Dear Alice,

I am now 20 years old. When this situation took place, I was 16 or 17. I was living with this family that went to my church, and the lady's husband kept coming on to me. At this time, my parents were divorcing and I was depressed. I was so scared of this man because he was a giant compared to me. He kept asking me if he could touch my thighs. I kept telling him no because it was wrong, but I didn't tell anyone. I wouldn't even eat at night because I was afraid he would try to rape me.

So one day I came home from church a little earlier than the others did. He came in and waited until I got out of the bathroom. He sat me down on a chair and he kept touching me. I was so in shock that I couldn't move. That day he entered me and I didn't push him away, but I was crying and felt sick. Later on that week, he came into the basement where I stayed, and he performed oral sex on me. I felt really bad, but then again I did enjoy it. I felt so confused and cheap because after he was done he left $100.00 on my table. I felt like a slut. Then after a few weeks of him not even looking at me, I decided to talk to him and tell him that I was sorry and that we couldn't do it anymore and that we had to ask God for forgiveness.

My question is was it my fault for being in this situation or is he at fault for taking advantage of me? I have forgiven him, but I still have to work on forgiving myself. To me that is a very hard task because he is one of the elders in the church. What should I do?

Dear Reader,

You’ve taken a big step forward by reaching out for help with this difficult issue. People in situations such as yours often fault themselves for something that was done to them or have mixed feelings about what they did or didn't enjoy. You clearly communicated that you weren't interested, yet he continued to pursue you and engaged in behaviors to which you didn't consent. So it’s critical to understand that what happened to you wasn't — in any way — your fault. You can decide how you'd like to move forward, but if you’re up to it, there are some resources you can reach out to if you would like support through this experience.

While it may be tough, keep in mind that this occurred through no fault of your own. You clearly stated your boundaries multiple times by asking him not to touch you. There was an unequal balance of power between you both as he was physically much larger, you were a guest in his home, and he held a position of authority within your church. This may have made it very hard to share your fears with others. He used these differences in power to take advantage of the situation and ignore the boundaries you set for your relationship. Additionally, by leaving money for you, he further tried to imply that this was an agreement that had been established or make you both seem responsible, which he can use to try to change the narrative from what actually happened.

Confusion around these types of experiences is very common, and it can feel even more confusing when you enjoyed part of the experience. However, just because you enjoyed it doesn't mean that you wanted it to happen or that you consented to it. Sometimes people will report orgasm or sexual arousal during a sexual assault, but this can be a result of certain parts of the body being stimulated, regardless of the emotions surrounding the situation. The physical response of the body during the experience doesn't indicate consent or suggest that it was something of which you approved.

Though this incident can be isolating, know that many have been in your shoes and you're not alone. In fact, these feelings of guilt and confusion are quite common as research has shown that one in four women and one in six men will be sexually abused by the age of 18. Additionally, as it was in your situation, the perpetrator is often someone the survivor knows well. This experience is more common than many realize, and there's nothing that you did that would've caused it to occur.

Once you’re able to take some time for self-reflection, you might consider what resources are available if you need additional support. Would you consider talking with a professional? A mental health professional or survivor advocate may be able to help you better process what happened and work towards forgiving yourself. If you're not sure where to start looking, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which can be reached at 800-656-4673 or online. They also have a number of resources that can provide information and steps that you can take after these types of experiences. Other resources may have more information based on specific demographics or experiences of the survivor. For example, the organization 1in6 also has a number of resources for men that have been sexually abused or assaulted and are looking for support.

Since you mentioned attending church, have you thought about church-related resources or pastoral counseling? If you’re worried about this man being an elder, are there any pastors, leaders, or counselors with whom you’d feel comfortable talking? What about other churches or faith-based organizations in your area? In any case, choosing someone you trust and feel comfortable talking with could provide you with an outlet to share and process the feelings you’re experiencing.

Reader, it isn’t always easy reaching out for help, so kudos to you for doing so. All of the best as you choose the path forward that feels right to you and makes the most sense for your well-being.

Alice!

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