Monday, September 17, 2018

The Accuser

Sometimes, it's important to pause and to reflect upon the world that we live in, particularly when a political story starts to overtake a human one and real souls are being lost in the process. Such is the case today as I take a short sidestep away from theology to comment on the culture of sexual accusation. I hope that you will read anyway, for what I am about to say is of critical importance.


We are living in a culture where a mere accusation can ruin a life. We see it every day in our headlines - yet another woman has come forward accusing yet another man of yet another indecent act in some place and some fashion at some time, and it's over. Whatever good the man has done, whatever kind of person he has grown to be, whatever opportunity he has before him, all wiped away by the mere word - the yet-unproven, yet-untried, yet-unsubstantiated word - of a woman. 

But for all the flashy headlines, for all the public outcry, for all the social movements and hashtags and championing that's going on, this story is not the truth. This is not the reality of sexual assault. 

Oh, it's true that a mere accusation can ruin a life. 

It's just that that life is the life of the accuser.

The reality of sexual assault and sexual abuse in our world is heart-aching and gut-wrenching. It is commonly said that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience sexual assault/abuse at some point in their lives. It is a wound that takes place in the deepest intimacy and cuts to the depth of the soul and spirit. And it is also true that overwhelmingly, sexual assault (contrary to what the headlines might have you believe) most often occurs between two persons that know each other and that know each other well.

This means that for most persons that come forward, the fallout is immediate, but not always favorable. Every accusation comes cutting through a social network, through a family system, through a group of persons who have also been central to a person's story, and those who speak of the atrocious things that have happened to them often lose more than their forced silence; they often lose family and friends.

Because everyone has to make a choice. Believe the accuser or stand by the accused? The media doesn't give us that choice. Public opinion doesn't even pretend it's an option. Who would ever stand by the accused? How blind/foolish/stupid do you have to be to take the side of the accused? 

But in families all over this country, it's happening every day. And so a woman who dares to speak cuts herself free from the chains of assault and abuse, but she loses much, much more in the process.

Families, both extended and nuclear, that you've spent your entire life making memories and traditions with no longer speak to you. They want nothing at all to do with you. Twenty, thirty, forty years of Christmases and Thanksgivings and this year? This year, you're alone. Because you're not welcome there. Birthday cards no longer come in the mail. There's no family at your wedding, and they only come to the funeral to dance on your grave. 

There are dirty looks and dirty words, names called and names revoked. There are places you can't go in the world any more, not because they remind you of something terrible, but because they were shared places and there's no longer room for you there. There are whispers and rumors, and it doesn't take long before you realize that you're the one that's been labeled, not the abuser. Not the assaulter. Oh, no. He's the golden one, you little whore. You little liar. You little *****. 

All this cuts to the very core of who you are, in the very same moment that you're not who you were any more. And you spend the rest of your life apologizing for them, apologizing for the ones who couldn't handle the truth that you spoke because you never wanted to lose them. It wasn't about them. You never wanted to offend them. You want the world to know it's not their fault, that they were in a tough position. 

And in a lot of cases, apologizing for them means apologizing for him. And you spend so much of your time defending them that you lose yourself all over again.

But then, this world wants to know what's wrong with you. Your own family doesn't talk to you? Like...a lot of them? Then you must really be a liar. You must really be a whore. You must really be a *****. Because if what you said was true, then your family - the core persons in your life and your story - would stand by you. If even those closest to you won't take a stand, why should anyone else? 

It doesn't occur to the world that in an abuse that takes place in closed rooms and close quarters, your family is often their family, too. And it's far easier to say that one of "us" is crazy than to say that one of us is corrupt. It's far easier to shake our heads and to say that ah, yes, we miss her, but she was causing a bit of trouble for us than to say that we missed it and we didn't stop him when we could have. In some strange way, for some strange reason, when accusations come out in families and in close-knit communities, it's like, collectively, those on the hearing end realize in a blink that they failed the victim and decide with gusto that they will not fail the accused. Because who wants to be the family that fails itself twice?

So it's cool, I guess, that there's a politic right now that believes that a single accusation can ruin a life. Because that much is absolutely, 100% true.

It's just that in the real world - away from politics, away from headlines, away from social media and hashtags and championing and shouting - the life that is ruined is the life of the accuser, the victim. Now a victim all over again. 

Let's stop pretending it's any other way.

** Disclaimer: I have used "he" and "she" in very stereotypical ways in this reflection. Please hear this: men are victims of sexual abuse/sexual assault, as well, and women can be perpetrators. Statistically, this occurs less often than male-to-female sexual abuse/assault, which is why I have chosen the words that I have. In a piece attempting to make an impact and not merely a point, to have used the more precise language of "him and her" at every juncture would have created a distraction. Men, I hear you. I know you have lost much in just the same way. I know your wounds are real. I'm sorry.

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