Bringing Hidden Darkness into the Light

Bringing Hidden Darkness into the Light

"Ma'am, can you step forward? I'm going to have to pat you down. Would you prefer a room or to do it here?"

I was annoyed. Apparently my comfy leggings had triggered the TSA scanners today.

"Out here is fine." I just wanted to get to my gate.

The TSA agent began the usual routine, gliding her hands over my arms, back and legs before swiping her fingers along the inside of my waistband. All normal, all things I had experienced before. I stared blankly ahead at passengers walking by as I tried to figure out if I had enough time to grab coffee before my flight.

Then she got to my crotch. Her hand forcefully rammed into my genitals, multiple times, hard. I instantly felt flushed, dizzy, confused. This had never happened before. And it didn't feel right. At all.

I remember my eyes scanning the faces around me, wondering if anyone else seemed alarmed. Everyone was busy, gathering their items and heading to get their coffee before their flights.

My brain was an instant tornado of two feelings: confusion and embarrassment. I should've just asked for a private room, maybe. Maybe if I had worn a different pair of pants. Maybe I was overreacting. She was just doing her job, right? ...right?

As I look back on that moment, now several months later, I still don't know if what happened to me was within the boundaries of her job or not. But what I do know is that I got the smallest sliver of personal insight that day of the shame, confusion, humiliation and uncertainty that so many women go through when they are sexually harassed or assaulted.

In a world that is continuing to reckon with the #MeToo movement, as well as #ChurchToo, with new stories sadly breaking continuously, a question I've heard repeatedly from both men and women is "How do we know for sure?" People are struggling to fully accept that the women (and men) coming forward with accusations and horrendous tales are, indeed, telling us exactly what happened.

And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't something that even I’ve struggled with from time to time. When a favorite athlete, actor or pastor is accused, we're often reeling. Our hearts hurt while our brains scramble for answers we don't have. We really, really don’t want the worst to be true.

And sometimes the lack of answers leads to doubt. Even though the statistics show us that false claims are extremely low (between 2-8%, according to most studies), and that we know many victims are shamed or attacked, not rewarded, when they do decide to come forward publicly, we crave the ability to doubt. Maybe, just maybe, the doubt will erase the nightmare of the truth.

But that’s not how truth works. The brave individuals coming forward deserve more than our fleeting glances and sympathy. They deserve our support...and our belief. Even when it’s hard.

If there’s one thing I learned from my overwhelming airport experience, it’s that the feeling of shame, even if you did absolutely nothing wrong, can kick in. When a situation of unwanted, inappropriate contact or talk happens, it’s confusing and disorienting. But it doesn’t make it less real.

The #MeToo victims have come forward in part for our collective good. Because of their bravery we can work together to equally reduce the stigma around sexual abuse and fight against evil that allows such sin to flourish. We cannot and should not pile our feelings of confusion and disbelief onto these survivors. We need to care for and uphold them while doing the work, be it on our own or in groups, to wrestle with the complicated feelings we may have regarding this needed movement. We must not turn our potential frustrations into attacks against the individuals sharing their truths.

So let’s stand with the sister survivors. Listen to their stories. Support the causes and just systems they’re advocating for. Remember they are bringing their private, painful experiences to light for the good of all.

Because of their courage, we’re identifying and working to dismantle and rebuild systems that have allowed abuse to carry on for far too long.

We’re learning of situations where misogyny has deeply wounded women.

We’re asking churches to take a hard look at their leadership structures while empowering the marginalized.

Because public light is the only thing that can rid us of the hidden darkness.

Photo credit: Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

New Views

New Views

"Fat and Faithful" excerpt

"Fat and Faithful" excerpt