Non-Existent Address?

Last week, I shared in a post about my experience with the victim notification system. However, I did not share the whole story as I found myself in a period of waiting to see how things would play out. What I did not disclose is that when I googled to find the mapped location of my abuser’s “new address,” I could not find it. I searched for the location via every method I could imagine- even dragging my cursor over the entire zip code seeking my abusers’ pin on the sex offender registry map. When my exasperated efforts failed to turn up any information on this new address, I reached out to someone familiar with my case who continues to work in law enforcement.

305CF770-7159-45F0-9456-9EBE73FDB4BD

When his efforts of finding this street address were thwarted, I became panicky and entered survival mode. It seemed that my abuser had listed a bogus address and was potentially non-compliant with the registry requirements. For what seemed like much longer than it actually took to get the answer I needed, my brain was in overdrive. I caught myself lost in thought trying to figure out why my abuser would at this point not comply with the registry requirements when he had for 12 years. I became frightened that either he had hurt another little child and was trying to get away or that he was possibly going to try and find me. I was annoyed that the registry had failed me because they “lost” my abuser- he was going to get away. The physiological trauma responses I experienced in years past returned rapidly. The whole situation caught me completely off guard and I struggled to find my ground.

As law enforcement sought answers, I informed the ADA of the latest happenings. I am so thankful for the law enforcement in Duplin County that monitors the offenders on the registry and the ADA. It is clear through their swift actions that they truly care about the people they serve. Thankfully, this story has a “happy-ish” ending- my abuser actually has not moved, the name of the road he has lived on for years is changing/has changed and technology simply has not caught up yet. While I find comfort in knowing that law enforcement knows his exact location, I find greater comfort in knowing that I still have advocates in my life fighting for me when I can’t. I find the most comfort in knowing that God is my greatest source of protection and that he has placed people in my life to help.

I wholeheartedly believe that God allowed me to experience this event because it exposed the area of my life that I am not entrusting to Him. During the waiting period I wrestled back and forth with God- trusting Him with the outcome then before I knew it, yanking it right back- wanting to take action immediately, rather than allowing for the appropriate chain of response patiently. When a person experiences traumatic events, control is often difficult to relinquish once it is regained- for obvious reasons, we did not have control in the trauma. My prayer is that I will continue to let go of the ropes that are not mine to hold.

Registered Sex Offenders and the Church

I have been pretty hesitant about using my voice in this manner. It seems it would be much easier to just let people figure it out on their own. But I know God would not have placed it on my heart or placed me in the center of so many recent discussions about this topic. Please know that I have given much careful thought and prayer about how to present my views in a non-condemning, gracious, and open-minded way. I recognize that it will be difficult and uncomfortable for many to read and think about. But, I believe it is of utmost importance that we talk about sex offenders and the church.

Over the last month, I have found myself in multiple discussions regarding how to respond when a sex offender attends your church. This is not something I had given any thought to prior, primarily because my abuser did not attend church. It will require multiple blog posts to provide a well-informed and multi-faceted view of this topic. Between researching the legal statutes pertaining to registered sex offenders and the church, to studying the range of protocols currently employed by churches, to asking for opinions from individuals with backgrounds in law, law enforcement, higher education, pastors, and from fellow survivors.

I hope that by the end of the series, churches will begin having more conversations about how to protect children, empower survivors, and implement best practices if registered sex offenders are allowed to worship corporately.

In this post, I just want to introduce a few different scenarios that could occur in your church. I’m not going to post my responses to these scenarios today because I hope to hear some of your thoughts first.

***Trigger warning***

 

  1. Mr. S is 65 years old and has multiple aggravated child abuse convictions that span over 20 years and involve multiple victims. He is classified as a Tier 3 recidivist sex offender. He comes to your church and shares his status as a sex offender with the pastor. He also shares how he has come to Christ and it has changed his life and he wants to join a church that will welcome him despite his past. His life has changed.
  2. Mr. T is 28 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry at the age of 20 after he was found guilty of indecent liberties with a minor. He was 19 year old when he was in a sexual dating relationship with a “consenting” 15 year old. He shares with a church leader his status as a sex offender. He desires to learn more about God and be more involved in church.
  3. Mr. J is 48 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry for multiple counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He was in his 30’s and the minor was 8 when the crimes occurred. He has completed his probationary requirements. He initially does not share with the pastor or church staff that he is a registered sex offender, but because he lives in a small town several congregants recognized his face from the registry. The congregants went to the pastor concerned.
  4. Ms. R is 30 years old. She was placed on the sex offender registry following multiple arrests for prostitution in her late teens and early 20s. She never abused a child. She grew up in church and wants her kids to have that same upbringing. She is concerned about how people will respond to her status as a registered sex offender, despite prostitution not being her choice. She states she was a victim of sex trafficking. She meets with the pastor to share her concerns.
  5. Ms. M is 45 years old. She was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and sexual abuse by a teacher. In her late 20’s she was found guilty of having sex with a 17 year old student. She has abided by the requirements of the registry. She hopes to join a local church that will allow her to participate in various aspects of ministry and service. She does not initially disclose her offender status, however, when she began attending regularly she asked the pastor for a meeting.

