I grew up in Florida, the sunshine state, with polymorphous light eruption (PLE), an allergy to the sun. Besides being all the proof I need that God has a sense of humor, this fact is also what caused a particular nickname to follow me throughout childhood and adolescence: vampire. Although insensitive, it made sense: as a ginger, I was already more susceptible to sunlight; as someone with improperly growing baby teeth, it appeared at times that I had an extra set of canines next to the normal two on my top row. In the realm of things, I knew that there were much worse names to be called, but it still got under my skin.
It wasn't until I was sixteen that it really clicked why being likened to a creature of the night bothered me so much. Oddly enough, the reason jumped out at me while watching an episode of Judging Amy, one of my favorite shows at the time. Amy, the titular judge, was presiding over a case in which a middle schooler was being charged with obstruction of justice for not naming the pornographer who took photos of him. The defense wanted the case to be thrown out for reasons that shouldn't need to be explained to anyone who is sane. Out of earshot of the boy, the prosecution made it clear that they weren't interested in actually sending the boy to jail; they wanted to scare him enough to give the name of his abuser so they could stop any other children from being hurt. Amy wrestled with the choice for most of the episode, but I was confident that she would ultimately dismiss the case and convince the boy to open up in a different way. I was not prepared for what actually happened: Amy ordered the boy to be handcuffed and held in contempt of court. When his attorney objected, she said this:
The thing about people like the man who took your client's pictures is that they're like vampires. They feed on children. And they turn those children into little vampires. [Turning her attention to the child victim she is ordering into police custody.] That's what you've become: a vampire. He's turned you into someone who will molest other children because you were molested, and I— I cannot allow that to happen.
My entire life, I had been called a vampire for one set of reasons but treated like one for another. My father was a convicted child molester: that made me a danger to the other kids around me. One adult had the audacity to tell me, "If we lived in biblical times, we would just stone your entire family and be done with it." (On top of being a deplorable thing to say to a five-year-old, it was also factually incorrect.1) I was bitten, and it was only a matter of time before I bit others.
Over time, I internalized this particular flavor of victim blaming. I began to believe that I deserved the way that I was treated. They were right: it was only a matter of time before some switch was flipped in my head. Then I would be a monster like him.
In Naples, my family attended a church where our history wasn't public knowledge. I "helped" with the oldest kids' class to get out of sitting through the sermon. I didn't think I provided much help, but the married couple that taught the class said that I was a great example to the younger kids, including their own. This couple took me camping, invited me over to play board games, and included me in many other activities. They told me it was like I was part of their family. I couldn't help but wonder if they knew what my father was and if that would change how they felt about me being around their son and daughter.
When I returned from my own family's Christmas vacation, I stopped spending time with them. While in Michigan, my grandmother's fiance had drugged and sodomized me. If my father had planted a seed of corruption that was slowly sprouting inside of me, then this new abuse would surely speed up the process. I wouldn't spread that corruption to their kids.
In sixth grade, my best friend was allowed to invite a single friend to his younger brother's pool party so he wouldn't be completely surrounded by youngsters. He decided to invite me. I thought we were going to hide out in his bedroom playing video games. Instead, we suited up and got in the swimming pool with a bunch of rowdy, screaming 9-year-olds.
One of the kids lunged at me. I disentangled his arms from around my neck and swam away. He followed, lunging at me again. This time, I caught him and pushed him away. He flew back a couple feet, disappearing underwater for a few moments. I moved closer, worried that I had hurt him in my attempt to get away.
He popped up out of the water, smiling. "Throw me again!"
So I did. Then another kid wanted me to throw them. Then another. I threw kids around the pool until I was completely exhausted.
When I started to dry off, my friend's mother said, "You are so great with kids."
Someone had seen. Oh, God, I had actually enjoyed playing with them! What if she found out about my father? She would make the connection instantly. I would lose my best friend. I started to shake but wrapped my towel around me to play it off like I was cold. "Oh, I was just trying to get them to leave me alone." It was the best I had. It wasn't even a complete lie: that is, after all, how it all had started.
Her eyebrows came together a bit, wrinkles forming on her forehead. I recognized the look: complete and utter confusion about what I had just said. It was obvious to both of us that I was lying. The question she surely had was, "Why in the world would he lie about something like that?"
I ducked inside before she had the chance to ask me that or any other question.
My back was against the wall so I could see if anyone was going to bother approaching the awkward, quiet kid in the corner. I was a serial first-time visitor of youth groups. The real problem was that I didn't want to go to any youth group and also didn't want to tell that to my mother. All that I had to do was wait out the couple hours, then nitpick something that really happened or make up something to complain about. Maybe she would eventually figure it out without the need for a confrontation.
A tall, muscular guy came up to me with a smile on his face. Great, a leader told the sports star to reach out to the wimpy new kid. That was my least favorite of the first-time visitor welcome-committee gambits. Something about him seemed genuine, though. I kept giving him ways out of the conversation, but he didn't seem interested in them. Eventually, he led me over to be introduced to his friends, who were all equally as welcoming. They told me about the lock-in that was coming up that Friday night. It came as a great surprise to my mother when I told her that I really wanted to go.
