infographic on the cycle of abuse against women and how to break it

"Cycle of Abuse Infographic" by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Cycle of Abuse Infographic” by nakedpastor David Hayward

[*** Want a reproduction of this infographic? Shop HERE! ***]

I have read reports about John Howard Yoder’s sexual harassment and assaults of women. They were always disturbing to me because I studied him in seminary. He was one of our heroes. Then yesterday I read this very powerful post, written by one of his victims, Sharon Detweiler.

You must read it!

This has been one of my main themes as a cartoonist and blogger. It always follows a certain predictable pattern:

  1. Men assume power.
  2. A man abuses this power and violates a woman.
  3. The woman tells her story.
  4. She is not believed.
  5. The man is protected.
  6. She remains silent rather than suffer retaliation or fruitless public shame.
  7. This creates an environment that immunizes men and is unsafe for women.
  8. A man sees these conditions as privilege and violates a woman.
  9. The cycle repeats.

This cycle occurs in any sphere from businesses, institutions, to families. But when you add religion to the mix with its scripture, dogma, and tradition, it fortifies the first step where men assume power. It’s one thing for men to assume power, but when they can say that God ordained it, commands it, and blesses it, it carries far more weight. This is the root problem. But I believe we can break the cycle that can eventually starve this problematic root and cause it to whither and die, along with the whole system it nourishes and supports.

There are a couple of places where we can break this cycle starting today:

  1. Women can begin or continue telling their stories (#3): The courage it took Sharon to finally write that article is amazing. It took her 36 years to tell it, but she told it. She tried before and was effectively silenced for a while. But finally, after reading a glowing review of Yoder, it broke her silence and she told us her story. We are seeing this happen more and more these days, with the famous Canadian radio host, Jian Ghomeshi, the adored actor Bill Cosby, and others, that women are counting the costs and telling their stories nevertheless. Some of them know they may suffer retaliation and shame, but they are speaking up anyway! Last September I wrote a post Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the Thug or the Theology, in which mostly women commented and told their stories. The backlash, along with the support, was phenomenal. It made me realize that this is surely one of the most important battle fields today. When I read Sharon’s post yesterday, it only confirmed my conviction to press on and continue to critique the privileges of power and provide a safe space for victims and the silenced to tell their stories without fear of censure or censor.
  2. We can believe their stories (#4): As Anita Sarkeesian says, one of the most radical things you can do to help women who have been harassed is to “actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.” In my observation, almost without exception, when a man tells his sad story people generally believe what they’re saying. But when a woman tells her story of suffering at the hands of men, people ask for proof. They want court documents and police reports and medical records. Or they want more women who claim to be victims of the same man to come forward to substantiate the first complainant’s claim. Like my blog post I already mentioned, if you read the comments you can see that those telling their stories just wanted to be heard, while many who replied required legal proof. Even though we kept insisting it wasn’t about legalities but about listening to a person sharing their story, many people couldn’t get past their demand for a woman to have some kind of legal power to authorize her story and make it even remotely true or even worthy of being shared or heard. The pressure on everyone to be silent is astounding and unrelenting.

These two ways to break the cycle… to speak and to listen… frustrate those in power. It infuriates them because it reverses the usual order where men talk and women listen. And this can happen anywhere. They are beyond reach of the law. They are outside of the controls of authority and power. They disobey convention. They are rebellious, irreverent, and disrespectful towards anyone and everything that supports this cycle of abuse. So any woman can now tell her story anywhere. Even on a blog. Or on Facebook. Anywhere! She doesn’t have to wait for an authority to believe her and lay charges, or for a court to hear her case and convict, or for a board to consider and act, or for a doctor to examine and substantiate. She can just tell her story. In turn, we can listen to her and believe her when she talks about her experiences. We don’t need access to official documents, court orders, files, reports, conclusions, findings. We can just listen to her and believe her.

This is a wild endeavor, which is exactly why it has so much power. It’s almost like guerrilla warfare, for the power in telling and listening to stories is unlimited and untapped and unmanageable. Actually, I think this is how the abuses of power are exposed and thrown down. It is the rising tide of the solidarity of the powerless and the voiceless will knock down the privileged with their power.

