A central plot-line in the disturbing but stunning 1999 film American Beauty involves sexual fantasies about a teen girl by the main character, a middle-aged suburban husband and father desperately living out a quiet nightmare version of the American Dream. In a discussion of the film with my then-boss, an older man, a strong Christian leader and educator, he told me, “Any man who says he hasn’t had such fantasies is a liar.” His candor was as rare as it was refreshing. But what he said wasn’t shocking.

Perhaps if the church dealt more honestly with sexual temptation, temptation would lead less frequently to acting out on it. Keeping talk of such temptations taboo leads naturally to imagining that one’s temptations are somehow unique, which leads, in turn, to imagining oneself as somehow unique and, therefore, entitled in one’s status as “special” to act on one’s temptations.

Imagine: for every child abused, the number of those who are tested and groomed as potential victims must be utterly staggering.That’s the sense I got from the now-removed post written by an anonymous sex offender and published last week at Leadership Journal. Yet, the truth is that the impulses that led to this former youth pastor’s sexual abuse of a child under his care and authority—pride, lust, covetousness, selfishness, and the elaborate mental apparatus to rationalize it all—are, ultimately, rather banal. They are as old as humankind. The editors’ well-intentioned decision to publish the piece as a cautionary tale betrays in them and their target audience an underlying naiveté in regarding the abuser’s rationalizations as insightful and revealing enough to give him a platform for voicing them.

Let us ever be horrified at every form of abuse—but let us stop being shocked.

In my own ordinary experience, encounters with adult sexual predators were a common—if not universal—part of growing up. I cannot even begin to count the friends and relatives who were pursued as minors—sometimes “successfully,” sometimes not—by adult predators: a friend pursued by her high school swimming coach, a 14-year-old-going-on-11 member of my family who eventually bore the child of her 26 year-old “boyfriend” (who we later learned was a convicted pedophile), a friend’s daughter molested by a man while her pastoring father was busy doing ministry, another friend’s father who was arrested for exposing himself to children, more than one friend who was molested as a child by a grandfather, a former student of mine who was raped over and over as a child by the men in her church. And then there’s me, whose story is nothing compared to those.

I was a junior in high school when I moved in the middle of the academic year from a tiny school in rural Maine to a sprawling public high school in suburban New York. I don’t know if it was being the new kid that made me stand out in a sea of 2,000 students or what. But, for some reason (or perhaps no reason at all), my health teacher started offering me extra, unsought attention during the chaos that constituted our class time. “I need a woman like you in my life,” he whispered in my ear while walking between the rows of distracted students. Another time, he walked over to where I was sitting on the window sill before class, put his hands on the tops of my thighs and ran them up and down my legs.

Those days were different from today. Then, such people were referred to as “dirty old men,” a phrase that bespoke their commonness but was unfortunately dismissive of the seriousness of their actions. I told my parents about my teacher. They told me if I needed their help in handling him to let them know. I didn’t. It ended. I don’t remember how. Fortunately, my parents had raised me to be strong and independent, and they succeeded. I see now that other girls—too many—were not so lucky.

I viewed the Leadership Journal post itself as less problematic than the blindness to the scope of the problem of abuse that its perceived novelty implied. In response, I shared a Twitter-sized version of my experience with one of the Leadership Journal’s editors. But lest my story be taken as some sort of anomaly, I followed that with a general question posed to the Twitterverse: How old were you when you were pursued sexually by an adult authority?

I knew in posing the question that it would prove right to cast it not as “if” but “when.” After all, 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 report having been sexually abused, along with 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12. Of course, my question was much broader: posed not only to those who had been abused but to potential victims, too, those who had been merely sought out by an adult predator, as I had been. Imagine: for every child abused, the number of those who are tested and groomed as potential victims must be utterly staggering.

My sense about the pervasiveness of the problem was, sadly, proven correct over the next several hours, as the Storify post created by Jeff Chu demonstrates. The responses on Twitter were—and continue days later to be—overwhelming.

Again, it’s time for the church to stop being shocked and face reality with open eyes.

Let me pause here to offer my own confession. I am situated doctrinally and culturally rather squarely within the conservative camp of evangelical Christianity. I need to acknowledge my disappointment at the overwhelming (although not total) silence from the leaders on my side of the church aisle, leaders for whom I have the deepest respect. It hurts not only me, but more importantly, the entire church body for these men not to be taking a greater lead in recognizing the scope of the problem and the suffering of the abused. It hurts the many that have been abused and should have every reason to hope the church would be where they would be most accepted, protected, and loved.

