Why it’s hard to believe us

Spend any time around those of us who are sexual trauma survivors, and you will hear account after account of how people — even our own families and loved ones — disbelieved us and sometimes went so far as to take up the side of the predators, rapists, pedophiles, and abusers who perpetrated against us. It is such a common occurrence that, when I encounter the opposite, I am deeply moved. Once when I met parents who stood by their daughter even when others insisted she was just “crying rape”, I was so touched by their family’s story that I hugged them, thanked them profusely, and started crying!

Today I read something that was linked to in the comments on one of my previous posts. It is an open letter from a pastor, a humble admission of his serious error, that says, among other things: “Though I never doubted that Jamin was guilty, I trusted his account of the circumstances more readily and longer than I should have, and conversely I disbelieved the victim’s parents.” He describes the sex offender as, “deceptive and highly manipulative”.

It’s hard to believe us when our perpetrators and predators are accomplished manipulators. After all, unless our abuser was a complete stranger who jumped out at us from the bushes, he first somehow gained entry into our lives, and usually managed to deceive enough people to gain a position of trust. Those who prey on children need to be somewhat accomplished con artists in order to deceive not only the child, but everyone around the child.

We, on the other hand, usually are not skilled liars and manipulators. Furthermore, we are traumatized, and traumatized people don’t always behave in a way that others might find credible, reasonable, understandable, or even likable. We are trying to piece together horrible events, trying to make sense of them, trying to sort them out in our minds, trying to deal with the horror of it all, or perhaps trying to escape thinking about our nightmarish ordeal at all. That’s bad enough, but then there are everyone else’s reactions to what happened to us, and not all of those reactions are helpful or healing. In fact, all too often, the reactions of others only adds to our trauma.

Our abusers, on the other hand, are not traumatized. They seem calm and rational, with a well thought out and plausible-sounding answer to every question. If they are serial predators, they have honed their “act”, and know just what to say or do in order to manipulate, and play on the sympathies of others.

In the immediate aftermath of trauma, we don’t always “make sense” to other people. Our stories don’t always sound believable. Usually we can’t bring ourselves to say much, and what comes out may be a chaotic jumble. We may get things out of order, remember things differently a few days or weeks later, only let a few details out in dribs and drabs, and be afraid to talk about major aspects of what happened to us. We may try to protect our abuser, if he is a family member or loved one. We may feel intimidated into silence. We may be too upset to admit the most shameful aspects of our abuse.

Years after my rape, when I finally told as complete an account of it as I could to my therapist, I halfway expected him to say that it sounded too unbelievable, too weird, too unlikely. I expected questions like, “How bad could it have been if you went to work the next day?” or “What do you mean, you have no idea of the extent of your injuries?” or “How convenient that there are those gaps in your memory!” or “What on earth is that nonsense that you supposedly ‘went away’?” I expected him to poke holes in my story, to cross-examine me as if I were on the witness stand, and to tell me that mine was the fishiest-sounding rape story he had ever heard. I was shocked that he believed me, shocked that he never cast one suspicious look in my direction, shocked that he didn’t try to blame me in the slightest for anything that happened that night.

Then again, he was a therapist. My anguished telling of what had happened to me wasn’t the first, or tenth, or even hundredth sexual trauma account he’d ever heard, and he knew all too well what trauma does to us, even years later.

Pastors don’t know these things, nor do they have the experience and training of my therapist. Ordinary people don’t either. But, unfortunately, many are arrogant and assume they know things that they don’t. They sit judge and jury over survivors and their families and judge us less than credible, because we cannot make them understand. Sometimes they are even joined by other survivors — who have not walked far enough in their healing to have enough empathy and wisdom to do otherwise — who help rub the salt of skepticism and disbelief into our wounds.

We understand that our predators seem believable and trustworthy. After all, they had to dupe us and set us up before they could betray us. But you will probably never understand how deeply you wound us when you believe them over us.

Please believe us. Please.

And, if you’re reading this, and you have any reason to think that you may have added to a survivor’s trauma by your lack of support, please — in the name of all that is good and holy — humble yourself and apologize. Let your words be a healing balm. You may never know how desperately that survivor has longed to hear you ask forgiveness.

Difficult to watch, difficult to face

I recognize that this abortion a difficult, difficult subject…a polarizing one…and a deeply personal one. But I can’t turn the other way and — no matter what your beliefs on the subject — I hope you can’t either.

That’s why I hope, if you haven’t watched this particular video already, that you watch the video I am embedding below.

