Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘Mayor Bob Filner’

Easy Prey

The first summer at my new church, “Ray” filled in as guest preacher during our pastor’s vacation. Because of PTSD, I was still hyper-alert to any possible danger. I had chosen a church with a gay pastor for this reason. So when straight, married Ray stepped into the pulpit, I vowed to keep my distance. But how could Ray know this? He approached me after the service to say hello, and his friendly, respectful greeting triggered a state of near-panic. It was days before I could even talk about it to my therapist.

Now we learn that Mayor Bob Filner apparently sought an invitation to a meeting of the National Women’s Veterans Association of America (NWVAA) in San Diego, most of whose members are military sexual assault survivors. At that meeting, or perhaps at several meetings, he groped or made verbal advances to at least eight women. According to a CNN report, NWVAA president Tara Jones said, “He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks, the full gamut.”

What I survived was nothing like rape, and I was thrown off-balance by a simple friendly greeting. Bob Filner knew these women had survived sexual assault by men in power, and he — a man with immense power — forced much more than a friendly greeting on them. He left a voicemail for three-time military rape survivor Eldonna Fernandez, telling her he was in love with her and asking her to dinner. He asked Army veteran Gerri Tindley to talk about her rape, rubbing her back and moving so close to her that she “nearly fell off the couch” trying to avoid him. If an innocent greeting could retraumatize me, what did Filner’s groping and sexual language do to these women?

Bob Filner built his political career partly on his service to military veterans. He surely knows the statistics on sexual assault in the military. He must know that victims of sexual assault can lose their ability to resist unwanted advances. (Survivor “Louise” explains why revictimization happens.) Did Filner advantage of this knowledge to meet his own needs, without regard for how it would harm these brave women?

The good news: NWVAA has rescinded the lifetime achievement award they were to have given to Mayor Filner, and has disinvited him as keynote speaker for their August gathering. Exposed and publicly rebuked, he is unlikely to cause further harm to these women.

The other good news: Guest preacher Ray and his wife have become trusted friends and colleagues. If Ray noticed my earlier distress, he responded with pastoral grace. For that, I am thankful.

Vindication for Irene

Marie Fortune lists the seven things that a victim of clergy sexual abuse needs: truth-telling, acknowledging the violation, compassion, protecting the vulnerable, accountability, restitution, and vindication.

Vindication is the final key to freedom. Along my journey I’ve been vindicated in small ways: A former colleague asking my forgiveness for her part in my shunning. Marie herself, in my presence, telling my church leaders that secrecy is harmful and wrong. Sojourners accepting my story for their series on sexual violence.

But I’m still looking for the big vindication. I should be able to walk into my old church without seeing a sneer of disgust from a beloved pastor emeritus (this actually happened last fall, and at a memorial service no less.) I know I acted with integrity and courage; I know my pastor took shameful advantage of my trust. If justice prevailed, everyone in the congregation would know it too. But the church’s secrecy makes this impossible.

I can’t have justice for myself, but I can seek it for other victims. So I do this work, and I look for signs of progress. This month, three stories give me hope.

* Over 1400 people have signed the G.R.A.C.E. petition calling on Christian leaders to stand on the side of CSM victims. “When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy… have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the ‘little ones.’ ” I hope you will sign it, too.

* Churches are beginning to listen to survivors. From the UK arm of The Hope Of Survivors: “[Our volunteer] Anthony met with the safeguarding officer of the Baptist Union recently and she took away one of the THOS brochures. She has read it through and found it very helpful. The Baptist Union, which oversees 2000+ churches in England, have pulled their safeguarding policies from their website in order to re-write them. This, I understand, is as a direct result of our experience. The BU safeguarding officer has asked us to give them advice on what needs to be in their new policy.” The new Baptist Union policy will protect thousands of vulnerable women and men.

* The experience of Irene McCormack Jackson, the first victim to publicly accuse Mayor Bob Filner. I have utmost compassion for what Irene is suffering now, and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything — but in a way she is living my dream. She came forward under the protection of one of the nation’s most respected attorneys. City, state, and national leaders immediately and very publicly denounced her offender. By the end of the week, six more women, prominent leaders all, had come forward with similar charges. (The total is now eight). We still don’t know whether Filner will leave office, whether he’ll face criminal charges, or whether Irene will get the financial settlement she deserves. But even with all that uncertainty, Irene has already won. The world stands on her side. Her offender is publicly (very publicly ) shamed.

I plan to follow this story closely. “Plan” might not be the right word; the truth is I’m obsessed with it. I want Irene to win. But regardless of how the story plays out, I’ve already claimed some vindication. Justice for Irene, even just in the court of public opinion, is justice for all of us.