***These scenarios are fictitious although similar or exact circumstances could arise at your church. These are just a few samples of the many possibilities that could occur. No case is the same.***

Who gets to worship regularly at your church? Who gets to join in membership and/or serve in some capacity? What regulations are in place to protect the children in your church? How will you address the concerns of other church members? Do you know what legal rights both the church and the offender have? Do you know how to access court documents that corroborate the offender’s story? How does the church extend grace as Christ would desire? How do we hold people accountable for their actions? How will this impact survivors of child abuse in your church family?

In my next post, I will share my thoughts on one scenario in which I wholeheartedly believe the registered sex offender should NOT be able to attend at a specific church.

Share your thoughts! I would love to hear them and value any input you are willing to share. Have you had any experiences like this? Leave a comment or connect with me via the “Contact Me” tab.

15625938_10211662221455922_5978604820359151476_o
This is my home church in NC. It is a place that fostered healing and hope in the most loving community I could imagine. It is my desire that every survivor can have that experience. 

Responding to Disclosures #MeToo

Over the last several months, we have watched #MeToo permeate news cycles. The movement has resulted in many people coming forward to share their stories of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. We have watched as powerful  and/or highly-regarded men, particularly in media and politics, have finally faced consequences for the crimes they have committed. This movement has challenged people to consider how they will respond to these types of disclosures. How did you respond when the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, or Roy Moore? Overwhelmingly, the response has been supportive for the incredibly brave individuals who have courageously shared their stories; however, there have been many instances of questioning the validity of such disclosures. Before this movement, society was not as welcoming towards disclosures of sexual crime. Victims were often blamed, rather than believed. Sexual harassment was considered the norm, just a piece of the “boys will be boys” culture (although women are perpetrators too). The #MeToo movement has initiated a change in the way disclosures are regarded; however, there is still a ways to go. 

I want to share two things about disclosures of sexual crimes that are often points of contention for people who are unsure about the validity of such disclosures. 

1). Disclosures are not always timely- in fact, more often than not they will come in the months, years, or decades after the incident. Many times, our lives are threatened, our family’s lives are threatened, our careers are threatened, etc. Too many times our abusers have been accurate in their statements that “no one will believe you,” which reinforces our silence. We were likely manipulated to believe that the abuse or harassment was either the norm or somehow our fault. Please, do not blame or fault us for not coming forward immediately. 

2). Disclosures probably will not include all the details. First, if the abuse or harassment occurred frequently or over an extended time, it is impossible to recall each incident in a moment. Sometimes, our disclosures may include only a small piece of our story in an effort to see if that piece will be believed before we share the painful details of our experiences. Most of the time, our brain simply can not piece everything together to form a coherent narrative until we have had the time to process the trauma with a counselor. It takes time. When I reflect on my timeline of disclosure, it took several years before I felt safe enough to share most everything that happened to me. Please, be patient and do not assume we are lying or making things up because we do not recall everything that happened when you ask. 

In my conversations with people who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, and/or sexual harassment, and in my life, more than anything- we want to be believed and we want our experiences to be validated. #MeToo has created a place where this occurs, and my hope is that it will continue to change the societal response to disclosures. 

metoo-2859980_1920
Photo by: Mihai Surdu via Pixabay

I would love to hear your views on the #MeToo movement! How has it changed how you view disclosures either positively or negatively? How have you responded to the “downfall” of well-known individuals who have been accused of sexual crimes? 

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section or via the Contact Me page. 

 

Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 2: Where is the Child?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  “How can I look younger? What if people think I’m the mom here? What if people think I’m the wife here? How can I make sure people know I’m the daughter? I’ll have to make sure they hear me say ‘dad.” These thoughts flooded my 10-year-old brain as I strolled down the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach with my dad and two younger siblings.

Initially, when I began this series I was going to address the effects of sexual abuse on my view of God, my view of others, and my view of self. However, I quickly realized the intricate connection between those three views. I have decided to approach this series more from a developmental perspective detailing how those views changed through the years.

At ten years old, I no longer viewed myself as a child. Soon after the abuse began, my imaginative play diminished. I completely lost my ability to connect with Barbie dolls or stuffed animals. I could still play sports and board games, but anything that required the use of my imagination failed to culminate.

When my abuser stole my innocence, he ended my childhood. The transition into adolescence is often tumultuous followed by the excitement of entering independence and the freedom of adulthood; however, the ongoing sexual abuse disrupted those transitions and thrusted me too soon into an adult world. When I looked in the mirror, I saw my ten-year-old physique reflected; but on the inside, the child had disappeared.

When I think about those thoughts that raced through my mind as I walked down the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, I grieve for that little girl who feared people would think these two kids, seven and nine years old, were her children. I grieve for the little girl who believed it was normal for a child to be in a sexual relationship with a grown man. I grieve for the little girl who believed no one could rescue her from her abuser.

Today, I see how God is continuing to work in and through each detail of my life. I see how He uses each of my experiences to educate others. Adults, if you recognize that a child suddenly stops engaging in imaginative play, have a conversation about sexual abuse. Create the environment and dialogue where a child will experience the safety and security necessary to take the bold step of disclosure. It could certainly be normal childhood development where imaginative play is no longer “cool,” but is that a risk you are willing to take? There is no harm that can come from having an age appropriate discussion about body safety and sexual abuse. Take that step.

A few months ago, I took my first step in the realm of poetry and I think it is worth sharing here as it exposes what it is like when innocence is stolen.

 

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

 

270875_320986711320370_1899737973_n
I love these siblings of mine, more than words can express.