Yes, I know that the Center for Medical Progress has come under fire from those who disagree with how they have edited the videos they are releasing about Planned Parenthood. But this latest one…is there really a context in which what is depicted and described could be seen as a good thing? Is there a context in which this is something that we as Americans should not even feel the slightest twinge of guilt or unease about? Is this really something we should all support?

If you are pro-choice and you were in the place of the Procurement Technician on the video, would your compassion for women seeking abortions and your desire not to thwart medical research make you react differently? Would you be less willing to walk away from her job? Would you be more comfortable with cutting open the face of a fetus whose heart you had just seen beating — all in the name of medical science, of course? Would you think it all right to be pulling the brains out of babies that might possibly still be alive?

I will be honest. I cannot imagine any context whatsoever that would make what I saw and heard in this video any less hideous or disturbing.

Holly O’Donnell admitted that she started crying when holding the fetus she describes on the video. She said, no matter what benefits there might come from the role she played in procuring the brain from this unborn baby, “I don’t want to be that person”.

Can we honestly say she is wrong, misguided, too sensitive, too sentimental, too squeamish? Is she not advanced enough in her thinking? Are we to conclude that she is anti-woman and anti-science?

Or could the practices these videos are exposing possibly be wrong and barbaric? Are we willing to admit that Planned Parenthood might not be the paragon of virtue, compassion, and morality so many believe this organization to be? Could our culture have gone too far in embracing any and all abortions? Could our medical ethics be flawed? Could it be time for us to face the truth of what we are allowing ourselves to become as a people — no matter how uncomfortable and disturbing that truth might be?

Over the years, I have read and heard many eloquent defenses of the pro-choice position. It is not my intention to turn the his blog post into argument or debate about whether to not abortion should be legal. However, I cannot help but wonder — does being pro-choice require one to embrace everything that is in the above video, and to defend even the most barbaric practices surrounding abortion? Are there no limits to the pro-choice position? Are there no abortions that are morally wrong?

I might as well admit it: I am pro-life. There was a time when, as a rape trauma survivor, I was unsure about whether or not abortion in the case of rape or incest was morally defensible. My position has become more firm as I’ve listened to the stories of those who have been conceived by rape and incest, as well as those who have conceived children under the same conditions. We extinguish the wrong life, in my opinion, when we abort the innocent child resulting from sexual trauma. While I know that nothing can undo the unspeakably damaging and painful trauma of rape or incest, I cannot dismiss the compelling stories of girls and women who view their children as redemptive…even life-saving…after the worst trauma of their lives.

Mine is not a popular position, to say the least. I have been reluctant to state it publicly, not wanting to offend people I care for and respect, some of whom who view the pro-life position as hateful, ignorant, backwards, intolerant, and anti-woman. To be honest, I fear being painted with that same brush by speaking up.

A dear friend of mine, who travels the world over on missions of mercy and compassion –because she has one of the biggest, most loving hearts of anyone I’ve ever met — insists that it is her love for women that has caused her to be even more strongly anti-abortion. Women from vastly different cultures and religious backgrounds have opened up to her when she requests, without a hint of coercion or condemnation, “Tell me about your abortion.” She has heard the stories most of us never hear, because — even if we ask — our agendas and opinions tend to get in the way of our compassion. (I’ve told her my deepest darkest secrets, so I know how gently she receives women’s experiences and truths, receiving them as a sacred trust.) She used to be pro-life because of the babies. Now it is the women, the mothers, who have convinced her even more. She wants to spare women from having to live out the abortion experiences, and their aftermaths, that she keeps hearing about, over and over and over again…

There are those not strong enough to partner fully with us | Trauma Tuesday

We see it in your eyes: pity, sorrow, pain, cluelessness. You mean well, but you have no idea.

We feel for you, really we do — far more than you realize — but we struggle with impatience at your naïvety and ignorance. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand. While you may succeed at silencing us because our truth is too inconvenient and too painful for your sensitive ears, you cannot silence the painful screams deep in our souls. You can plug those sensitive ears of yours; we cannot plug ours. You can drown us out or refuse to hear our stories; we cannot escape our pasts.

PTSD brings the past to the present. It makes you indignant. “I am not your rapist!” you protest self-righteously with the same mouth that we have heard make rape jokes and defend those who would hand women over to rapists, the same mouth that has spoken words proving how little our consent means to you, the same mouth that has defended your body’s right to test and push against our boundaries. You expect us to forget your careless words, words that you consider trivial and light-hearted, words you pretend are not damaging or betraying…and you cannot understand why we are so uptight, so unyielding, so humorless. I mean, why is rape such a big deal to us, just because we have been raped? Why are we so weak that we can’t get over it already?

