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Guest opinion from sexual assault victim: It’s an impossible burden to demand criminal evidence as the price of belief

(Pexels)

 
 

Roy Moore, a man hoping to represent Christian and conservative values in the United States Senate, has been accused of assaulting three women and inappropriately (although legally) pursuing six others. Discussions of these allegations have centered on who stands to gain or lose political power as a result but has neglected to address the impact to abused women across the state and nation.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual assault. I am also a graduate of Auburn University Montgomery, a conservative, and a Christian. As a survivor, I feel compelled to speak up for abused women. Sexual assault victims need to hear that they are worth protecting. And their loved ones need to know how it feels to see their community support and elevate a likely predator. I intend to address publicly stated justifications for supporting Roy Moore from the viewpoint of an assault victim.

The justifications for continuing to support Roy Moore in spite of the allegations are many:

  • This is clearly a conspiracy by evil men to stop God’s warrior from doing God’s work.
  • The allegations are suspicious and there is not time to find the truth, so we should give Roy Moore the benefit of the doubt.
  • Everyone should be innocent until proven guilty.
  • He probably already repented.
  • The Republican political agenda is more important than protecting women from sexual assault.
  • Making America a Christian nation again is more important than protecting God’s daughters from sexual assault.
  • Democrats are worse than sexual abusers.

The women might be lying?

The first two justifications center on whether the accusers and dozens of other corroborating witnesses are lying. Their support for this idea is the source of the original allegations and the timing of the allegations. However, both the source and the timing make sense in light of what we know about sexual assault and the cultural shift underway in how we talk about assault.

The first accusation was published by The Washington Post and the second accuser is being represented by famed liberal lawyer, Gloria Allred. Clearly, neither the Post nor Allred are fans of Roy Moore. But the actual accusers, (there are now three on record), are local women who consider themselves to be Trump supporters or apolitical. The dozens of witnesses who back them up are local men and women, many of whom are anti-establishment Trump supporters. Most of these people do not know each other and would not have been able to coordinate their stories. Other locals have since come forward to make further claims and substantiate the rumors to local and other national news outlets. Publishing news agencies have been upfront about reasons the accusers might not be believed including sharing personal details about the mistakes they’ve made in the decades since the assaults. The few Democrat supporters who have spoken out have been upfront about their political leanings. The majority of the dozens of people speaking out against Moore have nothing to gain in sharing their stories other than to seek justice and stop a sexual predator from becoming a senator. Their accusations are credible in spite of Democratic support.

His supporters have also said the timing is suspicious. They ask why grown women would keep their secret for decades, then come forward weeks before an election. This ignores what has been happening across America in the last six weeks. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in early October, our newsfeeds have been flooded with women coming forward, many of them for the first time, with their stories of assault. Actresses, athletes, writers, politicians, businesswomen, grandmas, wives, moms, teenagers, little girls are saying #MeToo. Journalists, caught off guard by this sudden outpouring have been following up on dozens of leads and digging into rumors that have long been whispered. Why now? Because women are finally recognizing that we aren’t lone victims; there are lots of us and we have to stand up to protect each other. Why now? Because people are finally willing to believe us. Why now? Because people who can help are finally asking. Why now? Because this is the least scary it has ever been to share a hurt this deep and risk the fury of powerful men raining down upon us.

Moore has stated it is not reasonable to believe that grown women would wait this long to say something. Yes it is. How many of your grown women friends are public about their sexual assault experiences? If it’s less than ⅓, many of your reasonable, grown women friends are still keeping their secret buried. I personally waited 25 years after the abuse occurred to share my story. I still have not named my abuser. Thanks to these women, my courage is growing.

Moore’s story keeps changing and his defenses don’t stand up to scrutiny. His accusers’ stories do not waver and every day more people come forward supporting them. In this case, it is not he said/she said; it is they said/he waffled. In the case of sexual assault, a more credible accusation is very hard to come by.

To those who love abused women, please consider how dismissing such well-supported claims makes it harder for your loved ones to reach out for support, help, and healing.

To women who have been abused, who likely don’t have this much evidence to support your claims, your stories are still believable. As more and more of us come out, patterns begin to emerge and make it easier to determine truth. You should expect to be believed by your community.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Other supporters of Roy Moore say we should leave him alone because he is innocent until proven guilty. Yet, we have not applied this standard of innocent until proven guilty to our ideological enemies. Hillary Clinton? “Lock her up,” we chanted. Harvey Weinstein? “Well, we always knew Hollywood is a cesspool of immorality,” we crowed. Bill Clinton? We used the unproven accusations of assault against him to justify voting for another alleged assaulter, Donald Trump.

We also have not applied innocent until proven guilty to the accusers. If we follow the logic of Roy Moore’s supporters, we have to assume the accusers are innocent of lying until proven otherwise. Which means we cannot with good conscience vote for Roy Moore.

