Why didn't she come forward before now?

I hear it again and again and again.

Why the allegations now?

Why didn’t she say she was raped back when it happened?

How can we believe her, especially when her name isn’t even public?

My rapes were very real. My rapist lives free. No charges were ever filed. I tried to tell some adults in my life, but they didn’t want to hear it.

And? For the past couple of decades, I’ve tried to pretend what happened to me didn’t matter, doesn’t matter. But it did. And it does.

Even if the allegations are never voiced, they bubble up in other ways. Perfectionism. Promiscuity. Alcoholism. Depression. Repeated abusive relationships. Self injury. Drug abuse. Suicide attempts. You see, the pain has to go somewhere.

And healing? Healing from sexual assault is a lot like a prolonged version of pouring hydrogen peroxide on a wound. Sure, it cleans out the dirt and debris and other unhealthy gunk, but it hurts like hell in the process. And it doesn’t mean a scar won’t be left behind.

I posted about a rape allegation against a presidential candidate yesterday, and the chorus of accusation-questioning and victim-blaming began. (I’ve been following this case for months, but I didn’t post about it until now because I couldn’t bear to read these sorts of comments.)

Why didn’t she come forward sooner?

Doesn’t this seem opportunistic?

Who is paying her to say these things?  

When someone accuses another of robbery, we don’t see these questions. We don’t ask what they were wearing, why they were hanging out with the types of people who rob others, if they said no clearly… no, we understand that it’s a violation when someone steals someone else’s wallet.

But when a man violates the body of a woman, all of a sudden her credibility is the primary concern.

When I was in elementary school and a boy from my speech therapy group grabbed my hand and put it on his crotch? I was told I shouldn’t have been on the corner of the playground where adults couldn’t see well, the implication that my location stripped me of the right to be safe from sexual harassment.

When I was in sixth grade and a boy on my bus rubbed his hand on my rear or between my legs as I walked by? I was told I needed to sit closer to the front of the bus so he wouldn’t be tempted, the implication that I somehow asked for the attention as I walked by.

When I was in eighth grade and was caught kissing my boyfriend in the schoolyard after the final bell? The teacher lectured me about how I should have known better without saying a word to the boy, the implication that boys will be boys but girls have to be better.

When I was in high school and went to my friends’ youth group? I heard lessons on sexual purity about how guys are visual creatures so it’s the responsibility of young ladies not to be teases who lead them on, the implication that if anything happened sexually – with or without consent – the girl was to blame.

And those lessons don’t include the words said to me by an adult when she found out about the first time I was molested: “Things like this don’t happen to good girls.”

And those lessons don’t include what I learned with each rape: “Your body can be taken from you at any moment.”

These lessons, they’re taught young. They make up rape culture. And they don’t even include the comments we read about victims, the questions about credibility, the way they’re put on trial as much as the offender. This misplaced blame grows into something more insidious: shame.

Truth says what happened to you was disgusting. Shame says you’re disgusting because of what happened to you.

Truth says this is one part of your life story. Shame says this defines your life story.

Truth says even when trauma was caused in the context of a relationship, healing is found in relationship too. Shame says no one can ever know what happened and still love you.

Truth says the offender did a bad thing. Shame says you, as the victim, are a bad thing.

Why don’t women come forward earlier? Because speaking this truth is hard, and because shame runs deep. Because investigations include invasive exams that are often retraumatizing. Because sharing the details of what happened to me with my husband and therapist is hard enough, but doing so with officers and lawyers and other strangers makes me want to throw up. Because justice might be no jail time at all or such a measly sentence that it feels like a whole ‘nother assault. Because sexual predators often seek out kids and adults who lack the internal and external supports to fight back, both during the assault and afterward.

Fighting shame and speaking truth requires others. We can’t do it alone. My people – my husband and those close friends who believe me and believe in me – are God’s ambassadors to my hurting heart when I’m swallowed by the pain of my past. But everyone doesn’t have people like mine. And that’s part of why every victim doesn’t become a survivor. Suicide, overdose, homicide, and so on… that’s the end of too many of our stories, far more statistically than the general population.