Transparency vs. Secrecy: Learning from San Diego

“The mayor is not to meet with women alone at city facilities.” When San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith made this extraordinary request, he built in accountability. He got  agreement from the mayor’s attorney, his deputy chief of staff, and the chief of police. And because he announced the ban publicly, we — the mayor’s constituents — can also hold him accountable. This safeguard protects women from becoming future victims and protects the city against unnecessary legal exposure.

After I filed my complaint, my church leaders put in the same safeguard, but with no accountability that I could see. They asked my pastor not to meet privately with women until they resolved my complaint — but unfathomably, they made no announcement. So how did the women on staff (including his secretary and our associate pastor) find out that they could no longer meet alone with the boss? What did his secretary tell the women who asked for meetings with the pastor? Did my pastor end up hanging a “No Girls Allowed” sign on his door?

The San Diego County Sheriff has announced a hotline for women to report sexual harassment by the mayor. Two — no, wait, make that three — alleged victims have now come forward publicly with complaints against Mayor Filner. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department confirms that additional calls have already come in.

My church set up no hotline and made no announcement.

While I was still meeting regularly with my former pastor, he told me a story. One of his previous congregants had been a defrocked minister from a different denomination. According to my pastor, once this man’s church announced the first sexual misconduct complaint against him, “women came out of the woodwork.” In all, nearly 30 victims came forward. When I filed my complaint, I remembered that story and fully expected that my church would announce the investigation. I genuinely believed that other women would come forward, and that the long nightmare would end for all of us. Instead, the church insisted on secrecy. If there had been other victims, and if they were as terrified as I was, the church would never learn their names. These women would never come forward on their own.

By announcing the ban against meetings with women and the hotline for new complaints, San Diego’s leaders are standing with victims and protecting the city against its greatest threat: a powerful and abusive mayor.

By insisting on secrecy and silence, my former church stood with their shining star pastor and protected the institution against its greatest threat: me. I hope they are watching as the drama unfolds in San Diego. And I hope they are taking notes.

Thank You For Your Courage

“Thank you for your courage.” These were the first words my church leader said when I came to him with a complaint against my pastor. Several weeks later, the forensic psychologist leading the investigation said the same affirming words: “Thank you for your courage.”

These are the words that San Diegans should say to the women who have come forward with complaints against Mayor Bob Filner. Instead, I see people attacking the victims: demanding their names and the details of their abuse, accusing them of overreacting (though not once those details started coming out),  and blaming them and their supporters for harming the career of a great progressive leader.

I still remember the heart-racing, night-waking, gut-storm of terror I felt when I decided to report my pastor for sexual misconduct. Even when I understood that his actions had been an abuse of power, even when I came to fear for other women, I struggled for months before I made the decision to turn him in. It took even longer to build up the courage to make the call. I was terrified that my testimony could end a gifted preacher’s ministry, that my words could break the congregation’s heart; and that some of my friends could even turn against me. My overwhelming fears triggered a full-scale eating disorder, but as it turns out I wasn’t afraid enough. If I had known how bad it would get, I might never have come forward. And yet all I was risking was my place in my beloved church.

Filner’s alleged victims are risking far more. By accusing a powerful leader, these women risk their paychecks, their career paths, and their place in public life. They will be called (or perhaps have already been called) sluts, nuts, liars, and lackeys of the opposition. When the first victim’s name is made public and the TV crews set up in her front yard, her family will pay a price that none of us can begin to imagine.

If this scandal ends Bob Filner’s career, his supporters may grieve a great leader. All of us may grieve the harm to public discourse, the awful power of temptation, and the awful temptation of power. Grief may lead us into times of anger, but we can’t turn our anger on the victims. They have already suffered enough.

In Genesis, we read about the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Sexual assault carried enormous shame in ancient cultures, and often the shame landed on the victim. Dinah’s brothers placed it where it belonged: on the man who had raped their sister. The violence in the payback scene is extreme, but that’s how stories were told in those days. Seas parted on command; floods covered even the highest mountains; men lived hundreds of years; and Dinah’s brothers killed not only the rapist but every man in his city. Whether Dinah and her brothers are historical figures, the story is true a thousand million times. How many women were violated in ancient (and modern) days? How many men defended their families’ honor? And of those men, how many put the shame where it really belonged? Dinah’s brothers got it right — not just for their sister, but for all of us.

To Bob Filner’s unnamed accusers: no matter how this story ends, I will always look up to you as heroes. You are paying an enormous price to make the world safer for your sisters in public life. From the bottom of my heart, dear brave women: thank you for your courage.

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