Innocent until proven guilty is a noble standard for our court system. We do not use it when making moral judgments to protect our loved ones from people we suspect of causing harm.

Further, in most true sexual assault cases, we cannot prove guilt. Assault is usually committed in secret by more powerful people against less powerful people. Sexual assault does not turn the fingers or the lips or the penis of the perpetrator blue so we can easily identify him. It rarely leaves a mark that can be easily traced back to the perpetrator and prove the interaction was unwilling. I cannot prove the guilt of the man who molested me when I was a little girl; that doesn’t make him innocent. I cannot send him to jail. But I can warn others about him.

To those who love abused women, consider the impossible burden we place on our loved ones when we demand criminal evidence as the price of belief.

To abused women, you do not have to prove your abuser’s guilt in a court of law to be believed and helped.

He already repented?

Some supporters say we should vote for Roy Moore even if he is guilty because he probably already repented and what God forgives, man should forgive. Like them, I believe in the power of repentance to completely wash away the most grievous of sins. I believe it is available to Roy Moore. I believe it is available to big sinners and little sinners and everyone in between. I believe it is available to the man who molested me, and I believe it is available to me.

I also believe repentance is more than a get-out-of-jail-free card for professed Christians. Repentance involves confession of the sin to yourself, to God, and the person you wronged. It then involves seeking God’s help to make amends to the people you hurt. If Roy Moore had repented of his sexual misdeeds, he would have sought to understand the harm he had caused and he would be seeking to help his victims, not drag them down. He would be seeking to open up a dialogue on how we as a community can prevent further assaults like this from happening and how the ⅓ of women and ⅕ of men who were assaulted as children can get help. That would be true Christian leadership. Instead, he continues to Bible bash his way to the Senate where he hopes that if he forces America to say Merry Christmas and pray in public maybe it will make up for the fact that we say nothing when God’s sons abuse God’s daughters.

To those who love abused women, what would you want to see from your loved one’s abuser before you would be willing to vote for him?

To abused women, you shouldn’t have to watch your abuser ascend to power just because of a belief in repentance.

Sacrifice these women to the Republican agenda?

Other Moore supporters, including Governor Kay Ivey, have argued that there is just too much at stake here. “Sure, he probably did it. But we need to maintain the Republican majority for a higher cause. Sorry all you molested women out there, you’re just going to have to take one for the team.”

It feels wrong that the majority of the news coverage of this story is about how this helps or hurts certain political actors, but since political power matters to people, let’s address it.

The Republicans have had power in the White House, Senate, and House for almost a year now and have accomplished nothing significant. If Moore loses to Doug Jones, nothing changes. The Republicans will continue to be as effective as they have been. If Moore wins, the Senate’s effectiveness will not increase. How many incorrect legislators out there would change their way if only Moore would shame them from the Senate floor? He has been credibly accused of sexual assault. He has no moral authority and will be toxic in the Senate. Instead, his presence is likely to make it much more difficult for Republicans to maintain their lead in upcoming elections as the whole party suffers by association with an angry, bible-bashing assaulter.

That’s just the short-term problem. Thinking longer term, Republicans have to be aware that conservative millennials are increasingly disenchanted with the Republican party. Those of us too young to remember the Cold War, don’t fear Democrats as gateway Communists. We won’t sacrifice our values to keep them at bay. We want small, efficient government, but not if it means electing sexual abusers. Roy Moore makes it that much harder for the Republican party to hang on to voters under 40. The Greater Birmingham Young Republicans have denounced him and many more millennial Republicans are quietly simmering, wondering how they can remain affiliated with a party that supports this type of behavior.

“But we have to fight for the unborn,” supporters say. “I have to support Roy Moore because he is the only pro-life candidate in the race.” Please see above. With or without Roy Moore, the Senate will not be able to end abortion during his tenure and he damages the party’s chances longer term.

Let’s step away from the politics for a second and go back to defending assaulted women. I had regular nightmares from age 6 to age 28. I frequently woke up in the middle of the night, heart racing, sick to my stomach, full of terror, full of tears. The nightmares weren’t of being nuked by the Communists, of my job being outsourced to Asia, of environmental regulations making it hard to do business, of immigrants using my tax dollars for health care, of transgender people attacking me in a bathroom, or of someone getting offended when I expressed my faith. They were of one thing only — older men like Roy Moore or my abuser who wouldn’t leave me alone, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who followed me when I ran away, who found me when I hid, who touched me against my will, who used my body for personal gratification. There is no threat more frightening than a man who does not control his sexual appetite, who uses women for his own personal pleasure. Women can fight just about any policy, they can find ways to operate and serve others even when policy runs against their beliefs or against their personal benefit. But they cannot stop a man from touching them against their will. In that, we are powerless. Republicans and Democrats can fight for all the best policies in the world, but until they take a stand against sexual assault, we women will never be safe.

To those who love abused women, what would you give to go back in time and stop that abuse from happening? Consider how sacrificing political gain and speaking out now may prevent the abuse from happening to someone else.