You expect us to pat you on the back, perhaps even applaud you, because you announce, almost as if it were a grand gesture on your part, that you do not blame us for being raped. You act as if this is a great and selfless act on your part, to absolve us from the guilt of causing our rapes. You act as if you cannot understand why we do not fall all over ourselves with gratitude and why we are not overcome with relief that you do not hold us accountable for our rapist’s actions.

You tell us that we are weak and broken. You say this with great patience, as if you are doing us a favor by letting us know that, despite looking down at us from your position of superiority, you nonetheless still choose to grace our wounded lives with your presence. You are the strong, the un-raped, the unbroken, the undefiled. You remind us of this continually.

However, you have no idea that, the further we go on our healing journey, the more we view you as being the broken one, the more we pity you.

You have no idea.

We used to envy your innocence. We may have remembered when we were in your shoes, full of ignorance and clinging to myths. Or maybe we were robbed of innocence so early in our lives that we cannot even identify with you. At any rate, whether we remember it or not, we were once you. You have never been us.

You are weak and untested. We recognize that now, and we no longer envy you, no longer wish to return to your state of denial and cluelessness, no longer wish to be the type of person who prefers personal comfort and fantasy over truth and justice.

We no longer want your life of ease and privilege. It is a jail worse than the one we have broken out of and triumphed over. You find your chains comforting and familiar, even while pretending you are not bound; we have conquered ours, seen them smashed and broken, and have tasted the exhilaration of running into freedom, of dancing upon injustice.

We know victory; you know avoidance and hiding. We wouldn’t trade places with you for anything in the world, not anymore.

We protect you from the truth, knowing you are the weak one, the broken one, the incomplete one.

We pity you…far more than you pity us. You have no idea — and you prefer it that way. We are your shield and your safe haven in the storm. We treat you gently and cautiously. After all, unlike us, you are fragile and weak, and cannot quite handle the real world.


Over the past few years, I have talked with other survivors about our husbands, boyfriends, friends, and family members. Some of these handle our trauma history better than others. What I wrote here is compiled from what I have heard as well as experienced firsthand. This is not about abusive relationships. This is about mostly well-meaning but flawed and clueless people who just don’t know enough, aren’t sensitive enough, and aren’t strong enough. This is about trying to navigate relationships with partners who grew up in rape culture. This is about people who don’t want to face the truth. This is about people who may want to come alongside us, but only as long as it doesn’t force them to be less selfish or step outside their comfort zones. Often, in the beginning of our healing journey, we may have tried to lean on them. As time progresses, we begin to realize that we are much stronger than we had realized, and they don’t really have what it takes to be our allies. We don’t pity these partners and friends for not having experienced trauma. We pity them for not having healed from their own issues — everyone has them — and for not having seized their own opportunities to wake up, learn, grow and flourish. 

When God was a victim

Yes, I know…Good Friday is past. But I just found this today and think that it is a profound message for the church — on every Sunday. In fact, it’s important to reflect on every day of the week.

“How can we worship a God who was a victim of abuse,” she asked me, “if we can’t love the victims of abuse sitting in the pews with us?”

Read the rest here: What a child abuse survivor taught me about Good Friday

The problem with “purity culture” is not purity

She was raised in an ultra-conservative Christian homeschooling family, with loving but legalistic parents. Or maybe they were more protective than legalistic; as an adult, she is still trying to puzzle that out. There is no doubt in her mind that they loved her and meant well.

The circles in which they traveled, especially as she approached her teens, emphasized — among other things — purity. Although her brothers got what came across to her as somewhat of a token, “Oh, by the way, boys and men need to stay pure also”, the real targets of the “purity message” were the girls. Whether or not her parents, pastors, youth leaders, and the authors of the books and articles she read intended to teach her the following, this is what she came to believe:

  • Purity is defined exclusively in sexual terms. Sexual deeds make you impure. Thoughts do too, but to a much lesser extent.
  • The single most important and valuable thing about a girl is her purity. It is the most precious gift she can give her husband, yet it is also owed him to the extent that she is robbing him should she squander her purity on anyone else.
  • Boys and men have many other things that are important and valuable about them, and many other things to offer their future wives. Their purity is of lesser value, does not define their worth, and is not the most important thing about them.
  • The most valuable thing about a girl or woman is her sexuality. It might be the only thing of value about her, unless she marries a man who also appreciates her homemaking skills. However, even the most amazing domestic talents and abilities will never make up for being sexually impure, broken, or lacking.
  • Men are far more valuable than women, because they are not judged and defined solely by their sexuality.
  • While it’s nice if your future husband does not have a sexual past, he does not owe you his purity. You have no right to be judgmental or unforgiving of anything he might have done. His past, if he has repented of it, should no longer matter.
  • A girl is not only responsible for guarding her own purity, but the purity of everyone who encounters her. She needs to scrutinize her actions and appearance at all times in order to make sure she is not causing anyone to stumble.
  • It is impossible for boys and men to maintain purity in their thought lives. In fact, there is no such thing. Males are wired in such a way as to be on the verge of sexually explicit thoughts and desires at all times, and thus the most seemingly innocent thing can set them off. For example, if a boy sees a girl with wet hair, he cannot help imagining her naked in a shower, begging him to have sex with her.
  • Men and boys are incapable of respecting a girl or woman that they want to have sex with. This would seem like a problem in marriage but, while it’s important for an unmarried woman to gain the respect of men, wives supposedly no longer need respect. Only husbands do.
  • Men and boys are incapable of respecting a girl or woman who has lost her purity. It’s kind of debatable whether the sex act in marriage causes a woman to lose her purity or not. After all, the fact that she “gives” her purity (as the greatest gift she could possibly give) to her husband implies that she no longer possesses it. Luckily she only needs love from her husband and not respect. Marriage apparently mysteriously transforms a woman that way.
  • Once a girl or woman loses her purity before marriage, she is ruined forever. She can repent and be forgiven by God, but her purity is gone, never to be regained. She has robbed and cheated her husband out of the only thing of real value about her.

The young woman I am writing about is not the only one to believe these things. Not by a long shot.

I would hope that readers would see this as a problematic message. Whether or not this is the intention of the proponents of “purity culture”, it is what many young women are learning in homes, churches, youth groups, books, articles, blog posts, homeschooling conferences, etc., often with heartbreaking and disastrous consequences. One need not search very hard on the internet to find tragic story after story. Some young women who were harmed by growing up with these pervasive messages are now speaking out quite strongly against not only “purity culture” itself, but the very idea of remaining sexually pure until marriage.

The problems with “purity culture” are legion, but I will address only three of them for now:

1. It sexualizes women and girls — even very young girls — and repeats our media-saturated culture’s false message that women’s value is measured by sexuality and little or nothing else.

I mentioned the creepy sexualization of little girls when I wrote about “Purity Balls” on my old blog. In many ways, “purity culture” robs little girls of their innocence by forcing them to view themselves as sexual beings when they should be running and playing and learning — free of concerns about their future wedding nights. We should be teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus now, as wonderful little girls, and how they are of infinitely more value to Him, and more beloved, than they could ever imagine.

We need to tell girls and women that their worth rests in far, far more than their sexuality. The most valuable, precious gift a woman can give her husband is herself, in all her fullness and complexity. Sexuality is a part of that, yes, but I must emphasize again that her worth is in her personhood — who she is in the totality of her being, her talents and abilities, her personality and character, her knowledge and wisdom, her life experiences, her accomplishments, her relationship with God, her morals and values, her thoughts and opinions, her hopes and dreams — all that and more makes her uniquely who she is — and that’s what she brings into marriage.

Her sexuality is not a commodity that she sells in exchange for a wedding ring, or that her father sells on her behalf. Marriage is neither prostitution nor domestic service. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Any teaching or belief that even hints that it might be, or that virginity is owed as part of the transaction, is ungodly. Any boy who does not truly understand what is most precious about any woman — far, far more precious than her virginity — is not ready to be a husband…or at least not a very good one.

2. “Purity culture” has no idea what purity really is. Purity is not some treasure that girls are born with and that they need to guard desperately and fearfully until the day that they give it to their husbands. No one need weep on her wedding night, as one distraught “purity culture” young woman did, over the loss of what once defined and gave her worth.

Purity is not an intact hymen. It is not virginity. It is not a lack of sexual experience. It is not even saving your first kiss for the wedding. Purity is not a “thing” that you can give away or that someone can steal from you.

More times than I care to count, I’ve been told heartbreaking accounts of young girls being sexually abused, molested, and raped, often by people they loved and trusted. Such despicable evil perpetrated against a child damages and wounds his or her soul in a way that is indescribable.

It is all the more devastating if you believe that the most important thing about you, the precious gift you owe your future husband, has been stolen forever, obliterated and destroyed. Your body may heal. The deep wounds no one sees may heal as well. But your purity is gone forever. And, if you are a girl, so is most of your worth.