I’ve come to believe that this is one of the most important issues the church is facing right now. It’s not just the Mennonite church, but the church in general because it is society in general. Ghomeshi and Cosby aren’t church cases. But they do illumine what goes on in the church or in Christianity but in more concentrated forms. It’s about the assumption of power and its privileges. It’s about women and children and, yes, men too, who suffer abuse because of this assumption and privilege.

We no longer respect due process. We will usher in justice ourselves just by raising our voices and being heard in unconventional ways.

This is why I want to thank Sharon. What she did is beyond anyone’s ability to rein it in. It’s out there like a deadly virus that cannot be contained… deadly to the abusers of power. Sharon: I’m grateful for your courage in sharing your story so honestly and articulately. I think it is a powerful demonstration of where the battle front is.

(*** There are many women who find in The Lasting Supper a safe space to tell their stories plus get support! Please consider joining us. Check us out HERE! ***)


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19 Responses

  1. Julie McMahon says:

    Yes! Keep talking. Kept telling our stories. Thank you for a lowering the space and not cowardly deleting and shutting comments down like the dozens of “Godly men” before you who ran scared when the Emergent machine said delete or else. Thank you, Sharon for telling your story.

  2. Tom Wilson says:

    David, Thank you for writing this. As I read it the truth of this it kept hitting me that his is true of all who are abused, but especially for women and persons of color. I never thought about in these exact terms. This is true for woman, people of color, children etc. Sometimes people just need someone to listen and believe them. There is something about that which is both therapeutic and freeing.

  3. Syl says:

    “Men assume power” – and I’d add that “assume” applies in the sense of stepping into a position of power and also in the sense of believing it is theirs, by right. They assume, therefore they assume.

    Related to that, I’d also say that men who perpetuate the cycle don’t see the condition as a privilege, but as their right and simply how things are supposed to be – the assumption, again.

    Right on, David!

  4. Rachel says:

    Thank you for creating this. Totally awesome. Could Our Stories Untold share it?

  5. Gracie says:

    Thank you Sharon for being brave. I just wanted to comment on the ‘evidence’ thing. Sadly, sometimes evidence doesn’t even work. I know a woman who presented the pastor with texts, emails, etc that were scary to read, and the pastor refused to look at them. So even with evidence, the victim still gets the brush off.

  6. Caryn LeMur says:

    David: your post caused me to research John Yoder’s history.

    The research, in turn, lead me to an on-line ebook: “The Elephants In God’s Living Room, Volume 3, The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder, by Ruth Elizabeth Krall, M.S.N., PhD. Downloaded from ]

    For those that are wondering, John Yoder’s life was Dec 1917 to Dec 1997. He was considered the greatest intellectual of the Mennonite Church and articulator of their beliefs. He was a respected author.

    John had just turned 70 when he died. So, we have his victims, still after 17 years, being impacted by a sense of betrayal by a President of the Biblical Seminary (1970-1973), and a professor/teacher (1973-1992) at various seminaries/colleges/universities.

    The Mennonite teach non-violence, even to the point of excommunicating those that join the military. Therefore, Dr. Krall not only examines the life and legacy of John Yoder, but also the Mennonite church culture that allowed the sexual abuses (a form of violence) to continue [though the Mennonite Church dealt with John Yoder in 1992].

    Dr. Krall’s offers that John Yoder worked with the church in 1992 – 1996 in order to salvage his ‘legacy’, and thus accepted their 4 years of discipline. At the end, the Church offered John his credentials back… but John refused, perhaps because the Mennonite credentials force accountability to continue.

    I’ll add more in a bit.

  7. Caryn LeMur says:

    Here are some interesting quotes from Dr. Krall:

    Concerning the Church’s desire to ignore the dark side and only uphold the brighter legacy, Dr Krall discusses Picasso and Yoder:

    “At the conclusion of this extended year-by-year biographical reading [of Picasso’s life], it became very clear to me [that is, Dr. Krall]. The more one knows about Picasso’s troubled and turbulent relationships with wives, models, mistresses and bordello prostitutes, the more one understands his work. His multiple representations of dismembered and fragmented female forms are neither a psychological accident nor an emotional mistake.

