I’m 58 years old. I used to have a farm. It was in New Hope, which are lovely words. The farm was at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I thought my husband and I were doing this together, but then I was abandoned, and I had this huge amount of work to do. When my daughter was in college, I needed help on the farm. That’s what led me to the situation where I was sexually assaulted. Being desperate is what led me to letting my guard down.
There was a man that I hired to do some of the work that was very physically demanding that I couldn’t do. That’s what helped me to feel like I could stay on the farm and be able to maintain it. I opened my home to women who were in transition. There was a period of time where that worked, and I really felt that God was blessing it. However, the man that came to do the work for me started trying to control me and manipulate me to do things the way he wanted them done instead of the way I wanted them done. When the money ran out, I became much more vulnerable. There’s power in that ability to make decisions. Looking back now, I realize that all of those behaviors were really him grooming me.
So I think after about seven or eight months things seemed to be going ok, I started an intimate relationship with the man. He seemed to be safe, though I don’t know if I knew the word safe at that point. I just felt like he got me. He claimed to be Christian, and that also led to me thinking that I could trust him. He took the scriptures and twisted them. He used things that were originally comforting to me like Christian music and prayer to stifle my instincts when I started to realize that things weren’t as they seemed. I stopped trusting myself, and became very dependent on this person. I remember feeling like there was no way out, like I wasn’t going to be able to breath on my own.
I was in a legal divorce suit that had been going on for years, and my attorney said to me, “you’re going to be ok, but don’t commit adultery.” So I labeled myself an adulteress, as someone who was sinning, and that no one would believe me because I had sinned. I had become a submissive, angry person.
At the same time that we’re vulnerable, the world expects us to be wise. You know, “you’re a grown woman, you should know these things.” I’m trying to have compassion for myself, and to forgive myself for not seeing what was happening. I have a lot of guilt.
What led up to the assault was me telling the man that I couldn’t hire him to do any more work. My husband had filed for bankruptcy, so the farm was signed back to the bank and they wouldn’t work with me. I didn’t have any control over what my husband was doing. I think what happened was that the man saw that his plan was not going to work. His twisted thinking that he was going to have my property, my money. To control of every bit of the farm, of the animals, of my relationship with my friends, my family, the church. All of those thing he had carved out of who I was, it all came to a crashing halt.
I was raped at his house. I had not had any kind of intimate relationship with him for 6 months or more, and that had been short lived anyway. He attacked me. He was very strong. Physically I tried to fight, but there came a point where I just detached myself, my mind, my thoughts. I wasn’t going to be able to stop what he was doing, and at that point I just wanted to survive it. I remember just being in prayer, asking God to be with me and protect me and make it be over fast.
Recently somebody asked me, if I had made myself right with God as far as sin goes, where was he? And it was easy for me to say God was with me because I survived. This man threatened to kill me several times if I told anyone. He said that he would take me out. Once I got away from him I ran and hid in a part of his house that he didn’t usually go to, and I stayed there for 24 hours. I just was paralyzed. I blamed myself. I felt like I committed adultery, and the court was going to find out about it.
After 24 hours had gone by I just didn’t want to live anymore. I didn’t want to live with myself, I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and remember it. I considered suicide. I had different medications with me that I could have taken, but I didn’t know if I had enough to kill me, and I didn’t want to take it and then wake up in the hospital and have to face it. I didn’t see any other way out. I was very blessed, because a very kind woman answered the phone when I called the suicide hotline, and she talked me through getting 911 to come to the house and to get me out. They only addressed the suicide, not the sexual assault, and I don’t know if I was even able to say that that was what had happened to me.
I stayed in the hospital for 5 days, and for 5 days I didn’t have to think about who was taking care of things at the farm. I didn’t have to deal with this man. Now, today, 5 years later, It’s more important to me that I’m safe. That I want to live every day is a gift.
I’m not gonna allow myself to be desperate again. Whatever I do in my life, I will get the right kind of support. That includes in the decision I’ve made most recently to report the assault. Some people think “five years ago, that’s a long time,” but when I talk to other survivors that I know, I see that they are dealing with something that happened 30, 40, 50 years ago. They are telling me “wow five years. That’s really recent.”
I told lots of people over five years of time including my pastor, who at the time I thought would give me support and comfort. I wanted him to talk to me and pray with me, but instead said “uh, we need to talk about your membership,” and I’m thinking “what kind of a response is that?” Our church leaders are not educated. They are not taught this in seminary, and they don’t have the training they need. We are taught to forgive, but I don’t believe there can be true forgiveness without justice. I did meet with my pastor a couple years later. I wanted to set the record straight that I was raped. This was totally against my will. He was just kind of blank about it. No comfort or support. I had hoped that all the women in the church that I was friends with would flock around me and support me. There was only one woman who reached out to me.
What’s sad for me and a lot of other survivors that I’ve met is we feel like church has just been stolen from us. We’re not safe to talk to our pastors, their wives, other church leadership. Their concerns are more about the image of the church as a whole instead of for the individual. So we get together and have our own church, and we don’t ask for a pastor’s leadership.
What a lot of victims are afraid of is that they’re going to report, and they’re not going to be believed. It’s part of what paralyzes us. It’s part of what makes us think that we should just forget about it and go on with our lives. But I tried that, and it doesn’t work. It’s still there. I’m still afraid of the dark. I still have flashbacks, and I have a lot of triggers. Things that I see or hear or smell that remind me of the assault. And some of those things I want to keep in my life, and I’m just learning to breathe through it.
My safe space is a place that I go to mentally. I’ve learned to do that when I’m triggered, or when I’m feeling a lot of anxiety. Or when I can’t sleep. I have a lot of trouble sleeping. So in this space, I ride my favorite horse in my head, and spiritually he can carry. So he rides on the back of an eagle, and take us wherever we want to go. So we fly all over the world in my head.
As far as hope for our future, for women, for children, for the church, I do have hope that things are going to get better. Since the Me Too movement and the Church Too movement, we are starting to talk about it. And we are not going to be stopped. We are going to keep talking about it. I believe that with the right type of training, the church can be a true safe place for victims to go. Breaking the silence is the beginning.
I need to recognize that this is something that is going to be with me the rest of my life. It doesn’t define me, but it happened. Trying to hide it or pretend that it didn’t happen doesn’t serve any purpose. I can use it to help others. I can chose to do with it what I want to do with it. I can become stronger because of the struggle that I’ve had.