One expert estimates that between 1% and 5% of the population molest children. This means that if you know 100 adults, chances are good that at least one of them is a child molester. Maybe more. There is no evidence to suggest that the church population differs significantly in reflecting the general population.

Of course, accepting the commonness of the problem does not mean accepting the problem. It is with sexual abuse as it is with a dog’s jumping: it should be neither shocking nor tolerated.

Nor does opening our eyes to the problem mean we should establish a battery of fear-based rules and regulations for young people and for those that serve them. Rather, we must be fiercely communicative, open, vigilant, and wise. We need to understand the fact that abusers, potential abusers, and their victims are all around us. There is no need to adopt a culture of fear, suspecting anyone whose hand we shake at Sunday morning worship is a thief—but we don’t leave our wallets unattended in the robe room either.

How old were you when you were pursued sexually by an adult authority figure?


75 Comments

  1. Such a festering wound in the church and society to open and allow to drain, and you have done it with such compassion. As a physician who evaluated over 1000 cases of child sexual abuse during the early part of my career, I saw the healing in simply asking “tell me about it”. You have asked the same question in a way that allows people to open up and the healing begins. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for the affirming words from a professional perspective. I am glad to know my instincts were right in asking and in how to frame the question.

  2. Research indicates that many mentally ill people have at the root of their illness childhood sexual abuse, from which they are attempting to dissociate both mind and body in an effort to stifle the pain. I have listened to too many similar horror stories as a former recovery group facilitator. This is doubly sad when you consider how readily the church has married itself to the mental health system, which is too secular and humanistic to truly fit into Christian culture. A lot of sexual abuse is perpetrated by teens against younger children, by the way. This is my story.

    1. Thank you for sharing here from your professional and personal experience. We need to have these stories heard.

    2. As opposed to “nouthetic” “biblical” counseling that just screws people over and over?

      Incompetent to counsel, by far.

    3. Debbie, I too was a very young child when I was abused by a teenage girl who lived next door. In fact, I was so young that I don’t even remember if I told anyone…until now. Thank you for your insight into this problem.

  3. Thank you. These were some important reminders about how society has changed its understanding and grown (from the dirty old men phase), and the reminder about American Beauty is, in fact, chilling. I’m also very appreciative of the hashtag and how much it has raised awareness. It’s been remarkable.

    I would ask with all graciousness though, Karen, that you reconsider this statement: “Fortunately, my parents had raised me to be strong and independent, and they succeeded. I see now that other girls—too many—were not so lucky.” It feeds the idea that girls are responsible for how they are treated, that if only they were strong and independent they’d be just fine. It’s a form of victim blaming. Consider those who were assaulted by adults or (like me) drugged–our personalities and how our parents raised us had nothing to do with what happened to us, and I believe it’s true in many other kinds of cases too.

    I just ask that you reconsider that perspective that a girl’s personality is responsible for her abuse, because it’s simply not true and is hurtful to many–like me–in the very cause you’re taking a stand for. Thanks for considering that, Karen. If I’ve misunderstood your statement, please let me know.

    1. Tamara,

      Thanks so much for explaining how that came across! I am going to think about it some more. I really mean that I do feel lucky–very lucky–to have been raised that way. It helped in that PARTICULAR situation–which was by no means as serious or threatening as most others that people have gone through. I certainly don’t mean to blame others for being victims, though I probably do mean to put a little blame on those who try to keep girls from being strong and independent (not that that is surefire preventative, but it certainly can help, no?).

      I will think about this more. I welcome further dialogue on this. Thank you.

    2. At the risk of appearing as an unwelcome interloper, I think I do have something valuable to say here (and if not, please do correct me!).
      Dr. Prior’s comment and stance do not actually constitute victim-blaming, although that they can be seen as such is entirely understandable, given the intricacy and the emotion of the topic. They don’t because there’s a difference between responsibility for an act and attribution for safety (my terms, and yes, imperfect). In any given situation of abuse, I know Dr. Prior would agree that responsibility for the abuse lies wholly with the perpetrator. Sin always begins in the heart, with an embrace of temptation. However, success of the attack can be influenced by any number of factors, circumstantial or personal. In her case, she has attributed her ultimate safety to her upbringing. This constituted a sufficient factor for safety in her specific situation (in the same way that, say, the evildoer suffering a sudden heart attack might have). In saying that other girls were not so lucky, she simply imagines that for an undefined number of others, that factor could have also been sufficient for safety against the evil attempted against them. Definitely not all, as you pointed out.
      If I say (correctly) that I will never suffer from sickle cell anemia due to my genetics, I only reveal the factor to which I attribute my safety. By saying it, I have not blamed others for not having my genes; to discuss a cause responsible for others’ suffering is a completely different matter. Does this make sense?
      Also a different matter is the fact that such a statement CAN very easily be interpreted as blame. When and where to speak of such must be matters of wisdom and discretion.
      This issue is one that I’ve been wrestling with for some time. Thoughts and criticism are very much encouraged.

