To Tell the Truth: Courage to Speak Out against ‘Respected’ Men

———————————————————————————————————

This is a guest post from Ruthie Dean. Ruthie is a book marketer at Harper Collins Christian by day and a dreamer & writer by night. She and her mustache-enthusiast husband call Nashville home. Their first book, Real Men Don’t Text, will hit bookstores in the Fall of 2013. You can read her blog www.ruthiedean.com and follow her on Twitter.

———————————————————————————————————

We were alone in a rickety elevator when it started.

“I couldn’t wait to get you alone and tell you this, but your abs are just incredible. I couldn’t stop starring,” he said. We had just come from the pool.

I muttered, “thank you” like it was nothing that a man with a fiancé  “couldn’t wait” to comment on my abs. Weird, but maybe he’s just a complimentary guy, I thought and brushed it aside.

I moved to China with a team of missionaries to share the good news of Jesus with people who don’t know Him. I was a co-leader of a team of seven and really didn’t have the faintest notion of how to live in a foreign country, learn a new language and culture, and lead a team of people undergoing the same daily struggles I was.

I was prepared for the difficulties

I’d been forewarned of the ladies who would elbow me in the stomach to get on the bus or the little roach I found at the bottom of my bowl of rice; or even the time I sobbed outside a mall because all I wanted was a blanket, but every clerk kept offering me a cup (same word, different tone). But what I was very unprepared for was the difficulty I couldn’t name until it was too late: one of my teammates was going to assault me.

Against a backdrop of team prayer meetings, evangelical parties, and sharpening our ping-pong skills, John* continued to make off-handed comments when we were alone. He would brag about his sexual escapades in college before he ‘got saved’; he would make jokes about his ‘big penis’; he would share his struggles with pornography.

But after each of these comments, he would express remorse or talk about ‘how sinful’ he was and how God really redeemed Him. He’d apologize for making me feel uncomfortable and launch into his usual spiel about the great God we worshipped who ‘made all things new’. I didn’t tell anyone about his concerning behavior because I believed in the same God of redemption, so who was I to judge him?

John would come to me with sob stories

—about how I was the only one he could talk to about his masturbation problem—so I would calmly listen (silently wondering if this really my job as the team leader?) and encourage him with the usual, “ask for forgiveness and flee from sin”.

He continued to make sexual comments about me and my body, but the few times I told him to stop, he laughed and told me he wasn’t attracted to me and to ‘get over yourself—you’re obviously not my type’. He diffused every situation where I felt concern or even danger looming, so I never said a word. To anyone.

I continued on our mission to spread the Good News. It was right around this time that I was called into the regional office to meet with one of the higher-up women in the organization. I felt assured she was going to praise me for my superb leadership and excellent language acquisition (I made huge strides since the cup incident), but on the contrary, she reprimanded me.

“Several married men approached me after our last retreat and said you caused them to stumble, ” she said. I apologized for my “sin” and promised to wear looser fitting clothes, although where exactly could I buy bigger jeans in a country of 100 pounders? I digress.

I started to blame myself for the next sexual comments from John.

I felt dirty, like his words gripped onto the depravity of my person. I started eating everything I could put in my mouth, because a fat Ruthie might help me escape from the milestone that was hung around my neck. My beauty was going to make them cast me into the sea.

The first time John assaulted me, I wept in my dark room afterwards. I wrote in my journal begging God for forgiveness. It’s really not that bad, I told myself. He didn’t take things very far. I vowed to avoid John and not tell a soul—and succeeded until the secret burrowed its way out of me onto the lap of a new friend.

We were at a smoke-filled tavern of sorts watching the results from the 2008 election and she listened with an all-knowing look on her face. She was all-too-familiar with John, as he had assaulted her the year before. She felt shame and never told anyone.

Through a series of late night talks trying to understand what was at stake, I summoned by deepest courage and told the leadership about John.

