I'm a female college graduate who was raised in the assemblies. While I am currently walking with the Lord, and involved in discipleship and fellowship with the church, I cannot ignore the grave sin that is being committed and brushed aside in our assemblies.
I am choosing to share my story because I want to help in any way I can for something so important.
I was around eight years old during the time of my abuse. The abuser was a male and close relative who was a young teenager. I was raised very sheltered--lots of careful boundaries were put in place in our family to protect us from sexual content in the media, and we had many rules to ensure we respected one another. However, this relative of mine began to initiate one-on-one encounters, which often involved tickle fights. During these encounters, this relative said that if they tickled my genital area, "it would feel good" and would insist that it be done in return. I remember feeling uncomfortable and trapped, and wanting to keep it a secret without knowing why. There were repeated occurrences of this for some time, until a parent found out I was being "tickled" against my will and put a stop to it. They didn't know the full extent of what was happening.
Again, as someone raised in a pretty ideal Christian home, I had no access to sensual or promiscuous material and did not know what sex was at the time. Yet, following this experience, I knew how to masturbate, and often entertained rape fantasies. I would retreat into a mental world of acting out sexual abuse scenarios in my mind, and even hurting myself sexually. I think this was the way my eight-year-old self tried to gain control over what had happened to me.
I experienced a deep sense of shame over being a woman. The abuse had stopped, but the perpetrator still had power and control over me. He made comments that were kind sometimes, but also demeaning about my self worth. He told me I was dirty during the time my body was developing and that shame was what I deserved. I thought I would only be desired sexually--and not just sexually, but VIOLENTLY. I often had terrible nightmares of accusations being screamed at me by many voices. These dreams were so vivid that I often woke up still hearing the voices for a time. My body was always full of triggers--I would feel like I needed to defend myself, and felt like it was an emergency. Anything REMOTELY ticklish would trigger me into feeling like I was in danger, even if it was a trusted female friend touching me on the arm to get my attention.
I did not trust or feel safe around men. There were multiple times in the assemblies where someone in the church would follow me around and touch me inappropriately in public. No one said anything, and I felt like I had no advocate and was unsafe even at my own church. When I did ask for help, the situation was minimized. During one particular instance, there was an unbelieving man visiting the church who would follow my every move at church and pressure me to hug him. The other church members brushed the behavior off, because they didn't want to offend him and chase him away from the faith. Ultimately, it was another woman who told him off and harshly corrected one of the elders of the church for their passivity in handling the situation.
When I was in college, I came across a textbook description of childhood PTSD. The trademark symptoms included nightmares, violent behavior such as torturing stuffed animals, emotional outbursts, violent and sexual fantasies, physical triggers, and even making up health issues to be seen as a victim. I matched all these descriptors. When being physically triggered, I would mentally shut down, disassociate, and feel nothing. I went to a practicing therapist and told her what had happened to me.
After I came to terms with the molestation for what it was, I lost motivation and interest for months in the things I cared about like friendships, school, and even pleasures like food or entertainment. I just wanted to sleep. I felt anxious, fearful, and depressed. I was often tempted to turn to alcohol and other unhealthy coping mechanisms, although the Lord gave me self-control not to abuse these things. I realized that so many of my issues could be pointed back to being molested. Although I was numb and would tell God that I had no love or desire for Him, by faith, I chose to continue reading my Bible and sharing the gospel. Eventually, God used these realizations to bring me to a place of emotional healing and deep forgiveness about my molestation.
I never told any authority figures who are involved in the assemblies about this, particularly because the perpetrator later left the assemblies, so I wasn't sure what good it could do. I have prayed about what course of action must be taken, or what should be done. Once, an elder in an assembly who was a relative found out that something happened to me without the details. Rather than taking a humble and careful approach, he was angry that I didn't say anything to leadership earlier. He tried to pressure me into discussing what happened, saying it would be my fault if the perpetrator did it again, because I didn't say anything. But it was this demanding, blaming attitude that made me feel
It's every believer's responsibility to do everything we can to stop this.
As someone in the place of authority, it is easy to fear taking this seriously. We don't realize the damage that this causes to a child. "Just a little abuse" can change the whole trajectory of one’s life. All of the consequences that followed me here caused me to feel like a monster, and something shameful and evil.
But God saw me not as an enemy and, instead, had compassion over me. He treated me with honor, mercy, and grace while I was ashamed, harsh, and hated myself. Recognizing His compassion, I was able to weep and find freedom in Him.
We must forgive. Not for the sake of harmony over relationships that have been broken, and healing, even though these things are good. We must forgive because Christ has forgiven us. Forgiveness isn't a means to our own happiness. The reason we forgive is because Christ forgave a debt that was far greater than molesting a child. Forgiveness and kindness come with boundaries, prayer, and honoring God with words and actions.
I want to end by saying that hidden sin never just goes away. It won't dry up and disappear. It won't sort itself out. If kept in the dark, it will grow and become something bigger and nastier than you'd expect. I know it's hard to compromise reputation in the assemblies. Leaders are responsible, even if it ruins reputation or disrupts harmony in a community, to EXPOSE sin. Ephesians 4 talks about how sin is so shameful that it shouldn't be talked about, but then Paul says twice to expose it, so that a light may shine on these things. We fear exposing sin, because we fear destruction of peace and relationship.
But God says the complete opposite. Expose sin so there may be life and resurrection.