    3. Thank you. That’s exactly it. The facts of my particular situation–that I was a junior in high school, not a small child, and that my strength and independence were the tools I was able to use in that particular situation–should by no means be taken as a judgment about other people in other situations. Not should I be forced to be silent about my particular situation simply because the facts differ from those in other situations.

    4. Hi, thank you for this.

      The article succeeds in clarifying the vast difference between sexual sin and preying on children.

      Am also concerned about the statement of being strong and independent.

      Child abuse is never the responsibility of a child. There is nothing that you are or not as a child that allows an adult, who should know and be better to hunt you down. This is why they are called predators. They hunt on the younger, unsuspecting children who are generally raised to believe that adults are right, and should be listened to and obeyed. It’s a societal norm.

      They convolute these children by altering their relationship between love, sex, adults and relationships. More than the sexual/physical act is the emotional and psychological wounds that no child is equipped to deal with, that linger for a lifetime. Generally these can adequately be attended to in adult life, with the help of a professional and some people are never able to bring peace to their fractured souls.

      So again, there is no strength, independence that is required or needed by any child. As a child you simply should be yourself, whatever you were created to be.

    5. I agree- being a strong person has nothing to do with it when you are being groomed by someone older, someone in authority over you. It’s equally disturbing that her parents chose to let a 14 yr/old deal with it and didn’t step up as protector. Kids need to know there are adults that have their back. Healing can come from talking about the victimization and abuse- but comes even further when a another adult steps in and protects…because that is the roll that’s been damaged. If he was good at grooming, this author’s story might have ended differently, and her parents wouldn’t have known. To add: ANY sexualized touching or inappropriate behavior similar to her description IS abuse.

    6. I don’t think Karen was victim-blaming either. She was just making the point that she had the psychological toughness to resist a predator. I would make the arguement, that while her parents perhaps should have been involved to report the predator, they obviously did a good job in preparing her to resist improper advances. If only every child was so well prepared; as I’m sure all of us can remember similar evil offers from our childhood. While I don’t think we can prevent all or perhaps even many incidents by good child-rearing, some can be prevented. I believe that if a girl has been raised by a father who loves her appropriately, and has taught her to believe that she is a beautiful, worthwhile daughter of God, she will be less vulnerable to predators. Perhaps this is the problem today, not that there are more predators, but that with the fragmentation of the family, more children are more vulnerable.

  4. Karen,

    This is a remarkable conversation and I am grateful to you for your perspective and your gracious courage. I was sexually abused as a very young girl by two different men close to and part of our conservative Christian family. For the past dozen years (I am now 43 years old), I have been working through the ways this experience has wounded me and my relationships within the context of private counseling as well as small groups of people working through similar suffering. I have only recently begun to speak and write my experience in more public settings.

    There is so much value in what has already been said in the Twitter conversation as well as in the comments section of this post. I don’t have much new to add, but would like to highlight the comment Tamara Rice made above (coincidentally she and I share the same first name). My initial reaction to your sentence: “Fortunately, my parents had raised me to be strong and independent, and they succeeded. I see now that other girls—too many—were not so lucky.” — was a sense of shame and invalidation. I quickly realized your intent for that sentence, as your gracious reply to Tamara’s comment confirmed. I wonder if it’s helpful to reframe your thought about “raising strong and independent girls” (and, really, this is not a gender-specific issue) to line up more with your overall goal for this conversation in the first place — to stop behaving as if abuse does not happen . That strength is truly found in our weakness and that our vulnerability to predators is not removed within Christian relationships? And that independence is really more about healthy dependence on a safe culture of mature adults who refuse to live in a sentimentalized naiveté . I practically cheered out loud at your statement that this sort of sin is “as old as humankind”. Naiveté’ is a passive sin of omission that we need to repent of on behalf of many generations.

    The second comment I want to add into the conversation is that we must continue to consider how we have/we will respond to those who are the abusers. One form of sentimentality that brings harm rather than healing is to live as if they are of no value. Pedophiles are pretty much the only group of people in our society that it’s still acceptable to hate. We will not be able to shed full light on the evil of abuse without talking about how to love the abuser (who in a large percentage of cases will have been abused themselves). I say this while feeling a bit sick in my stomach at the thought of showing mercy to abusers. Yet, in my own case, had someone shown mercy earlier to my abusers they may have had the opportunity to heal before continuing the cycle of abuse. We need both justice and mercy for abusers.

