Guest Blog: Five Years

I am hosting this guest post for a woman who was subjected to abuse by her boss when she was working in a church.  She has courageously chosen to share her story and I feel privileged to offer my blog as a place for her to do this. 

 

 

It’s been five years.

Five years since he was my boss.
Five years since he turned and became violent in front of my eyes.
Five years since the institutions and people I trusted to protect people like me, let me down.
Five years since I learned some of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

He was my boss. I thought he was my mentor and my friend.

I was the intern and he was the youth-worker. A good communicator, well respected by his peers; the classic church employee, minus the checked shirt.

What you probably don’t know is what he’s really like. Underneath the façade of loving father, caring husband, wonderful boss and brilliant youth worker. But I do.

I was there whilst he yelled at his wife down the phone, telling her she’s a stupid b***h. On the night he assaulted a volunteer and realised that he probably wouldn’t have a job the next day, he told his wife that without his job, his life had no meaning. That she and their children were not enough.

He told me that his wife didn’t understand him. But that I did.
That one day I would be better than him and that it scared him. He told me as his boss, I needed to be accountable to him. He would ask me personal questions about my relationship with my fiancé. He would vet my church activities, telling me which groups I could and could not volunteer with. I needed protecting you see. He didn’t want me to be overworked or taken advantage of by a demanding church. Particularly if those activities had any degree of leadership, or would give me opportunities that he hadn’t been offered.

He would take credit for my work constantly. He told me that he had the respect of the leadership team and the credibility to take my ideas and make them into a reality. After all, we are a team, it’s not about ego. If I truly wanted what was best for the young people, I would let him pretend that they were his ideas.

One night, about 11pm he came to talk to me. He told me that he had tried to commit suicide the day before but that it was a secret; that I couldn’t tell anyone. He said that the church were conspiring against him; wanted him to leave, and that this would give them the ammunition they needed to fire him. I believed him. Felt sorry for him. Ignored his tantrums. Forgave his cruelty as he undermined and bullied those around him. Babysat his child so he could get help from a counsellor.

But all of the pressure was just too much for twenty year old me to handle. I couldn’t be the person to keep his secrets anymore and told my fiancé who informed the church leaders. The next day my fiancé received threatening texts from my boss, telling him that he had no right to do that. That he was ‘taking me away from him, and poisoning me against him.’ My fiancé tried to phone me, but I didn’t get his calls, went to work and that’s when he became violent to a volunteer.

He was fired. But he pleaded that he was suffering from a mental health problem, that the stress of work had made him ill. He begged for reconciliation and attended mediation meetings with the church. They allowed him to resign on the premise that he would never work with young people again. At the time that really hurt, but I recognise that in the leadership was a deep desire to do the right thing for everyone. It was naïve, but I respect the compassion they showed to him and his family, even if it broke my heart in the process.

Six months later he started working as a youth worker in a church in another part of the country. My church was never contacted for a reference.

Looking back, I know it sounds so ridiculous. Why didn’t I say anything sooner? Honestly, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was 20 years old, this was my first job, my first line manager. I didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. I thought I was the bad Christian for being upset when he took the credit, that I was unsupportive for questioning his actions, that he was ill and that I was somehow at fault.

Five years have passed and I am still angry. Angry that he could be doing this to somebody else. Angry that I am the one who is told that I need to be more forgiving. Angry that the people I have told did not act.

I don’t want to be angry. But I don’t want to reconcile. Somehow that feels like it makes his actions ok. How do I balance my ‘responsibility’ as a Christian to forgive, with my fury that he is still out there, in a position in power, still working with children and young people.

The internet is a funny thing. I see Christians; men and women talk about misogyny and equality. But some of them know what he did and ignore it. It’s easy to shout about faceless men and nameless abusers, but what happens when we put a face or a name to that man?

He is the one who abuses and I am the one who needs to be less angry.

It’s been five years.
But I’m the one that still has nightmares.
I’m the one that is still on a high dose of anti-anxiety tablets.
I’m the one who hides in the toilets at conferences, churches, events, having spotted him from a distance because suddenly its five years ago and I’m back in that room as he screams and lashes out.
I’m the one who is fearful of receiving another letter, another email in which he simultaneously asks for forgiveness, without acknowledging any of his behaviours or actions.
I’m the one who is typing this, debating whether or not to keep going.
I’m the one who is fearful that he will read this, recognise himself in it and contact me.
I’m the one who is fearful that people will read this and not believe me.
I’m the one who is terrified that this will happen again.

 

 

If what the author of this post has said resonates with your current or previous experiences, please do seek help and advice…

Women, for information about your rights regarding workplace bullying and abuse: http://rightsofwomen.org.uk.

For anyone wanting information about workplace bullying and abuse: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment or http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1864.

For issues around anxiety you can contact http://www.mind.org.uk or http://www.mindandsoul.info.

Do get in touch with me via befreeuk {at} gmail.com if you would like to chat further about the issues raised in this post.

The Spectrum of Pornographies: A Man’s Perspective PART 1

This post is part of the series I’ve been doing about the spectrum of pornographies, you can read the others (along with a few of my previous posts that cover the subject) here.

I asked a Christian man I’d been chatting with about the issues around pornographies to write about his experiences.  He said a question and answer approach would work well, so here is Part 1…

How long have you been in Church?

Church has been a constant part of my life since birth. My parents are Christians and there’s never been a time I’ve not been heavily involved in Church – attending, helping lead worship, children’s work…

What is your current church involvement?

I’m currently a full-time paid minister of a church as part of a small team. I’m still relatively new to full-time leadership having spent time training full time at a theological college and on placements.

My work is very varied: from work with older people to all-age worship, preaching, community engagement and work with schools.

I’ve previously had a fair bit of experience of working with teenagers.

My work with teenagers in a number of settings gave me a greater awareness of the rapid and constant changes in that wide range of media we call ‘porn’ and how and what young people access.

What are your thoughts on the spectrum of media that makes up what is commonly described as pornography?

