Response to Lauren Shifflett’s story of sexual trauma by church leader
I came across the following post through a WordPress plugin which brings up supposedly similar blog posts to link to in your own posts:
Now We Are Free by Lauren Shifflett
She writes of her sexual abuse and harassment by a youth leader in her church, but prefaces this with how she was bullied as a kid. I saw similarities with my own experiences, but her comments are turned off (probably because people get mean), so I’m writing this blog response instead.
She, like me, was rejected as a girlfriend, but was a target of sexual harassment by her male peers. This put all sorts of negative opinions of herself into her head. She
couldn’t understand why ninety percent of boys found me repulsive and the remaining ten percent felt this strange need to expose themselves to me in some sexual way.
Same thing with me. My first memory of sexual harassment was from Kindergarten. I loved to wear dresses. Every day I wore a dress, preferred them to pants. Then one day on the way home from school, a couple of boys, smaller than I was, cornered me and kept lifting up my skirt and laughing.
My mother never understood why, all of a sudden, I insisted on wearing pants instead of dresses, because I never told her.
There was the guy who pulled up next to me as I walked to school, and opened the passenger door for me to get in, but I was too smart for him and walked on.
There was the middle-aged man who kept wanting to hug me at church. It may have been perfectly innocent, but I didn’t know him and it made me feel weird, so I didn’t like him. I didn’t trust him at all. I don’t recall him doing this to other girls, just me.
In elementary and junior high, I got a lot of bullying in general because I was different from the other kids. I couldn’t figure out what it was about me that set them off, because to myself I seemed normal.
No matter what I did in public, I began to feel very awkward about it. For example, I preferred to always carry something or have my hands in my pockets as I walked, because just walking made me self-conscious.
In junior high, once some kid put a sign on my back during a fire drill. I never knew what it said because I finally knocked it off, having felt it go on. But everyone around me was laughing–even my teacher!
The teacher, who struck me as being a classic stereotypical nerd complete with pocket protector, should have known better, but he laughed anyway.
My freshman year in high school, I was also sexually harassed by three guys, two of them together.
One of them kept making sexual comments to me at lunch, and once even put his penis on the table next to me. I refused to look, but know he did it, because of the reactions of the guys around him.
I couldn’t stand the school’s chicken sandwiches after that because that’s what I was eating at the time, so it reminded me of it.
Now I know that I could’ve switched tables to get away from them, but at the time I felt trapped into sitting at that one table because that’s where I sat at the beginning of the year. I didn’t realize that I could sit at a different table with other kids.
I’m not sure why I felt that I had to sit at that table, but it could have been an NVLD thing: “You can’t change the pattern you’ve already set!”
After lunch we would all stand by the door and wait for the bell; I can remember this guy doing or saying something while we stood in line, so much that I crouched down as if to protect myself. But I just don’t remember what exactly he was doing.
The two other guys, who sat at the table behind mine in Biology class second semester, would spend the class period making sexual comments to me. Once, one spoke so loudly to me during the lecture that the teacher stopped and scolded them.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell the teachers what was happening; a friend told me to do so about the lunch period bully, but something kept me quiet. In fact, in general I was a passive recipient of bullying. I just didn’t fight back.
Meanwhile, my Photography teacher made at least one such comment as well. (I don’t know why all this happened the same year.)
All first semester he’d been harassing me for being a Christian and having conservative values, even though I don’t recall saying a whole lot about them in class or much of anything, really, unless spoken to.
Other kids in Photography class joined in on the religious harassment, including a witch who told me her coven killed my cat (all I said was he went missing on Halloween and never came back), and one day started yelling at me that maybe God is the liar and the Devil is telling the truth–until a Jewish girl told her to quit it and leave me alone.
Then one day, during a work period, the teacher was sitting on a stool at a large table when I had to get around an obstruction of some type. I don’t remember the details now, what the obstruction was, or anything. But I didn’t want to go behind him to get around, because there wasn’t enough room and I’d run into his butt.
Rather than leave me alone like any decent man would do, he ridiculed me and told me to go behind him.
I don’t know why on earth I did this like an idiot–probably because I had grown up with the mindset that you do whatever a teacher tells you–but I started going the other way to go behind him, like an obedient student.
He started humming or moaning, and a girl said to me with wide eyes, “Better not do that.”
The following semester, I ditched that class and switched to a class on life skills. He was a major reason why, both from this and from his religious harassment.
(We learned about such things as teen pregnancy, whether you should marry the teen father, domestic abuse, and watched movies about tough lives like one about teen runaways and The Burning Bed.)
