On Raising the Dead

aprilTW Sexual Assault and Vote Shaming

I was abducted from my home when I was three years old and sexually assaulted. Although a terrible event in my life, other tragedies have hurt me more. I have found healing, growth and strength in years of therapy and ministering to fellow survivors. I have worked as a forensic interviewer, frequently the first responder to an allegation of child sexual abuse. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) would respond with me and cleared every home before I entered. In the homes of hundreds of child molesters I have felt unsafe once.

On one occasion a perpetrator moved his chair and placed his body between me and the exit where two LAPD Officers were standing by in support. I knew that if I shouted or called out they would hear me and take action. But my body also knew I was in danger and adrenaline coursed through me as I tensed ready to scream or defend myself. Unlike most perpetrators, that man I interviewed was not polite, charming or conciliatory. He seethed with anger and everything from the tension in his shoulders to the way he gripped the table told me that he wished to dominate me and would gladly perpetrate violence on my person were it not for the police presence outside of the shack door. Late at night in a shack on the back of a run down property with law enforcement nearby, I was frightened. But I did not have a flashback.

On October 9th of this year. I experienced the worst flashback of my life. I was watching live television and I witnessed a perpetrator roaming a stage freely. No prison walls or security visible to hint at safety. Close ups of his face, the hard hurting look in his eyes, and I flashed to the weight of a heavier body pushing me down, nails scratching my legs and gripping my knees, dirt, gravel and briars scraping my flesh as I thrashed about. I breathed deeply and exhaled the past. Reminded myself that I am an adult, safe in my home.

pelvicpowertrumpI yelled at the television and yelled at the kind brother watching with me, “Where is security? Do we know he does not have a weapon? Did they pat him down? What if he has a shank or a knife? She is not safe. She is not safe. (thinking and feeling, I AM NOT SAFE) He is going to assault her and we are going to watch it. They are going to show it on television. The cameras won’t cut away fast enough. He can stab her before security stops him. Why are there no protective bodies between them?”

I got up and took medication for anxiety. More deep breaths. Badly shaken, I sighed in relief when the debate ended. trumpmenacesclintonI booked trauma therapy appointments to explore and heal from this intense retraumatization. I rewound the DVR and watched her hold steady. I watched her be brave. Her body on the stage with an assailant, not my body. And I worried and remained alert because I could not understand how an unrepentant perpetrator of sexual assault was allowed on a national stage without a cage.

I was in something of a numb trauma response until I watched the election returns come in. Then classic Worden Tasks of Grief began:

Accept the reality of the loss
Work through the pain of grief
Adjust to a different type of environment
Emotionally relocate the loss and move on with life

In the past week I have observed many of the behaviors described in Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ Stages of Grief as I ping pong between denial, bargaining, acceptance, anger, and depression. Shake and repeat. Bargaining, bargaining, depression, and more bargaining questions. Could I have prevented this? If I dressed differently, prayed more, obeyed harder, paid more in offerings…is there some series of ritual gestures and words that might have protected three-year-old April and all the children who have survived sexual assault? Maybe if more of my friends and family knew my story they would have protected me from this waking nightmare of a sexual predator in chief.

In my post-election reality I start my social media responses with this phrase, “As a survivor of sexual assault….” To those insisting that I am to skip all stages and tasks of grief. I witness that I hurt. This is why. Here is my weakness. One of the terrible things I survived. Witness. Be with me in my grief.

I know grief. There are no cheats. It takes as long as it takes. My respite from investigating child sexual abuse is grieving with the mourners in a cancer hospital. I know loss.

But in the midst of my grief a friend though to console me by sharing facts and figures that not all Mormons voted for the perpetrator. Not all. Some. Most.

Part Two of my flashback: a boy on a bicycle sees what is happening. He sees me being hurt. He is too little to help me, but he gets his mother and she comes to me. The police are called. I am hurt, but safely returned to my parents.

My facebook friend I know in real life is sad for several hours when I tell him that to me he is not a safe person. He is not the bystander that brings power to stop the hurting. He is the silent bystander that wants cookies for not joining my assailant in perpetrating hurt.

My friend still wants to save me from my grief. He apologizes for not listening and remembers that before he raised Lazarus, Jesus wept.

I reread the accounts of Jesus raising the dead and restoring Lazarus to life. How did Jesus respond to the mourners who grieved the death of Lazarus? The most powerful being in the universe listened to the concerns of his friends and he grieved with them. He did not tell his friends how or when to feel solace. He did not rush them to acceptance or lecture with facts and figures. He did not complain that his friends were making him feel ashamed that he had not come sooner to keep Lazarus from dying.

jesuscomfortsJesus listened. Jesus wept. He did not begin the resurrection of Lazarus by leading a march to the tomb with his disciples. He communicated with the mourners and found out what they wanted. He asked if they believed, if they had faith. Did they want him to use his power and privilege to help them? He waited until they were ready for action and obtained their enthusiastic consent and participation before proceeding with the raising of Lazarus. Jesus invited the mourners to roll back the stone covering the tomb. They chose to engage the strength of their bodies in removing the barrier to the tomb. They physically consented to his miracle. And only then did Jesus raise Lazarus.