In a previous blog post you made the very helpful point that pornography is not one monolithic entity but a vast spectrum or diversity of material and media.

Not only is this true; I also feel it is important to note that porn users are diverse, have very different patterns of usage, and access porn for different reasons and with a variety of felt needs or drives.

My first experience of pornographic material was at around 11 seeing magazine of what would today be regarded by many as very ‘tame’ – essentially naked or scantily clad women in ‘alluring’ poses (it’s worth noting they had pubic hair in contrast to the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary requirement for women in most forms of porn to be hairless, as you’ve noted previously).

My ‘descent’ into what I would call a porn addiction followed a path from ‘softcore’ still images online (dialup internet and 1990s tech precluded my viewing moving images for several years) to hardcore short movies online by about 2010.

I shocked myself at how rapidly my choices of material accessed changed over a few years, in terms of the shift from softcore “lad mag”/playboy stills to short movies of male-female and female-female explicit penetrative sex.

What I note now looking back is how a click on a free site offering playboy images of nudity always offered up immediate free access to still images and videos of ardcore penetrative sex acts, mainly m-f or f-f. ‘Escalation’ of usage happened very easily.

My main motivation for using porn was initially curiosity – not having had sex until my 20s and married, I was curious about the naked female form and the mechanics of sex.

The motivation shifted in time such that it became about relieving boredom or low mood by seeking sexual stimulation.

I have accessed hardcore porn over a period of maybe 10 years on and off.

One of the motivators in recent years to get help and kick my habit has been the realisation of what is out there, how easily I was being sucked in, and the risk of my beginning to access more extreme and degrading material.However, in what must have been just 3 or 4 years, as my access escalated from nudity to watching two people having penetrative vaginal intercourse, so I became rapidly aware of what I found and find a far more disturbing, degrading and violent world of pornographies.

For example, while I may have clicked on a page to view still full frontal nudity and/or a ‘model’ masturbating, sidebar ads and pop ups offered an array of other content: anal sex, ‘facials’ (a man or men ejaculating on a woman’s face), gangbangs (multiple men penetrating one woman, sometimes simultaneously), bondage/S&M, and a variety of content specifically offered up as being what I’d call ‘deviant’. By this I mean content which involves physically abusive, overtly exploitative sexual activity.

I didn’t explore much beyond what would be called “vanilla” male-female/female-female porn, and I quite frankly didn’t understand why anyone would be interested in some of what seemed bizarre or disturbing types of porn. I’ve never been drawn to some of the forms you listed in your previous blog: porn involving other bodily functions, ‘facials’, orgies, gangbangs, what would be called ‘fetish’. But the realisation of what was out there disturbed me deeply.

Now, to be clear: I would say from my experience as a user and from my research that the vast majority of pornographies involve some form of exploitation of women; most porn in whatever form almost always places men in a position of dominance and power over women. This is often explicit in the behaviour of ‘performers’ and the scenarios offered up; it is almost always the case in what goes on behind the camera and when the cameras aren’t rolling, in how the industries operate.

This being said, there are forms of porn which are actively marketed using the language of exploitation, of men forcefully “doing to” women with no attempt to suggest that there will be mutual pleasure.

It became clear that porn as one woman and one man depicted as engaging in mutually pleasurable sex (yes with the man being more dominant, but seemingly mutually consensual and ‘vanilla’) had become just one thing on a vast menu.

The descriptors attached to videos and screenshots I began to see on the two or three sites I visited became ever more violent, degrading, explicitly objectifying and insulting of women. They were all about what one or more men would do to this or that orifice. Women were “sluts”, “bitches” and “whores” whom the viewer could see degraded. There was/is no veneer of respect in these forms of porn. The language was/is debasing women in every way possible without actually coming out and saying they are being raped. Some descriptions on ads for sites or videos treated the woman-as-person as incidental or irrelavant – they described only what would be done to one of her body parts by a man or men.

I personally felt not even much curiosity never mind desire to access these more violent and abusive forms BUT they were just a click away, as easy to access as a ‘Nuts’ image.

The near ubiquity of ejaculation onto a woman’s face (something I’ve witnessed and have no desire to see again – it left me feeling not only ashamed but disturbed) seems to me to highlight the fact that porn usage or addiction is far more complex and bigger than being just about (mainly) men looking lustfully at a woman or watching a couple copulating in order to gain a sexual thrill.

There are aspects of the array we call ‘porn’ which are not just about the lust to enjoy sexual pleasure with another person: how do we Christians address the fact that some of our brothers are choosing regularly to access still and moving images of women being physically abused, subjected to obvious discomfort, used as no more than a collection of orifices, and humiliated?

In some porn there is still the effort made to depict scenarios of mutual pleasure and relative respect for each other’s comfort and wellbeing.

In other forms, the pretence isn’t so much abandoned as actively opposed.

The material I saw offered was seemingly designed to appeal to male fantasies of subjecting a woman to anything he chooses for his own pleasure with no interest in woman’s bodily safety never mind pleasure. Women are written about as having no say nor right to derive pleasure or comfort from sexual acts; they are there to be used and to be either silent or only open their mouths to acquiesce to a man’s demands.

Do you think the current focus of the church on addiction and purity around this issue is helpful? 

An emphasis on purity and resisting lust does have its place in the church’s addressing of porn ‘addiction’ but is insufficient on at least four counts:

1) These approaches can make men feel misleadingly that they are the primary victims in the porn addiction narrative. They are victims yes of their own lusts, but these lusts as provoked and exploited by the loose women onscreen: that’s sometimes what the purity/lust narrative implies and leads men to believe. Careless citation of stories about Solomon or King David, or quotes from Proverbs often do more harm than good: they overlook the exploitation and dehumanising of women in those texts for a start; they also place the emphasis on men resisting “the temptress”. If men addicted to porn are victims, they are victims of a mainly male capitalist and misogynistic machine which treats them simply as interchangeable consumers.

