predator. I have heard so many times that in order to heal, you have to stop being a victim and become a survivor. But truly, for me, real healing started when I stood in the realization that I was a victim. Since that time, I have become a survivor and I have found the self that was lost to me for 30 years.
After finding out that my abuser was able to avoid a conviction in the church when my letter had established a prior history, I became extremely angry. I started looking for the woman who had had the courage to bring charges. When, I found her, it was incredible. She told me that my letter was read aloud at her pre-trial hearing and even though it was determined that it could not be brought as evidence, it gave her the strength to continue when doubts had filled her mind. Life is amazing, and after she lost her battle to convict him, she continued on her path to becoming ordained and she eventually served as the pastor at the church where I was abused! We have become very close and visit regularly.
Every paragraph in my story is a story in itself. I now enjoy writing about my healing process and the insights I have embraced. I have been blessed with finally finding and loving myself. Some days are still very hard. The slightest thing can set me off. But the bad days don’t last long and I know now what it feels like to be whole. I am blessed to have met Jackie and to work with LearningHope.org to remind others that it’s not your fault and you are not alone.