    “There is no doubt that this new information about his sexual treatment of his wives, models, and his brothel sexual partners does affect the way I encounter and interpret Picasso’s work. This is especially true of his paintings of women and children. [“The Elephants…”, page 120]”

    “The two co-mingled legacies from Yoder’s life (his academic-intellectual legacy and women’s allegations regarding multiple instances of sexual misconduct legacy) form a unified whole. Each legacy needs to be examined in light of the other. I do not believe either aspect of his life can be understood without an examination of both. [“The Elephants…”, page 183]

    “In order to place Yoder’s intellectual legacy in perspective, students of Yoder’s life and theology need to consider (1) the church-confirmed factual reality of his gendered abuse of adult women, (2) his creation of theological and ethical rationalizations to promote and defend his harassment of women, (3) his aggressive verbal counterattacks against those who confronted him about the inappropriateness and harmfulness of his behavior (4) his defensive system of rationalizations that supported his behavior (5) his church’s absolution and (6) the long-term consequences of his restoration to denominational and theological credibility. [The Elephants… ; page 187]”

  8. Caryn LeMur says:

    Dr. Krall’s statement below on John Yoder of the Mennonite Church sounds predictive when considering the many recent comments concerning Tony Jones of the Emergent Church:

    “In order to place Yoder’s intellectual legacy in perspective, students of Yoder’s life and theology need to consider
    (1) the church-confirmed factual reality of his gendered abuse of adult women,
    (2) his creation of theological and ethical rationalizations to promote and defend his harassment of women,
    (3) his aggressive verbal counterattacks against those who confronted him about the inappropriateness and harmfulness of his behavior
    (4) his defensive system of rationalizations that supported his behavior
    (5) his church’s absolution and
    (6) the long-term consequences of his restoration to denominational and theological credibility. [“The Elephants… “; page 187]

    Dr. Krall then studies the apology given by John Yoder:

    “Reading these words [within John Yoder’s 1992(?) apology] in 2010 – separated from the heat of the moment – it is clear that Yoder does not acknowledge the specific nature of the accusations made against him and confirmed by the church.
    He confesses nothing.
    He makes no personal testimony to remorse.
    Instead he settled on the issue of forgiveness received as an appropriate response to questions of his personal accountability (and indirectly, the church’s accountability).

    “In this response to a public question of accountability, a formulaic response regarding his gratitude for forgiveness is utilized to defuse the moment. In this kind of generic statement about forgiveness, he could be reporting forgiveness for all kinds of personal flaws and imperfections in the past as well as for specific sexual misconduct behaviors.

    “In such a carefully prepared statement Yoder never admitted to any form of misconduct.
    He expressed no remorse for his actions.
    He expressed no repentance.
    He never apologized for past behaviors.
    He didn’t seek to make amends.
    He did not address wide-spread victim alienation from both Yoder and the Church. [The Elephants…; page 229]”

  9. Caryn LeMur says:

    I would like to add another interesting quote from Dr. Krall’s work on Yoder. These comments are more directed at church institutions, in my opinion. I find them resonating within my experience:

    “As the World Health Organization noted in its World Report on Violence (2002) violence-altering and violence-transforming discussions of violence are difficult and often impossible because individuals and communities do not with wish discuss their own participation in violence. They do not want to consider the role of deeply cherished beliefs, values, and ideologies in their individual and communal identities as causative factors in the transmission of violence from generation to generation.

    “Neither exaggeration nor denial about the reality and presence of violence inside religious organizations serves the religious community of faith in its healing and salvific mission to a world filled with many distinct forms of violence. Neither serves to set a protective barrier against a predictable reoccurrence of today’s violence in future generations. Neither furthers the church’s self-declared mission of redemptive healing for a broken world.

    “The World Health Organization is correct: the role of ideology in promulgating violence is the hardest conversation for individuals and communities to have. It is, however, also the most important conversation if we wish to end the cycles of violence in personal and collective experience. [The Elephants…; page 241]”

  10. Caryn LeMur says:


    Copies of the text of the Elkhart Truth, 1992, begin at page 389 in “The Elephants…”. These detail the allegations in the words of the paper that broke the news. Not pretty reading. So, “Trigger Warning: sexual abuse and assault”.

    I was unable to find any Mennonite Church report of investigation. If it exists, please have the owner send it to Dr. Krall and me. I am always curious concerning the re-slanting of stories and fact to fit institutional needs for survival over institutional morality.


  11. kris799 says:

    I love it…I can see the Christian Industrial Complex being brought to its knees.