I felt sure they would thank me for coming forward, but on the contrary they asked questions. Too many questions. They blamed me for the assault and let me go.  My team sided with John and I still have not spoken to them since the day I collapsed on the floor begging them to believe me. Speaking the truth and renouncing the lie that I caused John to stumble, cost me what felt like everything at the time.

I wish someone had told me how common stories like mine are to women across the globe. I wish I had known the warning signs and had a clearer picture of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.  I wish we as women could wrestle with the truth that we are never to blame—no matter how we dress, what we look like, or how much we’ve had to drink. We never, ever deserve to have our bodies treated as objects of shame.

Even as I sit here in the privacy of my living room typing this story, I want to bury it deep in the curvy folds of my brain, tucked away for no eye to see. But I share my story with you in hopes you will no longer be unacquainted with the truth that men like John are everywhere—and generally not in dark alleys like our mothers believed.  I long to inspire courage within you that you may tell someone the truth no matter what it costs—your friendships, your job, even your reputation. After the Sandusky scandal opened America’s eyes that abusers often hide behind successes and nonprofits, I pray we all see keeping silent benefits no one.

For it is only by telling the truth that we—arm in arm with our sisters and brothers—can be set free.

[photo: Anastassiya Bergem, Creative Commons]

  • http://twitter.com/saskiacw Saskia Wishart

    I am so sad to read how your situation was handled. But you are so right, when we expose the truth, we are set free! Thank-you for your courage to speak out, I pray it planted the seeds of safety for other women to tell the truth even if those in your leadership didn’t recognise it at the time!

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Amen! The truth will set us free!! Thanks for reading.

  • http://messymiddle.com/ Amy Young

    Ruthie, I feel sick reading this. I live in China and am the member care director for an organization. I’m not naive enough to think something like this wouldn’t happen to us — but I can give you my solemn word that if you had been with us and I would have heard about this, John would have been out of the country in under 24 hours. I’ve done it before and I’d do it again. I’m so sorry that you were assaulted both by John, by your team, and by your leaders. Each assault angers me. I don’t want to prop myself or the organization I work for up … more, I want to say, that there are others here who would have believed you and would have protected you once they knew. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m going to share this with others in my org to remind us that this could be us if we turn a blind eye. Amy

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Ni hao!! Thank you for your kind words. It is vital to remember that even in Christian organizations we are never insulated from the war going on all around us. So glad you read my article! Where are you living in China? I lived in Chendgu and Kunming…

  • http://www.facebook.com/allison.vesterfelt.7 Ally Vesterfelt

    Ruthie — I’m so proud of you for telling this story. I know what a big deal it is to share, especially when the first time you told the truth, you weren’t heard or understood, but I know that others share your experience and hearing your story is going to help them tell the truth, too.

    I’m so very sorry this happened to you. It wasn’t your fault. I’m thankful you’re speaking up now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Thanks, Ally! It was an important step in my journey. Thanks for letting me share it on Prodigal!

  • BrennaDA

    Ruthie, Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry that you lost your community because of what he did and their refusal to stand for truth. Thank you for inspiring others to speak truth into the dark corners.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Hi Brenna, Thank you for reading! God truly does redeem all things.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Thanks for your courage Ruthie. I’m grieving your pain and shame. We need to keep talking about stories like your own so that they never ever happen again. Blessings and peace to you today.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Thanks for reading, Ed. God really is redeeming the experience, day by day.

  • Lucie

    Reading about “John’s” behavior sickened and outraged me. I have to keep telling myself, “God will judge.” Hopefully something good will come out of this and other women will learn from your experience. SO sorry you had to endure this.

