“Statistically, every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted” RAINN.org .
Sexual assault and sexual brutality is not exactly a subject I have looked forward to writing about, but it is necessary for a lot of reasons. One reason is that I am “clergy”, and I do have a responsibility toward the care of people, and in my case, especially women. Although sexual assault and battery don’t only happen to women, I am going to mostly address women in this article. God gave me a mandate and a heart to look out for the welfare of women who have not always been treated very fairly when it comes to the subject of sexual matters and many other things. I need to address this subject because of the women I have listened to over the years who have shared their stories of rape, sexual brutality, and humiliation. Last, but not least, I am also a victim of sexual assault/brutality.
I swallow hard on that last sentence.
Before I continue on, let me give you an example of a rape of a woman that occurred in Biblical times.
In the Bible ,2 Samuel Chapter 13 , the story is told of a woman named Tamar who was raped by her half brother Amnon. As the story goes, Amnon plotted to get Tamar into his house by posing as being sick. He asked his father, king David, to send Tamar to come and cook some food for him to get well. David granted his request. When Tamar arrived she cooked food in front of Amnon, and he asked that the food be brought to him in his bedroom. Not feeling she had any reason to be concerned she did as he requested. So there is where we find her; in his bedroom. This man is her half brother. Their father asked she do this favor for him because her half brother was ill. She takes food for her half brother into his bedroom, but instead of eating the food she brought, he raped her. Tamar had begged and pleaded with him to not bring that shame upon her, but he did not listen. His lust and desire for control of what he wanted was stronger than what he thought was love for her.
And what was the aftermath?
When the dirty deed was done Amnon immediately began to hate her and asked she be thrown out. Suddenly Tamar was the vision of his own sinfulness and he could no longer look at her. I’m sure her shame was deeply imbedded inside of her at that very moment. The Bible says that Tamar was wearing a white robe, which she tore from her body in shame outside of Amnon’s door. Tamar had been a virgin and a violent act was her very first sexual experience. The man who raped her took her virginity, her sense of purity, and defiled her future. Back in her day a raped woman was a defiled woman and now no man would want to marry her. Just for a moment consider the ramifications of the whole thing. What about the future she could have had with a husband, children, and a home? Those things were taken from her in one instant. Can you imagine going from the prestige of being the daughter of a king to an outcast in society in just one twist of fate?
Tamar’s story is not unlike many women’s stories regarding rape and sexual assault. Quite often a woman is raped and attacked by someone she knows and has earned her trust. I understand Tamar’s sickened frustration. I know her bitter tears she had to have cried and I totally get the shameful feeling that followed.
Pouring out my personal experience.
Let me switch gears here for a moment and tell you one of the things that had happened to me personally. I had been actively dating after having gone through a difficult divorce. I met some men who I liked a lot and some I did not. None of them were like this man though. He was very handsome; tall, had a great smile, a quiet demeanor, and a very witty side to him. We had a wonderful dinner out together and just laughed and got to know each other. He was really quite romantic as he walked me to my car in the restaurant parking lot. I was very careful to only meet him there and not immediately just invite him to my home. I felt so progressively wise in the boundaries I created. We dated a few times at least once a week and in between seeing one another he showered me with text messages, romantic emails, and late night phone calls. After having gone through a difficult marital break up where my husband had cheated on me for 8 full years of our marriage, the attention was really well received. I needed to know I was a woman worth courting and worthy of a good man’s love.
Needless to say, he gained my trust. So when he invited me to his home to fix dinner for me, I really did not hesitate. His home was really quite lovely , very large, and the dinner he made me was wonderful. It was accompanied by wine, nice music, prayers, and a lot of smiles. I thought, “Wow, am I dreaming here? Someone pinch me because I must be sleepwalking”. As our relationship progressed, we began to have prayer together, light candles, have communion, and talk about God, world events, and relationships. He truly gained my trust. Then one night after communion things changed very suddenly. I found myself pressed onto his bed folded into positions I can’t describe openly in words as he forcefully and brutally had his way with me. I know I screamed very loudly. His home was so large I am not sure anyone could have heard me. At least it did not seem that way. I was absolutely petrified. After it was over I stopped my screaming and he just looked at me in the eyes still pressing me down. I will never forget that look. I know it was the look of hatred that Amnon had for Tamar after he raped her. All I wanted was to get out of his house and go climb into my own bed. He scared me a great deal, so I smiled at him, looked very calm, and gathered my things and walked out. I certainly did not want to cause any more aggression. I prayed so hard as I walked back out of his house. I cried so hard during the drive all the way home. Then I climbed into my bed thinking that I never wanted to ever get out of it again.
The next day was horrible. I hurt in places I never knew I had, but there was no physical pain that could even top the soul pain I was feeling. This was a man I prayed with. This was a man who looked so sincere and I never discerned any tendency toward violence. He hid it so well and that scared the tar out of me. I took the clothes I was wearing that night and threw them away. My “garment” was no longer a white robe to me.