    Thank you for listening. Apparently I had a lot to say after all. God’s peace to us all as we continue to share our stories with each other.

    1. Tamara,

      Thank you so much for adding these thoughts–and your story–to the conversation. (I’ve been away all day and trying unsuccessfully to keep up by my phone).

      Please see my comment above in replay to Douglas’s. I do not mean for what worked for me in my particular situation to be a judgment on any other situation. It’s just the truth of my own experience.

      I think you have really hit on something important in your second comment as well. Did you see the NPR story on pedophiles? Who are they to turn to for help, exactly, when they are, understandably, so reviled? We really have a lot of work to do with victims and perpetrators–and POTENTIAL perpetrators before they do harm!–don’t we?

      I am listening and thinking to all of these stories and perspectives!

  5. “though I probably do mean to put a little blame on those who try to keep girls from being strong and independent (not that that is surefire preventative, but it certainly can help, no?).”

    What is strong?
    If you are saying, ‘strong in the Lord, strong in faith’ I would entirely agree.

    What is independent?
    If you are saying, ‘free of the fear of man’, and so not needing any man’s approval, but living to please Christ alone, I would wholeheartedly agree.

    But if it is empowering ‘grrls’ then you are sadly mistaken that this kind of acculturation would protect a naive Christian girl from a predatory male. Quite the opposite! — in our experience, as some young ones we love came under this kind of influence, and were badly taken advantage of.

    1. “Strong and independent” in this case probably not being afraid to fend off and report the actions of a male authority figure just because he happens to be a male, authority figure.

    2. This kind of independence comes more naturally with some children, according to their temperaments. Those kids typically are not targeted by pedophiles. It will take a comprehensive and cooperative effort by parents, teachers, church workers and the media through PSAs to empower and educate children in this regard. I have said this for years. But this kind of abuse, widespread though it is, is facilitated by silence.

    3. “not being afraid to fend off and report the actions of a male authority figure just because he happens to be a male, authority figure”

      I agree. When I critiqued the teachings of “To Train Up a Child” I cited this as the reason to, “ask yourself– is instant, unquestioning obedience to authority a virtue you really want to instill in your kids. Death is not the only peril lurking in the Pearl’s teachings.” And I linked to the testimony of Razing Ruth as a cautionary tale.

      But ‘Strong and Independent and Empowered’ can also be mechanism that charismatic and exciting, and slightly older predators *outside* the church use to groom our young. That was our experience.

  6. Thanks so much for the discussion, Karen. As someone who was sexually abused as a child from a trusted family friend, I ask what kind of independence and strength can you possess at age 7? Both of my sisters and this man’s daughter were also victims. I grew into a very independent and strong teen, but the fear he put into us if we told was real. I now have 2 daughters of my own and try to anticipate the kinds of situations they could find themselves in and prepare them any way I can without scaring them into avoiding people all together (they are 10 and 14). But my experience clearly gave me perspective that others don’t have. No naïveté here!! My girls are both strong and independent, so I have maybe been a bit naive thinking this will protect them in some way. It’s certainly something culturally I feel is discussed way more than when I was a kid. It is literally the thing that keeps me up at night. I praise God that we have a strong faith and that we have His support in any and all situations. God’s love saved me.

  7. Dr. P,
    I want to offer a particular thank you for the comments on temptation. Reevaluating the way we, as a culture, think and educate about that kind of temptation is an absolutely necessary part of a solution to this epidemic.
    Your boss was absolutely correct. Men, no less than any other broken humans, are tempted, and sexual temptation re: young women or girls is a key weak point. An honest acknowledgement of this fact is needed, in concert with a systemic look at how these kind of temptations originate. The first shoot is the best and easiest time to pull a weed from the garden soil, and no atrocity ever appears full-formed.
    Years ago, my mother discovered a man exposing himself to my younger brother in the children’s section of our public library. My brother was no more than three or four years old. While there’s no knowing what crimes the man may or may not have committed prior to that day, there’s no doubt in my mind that a long history of secrecy, rejection, and self-deception played a part in his slide into depravity.

    1. Thank you, Douglas, for picking up on and expanding on this thread of the conversation. Note Tamara’s comment above of how pedophiles are treated.

