Sexual Abuse, Mental Health, and Christian Culture

Having been born in LA and living a good portion of my life there, I've met a few people in Hollywood circles, and witnessed what type of things people go through to 'make it'. It's sad that my initial reaction to the recent allegations of famed producer Harvey Weinstein was, "Awful, yet not surprising". Why did I react like that? Because once you've heard story after story of how moguls in the industry degrade women, you become immune to it. My reaction in itself wasn't actually okay.

Let's dig a little deeper here. How does this affect us all? Why has the #metoo campaign gone viral?

Is this something that impacts our church culture? 

When I was 18, I went to an audition in Hollywood with a friend of mine from college. I had no intention of actually auditioning for anything, I was just there to support her. We went into the casting room for one of MTV's shows, and the lady urged me to audition as well. Being 18 and slightly naive, I obliged. The questions were ridiculous, but what was even more ridiculous were how they did the cuts.

Next thing I knew, I was lined up with 9 or 10 other women, in front of a panel of judges who asked us to lift our shirts so they could see our stomachs, and then turn around and stick our backside out.

I started laughing because I felt ridiculous and couldn't wait to get out of there. That night, as ridiculous as I felt, a sense of insecurity came over me, and all I could think about was whether or not the judges thought I was pretty enough for this show. It wasn't that I wanted to be on it. It was that I wanted to be picked to be on it. I wanted the affirmation of being pretty enough to be chosen over other women.  The whole mindset is twisted and wrong, but what vulnerable young girl wouldn't struggle with their own self-esteem after an experience like that? 

This was for some dumb little MTV show, can you imagine what women have to do who are auditioning for major roles in all the movies we love so much? Jennifer Lawrence said she had to stand in a line naked. Some of you might be thinking, "I get what you're saying but I can't really relate to their stories". While abuse may not be on your radar, the impact of comparison most likely is.

The nature of comparison is rampant everywhere. We choose to use dating sites that determine our interests on a 'like what you see and swipe' left or right basis. As women, we can easily fall into the trap of comparing our social media platform to someone else's, jealous of their perfectly posed photos verse our slightly more imperfect pose. I know this because I've done it. A lot. Until someone told me it's a dangerous place to let your mind go. 

You are loved and enough with or without filters, with or without judges saying you're a 10, and with or without the guy you like choosing you back. You are a perfect 10 because you were inherently made for a reason and purpose no one can take from you, and your life is not determined by someone else. God always gets the last say. Don't ever doubt that. 

Let's go real deep here. Some girls have shared stories with us that are haunting and unimaginable. One girl said she was raped by a man at church and when she told the church leadership, they blamed her and asked her not to return. Another girl said she was on the verge of a mental breakdown because a guy had assaulted her in a church parking lot and she was wondering why God didn't save her. These are real stories by real women, and one question is, why are they telling us? Perhaps it's because they feel the safest place to disclose the truth of what happened to them is to strangers behind a computer. It breaks my heart. They don't have people they can go to who they trust to help them and not judge them. They feel ashamed. 

Sexual abuse not only causes an intense downward spiral of mental struggles, a lot of women choose not to say anything in hopes that they too will forget it happened, because who wants to remember the actions of a man who took advantage of them? It's very hard to heal from this type of trauma, but it IS possible. It's possible with safe people to talk to, counselors, and the realization that God did not cause it, but He is fully able to heal your trauma. 

It's vital that we, as a church and society, come together and recognize a greater need to create more places where women can speak out freely and men are there to support them - and vice versa, this is definitely not just a one-sided issue and happens to men as well. Abuse cannot be justified, but it can be helped. I know there are places where outlets are available, so lets expand on that. We need to go after the difficult things that prevail in both gender's identity crisis and work really hard to establish rhetoric that builds on women and men being grounded in wholeness.  

How, one might ask? Well, maybe we can start by asking our church groups how to work together to create and engage in healthy dialogue about it. This may bring out some uncomfortable topics or people who don't feel comfortable in these settings, but maybe if we bring up the topic and just begin by praying for people who are hurting from abuse, it would make it less uncomfortable.  I met a church group who had focused studies on identity and determining what is okay, or not okay between men and women. It may seem like basic or common knowledge, but once the topic is brought up, you'd be surprised at the layers - in relationships, at work, at school, socially etc. This lead to deeper discussions and they even had a church counselor on call for anyone who needed further help.

Some people argue, "well if women dressed or didn't expose themselves so much, abuse wouldn't be an issue". Again, abuse cannot be justified. At all. The whole issue of women dressing provocatively or posting sultry instagram photos is not an issue of abuse, it's an issue of identity. I know men who work to champion women, showing them that they don't need to do this to get positive attention or affirmation. I think it's my responsibility as a women to try and help our younger generation feel free in personal expression while knowing what proper boundaries look like. Men are doing the same thing for younger men. It's hard. Everyone is different. What is okay for one person may not be okay for someone else which means the root comes back to identity, yet again. I can't emphasize that enough. 

If we can work together as a team, men and women, we can help champion one another instead of hurt each other. I've read books like Lisa Bevere's Lioness Arising, who believe it's possible. I think so too. 

What do you think?

*If you have been sexually assaulted in any way, don't feel like you're alone. Tell someone you trust or contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline by clicking HERE*.