Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sexual Violence is Personal




We all have people in our lives that have experienced rape, sexual harassment or assault. Many of our loved ones have experienced this at the hands of someone they know. These experiences leave imprints. 

Our loved ones are listening. What you do matters. What you say matters. Public figures you support?  It matters. Not all of us have the luxury of being about to "just enjoy the comedy routine" or "just vote policy." Sexual violence is a direct violation of the dignity of a person. It is personal. 

It is personal. 

Saying that you cannot support an actor, CEO, member of the clergy, politician, or anyone in the community because of sexual assault/harassment, or rape allegations isn't emotional. It's personal. It is telling survivors that they matter. Their stories matter, and you are not okay with taking the bad with the good if it means overlooking their assault. 

The very reason these crimes are so personal is the same reason so many believe they are excused from listening: it often cannot be proven. 

"Well, they *are* married." 

"Well, he/she didn't assault *me*."

"I'll wait for proof."

"Let the courts decide whether or not this virtually unprovable thing that happened, when often times even evidence of such a crime doesn't change the fact that our instincts are to blame the victim, actually happened." 

"But he/she does this thing good."

"He/she shouldn't have been there/worn that/done that so he/she had it coming." 

*Insert anecdotal evidence here*

People do both bad and good things. People can do mostly good with flaws, and people can do mostly bad but still manage to do a little good. If we never hold anyone accountable for the bad, then it is easier to do again. When survivors see statements such as those above, reporting or even disclosing assault seems pointless. "Who will believe me?" This echoes the threats made to abused children, and those assaulted by people with money, power, importance. 

If it is easy for you to overlook allegations of assault or rape "for the greater good", I ask you to pause  and think about human dignity, and the fifth commandment. 


2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.
Sexual violence violates the fifth commandment. Those in violation should be held accountable, repent, and be rehabilitated. 

It is up to us to treat sexual assault as the violation of human dignity that it truly is. 




Friday, March 8, 2019

Sexual Violence Against Women and the Catholic Response






Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Catholic Church has had to seriously up her game when it comes to the subject of sexual assault, in particularly as it relates to the clergy abuse scandals. However, when it comes to sexual assault, a great deal of the training or responses issued center on rape and pregnancy.

The Catholic Church (beyond the Catechism (2356) ) does not really have a standard training for the clergy or faith counseling focused on sexual assault advocacy or healing. In my experience as an advocate, there are Catholic organizations that serve sexual assault survivors, but when it comes to one on one counseling or even educational/training materials there is most certainly something left to be desired.

The Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Findings (2011) tell us that faith communities are a likely support system for victims of violence, yet our support for survivors is seriously lacking. Poor catechisis  and modesty/chastity talks gone wrong are not doing a fantastic job of sexual assault prevention. We cannot leave our girls to believe their level of modesty is responsible for assault, and we cannot leave our boys to believe that they are nothing but a victim of their sinful urges.

I believe that the Catholic Church can put together more cohesive preventative measures and responses when it comes to sexual violence. The USCCB website has a section with parish resources related to combating sexual violence, but many of the links speak mostly about domestic violence. I believe the response must be more than this.

The inherent dignity of all people must be upheld in all aspects of Catholic faith education: from parish communities to counseling. The church has implemented the VIRTUS training program for all parish volunteers in the US as a response to the clergy abuse scandals. I believe that our parishes can work with local domestic and sexual violence programs to also train their staff in advocating for survivors. The pro life response here, is to have complete understanding of the dynamics of all forms of sexual assault, and to be able to support survivors as they heal. After all, will they not call upon their faith community for support?

The FaithTrust Institute approaches domestic and sexual violence from a religious perspective. They have resources for most faith communities, though nothing I have seen that is explicitly Catholic. When I go to the USCCB page and click on the link for resources, nothing comes up. This something that really must improve

Do you know how your parish and diocese approach sexual violence? Sound off in the comments! I would love to hear about successful approaches or working relationships between Catholic organizations and the local anti-violence programs.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Here's to Dorothy, Oscar, and Rebuilding

I used to think that logic was all I would need to remain faithful. When I became a wife and later a parent, I did not worry about the spiritual dry spell that developed because I knew there was not another spiritual home for me. These past few years, I have seen the wounds of our Church history rip open and I have felt it deeply. I mourn for the victims of clerical abuse. I mourn for those harmed by our institution in other ways. There is a comfort within the Mass and a yearning for the Eucharist that I cannot be without, and yet I desperately wanted to leave.