  8. Other than hearing stories of a great grandfather whom I never met occasionally exposing himself to his grandchildren with whom he lived, I don’t know anyone who has been abused or pursued. I am sure it has happened but was never talked about. I was “depantsed” as a child by a couple of bullies in my school class, but that’s it. Any scars I carry over from childhood were from being mistreated by teachers and bullied by other students because I was so ugly. I do hear stories about perpetrators, however. In a church I attended, a convicted rapist of a child was released into the supervision of one of the pastors, who had the uncanny misjudgment to put him into the clown ministry. He reoffended. The parents said they would contact the police (I don’t know if they ever did). The church didn’t. A child sexual abuser who was subjected to church discipline at the church where he offended, has eventually worked his way up to the head of the board of elders at another church I once attended. He was never reported to the police or held legally responsible for his actions. Another church now has as its pastors one of those “supervisors” at a New Tribes Mission boarding school whose name appears in a list of offenders. He disputes the reports by saying he didn’t actually fondle little girls when he was tucking them into bed at night or spanking them in their underwear. What’s the matter with these churches? And what’s the matter with the parishioners who don’t seem to mind any of this?

  9. Never. No one ever behaved less than appropriately with me.

    I wasn’t a kid who would have appeared vulnerable in any way. I had very involved parents and a strong “don’t mess with me,” attitude going from the age of 5.

    But also, I never got the feeling from anyone in the church that this type of behavior was anything but revolting. It wasn’t spoken of often, but when it was it was with contempt and disgust. Measures to protect children were quietly and consistently improved. No one I knew was comfortable talking about these situations, but that doesn’t mean they were ignoring them either.

    1. My experiences with predators were outside the church. My experience in the church personally has been like yours. I’m very thankful for that.

  10. As a parent of a child with autism, i see another layer to this story…what about kids who can’t (yet) speak of their experiences? I just read a story saying up to 50% of individuals with autism report being abused, although that study included abuse of all sorts.

    I’ve been told I’m overly concerned on a couple of occasions when someone in our church community took it upon themselves to take my child somewhere without my knowledge (e.g., a birthday party where RSVP’s are not really expected).

    I think I have good reason to be vigilant, after reading this article.

  11. I was 5 years old the first time, and 19 the 2nd. I still blame myself for both. I still struggle with my own value in God’s eyes, and have yet to lose the shame and feeling of being dirty that cripples me. I do wish the church as a whole would address this issue, quit victim blaming, and quit equating forgiveness with forgetting and reconcilation. They are not the same!

    1. I am so sorry. I know it’s not as simple as me just saying so, but I still want to say YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME. And I do not believe “forgetting” is biblical at all! Peace to you, I pray.

    2. Also, the church I know doesn’t blame the victim or encourage reconciliation with evil. She may be naive in this realm, but not abusive. Not having meaningful ministry for victims is an oversight that must be corrected, but it is hard work even in the best of environments to move beyond the wounds. There is nothing else to compare them to except the very wounds of Christ. He walks the lonely road of recovery with us.

    1. I hear and appreciate that. For this post, however, my target audience was the church that is standing by and too often not listening or responding effectively. These also are often the ones not fond of strong, independent women. I was speaking primarily to them and the church at large. That’s the “we” of this article.

  12. I think we also have to acknowledge the collateral damage of our justified outrage over the sexual abuse and manipulation of children: the fact that more and more young men (18-25) are being charged with and convicted of extremely serious sex crimes that, in many cases, destroy the rest of their lives, because of relationships they have with willing, non-manipulated, sometimes more sexually-experienced post-pubescent teens less than a year under their state’s age of consent.

    Are these men wrong? Yes. Do they deserve punishment? Yes. But, the current punishments treat these men no differently than they’d treat the 40 year old man who raped a 6 year old child or people who produce child pornography. They are charged with extremely serious felony sex crimes they will never get off their record, put on sex offender registries for 25 years to life, and basically put in a position where their future relationship, housing, and job prospects are forever ruined before, in some cases, they were even out of college, because of a single, non-violent, statutory offense that in some cases is entirely online or textual in nature.

    If there is one lesson we should have learned in this country over the last 40 years, it’s that harsher and harsher penalties for crimes does NOT lead to less crime. We are the only country in the world with a public sex offender registry that routinely lists men convicted of a single, statutory offense (and one of only a couple with a public registry at all). We have longer prison terms for nearly all sex crimes than any other nation. We close off more future opportunities to those with criminal backgrounds than any other nation. And yet, we have higher rates of violence, including sexual violence. Our current ways of dealing with sex crimes is not working.