2) This emphasis on purity/lust seems inadequate for dealing with the many men among us either for pleasure or out of compulsion watch women being degraded in material marketed as such. I’m not sure what the answer is to this but it must be more complex and far reaching than treating and supporting the individual addict.

3) In and of themselves, approaches which focus solely or mainly on purity and abstinence only address the problem of breaking an addictive pattern (no bad thing) and not the problem of thousands of women’s lives being ruined and bodies exploited. There is a pressing need for the church and men ourselves especially to address the foundational misogyny, systemic sexism which means that there is a market for the full array of pornographies.

4) This approach does little or nothing to address the phenomenon of people accessing porn depicting sexual or quasi-sexual behaviours which radically depart from what the church would generally advocate as healthy, desirable, and safe within a marriage; behaviours which many of us would see as suggestive of problems with a person’s psychological/emotional/sexual health and development. I realise that makes a value judgement but that seems inevitable even desirable if we wish as the church to tackle porn in all its forms and with all its problems.

I will publish Part 2 of this piece over the next few days…

Guest Post: This Is My Story

I have the privilege of sharing a friend’s story here. She shared with me a small part of her story and I asked if she would like to tell it anonymously, more publicly.  I think she is tremendously brave for having said yes.

 

I have had this post in my head for a long time now, unsure quite how it would translate on the page and agonising over how to say it.

 

I was going to say ‘I was a victim of domestic violence ‘but I didn’t like the word victim and then I thought of ‘I am a survivor of domestic violence’ but again the connotations of the word survivor didn’t feel quite right and I could all but stop myself singing Destiny’s Child in my head and that wasn’t it at all. I almost settled for ‘I experienced domestic violence ‘but somehow that makes it feel like I went on a cinema trip or something.

 

So I suppose I came to the conclusion I should just tell my story and that it would all fall into place, that somehow the words on this page would express what I wanted them to and that actually it’s less about how I say it but more about what I say, what I want to say.

 

This, my story, has ruminated within me for a long time, desperate to get out but with no outlet.I am not at the stage rightly or wrongly where I can say all of this in any other guise but that of anonymity. I am brave enough to speak it aloud but not yet brave enough to bare all with my name to it.

 

@God_loves_Women has been somewhat of an inspiration to me, her boldness and passion and her ability to use her story and her experiences to strive for things to be better, for good to come out of evil. Her bravery astounds me. She offered me this opportunity to be able to tell my story when I admitted I didn’t feel I could be brave enough but that deep down I needed to tell it, to say it because I ultimately believe it is a path I have to take to receive true healing from it and to diminish the power it has held over me for a long time.

 

I recently opened up to a friend about it – I said “I suffered domestic violence’ and they were surprised because I don’t look like I have or act like I have maybe or perhaps I don’t fit the expected appearance or demeanour – who knows? I have thought about this a lot, is there really a ‘type’ who goes through these experiences? Or is it simply what we choose to accept to believe about it? That it’s a particular type of women only, that it wouldn’t happen to us?

 

It was 1999 and I was a fresh faced 18 year old heading off to university. I had a boyfriend, long term all through 6th form but inevitably the long distance thing didn’t work out. There was also a guy in my halls who was in the group of friends I had made and we hit it off really well. We ended up getting together.

 

With hindsight, I would love to be able to say that there were clear signs but there weren’t. I also think a lot of my better judgment was perhaps clouded by being in the university bubble, it’s not quite ‘real’ life somehow.

 

I guess at first I thought he was quite protective of me, or maybe that’s how I chose to accept it. I needed to have a part time job to supplement my loan to be able to survive at university. I worked part time in a local bar. I was very popular at work and got on really well with my colleagues, I also had to put up with a lot of the ‘banter’ and comments from the punters. I could handle it but often my boyfriend would come and sit at the bar and ‘watch over’ me and the situations.

 

He would talk to me when we were back in halls and say that I didn’t need to work because he would give me the money I earned there, he could afford to look after me so it shouldn’t be a problem. I avoided and ignored getting into this too much for about six months but in the end I left my job. I didn’t feel I could enjoy it in the same way, or stay after shift for drinks.

 

My course was quite a close knit group and I had a mixed group of friends I spent time with. I had less hours of lectures than my boyfriend so there were often times I was out in the pub or around the town with my course mates while my boyfriend was in lectures. He often commented that the other guys on my course were only after one thing and that I should be wary of them. He didn’t like me spending time with them and was very vocal about it even in front of them at times.

 

The day before my birthday in my first year we were cooking our dinner in the halls kitchen and we were chatting and I was talking about what we had done on our course that day and he suddenly became really angry, it took me by surprise to be honest as I had no idea where it had come from. “He fancies you and he wants you for himself and he’s laughing at me!’ he shouted at me. I asked him what he was taking about and he continued shouting, threw the bowl of chopped vegetables at me and then grabbed a pint glass and smashed it into his forehead.

 

At this point, I was screaming for help, for him not for me, because there was blood pouring down his head.

 

So the night before my birthday we sat in A&E waiting for him to have his head stitched up. I’m not quite sure what explanation we gave to the hospital staff or why now one of them didn’t take me aside and ask if I was ok. But, it didn’t happen. I also don’t know why at that point I didn’t completely freak out about the fact he had behaved that way but he apologised, said it was because he loved me so much and he just wanted me to be careful.

 

We went out with my course mates on my birthday. Some knew what had happened but none of them really mentioned it, I suppose in a way this further normalised the behaviour to me.

 

I remember one evening I had been out with my course mates and I came back to find my boyfriend crying in my room listening to Semisonic “She’s gone to the movies” and he was distraught about the fact he was losing me and that there was nothing he could do. I reassured him, he wasn’t losing me at all. I still struggle to listen to that song now or indeed any of that particular Semisonic album which is a shame because it’s a great album.