  • http://www.lilyamongthornsblog.blogspot.com/ Rubi Ruiz

    I never knew how common these situations are among women until I started reading more and more into it. It’s sickening in so many ways! I wasn’t even able to recognize it in my own life until I called it for what it is. I have found healing for my own body shaming issues by reading heartfelt stories like yours. Thank you for speaking out. I know it takes courage to write about the most painful moments of your life, but it’s helping me heal so I thank you. God bless you Ruthie, and I pray we start heading in a different direction as the body of Christ.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Hi Rubi . . . I know. I didn’t know either until this John situation happened. Even if my story helps one woman avoid similar pain, I’ll be thankful I shared it!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    I’m seriously punching him in the face right now. I’m so sorry you had to endure that, and that the blame was placed on you. Thank you for sharing this story and being open and honest about it.

  • http://www.cross-platform.org John Hanan

    It really angers me that a supposedly Christian organization would take part in trying to blame you in an assault like this. It’s disturbing that they wouldn’t even believe you. I’m so sorry this happened, and I am glad that you’re able to share and make others aware that this stuff happens even in our supposedly “safe” Christian communities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonwert Jason Wert

    I hate having to admit your story didn’t surprise me. Sometimes I think some Christian organizations believe God gave an 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Cover Thy Butt.

    No excuse for assaulting a woman. Ever.

    John should be in a cell with a huge cellmate named Bubba.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      HA! I love it, Jason. It feels like the perfect article to follow Emily Maynard’s modesty one…right? Because sometimes things don’t seem that bad until we hear the story.

  • Nathan

    I know, from being an assaulter on different levels in the past, (not-so-distant-as-I-would-like) the type of damage that I can cause to another human, especially a woman. Being married to a courageous over-comer of abuse now has helped me better understand the value of truth-telling.

    thank you for your honesty and your challenge to men everywhere

    still learning

  • http://twitter.com/amyunchained Amy Mitchell

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know far too many women who can say the same thing–that they were blamed for what happened to them. When I had a man approach me that way, I was told that I should be “flattered.”

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You have great courage in bringing this out in the open. I am sharing this post with my friends, that it will bring hope to them and shed light on this kind of situation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Flatered?! Ugg. Disgusting. I kept hearing “you’re just so gorgeous that you have to be more careful” which only translated to “you’re dirty and we can all see it”. Thanks for sharing the post with your friends. I really do long for my story to educate people and hopefully prevent violence.

  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ from two to one

    Ruthie, I salute your courage and resilience. Thank you for bravely sharing your story of surviving and healing. We need to hear more of these stories as we work to prevent violence against women in the first place.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      How do we prevent violence? It’s feels like pushing a burden up a mountainside–but I believe my role in it is to share my story to educate others. Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.notperfectonlyforgiven.blogspot.com/ Tara

    Ruthie, I am so very sorry for what happened to you. I can’t imagine going through that… wow. Thank you for sharing your story, because I know you are not alone. Bless you, sister!

  • http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/ kelli woodford

    Your courage is remarkable. Thank you for sharing this intimate story.
    I, too, know the shame pinned on because I am a woman with a womanly body. And I have allowed that shame to mold me for too long. More recently I have wondered if God made the mistake by making me to look like this or if I’m the one who is wrong to feel so bad about it?
    Your story will liberate many women, Ruthie. Keep listening to the One who only tells Truth.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Oh Kelli, I can completely relate. I wanted so desperately to destroy beauty. I was mad at God for making me beautiful and didn’t understand why He ‘punished’ me in this way. God made us with womanly figures for a reason!!

  • Emily_Maynard

    Ruthie, I’m in tears. Your bravery is so so beautiful. It breaks my heart that so much was taken from you. Thank you for sharing your story here. I hope that others will learn to speak up, too, and find comfort and healing. This was not your fault, it is not okay, and you are not alone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Thanks so much, Emily! It feels so distant now . . . amazing to see all that God has done with my story. So now you understand why I loved your modesty post so much, right?!J Thanks for reading. Let’s continue to spread this message, ok?

