This is where I make the drive to the local counseling center, a nervous young woman in the passenger seat, again.
Sometimes they are friends of friends, sometimes they’ve read something I’ve written, and so approach my desk nervously, wondering if we can talk. Each story is unique, but the emotions are usually the same.
Shame. Fear. Confusion.
I try and listen well, and give them space to say everything they need to say. When they’re done I tell them that it wasn’t their fault, that they don’t carry any of the blame for what happened. That they aren’t broken or ruined or unlovable.
Some of them have heard that before–but even more haven’t. All of them look relieved to hear me say that the fault isn’t theirs, not even the tiniest bit, but the ones who have never heard that before?
The relief that washes over them is almost palpable, like they are exhaling for the first time in months.
I give them my phone number, and offer to drive them to counseling. I reiterate that I’m available, that I’m always willing to be a listening ear.
I warn them that the doubts will creep back in, the voices that say they are damaged, that there was something they could have done to prevent it. I tell them to shout back the truth, or come find me so I can speak it again.
Sometimes they take me up on the offer to talk, or to help them get started in counseling; sometimes they don’t. I squeeze the hands of the ones that do, tell them that they are brave, and when I’ve dropped them off after their appointments, I usually sit in my car for a few minutes and cry.
Because I’m not enough, and I know it. I know that it takes whole villages to heal these kinds of wounds, and sometimes I don’t think our village of Jesus followers is ready for their stories.
They aren’t ready to talk about harassment, abuse, or assault, without asking about outfits or histories or the reminder that it will be, “your word against his.” They aren’t ready to talk about anything sexual without incorporating shame, they aren’t ready to lament without offering pat answers or band-aid responses.
I’m certainly not an expert—I don’t handle these situations perfectly. I don’t mean to paint myself as Sarah, Saint of Wounded Women. There are good, Jesus loving people out there who are doing far more and better work than I am in this area.
But it’s easy to forget about those people, when I hear yet another story of a pastor or a youth leader telling a young woman that she should have made better choices, or needs to ask for forgiveness, when she summons the courage to disclose her assault or abuse.
It’s a privilege to walk with these young women as they pursue healing, but I long for the day that they don’t have to get the name of a friend of a friend who “is a safe person to talk to about these things.”
I long for a day the Church is the first place where women are believed, affirmed, and supported, rather than the last.