So why didn't she come forward before now? I don't know her exact reasons. I do know mine. But, honestly, I think we should all be amazed – given our culture – that any victims ever come forward instead of questioning those who do. 

Why the outrage now? And what can we do next?

By now, you’ve heard Trump’s latest scandal. His words led me to make the image below and post it – along with my personal story of sexual assault – on Facebook. And then I took a Xanax, because his words plus my own PTSD created a physiological anxiety that couldn’t be quelled without pharmaceutical help.

That post been shared thousands of times now, and I’ve had to ban nearly 100 people from my author page for horribly disrespectful comments, most in defense of Trump. Let me repeat that: After I shared a painfully vulnerable history, a variety of Trump supporters chose to argue against my experience and, in a couple dozen of those comments, personally insult me.

I’m not shocked, though I wish I were. But I am confused, not by the comments but by the newly found outrage about Trump’s most recently released misogyny. Where was this before now?

Trump has said other terrible things about women, both in recent news breaks and older stories. In fact, a rape case against Trump – with a 13 year old victim – goes to court in December. So why the new outrage now? Why are the numbers rising of Republicans and Christians denouncing him?

I’m thankful for the Christians who had already said no way to Trump. I signed this statement. I said no to him from the beginning. I stand by that. I still do. (And I think it’s noteworthy that the signatories on that statement are more diverse on many counts, including gender and race, than those often seen in evangelical leadership, but I’ll get to more on that in a moment.)

This week Beth Moore spoke out. I thanked her. Russell Moore continued to speak out. I thanked him again, having done so in person previously. Others are joining them, while some – like Franklin Graham and James Dobson and Eric Metaxas – have sunk in their heels. (I’ll gladly update this post if any of those back down; Metaxas has deleted his initial tweet dismissing the latest scandalous words from the candidate he’s endorsed, so I'm hopeful.)

And then Wayne Grudem, who endorsed Trump as the moral choice for president, took back those words. He admitted,

Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump.

I am thankful Grudem has withdrawn his support. I’m even more thankful that he admitted he should have done more research before his prior endorsement. He could have retreated from his previous stance with less humility than that.

But? Many sound responses to Grudem’s piece existed well before this week. (The seven I’m linking here are just a few.) Grudem had the opportunity to right his wrong. And he didn’t. Not until now. Why? I’m glad we’re finally collectively saying, “That’s enough,” but why wait so long, after evangelical support for Trump has already tarnished our reputation?

Why is this our breaking point?

Here’s the main difference I see: now the people targeted by Trump's words have my fair skin. These Christian leaders look like me or my husband. In other words, they’re white. They keep talking about their wives or sisters or daughters, who are also white. Now that white women are being debased with his verbal abuse, we relate. We care. We empathize.

In other words, this time we consider the victims of his hate speech and his sexual assaults to be our neighbors, because they look like us. (And, yes, sexual assaults. That is, after all, what his words described.)

Those who he’s previously insulted and verbally defiled – Mexicans and other Latinos. People of color. Those with disabilities. Muslims. Refugees. – don’t look like us or our daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. And so? Because we’ve defined them as the other, we don’t relate. We don’t care, not in such a personal way. We don’t empathize. We simply change the channel or say, “but abortion…” as if these other lives don’t matter to us too.

In other words, those other times we didn’t consider the victims of his hate speech and his verbal assaults to be our neighbors, because they aren’t like us.

“Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asked Christ in an exchange recorded in Luke 10.

Jesus didn’t answer that his neighbor is his mother or wife or daughter or sister. No, Jesus offers a story of an injured man on the side of the road, a brutalized victim belonging to a group considered to be different and other and less than and dirty. The priest wouldn’t touch him because doing so would have made him unclean and would have required a return to the temple to cleanse himself. He couldn’t be bothered. Likewise, the Levite passed by.

Then the Samaritan showed up – surprising the audience listening to Jesus (as Samaritans were generally despised by Jews and vice versa) – and became the unlikely hero. He showed compassion, backed it up with action and money, and set a model for us all. And Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m glad we’re finally noticing Trump’s hateful words. But I wish we had cared enough for those who aren’t white women to notice it before. I wish we hadn’t disavowed black people, those with disabilities, Muslims, refugees, and so many more as our neighbors by withholding our outrage until now.