 

There was another trip to A&E, for me this time after an argument in my halls room where he had thrown me against the bed frame and I had damaged my neck – luckily not bad enough to need a brace, bruising mostly, but in a way I had wanted a neck brace because I had wanted someone to ask me what had happened so I could tell them, talk about it,

 

One of my closest friends pulled me aside one night and said he was worried about me because he had seen me happy and I wasn’t happy anymore and he wanted to know what would help. Part of me wanted to say something but I didn’t know what so I said I was fine and he shouldn’t worry

 

I suppose towards the end of my first year things must have calmed down or I was oblivious to what was going on because we decided that for our second year we would live together. We found a two bedroom flat to rent and all was well, we even went on holiday with his family abroad that summer.

 

The second year began fine, we had a flat that was our own. I was further away from my course mates but still seeing them regularly. My boyfriend just asked that I be home for when he arrived home for lectures.

 

I somehow turned into the little housewife. Home by 5pm, dinner cooking, kitchen and bathroom scrubbed and cleaned, hair and makeup done. I had no job anymore, I was given money. As I write this I can’t believe it either, that I didn’t see, that I didn’t recognise what was going on, but I didn’t.

 

I can’t remember why it happened or quite when but I found myself cowering on the stairs in the flat at one point while he repeatedly smacked the side of my face and my ear. It turned purple. I hid it with my long hair. He apologised, said he loved me, we moved on. I experienced real severe loss of balance and dizziness, I went to the doctor they said I had an issue with my inner ear, didn’t ask about the bruising. I stopped hiding my ear, no one mentioned it, so I didn’t. It healed,

 

One morning, I woke up and my hair was wavy, an extreme bed head look I guess, he said it looked nice, that I shouldn’t brush the waves out, so I didn’t. I had a lot of bruises on my upper arms and back he gave me one of his jumpers and said I should wear it so I think for a week I went to uni with unbrushed hair and a huge baggy jumper but no one asked me why or said anything so I normalised it all.

 

Our neighbours called the police one night, because of the screaming, they knocked at the door and I hid in bed. A female police officer came up to see me to ask if I was ok and I said I was fine, I told her that I had really bad PMT and things had got out of hand and I apologised and she left. Said I should call if I wanted to and I remember thinking that was odd, why would I need to call them?

 

He bought a hifi and was trying to sort out surround sound with wires etc. and got frustrated so he whipped the wires against my back a number of times and when I went to escape upstairs he head butted me in the face and broke my tooth.  I called the dentist desperate because of my tooth, not because of what had happened. They saw me the next day and the dentist mentioned the phrase ‘domestic violence’; and it sounded so alien and I explained to him that wasn’t what was happening to me.

 

We went to a fancy dress party and he got angry I was talking to a couple of guys from my course so he came up and pulled my hair really hard and called me a ‘slag’. Everyone was pretty drunk so there were some heated exchanges of words but by the next day it was all quite hazy in everyone’s minds so no more was said about it.

 

There were a whole catalogue of incidents, too many to write, and I didn’t say anything but I did start spending more time with a guy from my course. Nothing happened between us to begin with but then I kissed him and was immediately overcome with guilt. We saw each other for a while, my course mates knew and said nothing. I decided to end it with my boyfriend.

 

We split up but we still had months left at uni and we were sharing a flat, I moved into the spare room. I didn’t get together with the other guy, it was all too messy. Every now and then at night I would wake up because my ex-boyfriend was in my room, in my bed. It was easier just to put up with it,

 

An argument happened again, i don’t know why, it was early in the morning, I was still in my pyjamas and he threw me across the landing and kicked my knee, it is still scarred today. I think I passed out because I woke up I’m not so sure how long afterwards without my pyjama bottoms on.

 

I called the doctor and was seen by a nurse. She told me she was going to document what had happened and that I should go to the police. I didn’t go to the police, I went to the guy from my course, desperate, feeling so awful and in pain and miserable. He was great to begin with, I had a bath at his, he went and picked up some clothes for me and I felt safe with him, until a hug in his bedroom suddenly wasn’t enough for him and again it was easier to just put up with it.

 

I still blame myself regarding that particular incident and it smarts to write it down and it hurts and it’s still raw because I still can’t forgive myself, I should have known better, I cry as I type this as the judgment that many would heap upon me for all of this I heap on myself and I suppose that’s why I have never said it all because deep down I still feel like I’m to blame.

 

I sit here now and I can run my tongue over my broken tooth, I can still feel it in my mouth, it has been repaired twice but it sits there like a stone reminder of the mistakes I made and my bad decisions, when I wear a dress, the scar on my left knee shows, to me at least, it reminds me of how I failed as a woman. How I let my own kind down.

 

I never went to the police, the guy from my course told everyone that I had slept with him and I was shunned and labelled for my whole third year. I ended up sharing a house with four guys I didn’t really know but one of them was key to me surviving my third year because he became one of my best friends and exactly that, he never once tried anything or even entertained the idea of us getting together. I lost touch with him when I left but I am forever grateful to him.

 

So where am I now? I’m married with a young son and to all intents and purposes I have moved on, all of this that happened almost feels like a different life, like it wasn’t quite real. But typing this has brought out the rawness that still exists and the regret and the blame and the judgment and now I can work through it and make sure it has gone for good.

 

So why share my story? Why be so honest? Because. Because, I didn’t know that was domestic violence, because I was at university, because of the situation, I didn’t think it counted, I didn’t think anyone would care and on so many occasions people turned a blind eye and that kept me silent.

 

I write this because it’s not the only story, there are many more, hidden away, untold. I write this because I want to be free from carrying it as a burden in my heart any longer. I write this because it is the truth of what happened and the truth that was never told – not until now. I write this because at last someone wanted to know my story and someone allowed me to speak, to verbalise it and to set me free.

Guest Blog: Yesterday…

This is an guest post from a wonderful friend of mine.

 

I was walking towards my mum’s yesterday when someone tapped me on the shoulder, while saying my name. As I turn, he steps back. He asks if I remember him, says it’s been a while and tells me his name.

