Susan was a sophomore at a small Christian college. Working on campus during summer break, she was walking to her dorm alone one evening when a man suddenly appeared on the path. “It’s not safe to be out here by yourself,” he told her in a kind voice. He said he was going her way and would accompany her back home to ensure she would be protected. When she reached her door, he pushed it and her inside.
“That was the first of nine evenings in which he broke into my room and choked, raped, beat, and otherwise sexually assaulted me,” Susan said. “The first thing I remember thinking was that it was my fault. I was the one who let a stranger walk me to my dorm. And then, as each night passed, I remember simply accepting that this would be the way I would die. I wasn’t afraid of dying. What scared me was living a life like this.”
Susan didn’t report the assaults. “It sounds strange, but I didn’t realize that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I was young and naïve, and I had no voice. Each night I tried to barricade myself into my room, to keep him from breaking in. But it never occurred to me to call the police or do anything else about it. I didn’t even tell anyone about it until more than five years later. I just felt resigned to the idea that this was life for women. And I felt deep shame because I believed the abuse was my fault. In a way, it was actually easier to believe that something was wrong with me. It was easier to believe that than to comprehend how a man could take such delight in hurting a woman in that manner.”
“I don’t hate him,” Susan continued. “What breaks my heart is when I consider what he must have been through, what he must have seen, to believe that this is how a woman is to be treated. It’s a tragedy for me. And it’s a tragedy for him.”
Decades later, Susan still feels some effects of the abuse. “Every once and awhile I have a sensation that his hands are around my neck again, choking me.” But she also knows she is healing. “Even though my body still bears the scars, I realize that I don’t need to carry scars in my spirit the rest of my life,” she explained. “I have found deep peace in understanding that Jesus didn’t desire for me to be hurt, that he was crying right along with me. I understand now how much I matter in the eyes of God, and because of that, I have found my voice.”
I wept when I heard Susan’s story. I cried because her story is too common. And I cried because she is my mother. Survivors of sexual assault are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our neighbors. Patriarchy is not simply an obscure topic for academic discussion with no real day-to-day consequences. It is close to home. It is even in our homes.
So, as women and men who belong to Jesus, how are we to respond? Over the last few years, CBE has been studying, discussing, and praying about the concept that “ideas have consequences.” When our world, our churches, our families believe that women are inferior, women suffer, in very tangible ways. Part of our job as Christians who care about justice and mercy is not only to work to end rape, or sex trafficking, or pornography, but to also fight the ideas that allow them to become reality. That is the focus of this issue of Mutuality.
Rape and sexual violence are, of course, terribly difficult topics to discuss. But it is my prayer that you find hope in these pages. Blessings to you as you read and reflect on how, as Elaine Heath coins in her interview that follows (p. 4), we as the body of Christ can be “conduits of extraordinary compassion.”
On another note: This will be my last issue as editor of Mutuality, as I am heading off to follow another dream of mine to open a bakery. It has been a complete joy and honor to serve the CBE community through my years as editor and will miss it greatly. But I am happy to continue my work at CBE part-time, as our web content strategist. And I am thrilled to introduce our new editor, Tim Krueger, who is an incredibly gifted writer, logical thinker, and inspiring Christian. Mutuality is in very good hands.