This story is part of our SOS series - Amy’s story can help us understand what it is like to experience abuse from a trusted church member, and then not be believed when she tried to tell about it. With open hearts and minds, let's listen to Amy's story:
A few years ago, shortly after a 6-month international ministry experience, I came home and was looking for a more diverse church than the one I previously attended. I had grown up in the CRC and been an involved member in my church since I was a child. As an adult, I attended a Presbyterian church and a non-denominational church, and I found myself in a diverse inner-city Christian Reformed Church after living internationally. I loved the diversity and the ministries to the community and I was welcomed warmly. I felt like I belonged, which was not a feeling I was used to.
About a year after I started attending this church I was hired on staff there. It was a challenging position and I was excited about the possibilities. One prominent, long-time church member, a man 20 years my senior, befriended me and offered to help me navigate the unique challenges of working for a church. We went out to eat and talked during lunch breaks and after church on Sundays. Not long after, he invited me to see a movie with him. While watching the movie he held my hand. I thought it was a little weird, but I brushed it off, thinking he just wanted to show me he cared about me. After the movie he asked if he could come over to my apartment. I agreed, naively thinking that we could have a sort of “define the relationship” conversation. Since he was so much older than me, I was confused about whether he wanted to be friends or thought we were dating. When he arrived, he walked in the door, closed it, and then pinned me against the door and kissed me forcefully. He sexually assaulted me that night, and many times after that, usually at my apartment or at his office, late in the evening. I craved the sense of belonging and liked that he always seemed to be available for me as my anxiety intensified and depression crept in. I would push him away, and then he would be back in my life after a few weeks and the assaults would continue.
I talked often with the pastor of this church and told him what was happening with this man, who was a very good friend of his. The pastor told me to avoid him. After several months of assaults, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I resigned from my position at the church. Following my resignation, I met with the pastor and told him that this person had been sexually assaulting me for months. He said little and acted as though he did not believe this was what happened. I left that church feeling broken, betrayed, and angry. I hated men, pastors, and God. I continued to try to attend different churches, both within the CRC and outside it, and was rarely able to sit through a whole service without having a panic attack.
I made numerous attempts to try to find justice in this situation, from writing a letter to the elders of the church and being told by the head elder that it wasn’t a good idea to pursue this with them, to filing a police report and being told that I had to call the perpetrator and get him to confess on a recorded line in order for the police to be able to do anything. I contacted the CRC’s Safe Church ministry and was met with compassion and validation, but because the perpetrator was not a staff member of the church, there was no defined recourse for Safe Church Ministry to take.
I was constantly dismissed and disbelieved, and was given the impression that I didn’t matter, and like that church in particular and the CRC in general dismissed me in order to protect its reputation and the reputation of the perpetrator. It seemed that the pastor of that church was also only interested in protecting his reputation. I lost numerous friends from that church, many of whom I had confided in and received the same disbelief and dismissal that the pastor had shown me.
Though I still have a membership at a Christian Reformed Church, I am not a regular attender of any church. My faith in humanity and in a God who loves me has been shattered. I have a wonderful therapist who I see regularly and I continue to work through many of the complex issues surrounding this traumatic event. I do not want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Rape is the most under-reported crime, and the percentage of people who falsely report being raped is less than 10 percent. Which is to say, if someone is telling you that they’ve been sexually assaulted, there is a greater than 90 percent chance that they are telling the truth. So believe them. Support them. And let them know they are worthy of love, compassion, and support.