Over the next few days, I went over and over it in my head. I felt it was my fault; that I opened myself up to being attacked by trusting too easily. I thought to myself, I should have never had real wine with communion. What was I thinking? I thought about how disillusioned I began to feel. Is it that I never deserved to have a wonderfully amazing man in my life who would truly love me the way I thought I was going to be loved? And by the way, where was God during this whole ordeal? I pondered the idea that not only was I his daughter, but also His minister! I have to tell you, I sure did not feel like a very good minister at that very moment and it took me a long, long, time to even begin to feel like I was worthy to serve God again. I fought with the questions in my head about how He could let this happen to me and how He truly felt about me now that it has.
I sat for hours in God’s presence and began to read accounts in His word about how He felt when His children are mistreated by evil people in this world. I came across some real graphic anger in God’s holy heart. I found phrases and sentences that described Him so angry that He was like a snorting bull. I got the image of Him ready to charge at any moment at my aggressor! I read accounts of people going after His chosen wanting to kill them and He roared like thunder in His distaste and indignation. When I began to realize how ticked off my Father was as He saw me endure a vicious attack, true healing for me began. In God’s presence I learned that we all have free will and sometimes we are the victims of other peoples free will choices. We never deserved it, but they chose to make us a part of it. God gave people free will. It is our choice as to how to use it. We can use it for good or for evil. This is not to say He does not intervene because I know He does. Maybe I am still alive because His spirit was present and brought a sense of calm? I really don’t know, but I am very thankful.
My path to recovery has not always been an easy one. Along with it comes responsibility. I don’t even know if I want to go into details about having to get blood tests, being tested for HIV, and other possible diseases this man could have given to me. It was all a part of the shame I had to endure while trying to process my insecure feelings that I was the one at fault. I did the responsible thing for my physical welfare though. I had to. I’m very glad God gave me the strength to get tested because I now know I am fine in that area. I had a lot of things happen to me like flashbacks of the brutality. Sometimes I would lay awake at night and reenact how I could have made things turn out better. Unfortunately I suffered some physical injuries that I now live with but I’ve been able to deal with it. My faith, the love of others, the hope God gives to me for a good future, are all the things that have helped me to keep on healing.
Only for a period of time did I think the experience rendered me not even worthy of love or even respect from my peers. I only went through a small season of wondering if the church community would ever accept me or respect me if they had known. Like Tamar, for awhile I felt my life and future was over, but God intervened in those thoughts and feelings. He continued to show me the white robe that was given to me when Jesus died and laid down His life for me. Jesus is “all knowing” and He certainly knew what He was getting when He called me to serve Him. When I was ordained in 1995, Jesus knew I would suffer shame, make mistakes, be a victim of others bad choices, and go through seasons of disillusioned painful questions. He took my torn garments and He replaced them over and over with His white robe covering. I can’t completely describe how being in His presence changes everything. Its a mystery to me how He manages to come through to those who truly look and listen for Him. In all honestly, I don’t care how He does it. I’m only grateful that He does. I’m thankful for His undying love, respect for my life, and for the people He has sent to me along the way who have made the journey always worth it. I could never repay Him for all He has done for me. The beauty of it all is that He already paid for it, so that is nothing He would ever ask of me. He has shown me that the assault was not my fault through His whispers of wisdom in our time spent together.
As I write this my eyes are filled with tears. Until now, no one has ever really heard about this part of my struggle. My tears now are not real painful ones, but they are tears of gratitude with great love and respect for a God who will never let me out of His grasp. So how do we turn in these ashes for His beauty? I tell this story, and I tell it to every woman who needs to hear it. I also listen to her heart, her experiences, and her fearful questioning. I can allow her to bleed out the painful wound created by an experience she never deserved to have to live with. I can point her to the One, and the only One, who knows her so completely and can heal her with a love more powerful than any rape or assault.
I’m not real sure what happened emotionally for the Biblical Tamar after the experience she had. I don’t know if she ever recovered or if she found God’s healing. I am sure that if she had turned to God, He was there for her like He has been for me. She would have healed others because she found His grace to be more powerful than the shame she had felt.
My message for you.
If you have been the victim of sexual assault and brutality, I want to take a moment and express to you how sorry I am you had to experience it. I know the soul scar is very hard to heal. God created the sexual encounter to be a very sacred one. When the sacred is defiled a void is created that can not even be explained in words. My hope for you is healing and wholeness. My dream for you is to become stronger and more compassionate instead of bitter. My prayer for you is to find your Savior, Jesus, in ways you have never experienced Him before. May you live in His presence today, always, and forever. Amen.
With Love (and a lot of guts),
Pastor Jenine Marie Howry
Jenine Marie Coaching