 

I didn’t recognise him at first. But a second or two after I hear the name I do. It’s the guy who I was once friends with who wanted to have sex with me so much that he ignored my lack of consent.

 

We actually have a conversation… of sorts. How is that?

 

Internally I think I’m wondering how I feel about it all. And I want to know what he’ll say… Sorry? I admit it? Anger that I called the police? What?

 

I’m watching him and feeling nothing. Nothing that I can place. But yet I’m shaking. I know what I’m not feeling – no fear, no anger, no hate, no revulsion – forgiveness worked for me then! but I do not know what I am feeling. Once you let it go, what’s it replaced with?

 

It’s been 9 or 10 years.

 

Do you know what he says to me?

 

“I haven’t spoken to you for years. I know it went a bit wrong. I can’t remember why though”

 

Really?????? You forget what you did? Getting arrested. Denying it all. Calling it consensual.

 

He goes on to say “maybe we can talk it through and bury the hatchet”.

 

The words “…In your head…?” Bounce about in my head. I’ve still got that smile on my face I get when faced with any uncomfortable situation. I’m weird like that.

 

He keeps himself far away from me. As if he is respectfully / cautiously aware of the fact that I really may not want him anywhere near me. His body language is submissive, passive and open – kind of like “I’m not carrying anything”. He’s kind of bowing slightly. I notice all of this, I’m known for not usually noticing anything like this! For someone who doesn’t remember raping me, he’s trying very hard to make me feel at ease and to appear… safe.

 

I think I was still standing there because I was wondering if he’s changed. In these years past I’ve changed in various ways. People change. Has he? He answers my unvoiced question by standing up straight, submission forgotten briefly, and saying “you look really good” with that look of lust that regardless of generation, ethnicity, shape, size or status yes all women have experienced. I know that nothing has changed. He’d do it again. He has no desire to control his desires and my opinion doesn’t matter.

 

He offers his number and I take it because I think that when shock has passed I might have something to get off my chest – I might really tell him off maybe – but the morning after there is still nothing to be said and that feels wonderful.

 

I am totally surprised by my response having spent a significant amount of time for a good couple of years thinking about what I’d do if I see him again.

 

It’s now quite likely I’ll see him again. He says he’s often in a place very close proximity to my mum’s. I would ask him not to speak to me if he did again.

 

When I left my mum’s I felt watched. I probably wasn’t. I didn’t want to leave there with my daughter. I was relieved I wasn’t with her when he approached as I think I’d have been fiercely protective of her, not wanting her to be tainted by engaging with a rapist.

 

I’m not sure why I was not also that protective of myself. Is it because I’ve already been raped? Or because I’m curious to a fault; to the extent that it overrode my fight/flight urge? Or because I am not as bothered about me as I am about her?

 

I put my hand out to shake his hand. How do you end an unexpected encounter with the man who raped you? He hugs me. I don’t feel as dirty as the last time he touched me, but I really wish I’d rejected it. I’m not beating myself up about that… like the last time he touched me. I think he may have taken some meaning from the fact that I didn’t pull away. Like reconciliation, like he’s made his peace with me. But he doesn’t know my mantra. Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean reconciliation. Especially when the person is not safe / hasn’t changed or repented in the biblical sense. To which I can add Especially when he is a rapist. Forgiveness stops what he did from getting in the way of God and me.

 

What he did is between him and God. I’m free. 🙂

 

Guest Blog: Pastor’s vs. Campaigners

My husband (Mr GLW) has asked me to host his first blog here. Hope you all find it useful!

 

So, this is the first blog I have ever written. I confess, I don’t read too many other blogs so I’m hoping and praying this follows any “rules of blogging” which may, or may not, exist. My wife, Mrs GLW is very good at blogging and blogs frequently. We often read and comment on each others work before it goes to press but I’ve asked Mrs GLW to only correct the spelling and any really bad grammar in this blog as I want to be as unbiased as I can.

 

I felt the need to write this blog as Mrs GLW and many other campaigners (I’ll define what a campaigner is very soon, just hang in there) were getting very negative feedback and comments especially from pastors. Now, to be fair, any campaigner expects a fair amount of flack, which is very unfair as they do such a good job and change the world. But a lot of pastors, specifically pastors were taking issue with Tweets and blogs and the like from campaigners. This set me thinking about why these two groups of marvellous people are at such loggerheads over important issues. And so this blog is my thoughts. Let’s go for it!

 

Firstly, a couple of things I’d like to say (before I say lots of other things): Not all pastors are having a go at campaigners. They are not natural enemies. I just noticed out of all the negative comments Mrs GLW and her campaigner friends get, a fair percentage were from pastors. I didn’t scientifically measure it but was there. Also, even though I’m going to, I’m not a great lover of labelling people. I think personality types have a role but I do understand that people are complex and saying “you have an X personality therefore you think like this” isn’t doing God’s varied creation any favours. I’m also not saying that people are either a pastor or a campaigner. I’m neither and again, these are only broad terms.

 

Also, dear reader, you may recognise yourself in this blog. If you do, that’s unintentional. I did write this blog from my real life experiences but it’s certainly, honestly not aimed at anyone in particular. Honestly.

 

I’m also going to talk about victims and perpetrators. Now in case you didn’t know, Mrs GLW and I campaign to end violence against women. And coming from that world (I call it the EVAW World) I do know better than to use the term “victim”. There are much better words that describe people who have suffered at the hands of all different types of perpetrators. However, if you don’t mind, I’m going to stick with victims, just this once, as I want to capture a whole host of campaigns, not just our one and victims seems to be the best word (just this once).

 

So what’s what? What is a campaigner and what is a pastor? Like all of us, my definition of any thing really is shaped by what I’ve experienced. In the grand scheme of things, I probably haven’t experienced a lot. Because I’m married to a campaigner and live in a world were I interact with more campaigners than pastors, I know a lot more about campaigners. So I’ll start with pastors first.