  12. LauraA says:

    Here I go, breaking my own moratorium for the year again.

    Thank you for writing about this, David. I’m going to keep this as short as I can but know that it will be longer than I would like. Half of my family is old-order Amish or some version of Mennonite. My relationship with the Mennonite church and that part of my family is complicated. In our family history, my grandfather had a terrible manic depression and some schizophrenic tendencies that started manifesting in the 1940s and lasted until his death in 2001. The worst years were when my father and his siblings were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, when the US medical community’s mental health track record was far from good–but the Mennonite attitudes toward illnesses and mental health coupled with misogynistic and racist tendencies compounded the situation. Although there was no physical violence, the emotional and mental abuse was severe. Many of the views that my grandfather could not get past were some of the controlling tendencies of certain Mennonite belief structures–he literally could not cope with a world where women gained more autonomy in society, where men were not dominant, and where interracial relationships occurred. My father did not speak for one entire year out of extreme emotional trauma as a child. As an adult, he chose to move far, far away from his family. I was not raised around my grandparents so that my parents and my brother and I didn’t have to endure what my father did growing up–yet my cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandmother continued to endure until my grandfather died. After his death, we were able to reconcile, reconnect, and openly speak about what had occurred–we’re a resilient bunch! I wish that I could have grown up seeing my cousins and grandmother more frequently. But there was damage that part of the Mennonite structure could not and did not help or protect from. That’s the short version.

    I completely empathize with Sharon, and also appreciate Rachel’s work. I appreciate the fact that Sharon mentions why the Mennonite church and tradition is dying, and she’s right. I’m grateful for groups like the FB Marginal Mennonite Society and others who on one hand can appreciate some of the good in the tradition, but at the same time very much recognize the need for reform or even obliteration of the Mennonite faith if its existence largely serves to be inert or to harm. I personally think that the Mennonite church need to embrace universalism. Many of the positive aspects include pacifism, reconciliation, and some promotion of social justice and fair trade. Focusing on those positive aspects are what pushed a cousin to be a social worker, my father to be a family practice physician, an aunt to be a cardiologist, a separate aunt to be a nurse, and an uncle to be truly supportive about marginalized populations within his city. But within the Mennonite church itself and outwardly toward the rest of the world, these traits have always been woefully incomplete and inconsistent in application–and far from universal. For every open, accepting Mennonite congregation that I know of, I know of at least 5 others that are clannish, insular, and very punitive and fault-finding. For every Mennonite group that is open to addressing and discussing the shortcomings and harm within the church, I can still remember picking up the odd newsletter from the late ’90s into the 2000s that still would address AIDS as a punishment from God.

    Thank you for letting me ramble.

  13. Heidi Loewen says:

    My autobiographical accounting over 60 years in the making. The 1st book, “Mennonite is the Name, Evil and
    Deception are the Game” pub. in 2012 was almost immediately a bestseller. The sequel, “Aftermath of a
    Psychopath” was just launched when a bold group from my Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and the main
    character in both my books, my brother, used their influence backed by my brother’s millions of dollars to put
    the wrath of fear of legal action into the domain of the booksellers handling the marketing. I removed both
    titles from the market although the 1st book had surpassed the statue of limitations by many months. It was
    my duty to preserve the relationship I had established with the many booksellers, and my printers of my self
    published work and get them out of harms way in the most effective way possible. Remove my books off the
    shelves! While I decide what route to proceed on in the future, I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation for
    the chorus of so many voices sharing their stories – who have found the courage to speak. I felt liberated from
    holding on to my family secrets. It destroyed victims in my family for four generations.

  14. Melody says:

    Great infographic! It really is about being believed or not and being able to tell the story and feel safe enough to do so. It is all interrelated.

  15. Please share it! Yes. Thanks everyone.

  16. Bill Kinnon says:

    Another brilliant, creative post that gets to the heart of the matter.

    Thanks for the synopsis. Very important stuff. Especially in light of David’s post — Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the Thug or the Theology

  17. Thanks everyone for sharing! Powerful.

  18. Kathy says:

    As someone who is married to a Mennonite & currently attends an EMC Mennonite church, not only do I need to educate myself more about this, but I also I plan to share this cartoon and our stories with our associate pastor. #silentnomore

  19. Jill says:

    well done!