    As we discuss sex crimes, we cannot, as Christians–who are called to remember the prisoner and the reviled–forget about the 800K men (and rapidly increasing) on our nation’s sex offender registry. They are subject daily to discrimination, humiliation, threats, and violence, as are their families. They are denied housing, employment, and government assistance, often for life. And, over 85% of them are on the registry not for a forcible sex crime or molesting a child, but for either a single, non-violent, statutory or victimless offense. 1/3 of these men were minors themselves when convicted of their offense, and many others were young men. In our right desire to help victims of sexual abuse, we cannot ignore or, worse, further dehumanize and vilify the nearly 1 million men who make up our nation’s modern-day lepers, especially when many of them were young men who made a single mistake of a non-violent statutory nature and want more than anything the chance to turn their lives around.

    1. I should add, of course, that these men have also served their time. They have completed their punishment. And yet they–unlike murderers, drug dealers, child killers, wife beaters, drunk drivers, and armed robbers–are not allowed to move on with their lives, even if their crime was having sex with a willing 15 year old girlfriend when they were 20 or exchanged racy pictures with a willing 17 year old when they were 24. These are not good things, but we don’t punish people who do other not good things for the rest of their lives.

      Any Christian should be concerned with a policy that punishes a person indefinitely after they have already served their legal sentence.

  13. This was a much needed article written by the right person from the right vantage point. Thanks again for your contributions, Karen. They are much appreciated.

    1. Thank you for that affirmation. I really didn’t seek out this topic, but simply tried to answer the need when I saw it arise. I guess that’s all any of us can do.

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    1. God makes us whole and resourceful. When the individual is ready to work and deal with what happened to them, they will share. It’s about respecting that people can articulate themselves and their needs. If you suspect, pray for the person. Pray for their release from this and that God restores them. However we must be careful to not bring realisation to someone for something they are not ready to address.

      For me, we need to respect that people are whole and resourceful. We might not like how they deal or cope with things, but the human mind is an amazing computer that protects and shields the person from various aspects they aren’t ready for. So respect the person, pray for them. Above all else love them, for who they are, warts and all. Love unlocks a lot of things. Christ’s love has released me from a multitude of things.

    2. Ted, we must be careful in how we broach the subject lest someone be falsely accused. Younger children may exhibit behaviors observed by teachers or parents that could point to abuse, but they also may deny it out of a confused love for the perpetrator or because they are being threatened in some way to keep silent. I think having a trained counselor probe in safe ways is best. To this day some of my family believe my late brother was absused by a teacher, but no one knew how to confirm it back then. Sometimes a sibling is a safe confidant.

  15. Very stirring & thought-provoking article dealing with an ugly social malaise. May the heavenly Father comfort, console & construct the victims and also release from the bondage of this sin, the perpetrators and would-be perpetrators.

  16. I was 13 or 14 and it was my Dad who was a missionary. I spend years taking blame because on one level it felt good. You cannot imagine the guilt and it affected my marriage even though I did not think it did. I have been married for 40 years and it was just one year ago that I finally gave myself permission to really enjoy being intimate with my husband. This issue can cause tremendous devastation and harm that goes on for years.

  17. Karen, thank you. I’ve been involved in DV work for over ten years, and the only thing that shocks me anymore is the hush among Christian leaders. The Stop the Silence Initiative (SheLoves Magazine) provides a platform for stories of victims of abuse and violence in churches. Yesterday’s Stop the Silence story happened to be about sexual abuse. It’s only one of a heartbreaking number that poured into my email. I pray that churches wake up.

  18. I don’t intend to excuse the behavior of this youth pastor one bit, but I do have a thought question: What if you had a 24-year-old UNmarried youth pastor who legitimately fell in love with a 16-year-old girl in his group? What if his intentions were honorable, and he waited until she was 18, then married her? What if they’re happily married to this day? Would you still say that the romantic feelings he had for the girl before she was technically 18 were perverse and creepy? Because I could tell you a true story that goes exactly like that. The reason I ask is that it seems like from the perspective of this article and other articles I’ve read, the problem is not that the youth pastor was married, but that the girl was under 18. People are likening the pastor’s temptation to pedophilia. But if merely being sexually attracted to a 15-16-year-old girl qualifies as pedophilia, does that mean we could never treat similar situations with unmarried youth pastors as a boyfriend-girlfriend case? It seems there’s no space left in these evaluations even for a pure romance like what I described above, let alone space for, “Okay, I can tell you guys are in love, but you shouldn’t be sleeping together, so get pure, get right with God, and then if you’re still serious, get married.” I’m not saying that’s wise for an age gape of 15-20 years, but what about 5-10? That’s a reasonable age gap for plenty of youth pastors.

