#MeToo–I Didn’t Tell Either

Progressive Christian Social Action

#MeToo—I Didn’t Tell Either.

No one wants to tell about their own sexual assault, but I feel compelled to do so in solidarity with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is being viciously maligned for speaking out about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh so many years ago.

These years of Donald Trump’s presidency will go down as a dark and shameful period in our nation’s history.  A known sexual predator holds the highest office in the land. (We’ve all heard the Access Hollywood tape.)  Now he has nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and he continues to stand by Kavanaugh while insinuating that Dr. Ford is lying because she waited so long to tell her story, saying, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents…” This same theme is being reiterated by other Republicans and across the internet: the implication that she is lying because she didn’t tell years ago.

This most recent incident has convinced me that I, too, need to go public with the story of my rape as a 16-year old, and why I didn’t tell.  The perpetrator was 18.  He was the son of my divorced mother’s boyfriend, a man whom I loved and trusted and who taught me how to drive.

I began dating this man’s son. One night he (the son) raped me in the back of his van. I struggled. I fought. I said “no” and “stop,” but he didn’t stop. He hurt me. What I didn’t do was scream or call for help. Why? Shame, shock, embarrassment, disorientation, bewilderment? I’ve asked myself many times.  I was stunned, and I had no mental or emotional category that could help me make sense of the experience. Because I did not call for help, I thought I had “let it happen.”  I felt guilt, shame, and self-hatred. I blamed myself.  I didn’t even call it “rape” in my own mind, until years later, when I learned more about what rape means.

This was not my first experience of sexual assault or harassment, nor would it be my last. But Dr. Ford’s story has reminded me of how traumatic for a teenager a sexual assault can be and how hard it can be to come forward. It took a lot of courage for her to come forward recently when she heard that Brett Kavanaugh had been nominated to the Supreme Court.

As a pastor and as one who seeks to live in the way and Spirit of Jesus, I am especially distressed that many white Evangelical Christians, over 80 percent of whom helped elect Donald Trump and continue to stand by him, support the GOP’s efforts to push through an immediate up or down vote on Kavanaugh, without an FBI investigation or other witnesses.  Reverend Franklin Graham, an Evangelical leader, said, “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record–that somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant.”  Or as another Kavanaugh supporter said, “What boy hasn’t done this in high school?”

Unconditional support for Trump and his nominee has descended into hateful and hellish attacks on Dr. Ford, maligning her character and motives and threatening her family and her life.  If she had known the extent of the hate that would be directed toward her, she may have chosen to not tell her story or to remain anonymous, as she had hoped to do.

I am horrified to know that my grandsons are hearing people say that assault and attempted rape is normal behavior for teenage boys. God forbid!  The teenage boys I have known understand that violence against women, including sexual violence, is always wrong. It’s not normal, and there’s no way to justify it.  I’m also horrified that my granddaughters are hearing it.  As one college freshman said, “Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations. And it’s making us scared.

Women have come a long way since the years of my childhood, but violence against women and children is still pervasive.  The #MeToo movement and the broad challenge to Kavanaugh’s fitness to be on the high court because of this (and now other) sexual assault allegations are moving us forward.  But we still have a long way to go to end the culture of misogyny and rape.

#MeToo                                   #IBelieveHer

Read the Grass Valley Union article about our local demonstration.

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Children, Earth Day, and Activism

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“The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.”                                         Sandra Steingraber

Today is Earth Day.  Yesterday the film “How the Kids Saved the Parks”  brought me to tears.   It tells the story of how a group of children from Grass Valley Charter School worked to prevent the closure of the South Yuba River State Park, one of the parks that California had planned to close in 2011 due to budget cuts.   In watching the movie, I was amazed at how articulate the children were in expressing their passionate feelings about this issue.

Those of us who live here really love the river.  This “park” is a patchwork  of accessible areas  stretching 20 miles along the river.  It includes miles of hiking trails, four historic bridges, and the nation’s only wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail, the Independence Trail.

Several of my grandchildren gathered signatures for this effort.  Wonderful teachers helped them organize.  Community support was high. Local nonprofit South Yuba River Citizens’ League (SYRCL) activated their network of volunteers.  We were all thrilled when the “parks” were saved from closure.

These same children and others from various Nevada County schools are now engaged in a new campaign:  to institute a local ban on single-use plastic bags.  They are learning the facts, making posters, and developing speeches about the issue.  Last Saturday they hosted a showing at the local theater of “How the Kids Saved the Parks, followed by a showing of “Bag It,” with children speaking about why they are involved in this new campaign.

This was a painful movie for me to watch when I saw it a couple of years ago.  I’m sad that our children have to face such a massive problem.  But it’s not healthy for them or for us to be in denial about the harms being done to our planet by what we accept as our “normal” way of life.  I’m sure that taking action to address these harms is a healthier response than apathy, no matter what the outcome.  This we can teach, as well as model, to our children.

Or maybe they will teach us.  At a school organizing meeting the other day I overheard one parent say to another, “When these kids see something wrong, they won’t just sit around and say ‘I don’t like this.’  They’ll get up and do something about it.”

I’m concerned, though, that we adults not leave such activism to the children.  So much damage has already been done.  There isn’t time to wait.  We must all wake up to what is at stake and act together before it is too late.

Climate change is an example of an issue that won’t wait.  The Spirit of Life is motivating people around the world to work to stop or prevent fracking, end mountaintop removal, stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, and reduce the overall use of fossil fuels.  When normal political channels fail, as they often do in this system dominated by money and corporate power,  some people are engaging in acts of civil disobedience as the only way to effect change.

Sandra Steingraber, author of Living Downstream, is one such person.  I close by quoting a letter she wrote from the Chemung County Jail in Elmira, New York, where she is serving a fifteen day sentence for blockading a gas compression rig owned by the Inergy gas company near her home in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  She focuses on her feelings about her children: 

Seven years ago, when my son was four years old, he asked to be a polar bear for Halloween, and so I went to work sewing him a costume from a chenille bedspread. It was with the knowledge that the costume would almost certainly outlast the species. Out on the street that night – holding a plastic pumpkin filled with KitKat bars – I saw many species heading towards extinction; children dressed as frogs, bees, monarch butterflies, and the icon of Halloween itself – the little brown bat.

The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.

My children need a world with pollinators and plankton stocks and a stable climate. They need lake shores that do not have explosive hydrocarbon gases buried underneath.  The fossil fuel party must come to an end. I am shouting at an iron door. Can you hear me now?

See Sandra Steingraber’s whole letter here.