I am a 23 year-old-female living in the Midwest. I was raised in the Brethren Christian circles. My relationship with God is the closest it has ever been. We have a friendship. I desire to spend time with Him every day in some shape or form. I am currently serving as a worship leader in a non-denominational church and am involved in a small group.
I am sharing my story, because if my story can be beneficial to other people by showing that sexual assault is very common, then my choice must be to share. This is for awareness and to give hope to other survivors, as well. I feel like I am at a place in my life where I am comfortable talking about the assault that took place several years ago.
I don't exactly remember how old I was at that time in my life, because one way your brain protects you is by deleting aspects of a traumatic memory, but I think I was between 10 and 12 years old. It wasn't by a church member or any friend. It was by a group of strangers, about 5 or 6 young men who were probably in their late teens. There was a festival in India, and I was walking down the street to my friend's house with my brother, when this group of guys came up to me, telling me they wanted to celebrate the festival with me. I thought they were just going to be gentle and celebrate the festival with me. In a matter of seconds, they had made a circle around me, separating my brother from me, and started molesting me everywhere.
It happened within a couple seconds, but time stood still as I froze in place. I never thought that this could happen to me. As soon as I realized what was going on, I started screaming and asked them all to get away. By my response, they were startled and ran away. I was furious and walked away as fast as I could with my brother trailing behind asking me why I was so mad. I just decided to ignore it for the rest of the day. When I got back home that night, while I was taking a shower, I could see their fingerprints all over my body and I was overcome with feelings of disgust and remorse. I prayed that the Lord would take away my body parts and rid me of my shame.
For one week, I didn't tell anyone simply because I didn't want to. I didn't tell my parents because I don't have that kind of trust or relationship with them. Even now, my family members don't know, because I am afraid they will minimize the assault by saying, "That was in the past, now you can move forward." A week after the assault, I was in a car with my friend when I decided to tell her. I whispered it in her ear and then she loudly told everyone in the car. "I can't believe someone molested you!" In that moment I felt violated again, because this friend violated the privacy with which I told her such sensitive information.
I also told my other best friend at the time, but she minimized what had happened.
The two closest people whom I thought I could trust didn't validate what happened to me.
Because of this, I stopped talking about it completely. I didn't expect the church to give me any resources for help or to be there for me. My parents didn't educate me about safeguarding against sexual assault, although they were always very protective of me.
People in authority fail to realize that sexual assault happens outside of their control.
I finally opened up about my story with four friends when I went to college. Their reaction was the complete opposite of the ones I received previously. These friends became my warriors and my protectors. The Lord had already begun his redemptive work in my story through my friends.
Having spent time in India, I'd been through cat-calling or inappropriate touching on public transportation. The assault mentioned above was the one that had the most impact on me.
The consequences are as follows:
1. I personally always struggled with being at peace with my body, because it felt like my body was no longer mine.
2. When I left for college, I realized that I was alone and needed to make sure the spaces I was in were safe. Having to be uber alert about my surroundings showed me a glimpse of the after-effects of sexual assault. The first year of college included lots of sleepless nights, because I rarely felt safe.
3. Physical touch is completely off the record, especially if anyone touches me from the back. When that happens, my body goes into self-defense mode. I react with anger, even with my closest friends. I always have to breathe and calm myself down and remind myself that they are just trying to show love and don't desire to harm me.
4. It was during my first year in college that God brought back the images of the assault that happened to me as a teenager. The first step I took was to forgive the strangers. I took a couple of practical steps like making sure all the doors were locked and thinking through an escape plan if something happened at night. I would also keep my phone close to me to call my friends.
5. Even walking down the street, I would be constantly on edge. I started using Scripture to remind myself of the angels that are assigned to keep watch over us, that there is a wall of fire around me, and that there is nothing to fear. I would make my brain imagine that and instantly felt more calm.
6. I struggled with the feeling that men were animals. I didn't want men in my life. I really was opposed to men because they were disrespectful, so I wanted nothing to do with them. I never saw gentleness from them. Also, the hook-up culture is so prevalent in society today, so that also reinforced the idea that men only wanted me for my body.
7. I got into pornography because of what happened, as I was trying to understand what men really wanted from me. The curiosity just led me into a hole that I couldn't get out of for a long time.
At age 19, I finally started counseling and going to therapy for 2½ years. I unpacked my story there and learned how family systems have enabled me to deal with my story the way I did. Learning to breathe and learning about boundaries in my own life was crucial to my healing. As I get older and think about intimacy with the opposite sex in marriage, I have to think and pray over the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. I take it day by day, maintain boundaries, and communicate my boundaries.
Right now, I am working on learning that not all physical touch is bad, and learning to even desire it.
Despite all of this, I know God has been with me through this entire journey. I see that through the friends He brought to me, who have helped redeem the distrust that I felt with my previous friends. He is also constantly redeeming my view of myself and my body. He has given me a peace that surpasses understanding and, because of that, I can testify that I am a completely different person than I was five to six years ago.
In conclusion, although it is an incredibly uncomfortable topic for people in authority, it is extremely important that they move past the awkwardness and pain of this topic by being willing to have these conversations and not live in ignorance. The church must be willing to protect survivors and stand up for them.
Do not have the attitude of "it happened just once, now get over it." This affects a human's entire nervous system for years to come, and the church needs to walk alongside victims of abuse in that healing process.
This is not an individual battle that victims should try to survive alone. One in three women are sexually assaulted. One in six men have been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault has been there since biblical times. Therefore, it needs to be dealt with intentionally, as we deal with other sin issues in the church. The church is supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ. God doesn't want us to do anything by ourselves. He calls us to navigate all kinds of hardships and pain in community.
For young men and women: Continue to speak up. It is necessary for us to hear your story, so that we can be better equipped to serve you. Continue to value your safety and security more than others' views of you.
My prayer is that the Indian Brethren church will become a solid example of what it means to protect members of the Body from the sin of sexual assault.
Proverbs 31:8-10 says, "Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor."
And finally, Hebrews 10:23: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
Come Lord Jesus!