    1. I think most courts/people would be willing to see that – but any honorable pastor would take his position seriously enough not to date a girl until she was not a minor, even if it was only a 5-7 year age difference. I also tend to think people shouldn’t be pastors, even youth pastors, until there’s a more significant difference, so that such a problem doesn’t come up. In the case of the pastor who wrote the article, he was 30+, and knew this girl for a while before he began to abuse her, so he was at LEAST twice her age, and likely in middle school when he first began to notice her.

    2. I think in a case like this, the young youth pastor should be honest and take his “feelings” to leadership (before he pursues a relationship with the girl. The parents of the girl should also be involved and consent, and there should be no pursuit of a relationship while the girl is under his authority.

      When I was 16, I “fell in love with” a guy that was 20. He was a PE teacher at my school (not my teacher, but he worked at the same school). My parents were fine with the relationship but when the school found out, they told him he needed to end the relationship or quit his job. He quit. We dated for a couple years till I went off to college and then we broke up. I think the schools response was the appropriate one.

  19. Eleven … and it was my father. Not sure how long it went on but I spent the next few years in so much pain as I kept this secret, having vowed to myself that I would protect my mother. In my mind, she couldn’t possibly provide for herself and us without him, so it was up to me to keep it a secret. I took all the weight of it on myself. And as it turned out, she knew all along and failed to protect me. My lovely mother. Such betrayal.

    I felt personal guilt and recall playing the tape over in my head every single day, telling myself I was a bad girl because this happened to me. I have been a believer in Jesus Christ for almost 40 years (since even before the abuse began) but those words about being “bad” still play in my head, despite the counseling of professionals and the counsel of the Word.

    I think the worst part for me now is that I have only recently realized how much longer I was forced to endure abuse, beyond the initial horror at age 11. I often felt guilty because so many other girls had it worse; mine had just lasted a short time. But I finally came to understand that what I continued to experience over a total of about 10 years also constituted abuse because my entire existence revolved around avoiding my father. Every single day, I had to strategize about where I could sit to best avoid him, how I could get out of going shopping alone with him, what I could possibly say in response to his never-ending “hashing-over” of the abuse scenarios, how I could avoid him brushing up against me. It was a full-time job.

    As far as the church goes, I found out as a young adult that a couple of church leaders suspected abuse over the years, when observing my father and me — a pastor’s wife and a denominational superintendent. They chose to do nothing. I don’t even know what to say about that.

    I know you didn’t ask for such a long response, but this really hit home.

    Oh, and as far as what age I was when subsequent molestations from other men occurred? That would be 18, 18 and 19. It would seem the preyed-upon become prey again and again.

  20. “Strong and independent” has nothing to do with it. These are predators and when a victim is available, they jump at their chance. ANYONE will do! Don’t get your cape wrapped around head, my Super-friend. Some “weak and dependent” kids may have had a different kind of Cruel Depravity get hold of them. (Those are the antonyms for your words of description). “But for the Grace of God, go I…..”

    From age 4 to 11 years of age, I endured it….as strongly and independent as possible.

  21. I’m having a hard time with this article right now, mainly because it seems to normalize sexually predatory behavior as though it’s a normal temptation for all men, which seems sexist to that gender. The comment, “Any man who says he hasn’t had such fantasies is a liar.” I’m not a man, but I have male friends I respect who say they don’t have fantasies about having sex with minors, honestly most of the men I respect I think would say the same. There might be a natural physical attraction, but that is not the same as indulging in fantasies and thinking there is more to physical attraction than that. I think having those fantasies is a symptom of a serious problem, and if you’re tempted to ACT on those fantasies, you absolutely should not be in a position of power over children/minors. I absolutely agree that we need to have this conversation about the voices of children, women being preyed upon – but I don’t agree that the conversation should including the normalization of predatory behavior as though all grown men are tempted to indulge – there should be a real stigma against such predatory, self-justifying rhetoric which is a wakeup call to those people. For me, the real atrocity of the article which was pulled was the fact that L.J./C.T. seemed to think it was “normal” for a youth pastor to want to abuse minors. It’s normal for predators to want to be youth pastors so they can get attention and which is also a platform for their twisted sexual desires, but the idea that a sermon in print by a predator warning them not to be “selfish” and have an affair with a kid is the answer (becuase you’ll get caught and lose your ministry!) shows we are soo tolerant of predatory behavior. Someone like that absolutely can not and should be in a position of power.

  22. “Fortunately, my parents had raised me to be strong and independent, and they succeeded.” You were courageous to tell your parents. I am sad your parents did not intervene and protect you. Even as a Junior in high school, you were still a child under their care and protection.
    This also appears to convey that children who are abused are weak and dependent – adding to their shame and perpetuating silence. For those trapped in abuse, it is often their strength and independence that helps them survive until escape or freedom. There are those who do speak up, tell their abusers to stop, told a “trusted” adult and no one believed them.