In other words, I wish we had all acted a little more like the Good Samaritan and a lot more like Christ.

Take heart, though. There’s still time. We have failed to love God with our whole hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves, but let this be the moment when the Spirit convicts us to confess and repent from our sins.

Let today be the day that we all start listening to the pain of our neighbors.

(All of them, and not just the ones who look like me.)

Let today be the day when we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God rather than to any political party.

Let today be the day we heed Christ’s words.

Let today be the day we go and do likewise.



Outrage, apathy, or - perhaps - a third option?

Brock Turner went viral a few months ago, when he was sentenced a mere six months for the violent rape he committed at a Stanford party. Then he dropped off our social media feeds. Now, as he was released Friday after a mere 3 months, we're outraged anew.

A year ago, we collectively grieved over the image of Aylan Kurdi, a dead refugee boy washed up on a shore after drowning. Then we got quiet again. A couple weeks ago, our feeds lit up again, this time with Omran Daqneesh sitting bloodied and stunned in an ambulance, wiping his dirty hands on the seat just like my boys do. Our outrage and profound sorrow over Aylan had faded but returned rekindled for Omran.

And then, even as news spread that Omran's brother had died, we stepped away from our outrage again.

I get it. I do. We can't live perpetually in outrage. We can't nourish our souls with a buffet of only agony, anger, and anguish. When we feel helpless in the face of our world's trauma, we have to look away sometimes or we'll be consumed. 

But I don't think our only options are to fall headfirst into hopelessness or turn our backs on suffering. There has to be a third way. I'm sure of it. 

If we throw up walls of outrage, they'll crumble in time. Outrage alone can't stand. Outrage isn't self-supporting. Outrage can't be kindled long term. But what if we embraced the outrage as a right and just response to outrageous events but didn't stop there?

What if we build foundations under the outrage to turn it into something useful and sustainable? What if we transformed at least some of that anger into action or education? What if we showed great love by listening compassionately to our neighbors? 

I know why we don't. Outrage is comfortable. Outrage is socially acceptable. Outrage comes in waves that we know will return to the sea of public anger. Outrage feels like a controlled response to a world spinning out of control.

But outrage isn't vulnerable. We don't move past outrage because we don't want to be honest with the next steps. We let our emotional fires dull to a simmer, ignoring them until the next story comes along to fan the flames into a roar once again. The previous inferno is forgotten, as we've moved on to the next one. 

Some fires are frivilous, and some are needed. I'm all for letting the petty pyres burn out on their own. But any flames worth fanning deserve to be seen all the way through, beyond the outrage and into something more. I was encouraged when my Facebook feed filled with people calling for justice when Brock Turner only got six months - three months with good behavior - for rape. For. Rape. I reminded us of the power of our words when people said her life was ruined. (It isn't.) I thanked friends for their outrage, writing for the first time publicly about my sexual assault history. 

And then I watched as we moved on to the next trending story, and the silence around rape dropped off. I shared another story and then another and then another of white rapists getting nothing more than a slap on the wrists, of our "justice" system showing more concern for their futures than for their actions. Sadly, Brock Turner's paltry sentence isn't uncommon. Brock's name is known and evoked our outrage, but we mostly ignored David Becker and John Enochs and James Wilkerson. All three are also young white rapists who got light sentences for their crimes, often with judges expressing more concern for their futures than the futures of the girls they violated. This. Trend. Is. Not. Okay. And our magnification of one case and ignorance of others isn't okay either.

I get it, though. Outrage is exhausting. So I'm not asking you to stay outraged. We can't do that. Or if we could, it wouldn't be healthy or sustainable.

I'm writing this to declare that there's a third way. It's not all outrage or apathy. It's not either ranting or silence. It's not the choice between floods of feelings or numbness. 

The third way is the way of listening with empathy. The end result will be action for some of us on a particular issue. For others, the end result will be knowledge. We won't all feel compelled to do something about every cause, and that's okay. But we are called to care for and love our neighbor, so listening well is the bare minimum for that. 