  • http://twitter.com/voluntaryaaron Aaron

    My heart sank as I read this and then I thought about how we tend to want to let people turn abuse into either someone else’s fault, or as an example of some past ‘brokenness’ they are still recovering from when all that does it support a culture of abuse. The story of this John is one of both men and women who will inappropriately discuss sex to pressure you into a flee or fall situation, either way then they blame you as either mis-understanding, or shaming you as a participant. No, redemption doesn’t allow one to use their past for present abuse. That’s not redeemed, that’s not salvation. Prayers and thanks to you, Ruthie Dean.

  • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

    Ruthie – I understand this a little too well. To this day, 9 times out of 10 that I manage to tell a conservative Christian about my assault, the first question out of their mouths is, “What were you wearing?” followed quickly by “encouragement” to get over it and stop talking about it. I’m well aware of how the “help” of some can be as traumatic (maybe moreso?) than the assault itself. Thank you for telling your story, and I’m so sorry that this happened to you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Exactly the same response I got. They asked me to tell them my “sexual history” of the past three years…we all need to keep speaking the truth to help other women find the courage to not believe the lies that they are to blame!

  • http://twitter.com/heylaurenj Lauren J

    Oh Ruthie, I hate that I can relate to your experience. I too was blamed for the assault against my body & heart and had people choose to believe a version other than the truth. My heart breaks for you. But I’m so thankful for you & women like you, who despite the pain & the overwhelming desire to keep quiet, have chosen to speak up! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I pray that many other women read this & are able to find release from the darkness as they realize it is not their fault & that they are not alone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Oh dear sister. I’m sorry you have endured this shame as well–there are many of us. Let’s email, ok? I’d love to hear your story if you are willing to share. dean.ruthie@gmail.com

  • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

    This makes me angry. This makes me want to start turning tables in church. God bless you for your courage in speaking up, Ruthie. Over the last few months, God has been putting the issue of sexual assault on my heart more and more. I have never been assaulted, but I have friends who have, and who were also not believed by the church. It makes me sick to my stomach. I promise you, and I promise my friends, that I will do everything I can to change this, to fight for those of you whom the church doesn’t believe and shames. I don’t know what that will look like, but this is my promise. I will fight. I will speak up. And I will support you and my other sisters in Christ who speak up as well. Thank you, Ruthie. God bless you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ruthiedean Ruthie Dean

      Hi Shaney, it truly is unbelievable how many of us are not believed by the church. I wonder if we could start some kind of glorious uproar of voices refusing to be silenced by the church. Thank for your noble fight.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    this is so wrong. so wrong and so common. i’m so glad you know you’re not to blame for his violence, his lust, his sin. this breaks my heart, and i am so deeply sorry that the people of God were not there for you then. their condemnation is the real shame here (and their firing you is the second crime).

    shout it from the rooftops. you are brave and strong. thank you, ruthie, for telling your story. may it set many free.

  • Scotty

    I have been reading your blog for about a year now, and I am so blessed by this article. I think it’s pretty common to have a “Christian” guilt/shame complex about having a beautiful body as a female. My wonderfully out-spoken mother sat me down in high school and had to firmly tell me — “looking bad and not taking care of yourself does not make you more saintly.” One of the best lessons as a young woman I could have gotten. Thanks again for your post.

    • Ruthie Dean

      Hi Scotty,

      Wow–I love that she said that to you. I couldn’t agree more! I wish this shame about beauty would disappear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.e.schweitzer Dale E. Schweitzer

    I am so sorry for your experience, but, very thankful for your sharing it. As men we must always be challenged to honor and protect, not just our wives and children, but EVERY woman and child. EVERY time, NO excuses. God bless, I will be sharing on our men’s group page. Dale

  • Pingback: Don't Read My Blog Today | Shaney Irene

  • http://www.michaelvuke.com/ Michael Vuke

    Ruthie, I’m so sorry that you had to go through this and have to live with that memory. Reading your story here makes me upset/sad on so many levels, from seeing what happens behind closed doors among those claiming to follow God to the personal level where as much as I would like to distance myself from this sort of thing I can’t. When stories like this are told, it triggers a deep disgust in me, yet I’ve mentally assaulted people before, which is the same sin as *John*’s sin.

