I was very moved by the story about Elizabeth Smart (“like” her page), the young woman who was kidnapped as a 14 year old girl and held in captivity for 9 months.
“She was forced into a polygamous marriage, tethered to a metal cable, and raped daily until she was rescued from her captors nine months later. Smart was recovered while she and her kidnappers were walking down a suburban street, leading many Americans who followed her story on the national news to wonder: Why didn’t she just run away as soon as she was brought outside?”
Smart claims the greatest contribution to her paralysis was the traditional sexual purity lessons that she’d been taught all her life. She remembers a teacher holding up a already-been-chewed piece of gum and comparing it to a woman who had sex before marriage. Another teacher used a mangled cupcake as an illustration of the same idea. Smart walked away from those lessons believing that, once she had sex, she was worthless. She said,
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
In this sadly disturbing cartoon above, the man doesn’t even need to say, “Don’t tell”. There has been so much work preparing the girl for silence. Some people don’t understand that there are many cultural, social, psychological, and even spiritual ingredients that fold into the mixture to create a recipe for silence about being abused: People won’t believe you. Don’t rock the boat. Keep it in the family. Keep it among friends. Respect your elders. Respect your parents. Don’t challenge authority. Don’t touch God’s anointed. Keep the peace. Turn the other cheek. Is it worth destroying someone’s life over? It wasn’t that bad. Don’t rock the boat. Suffer silently. What did you do? Think before you speak. There are so many reasons not to run. Not to speak.
The unrelenting groundwork that goes into preparing people in the church to silently suffer spiritual abuse is monumental. My hope is that as more and more people come out speaking about how they’ve been spiritually abused and even naming names, that this hard ground of complicity will be broken. It’s time to lift the shame that prepares people for silence. It’s time to lift the shame and break the silence. I like what Anne Lamott said:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Smart’s doing important work. She’s not just encouraging women, and others as a result, to speak about how they’ve been abused. She is changing the soil that teaches people to shut up. Smart runs a foundation that educates children about sexual crimes and teaches children that they will “always have value and nothing can change that.”
That’s true for you too! You have value and nothing can change that.