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Over the past two weeks and previous two Aprils, Recovering Grace has focused on personal narratives by former Advanced Training Institute (ATI) alumni who endured sexual assault, abuse, or harassment in the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) subculture, sometimes within a context of broader physical abuse, and almost always within a context of spiritual and emotional abuse. We also explored portions of ATI and IBLP literature that placed much guilt and responsibility for abuse and its aftermath on survivors and their advocates, who were issued a complex system of competing demands that made it extremely difficult to expose abuse without being implicated as complicit in it. Today, we close our Sexual Assault Awareness month series.
No one in ATI or IBLP publicly advocates harassment, assault, or abuse. Other than those who perpetrate these acts, no one wants them. Nevertheless, these things have happened and do happen in the Institute, as they happen elsewhere, and survivors face a public expectation to report immediately, which overlays a private culture of shame and silence. Those who report to a parent or authority figure within the system too often face cynicism about the veracity of their experiences, or questions as to whether and how they probably invited the unwanted sexual contact. Those who report to civil authorities outside the system too often are accused of ruining the reputation and life of their abusers, of being unforgiving or bitter, and of trying to break up the family or ministry. Those who fear coming forward at the time of the events but tell their stories privately or publicly years later, after finally acknowledging the enormity of what happened to them, are too often condemned for not reporting as soon as the acts took place, or for ever reporting at all. Whenever, however, and to whomever survivors choose to speak, they are as likely to be greeted with anger, rebuke, character assassination, and loud disbelief as with support and compassion. This is not unique to the Institute, but history seems to indicate that the Institute is no better than the rest of the world in this regard, and sometimes may be worse.
Almost every person who has shared his or her story of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment on Recovering Grace has been pressured to suppress or retract some part of that story, whether at the time of the original events or after publication, even though the story is truth. This demand for silence or retraction is almost always framed as an imperative.
You have to stay silent, because no one will believe you.
You have to stay silent, because your abuser is a man of God, and countless people could lose their faith if you speak of what happened.
You have to stay silent, because your abuser gave you a home, refuge, money, gifts, or opportunities.
You have to stay silent, because it happened years ago, and you missed your window.
You have to stay silent, because you are not perfect yourself.
You have to stay silent, because only God can judge.
You have to stay silent, because anything bad that happened to you reflects poorly on the discernment and “umbrella” of your parents, who loved and sacrificed for you.
You have to stay silent, because some people are raped by strangers in war zones, and you didn’t have it that bad.
You have to stay silent, because you haven’t confronted your abuser enough times, or in the right way, or with the right combination of people.
You have to stay silent, because you haven’t managed to get your abuser to admit how he used you as an emotional and physical object to meet whichever of his personal needs was most pressing that day.
You have to stay silent, because you didn’t cry out.
You have to retract, because your abuser doesn’t agree that his conduct was wrong, and such a godly man must know best.
You have to retract, because there was no [whatever the the antagonist considers to be “real” assault, abuse, or harassment, even when the law says otherwise].
You have to retract, because your abuser didn’t really understand what he was doing.
You have to retract, because you misunderstood.
You have to retract, because you forgot the color of the upholstery, therefore nothing you say can be true.
You have to retract, because as a young person you fell for and maybe even flirted with another young person, maybe several, and are thus an emotional adulterer.
You have to retract, because you had a history of poor sexual and romantic choices before your abuse, and your abuser must have seen that you were already tainted.
You have to retract, because you made poor sexual and romantic choices after your abuse, and thus retroactively validated the contempt with which your abuser earlier treated you.
You have to retract, because you have a difficult family background that makes you too confused and incompetent to know your own mind or your own story.
You have to retract, because sometimes you enjoyed the attention and adoration that framed the abuse, and didn’t stop it with a slap to the face of an abuser who was also your authority figure, whom you were trained to trust and obey.
You have to retract, because at the time you didn’t say “NO!” the correct way, or enough times, or with enough witnesses.
You have to retract, or your former youthful immaturity will be exposed for all to see.
You have to retract, or the family and ministry will collapse.
You have to retract, or Jesus may not make it through this one.
You have to retract, because your abuser loves you very much.
Do not stay silent. Do not retract. Speak the truth, whether or not others choose to hear.
We don’t each have to write and publish our individual stories, but neither do we have to suppress or re-swallow them until they sicken our souls with fear and grief, all because others demand that we be silent or retract. Many people whom we love fear that, if they accept the truth of what really happened, it would pain them beyond what can be borne—and that it would destroy too much of what and whom they believed in. It is too late in the day to still be ruled by fear of the truth.
What was done in the dark will be brought to the light.