 

A pastor, some times called a Vicar, Minister, Preacher, Pope is basically a church leader. The stereotypical ones stand at the front and spout forth God’s word on a Sunday morning. They are very very good at loving everyone and anyone. They want their church or group to be open and welcoming to everyone. They love the victim and the perpetrator and both are welcome. Shouldn’t we all love everyone, I hear you ask? Well yes, but remember this point for later. Most of the pastors I’ve come across are very good speakers. I think it’s part of their training.

 

You don’t have to be spouting God’s word on a Sunday morning to be a pastor Many people I’ve met are pastors but aren’t ordained, they don’t have or go to a church. They are made to be pastors though and some may be doing God’s work in a place far from the church, like a bank or the government (only joking!). But they all have a pastor mentality – that they love everyone.

 

So what is a campaigner? Listen and we will hear (a little C of E joke there). A campaigner is someone who is very passionate about a particular subject or cause. They will use any opportunity to tell anyone about it. Sadly, they can sometimes come across as fanatical, always taking about that one and only subject, especially on their days off. (Though like pastors, campaigners never seem to get a day off!) They may not get many opportunities to speak because they come across as slightly mad and, let’s be honest, we all know what they’re going to speak about anyway! Sometimes, campaigners aren’t as articulate as our pastor brothers and sisters (in Jesus, obviously). This is normally due to lack of training which may not be possible due to time or finance or both. Importantly, campaigners are on the side of the victim. The immediate welfare and the restoration (big Christian word there) of victims are their primary and sometimes only focus. They can sometimes come across as hating or having no compassion or love for the perpetrator. They can appear judgemental towards one particular group, normally those they may be campaigning against.

 

I’ll give you a real like example. I haven’t changed any names to protect the innocent as I haven’t mention any.

 

I was in church the other Sunday and it was prayer time. Our minister sent up a few general prayers then asked a particular women if she would pray for a particular country way out east which is going through some problems at the moment. This women had left England some years ago to set up an orphanage in this country way out east and quite rightly she was best placed to pray for this county way…you know where.

 

I smiled as her prayer turned in to a mini sermon about the needs of the people she was serving. She stumbled her way through a list of what needed changing in that country (mostly the government of a bigger country next door) and what her centre needed to survive. I also, disappointingly, noticed a few people sighing and rolling their eyes to heaven. A good reason to always pray with your eyes closed. She was a true campaigner being given a rare opportunity to share her God given passion.

 

That Sunday’s prayer time (it’s not really called that in our church) brought home to me how sometimes campaigners are perceived: The passion perceived as rambling on about that same subject for far too long, given half a chance. The wants and needs of the cause being seen as perhaps something else to donate to. The way she was ranting at a government (aren’t all governments allowed by God? Even UKIP?) And yes, she wasn’t the most eloquent speaker in town, especially compared with the pastor. I suppose it was that Sunday that was a light bulb moment for me. It really helped me connect the dots on why these clashes between pastors and campaigners occur.

 

(Just so you know, there was no clash between our pastor and campaigner-woman. I’m sure our pastor knew what was going to happen when he asked her to pray and I salute him for letting her do so.)

 

And so here’s where the clash occurs: love. Not to trivialise but to explain, (and this is a well known story for many in Campaigning World) most of Mrs GLW’s clashes go like this: a Christian organisation or a well know individual makes a comment which does not help the EVAW cause. Mrs GLW nicely (she can do nice, normally on only Mondays and Wednesdays for some odd reason) informs the person or organisation why their comment is problematic. Sometimes they come back “I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise. Thanks for the advice.” and life’s merry (at least for a few hours). Other times a Twitter mini riot ensues and many people will accuse Mrs GLW and other campaigners of basically not being loving, either towards other Christians or those poor perpetrators (sarcasm intended). And perhaps oddly, or not if you’ve read the above, many pastors are in the “You’re not being loving!” brigade.

 

So here’s the whole crux of this blog: I think that a lot of pastor type people think that campaigner type people don’t love perpetrators. Not true. I know many courageous people who have been seriously harmed in many ways by a perpetrator and have whole heartedly forgiven them. I also know that the vast majority of campaigners are very aware of the principalities and powers of this word that encourage bad behaviour. They just don’t condone the behaviour and want it to stop.

 

A cute example: Smaller GLW (our youngest child if you’re not into Twitter speak) sometimes has a paddy and throws things and himself around. I love him deeply but I still tell him to stop this bad behaviour because he may hurt himself, or more likely, someone else. I’m not judgemental towards him as I’m aware of his age, his immaturity (compared with an adult. Well, most adults) and why certain situations set him off (normally Small GLW, his sister). I think I’m right in saying this a very typical parent’s way of thinking.

 

So is it as simple as that? Pastors are designed (by God) to love everyone and they expect campaigners (and others too) to love everyone and never say a bad word against anybody?

 

Well for starters, most campaigners I’ve come across do love “the other side”. It may not be the “Let’s all be bestest friends!” sort of love. In most cases of past abuse, that wouldn’t be appropriate or helpful. But there are a lot of people who once experienced horrific abuse who now forgive the abuser. They may never want to interact with the abuser again but that act of forgiveness is still love.

 

I believe that campaigners are made to see what and who needs changing in the world. Pastors are made to love and welcome everybody. They were both made this way by God to complement the Kingdom. Jesus, who I believe contained every personality type as he was 100% God and we were made in God’s image, displays both pastor and campaigner (and many other) traits from what we read about Him in the Bible.

 

So what’s the way forward? Once we really recognise and properly appreciate our different jobs and roles in The Kingdom, this should lessen the pressure on ourselves when we see a brother or sister (in Jesus) doing something we don’t agree with. Perhaps our first question shouldn’t be “Should they be doing that?” it should be “Are they being called to do that?”