(Want an example of what that might look like?  Read this story. Listen and listen well to voices like Elizabeth Smart's as she points out the problems with religious purity culture, and sit with that before you push back about how sexual sin matters. Of course it does. But Elizabeth isn't arguing for us to abandon all sexual mores but rather sharing how our language and approach can do harm.) 

And action? We can't all be actors for every injustice. (I've tried. That's a sure path to burn out.) God designed us each uniquely. The beauty therein is that my passion and your passion don't have to be the same, but together we can create a rich tapestry of interwoven actions that collectively glorifying God and edify others.

(For example, some friends as well as other folks I deeply respect created The Compassion Collective as a response to Aylan and Omran and so many other vulnerable children. They chose the third way. Their efforts are a beautiful display of action, and I'm joining in a small way with my financial contributions.)

You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.
— Maya Angelou

Listen well, friends. And, yes, be angry. But don't stay there. Instead, decide that you will learn and maybe even act so that the world might be made different by what is born out of our outrage. 

Rape isn’t about consent, and rape isn’t sex

I’m tired of news stories about rape. I am. But I hope we keep reporting on these assaults whenever they happen.

As we do, though, can we stop talking about how we need to teach our boys about consent? Of course, we do. We need to teach both boys and girls those lessons. Discussions of consent are healthy in sex education and self-respect. But rape isn't about consent.

And can we stop – as a local news station did yesterday – using headlines about “sex with children” to describe child rape? Because rape isn't about sex.


Rape isn’t simply sex minus consent. It isn’t.

The first time I was raped, I was confused. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I just knew that I didn’t want what was happening.

Then I realized I knew the word for this: rape. By the time that clicked, it was over. I thought, “That was rape. That was sex. Things like this don’t happen to nice girls.”

I was right about one thing: it was rape.

I was wrong about others: Rape happens to nice girls all the time. And rape is not sex.

Sex isn’t just the logistical act of one person entering another’s body. Sex involves two parties. When a child is assaulted, we don’t say she had sex. No, we recognize that a child can’t be a willing party to that. By legal definition, consent isn’t possible from a minor or from someone with diminished mental functioning, due to disability, injury, or the influence of alcohol or drugs.

There is no such thing as non-consensual sex. Let me say that again. There is no. such. thing. as non-consensual sex. That, my friends, is rape. It is not sex.

The first time I had sex was on my honeymoon, the first time I chose and consented to that activity. No, Lee wasn’t the first man to enter my body. But before him, I hadn’t experienced sex; I had been raped.

Sex is about giving yourself to someone else. Rape is about taking. Sex is about intimacy. Rape is about violence. Sex is about two people sharing their bodies. Rape is about one person violating another.

We should teach children and youth about consent, but that’s just part of teaching them about their bodies. We tell them that no one gets to touch you without your permission. We say that to show respect to others, we don’t act entitled to anyone else’s body. If someone says you have to hug them, you can say no, even if it’s grandma. You control your body. If someone asks you to stop wrestling – even if you were both just roughhousing moments before – you stop. When the doctor checks out my kids’ privates during their annual physicals, she says each time, “Can I look under this sheet to take a look?” and waits for an answer, teaching this lesson in yet another way. We don’t access anyone else’s body without consent, and no one else gets to access ours without consent.

Consent is about respect. Consent is an important lesson. Consent matters.

But consent is separate from rape. Rape, by definition, involves a lack of consent. Rape rarely involves confusion about consent. The rapist either doesn’t care enough to confirm consent, or – more often – the rapist is exercising control over the other person’s body with the lack of consent being the whole point of the act.

For example, after the Stanford rape case, many spoke out about consent. I found that confusing. I don’t believe for a moment that this rapist thought that what he did in darkness behind a dumpster involved a willing party. The testimony of her rescuers on bicycles made that clear. In so many other cases, we talk about consent as if the sexual offender was simply confused. But rape isn’t a misunderstanding. It’s a crime.

When we turn discussions of rape into teachable moments about consent, we miss the point. Rape isn’t about consent. Rape isn’t a simple misunderstanding. Rape isn’t sex.