Of course that is a lie, an evil lie, from the very pit of hell itself. Unfortunately, it is one that many deeply hurting young girls have learned from “purity culture”.

Old Testament Jewish law had a lot of perplexing and burdensome commandments about cleanliness and purity. The good news is that, as followers of Jesus, we are no longer under that system of law. In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus declared all foods clean, teaching that what a person eats does not defile him or her. He was doing more than lifting the dietary law; he was teaching what makes a person defiled or impure:

Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from the outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart…That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.

To be very graphic, when a rapist invades the body of his victim, she may feel defiled, but she is not. He may have robbed her of her innocence, by the horrible evil he has inflicted upon her, but he has not robbed her of purity. He has defiled himself — long before he committed the sin of rape — not her.

The Bible talks about different kinds of purity: of heart, of devotion, of doctrine, and more. No one is born with pure devotion and pure doctrine, and then needs to avoid giving those forms of purity away prematurely to the wrong person. We would laugh if someone taught, “Save your doctrinal purity for your spouse, because it’s the most valuable gift you can give him or her!” No man except a lunatic would say, “Well, she started believing some really messed up stuff there for awhile, some actual heresies, and she lost her doctrinal purity. Thankfully, she repented and has seen the error of her ways but I’m sorry, I want to marry a woman who saved her doctrinal purity for me.”

I’m not making light of the fact that sexual pasts can invade the present. I firmly believe that avoiding sexual sin is a good, righteous, and important thing, but it is something that should be undertaken to obey God, not to avoid “losing the most precious thing one can give to one’s spouse”. Also, if we are going to emphasize purity, we need to emphasize true purity, in all its forms, and not just female virginity. We need to make sure those of us who are teaching purity are pursuing it as well — in our thoughts and our actions.

I would also argue that it is a sign of impurity when a father looks at his sweet, innocent little girl and becomes overly concerned about her hymen, as if it belongs to him until he turns it over — hopefully still intact — to another man. I would argue that it is a sign of impurity when a man buys his little girl a beautiful dress and takes her out to a fancy ball, the fulfillment of her sweet childish princess dreams — and then makes it all about sex. It takes a certain amount of impurity for a man to begin teaching his little girl that a fancy night out with a man always has strings attached, this time that she must promise him, “I pledge to remain sexually pure…until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband…”

The lack of understanding of true purity is because of my next point.

3. “Purity culture” lacks a real understanding of the gospel.

In Isaiah 1:18, God says, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow.” In other words…pure as the driven snow…

In 1 Corinthians 6, we read a list of all the sorts of sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God, followed by these words:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

That’s the part of the gospel that the “purity culture” people seem to be overlooking. When God forgives our sins, He washes them away and we become pure. We negate the work of the Cross, the tremendous sacrifice our Savior paid, when we act as if purity has some source other than Him, and when we act as if the stain of sexual sin is so deep that God’s grace is insufficient to purify it.

Many of us who grew up in the church memorized 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Unfortunately, proponents of “purity culture” do not really believe that verse. If they did, more husbands would be honest in admitting, “I feel jealous and insecure because my wife had sex with other men in her past, and I’m having a hard time not holding it against her” — instead of maligning both the gospel and the character of their repentant wife by saying, “She was not pure when I married her.” To hear some men talk, one would think their wives had gone straight from working in a brothel to the wedding, without even bothering to take a shower in between. It doesn’t matter how long ago a woman’s sexual past may have been, or how fervently she pursued righteousness in the meantime, or how pure her devotion to Jesus — her husband still sees her as impure. The gospel means so little to him.

The irony is that few of these same men want a truly pure wife. What they want is a “whitewashed sepulchre”, all clean and beautiful on the outside but not so much on the inside. They want a wife who is pure in body but not necessarily in heart, a wife with a virginal body who will somehow automatically know how to fulfill her husband’s porn-driven masturbatory fantasies. Too much purity of conscience, too much innocence, too much devotion to God might get in the way of that.

As for the young woman at the beginning of this post…according to “purity culture”, she lost her purity, first because of what someone did to her against her will and then later by her own choice. After a few years living as a prodigal (I love prodigals!) she returned, not quite to the faith of her youth but to a new, more life-giving, fervent, simple yet profound, intimate faith. She eventually met a man who recognized her purity — along with many of her other wonderful qualities, including her approach to Christianity — and fell in love with her. Last I heard, they are living out their own happily ever after story, as far removed as possible from the false teachings of “purity culture”, and instead pursuing together what 2 Corinthians 11:3 refers to as “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.