  23. Isn’t our problem that we have forgotten the law? Teach them the commandments, youth pastors and children, so they recognize this for what it is, a capital crime against children. God will not be mocked, we are reaping what we have sown with our antinomian false dichotomy pitting grace against law. Without the law to define what is forgiven there is no grace and grace without the law is permissiveness. God’s law protects the victim. We have turned it upside down. The 7th commandment is as plain as the nose on your face. What about “thou shalt no commit adultery” is hard to understand or legalistic? We no longer fear God and his just judgments and his hand of judgement is against us in this very plague of abuse. Judgement has begun with the house of God.

  24. I have to say that I’m dismayed and a little surprised at how many comments here are attempts to shame me and my parents for how we handled my situation the best we knew how at the time. My case is so mild, yet it’s now easy for me to see why so many victims don’t speak up. The level of scrutiny on one’s responses is astounding.

    1. Anyone who reads your “Booked” book will understand your parents’ approach to parenting and your own personality better. But your comments, at face value, strike victims in a way you could not have anticipated. And sadly, their kneejerk reactions do not move this conversation forward. You have no idea how devastating it is to try to speak up and be scolded or disbelieved as a victim, though. It is one of the saddest commentaries on a child’s frailty.

  25. I was 12, and it was a minister who was a family friend. I remember him French kissing me and feeling my breasts. My children have suffered much worse. They were trafficked by their daycare, and sold to men and women for sex. It started before they’re old enough to be able to remember. The church has had no compassion for their deep emotional struggles. My daughter runs Project H.O.P.E. to help others who are struggling http://www.Facebook.com/projecthope1

  26. Ms. Prior, thank you tremendously. Every victim is at a different place re: her/his feeling capable of whatever level of resisting, of standing up, of speaking out, of calling the police—and I have no doubts that a *significant* number of those who read your words will feel this as their tipping point. Before they reach the end of your essay, they will have decided, “I AM FINALLY GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS. I AM A VICTIM. NO. MORE.”

    For some it will be head-on confronting the criminal. For others it will be seeking comfort in a trusted friend or a therapist. Whether the abuse was last night or fifty years ago, it is never too late to act. You have helped provide one more rich piece of en-COURAGE-ment and a stronger sense of self for some number of victims to stand up and take charge. They will begin =today= to make their lives better.

    THIS is the power of cyberspace for good. *Thank you.*

  27. I was 12. I was terrified and ashamed to tell my parents. When it finally came out, it was because my much younger cousin, who was a witness, finally had the courage to tell someone.

  28. Karen,
    The issue is certainly an important one so thank you for tackling it, however, you might consider examining your relationship to evangelical complimentary theological practices and consider a more egalitarian model. You seem to contradict yourself when you say you are “disappointed in the men not taking a greater lead in recognizing the scope of the problem and the suffering of the abused.” (But only men are permitted leaders in your self described model of theology) — then in comments to readers you say “though I probably do mean to put a little blame on those who try to keep girls from being strong and independent.” Again, that seems a direct contradiction. Your faith model prevents the very girls you say you want strong and independent from participating in just about all forms of leadership and change in your church environment. If I’m wrongly defining your “conservative camp of evangelical Christianity” as being complimentarian, please correct me.

    1. MEC, the conservative camp I live and work in has many flourishing women leaders, myself included. I have taught in the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, served as deacon in my church, been chair of my academic department, now serve as a member of the faculty interview committee, etc. I could have done even more if I had wished to. Perhaps you are confusing conservative with fundamentalist?

  29. i was 13 the first time. my youth pastor. pursued me for years, until i was 17. took me out to “special dates” of just the two of us. ice cream, a walk, just to talk. inappropriate touching, and a deep emotionally addicting relationship, but it never led to more. he was 45 at the time, and a psychologst in his day job, married, 2 preteen daughters .
    16 the second time. a man serving as a chaperone on a mission trip to Mexico, with our church. the pursuit was heated, and direct. told me he loved me, within a week. gave me jewelry, and tried to get alone time with me, any chance he could. he was 35, and married, with 2 babies at home. i saw him at a post mission trip gathering, with his wife, he pretended i didn’t exist. it was heart breaking for me at the time… so thankful now.
    and to be honest, i have never, ever shared about the second man. i told my husband, a few years ago about the first, but never the second… i guess, in part, because i DID think it was consensual. i DID think that I was a home wrecker.

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