To abused women, your safety is more important than your leaders’ politics.

Sacrifice these women to the Christian agenda?

Others argue, even more offensively, that there is too much at stake in the war between good and evil. They say, “We need a Christian leader to save us from the tide of evil washing over this country. There are pedophiles in Hollywood perverting the minds of our youth, intellectual elitists in New England trying to take away our religious freedoms by making us say Happy Holidays and preventing us from praying in public, nonbelievers from other countries growing fat and lazy off of our over-taxed honest toil.” “Sorry women”, they say, “we know you don’t like being assaulted, but there are bigger things at stake here. American thought leaders don’t talk about God enough in public! Satan might win!”

So we’re going to elect a sexual predator who wants to curb the religious freedoms of other belief systems and kick out the stranger? That’s going to save us in the war against evil?

No! Where is our faith? Why do we think that God can’t save us if we don’t elect Roy Moore? “Sure”, we say, “He could create the universe, but there’s no way He could overcome the Democratic machine and the establishment Republicans. God can’t drain the swamp! Only Roy Moore can!”

What are we saying? “Pipe down, you women who were violated? We need you to shut up so your violator can become a senator and get people to stop violating women?” This is madness!

The war between good and evil isn’t between us and them. It is within us. We are called to look inside ourselves to nourish the good and root out the evil. Our primary battle is not external, it is not in Washington D.C., it is not in the Middle East. It is in our communities, our homes, and most importantly our hearts.

Yes, we believe that God uses flawed individuals to accomplish His work on the earth. But he didn’t command us to put all of our hopes for salvation in one of his flawed, yet redeemable, sons. He didn’t command us to put all of our hopes for salvation in a political party. Here’s what he commanded us to do:

Love God, love our neighbor (famously represented by a nonbeliever). Be good to them that hurt us and pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us. Heal the sick, feed the hungry, house the stranger, clothe the naked. Share the good news, not beat and shame people with it. Avoid lust and anger. Use prayer and fasting to seek God’s help, not to draw attention to ourselves. This is the work he set out for us to do.

Yes, we are all sinners who fall short of that description (myself most definitely included). Yes, we ought to elect men who represent those virtues. But we don’t have to silence the victims of our Christian leaders to win the war for Christ. Christ can win his own war.

To those who love abused women, why do we not turn our Christian zeal to fighting this prevalent evil among us? Why are we worrying about making Washington, D.C. more Christian when sexual abuse is all too common here at home? Please consider fighting this fight first.

To abused women, it is for your safety and healing that Christians should be fighting. You do not have to silence yourself so that your abuser can keep fighting for virtue.

Democrats are worse than sexual abusers?

Some Roy Moore supporters say it doesn’t matter that he is guilty; a Democrat is so much worse. This is the most offensive argument of them all.

Would you rather lock your 14-year-old daughter in a room full of gun-toting, small government-loving, Christian abusers who follow her around, grab her butt, and force her head toward their crotches? Or would you rather lock your daughter in a room full of pro-choice men who want to tax her too heavily, saddle her with inefficient DMV-like bureaucratic offices, wish her Happy Holidays, and keep their hands off of her?

Just stop it with this argument.

To those who love abused women, there isn’t much worse than sexual assault. Please stand up against this type of rhetoric. Please help us stop it.

To abused women, you are worth more than this dismissive rhetoric implies. We ought to believe you when you say how much this hurts.

The long-term consequences of sexual assault

Sexual assault causes lifelong damage to the victim. Victims often suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, self-harming behaviors such as cutting and eating disorders, and so much more. The pain can last a lifetime, even with therapy. That’s why Beverly Young Nelson still weeps 40 years later. That’s why I still weep 25 years later. That’s why so many women are weeping now watching this unfold. We are just beginning to understand the effects of sexual trauma on the brain and body. We are starting to learn that body-based therapies such as EMDR and somatic experiencing are more helpful for healing than talk-based therapies. But there is still so much more that we have to learn. I can understand why victims were hushed 40 years ago. But now we know too much to remain quiet. We have to start speaking up for one another. We have to start sharing our secrets so we can get help. We have to start learning more about this so we can help the unfathomably large number of people in our community who are suffering from this.

Christians and conservatives, those of you who love abused women, I challenge you to educate yourself on this subject and start to fight against sexual assault. We cannot ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. We cannot pretend the consequences aren’t devastating. We cannot continue to exalt those who perpetrate it.

To all you women in Alabama and anywhere else who have been abused, who wake up in the middle of the night crying because of your fear of men like Roy Moore, to those of you who felt abandoned by the governor when she said she believes you, but the Senate majority is much more important than protecting you, to the women who feel hurt and afraid and wonder if we’ll ever see a day when our culture rises up and says “No more, we will not allow this to go on,” I want you to know, I believe you. I support you. You are worth protecting.

Erin Lee works in education technology as a student coach and is a volunteer adult literacy teacher.