It is my nature to want to fix problems. It is not easy for me to sit without resolution. Learning how to build faith in uncertainty and how to work through the uncomfortable feels like an overwhelming prospect for an impatient perfectionist such as myself. It makes coming to terms with the imperfection of our human church a struggle that feels insurmountable.

I've recently discovered that my faith in God is not the same thing as my faith in our earthly church. This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but for this cradle Catholic, it took some time. Humans let themselves, each other, and their God down. We fail. We fall. We get back up and swear we will never fail or fall again, but then we do.

We are Peter.

My faith in our human ability to live as Christ asks us to live is (permanently?) shaken, but I am trying. It's been suggested that I just look through all the pain and grief towards the resurrection. All I can see is a fog of anger, and not all of it is righteous. I see doubt, darkness, ruin.

I keep trying.

I see Dorothy Day, surrounded by those that people find difficult to love, those that struggle to love, or both. I imagine her words "God understands us when we try to love." I see her commitment to loving others extend to her death.



I try again.

I see Oscar Romero (once I blink away Raul Julia) as I begin to get to know more about his faith, love and life. I spend time wrapping my hardened heart and mind around his words "The church is the salt of the earth. It is to be expected that where there are wounds this salt will burn." I see that his commitment to Christ extended to his sudden death.



I try again.

I read their words, see their flaws, and I feel relief.

I am relieved that I recognize the hardships of faith in their lives and the familiarity of struggle.

I am relieved that they were not perfect.

I am relieved to disagree at times, but there is still so much room to admire their work, words, and example.

Surrounding myself with saints that also recognized the imperfection on earth is healing.

I share this with all of you because it was important for me to know that other Catholics felt similarly. If you too have been shaken and have lost your footing, I see you. I am here with you, and I am trying along side you to rebuild.



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"(The Abuser) Was Always Nice to Me!"







My husband loves the TV show Lost. He discovered it in the early days of Netflix when binge watching was new. I hated it. I couldn’t handle not being able to predict what was happening. I even watched the episodes without him so when we watched it together I could pretend I saw it coming.


I always want to see it coming. I wanted to have seen it coming in The Sixth Sense. I want to rely on my experience and knowledge to tell me why my kid suddenly won’t sleep. I want the lady yelling that my grocery cart is rolling away into the road to know I’m a mother of six and I’ve got it. I want to see red flags and warning signs of abuse and call that shit out. If I know, then I am in control.

I’m not alone in this.


When allegations of abuse come to the surface, an abuser confessed or is convicted, people close to the abuser say “(Blah blah blah) pillar of the community! Goes to church on Sundays! Paid my rent when I needed it! Selfless! *Always was nice to me!*"


What we fail to remember is that the world of an abuser is carefully orchestrated. There’s the grooming of victims, but that doesn’t matter if the environment isn’t controlled. Your vic sees you palling around with every person they’d go to for help and they absolutely believe the “you tell anyone and they won’t believe you” routine. Abusers rely on their good deeds to help them remain unpunished. There might be different ways of maintaining the illusion, but just because someone was nice to you, makes great music, or has a way with words on Sundays, it doesn’t mean abuse allegations aren’t credible.


The victims of abuse are not the only victims. We continue to cover for abusers when we look for ways to blame victims for their own assault or sexual abuse or manipulation. It is almost as though we believe that, if we can shift the blame to those that were wrecked by abuse, then we can walk away unscathed. But we don't.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Unknown Wounds

Over the last few months, it is almost as though the air has changed. Once upon a time, I worked with victims of sexual and domestic violence. I also provided community trainings to other helping agencies. I’ve never felt the urgency or the desire to speak up for victims of sexual harassment, assault, and rape the way I do now. It’s difficult. It’s messy. It changes your relationships with the people in your life. It can take a toll on your faith in God, the Church, and in people. 

Over the holidays, we visited family. I was cleaning up a dinner mess one night when part of a discussion in the next room caught my attention. Someone made a comment about recent allegations in the entertainment industry and someone else concurred. I tried to stay out of it. I was going to be the lone dissenter. The only one willing to side with the victims. I knew it would not be a fruitful conversation. I managed to busy myself for a few minutes longer, but then I heard a tween speak up in agreement. I couldn’t stay silent. The urgency was overwhelming.
Those adults defending the reputations of men they’d never met wanted proof. They wanted evidence of intimacy crimes that often doesn’t exist. They wanted to be able to rely on the magic of rape kits (which didn’t always exist) to bring justice for all. It was easy enough to concede that maybe in some cases sexual assault or rape was a criminal offense, but the blame lays with the victims for not reporting. (Assuming those in authority cared.) As I tried to explain there are (perhaps seemingly trivial) behaviors that lead to us normalizing sexual violence (cat calling, harassment, etc.) the debate exploded. 