As someone who frequently feels like she has exactly what the grieving need most, I know how hard it is to listen, wait, obtain consent and include the mourners in the action. Unfortunately, I am also familiar with the harm I cause when I prescribe remedies and try to force someone to move on before they feel understood and ready for action. I am trying to hold myself accountable for the impact of my actions regardless of my intent.

When an assault on the freedom and safety of one of us is occurring, be the boy on the bicycle that got help. Be his mother who got help. Be the police and enforce the laws of the land.

When the loss has already happened, but you might have some power to make it better: listen, weep, obtain consent, include the mourners in the action.

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22 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    I have tears reading this. Your writing is so evocative. I am stunned and saddened by the election results. I told a dear friend- my old bishop, one of the most compassionate and caring me I know- that I cried when I heard the results and he was surprised. I don’t think people understand. Thank you for sharing something so moving and beautiful to help people understand.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Thank you for your compassion! I hope that as more women share their stories our dear friends will begin to see and imagine how it feels to be under the power of someone that has professed hatred or disrespect for a part of your identity.

  2. Alisa says:

    This is so powerful. Jesus wept. Then he helped. Thank you for articulating what hadn’t quite been able to form in my mind. Damn, I love this.

  3. Isabella says:

    Following the election, I too have had active LDS friends try to silence my expressions of pain. They want me to silence my frustration, my anger, and withhold expressing my empathy for others who are vulnerable.
    You have beautifully illustrated why it is so important to share. Sharing your story helps others feel comfort in knowing they are not alone but also educates those of us who are trying to comfort others. Jesus, the perfect example for Christians everywhere — the great teacher, took the time to sit with his friends in their pain and suffering. He did not try to fix or rush anything without their consent. Thank you for your insight.

  4. Melissa says:

    As a victim of sexual assault, I weep with you. I hear your story. I’m so sorry for your trauma. I was speaking to someone the other day, and they were seeking to dismiss Trump, saying he made sense on certain topics. I listened to them as they spoke. When it was my turn I told them that as a sexual assault survivor, I could not take anything Trump has said in a positive way. He has a trial coming in December. I’m praying that he will end up in prison, though, I honestly doubt he will.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Most perpetrators will never go to trial. Only the tiniest fraction go to prison. I am still not sure what to do with my anger at friends and family that supported him. It feels like betrayal.

  5. spunky says:

    I could not watch the debates. I did for a moment, but had to turn it off. It was too exasperating, frustrating, angering, frightening and depressing– all at once. Your words have expressed this perfectly and explicitly.

    Thank you for being so very vulnerable and willing to help others heal. You and your words are a miracle and a blessing.

  6. MDearest says:

    Thank you for clarity. I keep trying to accept this man as our president and I keep not being able to do it. Because you can write about this authoritatively, I can give myself permission to quit trying to fix the unfixable. I don’t think I will ever be able to see him as respectable.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Sometimes accepting the atonement of Jesus Christ looks like turning over the unfixable and accepting that I’m limited.

  7. Melody says:

    Beautiful! Brave. Brilliant. Thank you for this and for all the goodness and courage you bring to the world.

    My only commitment for the next four years: Never pretend he (‘rump) is other than he is–destructive, predatory, without conscience or a moral center. I know I can keep this commitment because I’ve done it before. With another predator, my father.

    Also, your words about Jesus and the way he moved among the grieving. The way he gave life to everyone. Thank you again. You have a wonderful voice.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      I am so sorry you have acquired the ever watchful experience through survival of a predatory father. We won’t pretend.

  8. Kim says:

    This is an amazing piece. Thank you for sharing it. I was also sexually assaulted and these last few months have been horribly difficult for me. I am so dismayed that people in our country are willing to elect a man who demeans women, minorities, disabled. My daughter wants to take self-defense now because she does not feel safe anymore. My 12 year old asked me “what do we do now?” I told her we now show More Love, More Kindness, More Compassion, and we do a better job at Standing Up To Bullies. You do an fantastic job of showing how the Savior responded to grief and fear and pain. May we all follow His example.

    • Cruelest Month says:

      Yes! Love, kindness, compassion, standing up to bullies. Jesus showed us how to be strong in resisting injustice.

  9. Heather says:

    Crying. Love you. Love your bravery and willingness to share.

  10. Ellen Patton says:

    I grew up in LA and we didn’t have that bumper sticker but lots of our friends did.

  11. Jenny says:

    This is poignant and heat-rending. Your words are a beautiful reminder at a time when so many of us are feeling so many things and the sorrow feels unbearable, especially for those who have been traumatically triggered by this election. Thank you.

  12. Bridget says:

    I stumbled upon this website while looking for help with a marriage issue. I am not of the Mormon faith, yet I have been reading post after post and finding so many words of courage, love, forgiveness and support. This was an excellent post and I thank the author for sharing. May we all find our way through this in peace.

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