 

At this present time, with the current setup in our churches, pastors are gatekeepers a lot more of the time than campaigners. They have more power to decide who preaches and who doesn’t. And because pastors are, well, pastors, you’re always get a pastor’s perspective in a Sunday sermon. I’ve noticed we’re all drawn to parts of the Bible that fit comfortably with our personality type or our calling. Therefore it figures that pastors will always bring a pastor’s perspective to any preach. Now, a few notes about what I’ve just said: Yes I know we have PCCs, Elders, Deacons etc. but in most churches pastors do have a big say. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Also “power” is sometimes a dirty word. A lot of people won’t acknowledge they have power and therefore won’t use it appropriately and that in itself is not helpful. Mrs GLW went on a course about this and is much more qualified to talk about this than I am. Suffice to say, recognise the power you do have (and we all do) and use it for His work.

 

Anyway, to get back on track, pastors – please recognise those campaigners in your mist and allow them to speak. Recognise that historically most campaigners were shunned and ridiculed by the establishment. Don’t be the establishment!

Guest Blog: Dr Kate Middleton on Gender

It seems at the moment that everywhere you look there are debates on the issue of gender boundaries categories for children’s toys – challenges of Lego’s recent addition of ‘girl’s’ Lego, comments on how some stores layout their merchandise or complaints from authors regarding how book covers try to suggest which gender of child ‘should’ read their books.

 

Quite rightly so, a lot of people would say. But why does it matter so much? Some people might think that ‘making a fuss’ over something like this is overkill, but the answer is it really does matter.

 

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we cannot admit men and women/girls and boys are different. As Jenny Baker says in her excellent book ‘Equals’:

 

“We’re clearly different in lots of ways. We have different body parts, grow hair in different places and the difference in our chromosomes is reproduced in every cell of our bodies. In almost all sports, whether it’s running, cycling , swimming or jumping, men are consistently faster than women: they jump higher, lift heavier weights, throw further and score more. That pattern of men and women achieving differently is repeated in lots of different spheres of life. How can we say that women and men are equal?”

 

There are clearly differences between men and women, particularly if you look at physical – that is ‘body’ factors. There have also been argued to be cognitive – that is brain – differences between males and females as well, although this remains a hotly controversial topic. But two vitally important facts need to be emphasised.

 

The first is that although there are some differences, there are a lot more ways in which we are NOT different. This is particularly true if you consider that differences claimed in scientific research look at averages – the statistical centre of natural variation along any given skill/measure. Taking that natural variation into account there is an awful lot of overlap – plenty of women who do not demonstrate the more classically ‘female’ trends; plenty of men who find that they identify with some ‘female’ stereotypes.

 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the fact is that equality does not need to assume that there are no differences. Quoting Jenny Baker again, she says:

 

“Equality is the belief that all people have the same value, regardless of any other defining characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and age… equality is about treating people fairly without prejudice or assumptions and it’s the essential foundation on which all fruitful relationships are built. Equality particularly when we’re talking about women and men, is about being free to choose the direction your life takes and having the encouragement and opportunities to enact that choice, rather than being constrained by stereotypes or cultural convention. It’s about everyone being able to flourish.”

 

So why do these gender stereotypes matter so much? Why not create brands and toys which are pink and feature more classically ‘female’ play types like cooking, fashion or looking after babies? Why not separate ‘boys’ from ‘girls’ toys in stores and supermarkets? Why not brand and design books according to which gender is more likely to want to buy them?

 

There are lots of answers to this, but one compelling one lies in the psychology of humans. One thing that cannot be denied about humans is how we prefer to simplify the world by making generalisations. One way we display this is in our tendency to form ‘groups’ in our minds for people. We tend to classify these groups fairly simply – as either ‘in-group’ (that is, of the same group as us) or ‘out-group’. You can see this in all kinds of things – social class stereotypes, our love of forming and supporting specific football teams, what newspaper we read – it happens all over our society.

 

A series of studies both historical and more recent demonstrate how easy it is to induce people to form these kinds of group identities. Perhaps the most famous, called the robbers cave experiment, took a bunch of 11 year old body on a summer camp in the USA. When these kids arrived, they were randomly allocated to one of two groups. At first on camp, simple steps were taken to enforce these group identifies. Each group didn’t know the other existed, but they ate together, took part in activities and chose group names and emblems. Its not that surprising that the kids really took on this group thing and started to share a real sense of group ‘togetherness’.

 

What’s interesting about this experiment is what happened next. When the camp organisers revealed the existence of the ‘other’ group, what developed was almost immediate hostility – mainly in the groups calling each other names. Once the groups then started to compete against each other this inter group rivalry got more significant. When one group eventually won the ‘camp cup’ this sense of superiority was marked and the hostility increased. It wasn’t long before the groups refused to even eat in the same room as each other.

 

This famous study then began to explore how best to break down this inter group hostility. But the reason I’m talking about it now is to look at what happens when we strengthen group identity and draw attention to or exaggerate perceived or real differences between two groups. Very quickly a sense of hierarchy develops, particularly if one group, for whatever reason, can be perceived as ‘weaker’. Once that sense of hierarchy is there, it grows. The outcome of this can be very powerful – more than once psychologists, researchers and even school teachers have attempted repeats on different scales of this kind of experiment, and had to interrupt their plans because the degree of hostility was alarming and unexpected.

 

There are differences between men and women. But the more we exaggerate these by slipping into stereotypical shorthand in order to simplify our world, the more we risk building an ‘in-group’ mentality that can foster and encourage feelings of hostility, negative behaviour and unhelpful beliefs about the ‘other’ group. The more we teach people – however implicitly – that boys are totally different from girls, the greater the chance then members of one group will start to foster and justify cynical or unpleasant beliefs and behaviours toward the other – and thanks to the historical discrimination against women it is usually this group that comes off the worst.

 

There’s plenty of evidence for this happening. Take some of the classically quoted stats about men and women – such as the claim that women use thousands more words per day than men as a fairly non-controversial example. I know I’ve heard this quoted so many times! And yet, as Deborah Cameron explains in her very interesting book ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus,’ this statistic has no empirical basis at all – in fact studies tend to find little or no difference in the average numbers of words used per day by men and women. So why is this so widely believed? Because those subtle, subliminal messages we see everyday teach us that men and women are much more different than they really are, making us much more likely to believe messages like this that then exaggerate a difference that was never really there in the first place.