I gave examples of how I have normalized harassing behavior by glossing over it in my own life.  I told them how one of the first nights I was getting to know my now spouse I was faced with the decision to trust that he, a man I barely knew through a trusted friend, was more safe than the man following me around the party so he could repeatedly grab my ass. This wasn’t a good example I was told, because men get their asses grabbed also. 

I was asked for examples of harassment that are wrong but not necessarily illegal. Once again, my own experience came to mind quickly. 

I told my loved ones about the Thanksgiving night when I was home from college, catching up with one of my two male best friends. I was telling him happily about the guy I had just started seeing, and how I could not wait to get back to see him again. My closest and dearest friend, someone I had never once felt unsafe with and often ran to in times of crisis, took this as an opportunity to climb on top of me. No matter how hard I struggled, no matter how many times his lips met my “No.” “Stop.” he pressed on. 

My loved ones’ response? “Did you report it?” I could only ask “Report what?" I wasn’t raped. He didn’t need to take off my jeans or my sweater to fondle me. “Report it to who?” There is no evidence. Who would care?

“You should have told his mother.”

In this moment, I remembered why I would remind my clients to be sure the person they chose to disclose trauma to was a safe person. In this moment, I realized the last few months had unknowingly opened a wound I did not know was there. As I walked away, I heard the child say again, “Those women should have spoken up sooner.”

I sat in the downstairs room alone. I wondered if I had mentioned his mother did not speak English, would it matter? If I had told them I begged my dad to take me back to school early, would they see the hurt? If I had told them that I had called our other best friend once I was back at school to confide in him and that he told me he was sure it did not happen the way I had described it, would that help them to see my point? If I marched back up the stairs and explained how the worst twenty minutes of my life up to that point meant I lost both of my best friends, would they understand?

I stayed downstairs. One by one, my young children came down. One by one, I tucked them in, vowing to be the safe person in their lives. 


Speaking up hurts, but it is important work.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rape Culture


Several years back, there was a comedian that landed in hot water for getting into an argument with a female audience member at one of his stand up gigs. I remember a line from one of his routines where he describes his humor as pushing the limits until there is only one person left laughing, so it came as no shock to me that one of his retorts to this audience member involved rape.

A friend and I debated extensively on the subject. She was rightfully horrified by his comments and I wasn't so much defending him (I did like his TV show at the time) as I was defending morbid comedy. My general position was that my weird, gallows humor would leave me laughing at things that were wildly inappropriate. Things like death. Dead baby jokes. So is it a stretch to say rape humor should be off limits?

Hear me out. I cannot think of a single time I've ever laughed at a rape joke. I can think of times when I was working in sexual and domestic violence advocacy where coworkers and I found humor in our jobs. Humor that would probably be inappropriate outside of our group. I was defending gallows humor.

A few weeks ago, I came across this graphic from 11th Principle: Consent!:




Had I seen this graphic during the debate with my friend, I would have had no choice but to concede.

Incidentally, this graphic feels very timely to current events.

There are many communities that are reeling from various levels of sexual abuse scandals. We're seeing it in politics, entertainment, faith communities... this is nothing new. These scandals are not new. This type of thing has always happened, but what changes is how we approach victims.

As of late, it feels as though victims, survivors, and their supporting advocates are getting louder. These people have nothing to gain aside from sexual predators being held accountable for their actions.

I see disturbing things happening when these stories come to light, particularly in Catholic circles. I want to talk about this, because it is why I started this project. My growing list of concerns include:

1. Concern that is focused on protecting a man's reputation above victims and future victim's rights.

2. The need to blame the victim or their environment.

3. The focus on modesty and chaste living or even being married as protection from sexual abuse or exploitation.

4. A lack of accountability for the accused and minimization of their actions.


Sexual assault and sexual abuse and even rape are not necessarily interchangeable terms. Sexual predators come in different forms with different patterns, different goals, different prey because sexual abuse or exploitation or assault is not about sex. It is about power. Sexual predators know how to find their prey and how to erase their tracks. They have long known how to be the wolf in sheep's clothing. They know how to isolate, manipulate, and control the narrative using a variety of methods. Here's the domestic violence power and control wheel. While it may have been created to identify the various ways an abusive intimate partner works to control their victim, it gives plenty of examples in how a sexual predator coerces victims into "consensual" relationships and into sex.


