Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘power’

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The good news: NWVAA has rescinded the lifetime achievement award they were to have given to Mayor Filner, and has disinvited him as keynote speaker for their August gathering.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.

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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