 

Genesis 1:27 states clearly that men and women are made in the image of God. The Message puts it beautifully translating God’s command ‘make them reflecting our nature.’ We need to be really careful about how and when we subconsciously or deliberately separate two groups of people who were created, not identical, but equal. It is in the combination of men and women, in the God ordained harmony of both working together and in real equality that we see the entire reflection of the image of God, not in separating them.

 

It isn’t just gender stereotypes in kids merchandise that risks this. I’m urging caution on a whole realm of ‘for women’ or ‘for men’ stuff. Of course there’s no harm in us meeting sometimes as guys or women only – sure, we have stuff to talk about that the others may find a bit bewildering or irrelevant. But lets work together and not be defensive to good challenges where perhaps things need to change. Lets take appropriate caution that we are not slipping into lazy stereotypes that risk at best alienating those who do not conform or excluding some who would otherwise have benefited, and at worst building up group identities that may foster and encourage very negative attitudes. Lets celebrate our amazing, God reflecting, common humanity rather than separating what God made equal.

 

Dr Kate Middleton is a church leader & psychologist with a passion for applying psychology and faith to real life. Although working mainly in the UK, she is currently based in Paris and balances commuting back to the UK with building links there. Kate is one of the leaders of ‘Mind and soul‘ & regularly writes for their website. She also speaks across the UK on a variety of topics & has written several books. In the UK Kate works with the Hitchin Christian Centre where you can find articles, talks etc by her. On Twitter she is @communik8ion.

 

Guest Blog: Gender Restitution

There once was a woman. Think of a name for her.

 

She lives in a decent area of the city, attends a lively local church and is an enthusiastic runner. What does she do for a living? That’s also your decision. For the purposes of our story, it should be a job in a company or firm of some kind. She’s not high-up, but she is a step or two beyond the lowest rung.

 

She’s a good networker, so she’s one of the first to hear news of an impending vacancy. Richard, the man who’s moving on, is well-liked and respected and no-one bears him any ill-will for taking the lucrative offer made to him by a rival company. Everybody feels he deserves it, as well as a new challenge, what with the third child on the way.

 

When the job is advertised, our heroine’s CV and letter of motivation is ready to go; hers is in fact the first to land in the appropriate inbox. She knows she won’t be the only applicant, but this company has a policy of seeking to promote from within and she knows she’s the best qualified on her level. Interviews come around; two external applicants, and two other internals competing with her. The internals are, as she expected, good workers but not on her level. Ian is too new to the company and a little too inexperienced in the field to be a realistic contender – he’s probably applying to get a feel for how things work round here. He’s ambitious and in the future he’ll do well. Stephen is an able and affable kind of guy; sharply dressed, a touch less experience than her but with a winning smile and charm interpersonal manner. Her results have been better than his, consistently. She is not worried that he’ll compete with her for the promotion. All things being equal, she’s the best suited.

 

The interviews proceeds without surprise. She has acquitted herself well and she is at peace. The next day the email arrives at the expected time. Thank you … good candidate…add value to company … unable to offer …

 

As she scans the scarcely credible words, Stephen walks past her desk, beaming and gently pumping his fist. It shouldn’t make sense, but somehow she’s not surprised.

 

On the train home she sits next to young man lingering over the third page of a tabloid paper. In the stuffy and stuffed carriage she feels middy nauseous; she tries to manoeuvre herself into the hint of a breeze. She momentarily dozes off, awakening with a start as the train pulls into her station. She opens her eyes to see those of the man next to her lingering on her chest. She pushes past him (which seems to be unnaturally difficult to do), and stands on the platform catching her breath.

 

She’ll be late for the church home group. She had thought of skipping tonight, but she wants company and dinner. She can’t be bothered to cook for herself anyway. She arrives just in time for a refreshingly simple bowl of soup to be pressed into her hands and sits quietly as the gentle buzz of ten people catching up with each other drowns out her own endlessly circling thoughts. She comes to full attention as they talk about making plans for the arrival of the new pastor. He’s married, with three kids and a reputation for growing churches quickly. He doesn’t like women preachers – which is a blow to our heroine as the previous pastor had helped her hone a gift of preaching she’d only recently discovered – but that’s OK, insists John, the co-leader of the group with his wife Helen (she’s in the kitchen sorting out the tea and cake) the new pastor will be quite happy for our heroine to speak to women’s groups and Sunday School.

 

Our heroine doesn’t enjoy teaching at Sunday School; and she’s never been to a women’s group. Which is what she’d meant to say. Instead it came out with a minor (by her workplace’s standards but major by this group’s standards) expletive and clearly voiced disappointment. She voices a vague sense of wondering if the local C of E place is any different.

 

John tells her not to get too emotional, there’s plenty of opportunities for her besides preaching and besides you don’t want to go to the C of E place because the vicar there is a bloke who wears a dress on Sundays. He laughs as he speaks, and the group seems to all join in.

 

That’s enough for her, and she says so.

 

John’s a good guy, at heart. I’m sorry he says. Sorry. I know this hard for you.

 

Thank you. I mean it, thank you, she says. But what are you going to do about it? I mean, it’s alright for you. You’re doing well at work, and nothing at the church will change for you with the new man. But what about me? What can I do?

 

We can pray for and with you, says John, with his kind smile and gentler tone.

 

And then? And then … what?

 

Dave was ordained in the Church of England in 2001. Since then he’s worked in churches in London, until he and his wife Bev moved to Cape Town in 2010 when Dave became the Rector of St Peter’s, Mowbray, a diverse Anglican church in an urban context. He’s passionate about justice, films, sports and the interaction between all these (and much more besides) and Christian faith. You can find his blog at http://www.davemeldrum.com. Bev tells the stories of social enterprises through photography. They have no children and 2 dogs. He blogs at www.davemeldrum.com.