Not all predators work the long con. If you want more information on typology, click here. Not all sexual predators act illegally. Predatory behavior does not have to be ignored just because there was no illegal action. If we truly want to see sexual crimes decrease, we must demand accountability. Refer back to the rape culture graphic. The things at the base of the pyramid do a nice job of supporting the behaviors that become increasingly heinous because it allows us to minimize and normalize behavior. 

It's easy to just blame something like porn and move on. It is easy to insist that the sexual revolution did this. It is easy to tell our young girls to be modest and chaste and insist that corrects the problem, but the denim jumper with a knitted sweater in a well-lit library during business hours can be assaulted just as easily as the tight micro mini with a tube top at the bar. Clothes do not matter. Different sexual predators prey on women from different backgrounds and with different or no baggage. "Proper religious formation and instruction" cannot protect. We are all sinners and being a sinner is not what makes one an easy target. 

This sounds hopeless, and I get why so many feel the need to place blame on what is easier to change (such as a victim's behavior or age, or the community) rather than blame those responsible. It is more difficult to change a sexual predator's behavior because they are able to hide behind our hopelessness. They can issue half-assed apologies, or disappear and reemerge in a new community and find new ways to cover their tracks. But we can stop this by calling out their behavior. By believing their victims. By placing the blame squarely where it belongs: with those that did the hurting.

Rape culture is real. If we truly want to fight against rape, molestation, and violence, we must look at that pyramid graphic and stop allowing any of it, illegal or not.

The next time you feel compelled to comment on a breaking sexual abuse/assault/violence story, think about what you post. Do you want to support the victim? Say "I believe you." Do you want to hold the perpetrator accountable? Say "I am not okay with this and he/she/they needs to be held accountable."

If you need a list of things not to say, message me. I'd be happy to fill your inbox with examples.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sexual Assault is in the News Again

Every time that there is a scandal involving sexual assault front and center, we are told to wait. Wait for more information. Wait for the evidence Law & Order and CSI has promised us. Wait for a judge or jury to tell us how to proceed.

Wait to ruin this man's reputation until we know it needs ruined.

There is rarely concern for those that come forward. There are many questions: Was there a rape kit? Why is she crying? Why is she not crying? Why was she there? Is it worth going into that line of work? Shouldn't she have thought that through? What is she gaining from this?

There is rarely concern or a desire to help those with stories of the most intimate of crimes to heal.

Instead, we wonder aloud and in comboxes how long a man must repent before we believe him. We wonder how this will devastate his career. We accept the standard apology and use the sliver of good and the false pillar of the community reputation to defend our continued support. We latch on to any good thing we've ever heard about the accused because we don't want to know.

We tell young girls that the boys pull their hair and hurt them because they like them.

We tell young girls to be pretty but do not explain.

We say that boys will be boys and caution our daughters about locker room behavior. We teach them to ignore cat calls and to smile. We tell them, if they are polite enough, it will all be okay.

We ignore that predators are very skilled at knowing their environment. We ignore that they know how to make grandiose gestures that make them seem an unlikely predator. We ignore that we laugh off their fondness for young girls or their tendency to get too handsy. We tell women about their patterns and then say "Don't say we didn't warn you."

We do not hold sexual criminals accountable.

As friends, family, and advocates for victims and survivors of sexual assault (both make and female alike) it is not our job to determine the legal 'guilty' or 'not guilty' verdict. It is our duty to listen and believe. It is our duty to be supportive and to help survivors heal. It is our duty to tell predators that we know and they must change and be held accountable.

Why do victims not report? Why do they wait years before coming forward?

They are told no one believe them and then they see no one believing others. They see the high esteem in which their attackers are held. They are ashamed. They need to heal.

Why doesn't every survivor get the needed evidence by submitting to a rape kit?

Because they are costly and victims are still sometimes responsible for that cost.

Because they don't always get tested.

Because they are not always available.

Because they do not know where to go.

Because in the immediate aftermath of being violated so intimately by a person you likely trusted, they only thing that makes sense is to wash it away to make it go away and rape kits can feel like the opposite of that.

Because pressing charges puts your career and other things you hold dear at risk.

Because sometimes DNA evidence doesn't matter.



As friends, family, and advocates standing against these crimes, we need to support the survivors in any way we can and demand the correct treatment for the accused. We need to expect personal accountably and blame where it belongs: with the predator. We need to expect a sincere apology that includes taking responsibility, a focus on the wrong that was done, appropriate punishment and treatment.