That year or the next, a letter to the editor of the school newspaper complained about an unnamed teacher who would sexually harass students. I always wondered if the girl who “rescued” me was the writer and if she meant my Photography teacher. (I must have forgotten her name already.)
All these things happened freshman year, and that year I began to get an ulcer from the stress. After every lunch period, my stomach was in a lot of pain.
My junior year, I developed headaches from TMJ in my jaw, another stress-related condition, even though the freshman year bullies had either graduated or were no longer in my classes.
Meanwhile, freshman year I had a couple of guys want to date me, but my mom wouldn’t let me until I turned 16. After that, nobody seemed interested. I now know that one guy was in love with me senior year, but never worked up the courage to say so, so I had no clue. Even when I thought for sure a guy liked me, he’d insist that he didn’t. Or date another girl. But I was a target for harassment.
In college, a similar problem arose. Outright sexual harassment didn’t happen so much, but once again, few guys wanted to date me, but even Christian ones preferred to use my body. One claimed to love me, but turned out to be an abusive narcissist who sexually abused and kept trying to assault me because I did not want to do anal or oral sex.
The one who used me, ripped me apart constantly, then criticized me for being too “negative” and reserved. How could I feel more confident and open when he kept essentially telling me I was unloveable?
And yes, you internalize this. I felt much as Lauren did. I didn’t have a boyfriend at 15 like she did, so there was no sexual activity back then, but I do know how this makes you feel like you’re just a weirdo who no one will actually love, and ugly. My mom got upset with me for not thinking I was pretty, but how could I think so when this is how I got treated? I felt ugly.
This is part of the reason why Richard found me so malleable, when he started paying all sorts of attention to me, calling me constantly right before he moved into my house, and then, while here, spending all his time with me.
He basically groomed me, through all this love-bombing and slowly but steadily making me think that his in-secret physical affection was appropriate for friends. (None of it sexual, but it was way too much.) When I got concerned about what he was doing, thought we had started an affair, and felt like absolute sh** over it, he said, no, no, no, this was all perfectly innocent FRIENDly behavior.
Then a few of his friends sexually harassed me in an IRC chatroom. Just yet more of what I’d experienced in high school, only now online. The whole story is here, too long for this post. They began making comments about my genitals, totally unprovoked by me, and while Richard saw it all. His wife even came online and talked about inviting these guys to their house!
But later on, when I asked Richard to not talk about the harassers around me because I was still traumatized by what they did, he said I was being “ridiculous” and that he thought I realized that online “isn’t real.”
I thought he was safe. He planned to become an Orthodox priest, and had actually been a Foursquare preacher in his youth. He manipulated my emotions and tore me apart, over a period of a few years. He eventually even admitted to having hypnotized me without my knowing it. He said it was to make me open up to him; I have often wondered if it was also to make me more open to his grooming.
Because he was convicted of choking one of his children, he can no longer become a priest, but I fear him still becoming a psychologist. I hope the conviction will prevent that as well. Todd says that Richard used his supposed superior knowledge of psychology to bully him; Richard did a similar thing to me.
I believe that Richard is a narcissist who zeroed in quickly on my vulnerability. I had been married for years, so the lack of a boyfriend was a long-gone problem. But I still felt the insecurities of those growing-up years, and was incredibly lonely for friendship.
(This is one major reason why I don’t want this man in my church or anywhere even touching my life. I fear my own vulnerability, along with knowing that he is also capable of physical violence, having served probation for choking his kid. He was once a mob thug, and has even threatened violence to my husband. He is able to con people into thinking he’s a pious man with a big heart, so they end up doing his dirty work, as I did some of his when he screwed over his friend Todd. I also don’t want his wife in my church, because she’s just as bad: She can pretend to be a decent person, but is extremely abusive, emotionally, verbally and physically–and when you recognize it, she smears you, as she did to Todd. Both she and Richard have also mocked and tried to intimidate me, and have demonstrated stalker tendencies.)
Richard zeroed in, just as the youth leader, Luke, zeroed in on Lauren’s vulnerability. Luke began an affair with Lauren, and when she tried to end it, began stalking her. Then she suffered because of the lax response of her church, some apparently taking his side over hers, as her sister describes here. She does not feel safe at that church anymore.
Just as I feel not at all safe when I think of Richard and his wife just casually showing up at my church again, as they’ve done from time to time, or even becoming part of it now that their church has merged with mine.
Church needs to be a safe place.