I haven’t always understood this. For a long time, I didn’t talk about my rapes. I first started processing them with others when I was engaged. Two women were among the first I told; I’ll call them A and B. A said, “I hate what he did to you. He took something special that was supposed to be sacred between you and Lee.” I told B about what A said, and she said no with firm tone to her voice. “No, Shannon. No. Don’t believe that. I hate what he did to you too, but what he did was rape. Loving sex between husband and wife is special and sacred and, well, awesome.” We were on the phone, but I could hear the blush in her voice. Sex wasn’t something she talked about often. I didn’t say anything, surprised by her pushback and candidness. B continued, “What he did wasn’t sex, Shannon. It was rape. What you’ll have with Lee can be different.”

And she was right, though it took a lot of therapy and healing for that to be possible. What happened on my honeymoon was so different than what happened so many years before that. Rape isn’t sex.

Stealing isn’t simply borrowing something without consent. No, it’s stealing. Murder isn’t simply taking a life without consent. No, it’s murder. Assault isn’t simply hurting someone without consent. No, it’s assault. When someone vandalizes someone else’s property, we don’t say they were breaking things or spray painting without consent. No, we call it vandalism. Even though each of these crimes involves lack of consent from the victim, we understand that consent isn’t the primary problem. The crime is.

Likewise, rape isn’t simply sex without consent. No, it’s rape.

I’m still tired of news stories about rape. But I’m hopeful that as we keep shining a light on the problem, we’ll learn to use more care with our words. Let’s frame rape as the problem here, not consent. And let’s call rape rape instead of wrongly framing it as sex.  

her life isn't ruined, and neither is mine.

Again and again and again, I'm seeing the comments saying "her life is ruined."


And no.

Her life is different, certainly.

But ruined? Not necessarily.

Let's be careful with our words, please. Because when you say her life is ruined because of her rape, it sounds like you're saying my life was ruined by each of mine. But this?










She knows, I know, 1 in 6 women, 1 in 33 men know a darkness that can threaten at any moment. For her, it might be a glimpse of a dumpster, an ordinary scrape on her arm that's too much like the ones she woke up with, an article about a swimming prodigy. For me, it can be an unanticipated touch, a certain kind of bush that was nearby then, any moment when I have trouble catching my breath because I couldn't breathe then. For you, if you've survived the darkness too, you have your own list of triggers that can put you back in that moment.

One ugly chapter - maybe you could even call it a ruined chapter - doesn't define our stories, though. Rape doesn't get that power. Darkness doesn't get the last say.

Therapy helps. Friends help. My husband helps. (Oh, how he helps!) Snuggles from little ones I love help. My dogs help. Being safe now helps. Sharing my secrets in safe places helps.

But the darkness still threatens, often when I least expect it.

That doesn't mean my life is ruined. Changed, yes.

Her life is changed. Right now, in the pain of all she's endured with the assault and examination and continual revictimization throughout the trial and sentencing? She might feel ruined. She is fully entitled to that. I have a faint scar on my wrist from a failed attempt of ending the ruin once, many years ago. But that scar wasn't the end of my story. (Thank you, God, for the grace of being woozy at the sight of too much blood.) And now? The word enough is permanently etched into my skin below that line. Nothing about what happened to me robbed me of being enough.

My story wasn't over then, not in the moments or the aftermath. Neither is hers. In her statement, not to mention her tenacity in seeing this case through to its unjust end, she has shown the bravery she'll need to keep waking up each morning and fighting the darkness when it comes.

As for me, I keep a post it note in my car to remind me that the darkness doesn't win.

Some days I need to read it more than others. Some days I need to scream in secret places. Some days I need to have a hot sweaty workout. Some days I need to eat all the sugar. (Don't judge.) Some days I need to text a friend to say I'm hurting. Some days I need to rewatch Pitch Perfect for the hundredth time because it always makes me laugh. Some days I rest in God's arms, and some days I wrestle with him, and some days I give him the silent treatment. Some days I take a break from Facebook. Some days I post passionately there, because using my voice on behalf of the vulnerable soothes sore places in my heart. Some days I have to talk something through with my therapist by phone in between sessions. Some days I say all the bad words and make up some of my own. Some days I need to have a dance party in the kitchen to remind myself of all the light in my life.

Every day I get out of bed again, because this life - even when it's hard - was never ruined.

Neither is hers.