    Please, keep telling your story. People may not believe you, like you talked about, but the more you tell your story, the more other people will speak up as well. And when enough people start to speak up, it will be impossible to ignore their voices. These stories don’t just help the ladies though; when these are told, it shows guys what their actions can do, and (at least for me) helps us in the future to have that self-control needed [whether it be in regards to lust or physical assault] because we suddenly have a name and a story to recall before we start down that road.

  • Christy

    Thank you for posting your story! I experienced an assault from a church member too, as a 12 year old on a youth trip. I can remember staring at him at church for years after that wondering if any of his “goodness” was real. His son was my friend and his wife, my Sunday School teacher. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone until 5 years later. It was the week after his funeral. He was so well-liked in the church that I was terrified no one would believe me.

    As an adult, I’ve worked with many college-aged women the night of / weeks shortly following their sexual assaults and they all have the same fear: no one will believe me or they will blame me for reason x,y, or z. I think it’s super important to get the message out there.

    It’s such a harrowing experience speaking up to say what happened, I can’t imagine many women would put themselves through it if they were lying. To prosecute, the average girl has to relay her story several different times. I went to the hospital with one girl who told 4 different people, 2 being male officers/detectives, in the night it happened all before her forensic exam.

    • Ruthie Dean

      Hi Christy,

      Wow. I’m so sorry you experienced abuse, too. So disgusting and terrible. Let’s continue to share our stories so others can find the courage to speak out, ok? No more silence!

  • Ruth

    Ruthie, thank you for sharing. Wow, this hits SO close to home for me and it hurts! I too, worked with a Christian organization overseas, and was blamed for “causing guys to stumble”. I too, was hurt by a guy who knew that because of his “good guy” persona, he could (and did) get away with it. When I went to the leadership, instead of believing me (despite proof) I was once again blamed. I left the country within the week, broken and hurting. Now, several years later, I am a pastor. God has done some amazing healing work in my heart, but obviously there is still pain. I’ve been able to share my story with people I minister to, and this has opened the doors for them to share their stories. Sharing, even though it hurts, helps bring healing. So, thank you again for sharing. You are helping me to heal as well.

    • Ruthie Dean

      Oh Ruth. Will you email me? I’d love to talk more! dean.ruthie@gmail.com

      I’m so sorry for what you went through…and I can’t believe your name is Ruth.

  • Gregory

    Ruthie, I am a college student active in campus ministry (Episcopal Church) and this year helped to lead the “Take Back the Night” week for sexual assault victims and survivors. While some of our theology might be different, I am grateful for you telling your story. May Christ’s church become a place where we can speak the truth and not feel shame. You are courageous, and I hope your story helps others who have experienced this. Peace.

  • Pingback: On Dating: I Said No | Devotional Diva®

  • Molly

    Thank you for sharing this. I had an experience on a mission trip where an older, we’ll-established missionary made sexual comments to me. I told my pastor and his wife that I was very uncomfortable. They did nothing to address the behavior and continued to send mission teams to work with this man. Sadly, mine is another story of people ignoring a problem. I add my voice to yours to encourage women and men to speak up, to listen and to address these situations with courage.

    • Ruthie Dean

      Wow, Molly. Unbelievable. I’m so glad these stories are coming out of the woodwork, because sometimes I still think I’m the only one. Thanks for sharing and I’m terribly sorry that happened to you.

  • Amelia

    Oh my goodness, your story is making me cry right at the computer of my uni! It’s such a shame that even Christian organizations will put any blame for sexual assault on the modesty of the victim. Thank you so much for sharing your story and I hope in the future you find another Christian community that will support you and your faith the way Jesus actually would. May God’s graces be upon you, dearie! ^u^

  • katie green

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so sad for what happened to you and the way that you were treated. Your vulnerability and honesty will hopefully reduce the amount of these things happening again in the future.