There was a special speaker at the lock-in. He told us that the enemy is not a creator, only a corrupter. Satan and his angels wanted to take what God had put in us and twist it into something else, something terrible. He said that a man called to write worship songs might instead write songs that worship sex and money. A woman called to dance before God might instead become a stripper. A man with a deep love for children, intended to drive him into children's ministry, might instead have that love corrupted and become a child molester.
I sat still as long as I could, then excused myself to use the restroom. Had I waited long enough that no one would guess why I couldn't stand to stay? I sat in the stall, balled up a bunch of toilet paper and wept into it. I had felt the call to children's ministry ever since helping in the kids' class three years earlier, but I couldn't put a name to it. Even still, I knew what my father had done, what my father was. What I was destined to become.
A few weeks later, the youth pastor announced that we were going to try something new. It was important for us to raise up the younger kids, just as college-aged adults were helping to raise up the middle and high schoolers. They brought in the elementary school kids and told us to find a "prayer buddy." We were going to sit with them during the message, talk to them after and then pray with them. I stood and did nothing. An adult leader gently told me to go ahead and pick a kid. I said no and walked to the back of the room.
The next week, a guy around my age was called to the stage. This young man felt that God had revealed that he was called to children's ministry, so we were going to pray over him. While everyone else was praying for direction and blessings for him, I was silently cursing God. How dare you give me this calling but curse me to be a monster? How dare you flaunt it and mock me like this? Why do you hate me so much?
That was the last time I saw anyone from that church. It was also the night I decided on a date to kill myself. When that date came around, I instead met a ten-year-old boy at a church party. After talking to him for nearly the entire time, I realized that my heart had broken for him. I did die that night, in a sense. God began to kill the image I had of myself. He showed me that he had given me that calling. There was no switch to flip. That's not who I was or would be.
That episode of Judging Amy aired about a year and a half after I had begun to help in the elementary kids' class at New Hope Ministries. It was evidence that the same ignorant victim blaming I had experienced since I was two was still alive and well. "He's turned you into someone who will molest other children because you were molested..."
Statements such as that show a fundamental misunderstanding of the statistical research of victimization. Four years before this episode aired, a study was published that claimed that "Despite the paucity of reliable evidence, it is clear that the majority of children who are sexually abused do not become abusers. Moreover, we know that around half of all young abusers have not themselves been victims of abuse."2 One study found that "prior victimisation may have some effect in a minority of perpetrators, and can be viewed as one mediating factor which enhances the probability of subsequent perpetrator behaviour."3 [emphasis added] What might be one of those mediating factors? "Abused children who came from families where violence was common were more than three times as likely to become abusers as were those who experienced maternal neglect and sexual abuse by females."4 In other words, witnessing or experiencing other types of violence and victimization makes someone more likely to transition from victim to perpetrator.
Nonetheless, the writers had Amy double-down on her ignorant, baseless claims:
We all know how the photographer told you that if you denied everything then you'd have no more problems. Well, I'm your problem, so he was wrong. And if you're protecting him because you took money from him, then you're wrong, too. ... If you have feelings for him, then you are wrong. This man... this man is bad. He's a pervert.
The first accusation, without any evidence to support it, is that the boy refuses to name his abuser because he was a willing and paid accomplice. Only after this disgusting suggestion is the lesser one supposed: you're protecting him because of misguided emotions. Never once is the idea presented that maybe the child is terrified of reprisal. What about threats against life and limb, against friends and the little family that he has? Never once is it brought up that maybe he's confused and ashamed because he blames himself. It's never brought up because it's an unfortunate probability.
Conveniently enough, Amy's first baseless guess is correct: the boy willingly posed for the pictures for money and drugs. The writers attempted to vindicate and justify the deplorable act they just had their main character commit by blaming the victim as a plot point.
It's okay, though, because he's not really a vampire:
But I'm not a vampire. I didn't do anything with him. I just let him take the pictures. That's all. I never let him touch me. I just let him take the pictures.
"I let him." The twelve-year-old was in control of his career in child pornography. Nothing happened that he didn't want, that he didn't allow. The institutional bullying and harassment he experienced was just and deserved because he was at least partially responsible for the abuse he experienced.
But why am I going on so long about a single episode of a single show that was canceled more than a decade ago? There are two reasons:
- Because such tone deaf ignorance was coming from a show that I loved.
- Because this same thing continues to happen in our present.
Roman Polanski gave drugs to a thirteen-year-old girl and raped her, but he's a talented director. Whoopi Goldberg and others in Hollywood rush to his defense, arguing that it wasn't "rape-rape" or that the case is old enough that he should be able to return to the US without paying his debt to society.5 In 2011, the victim that got the ball rolling on the Sandusky case experienced so much bullying and harassment that he had to change schools.6
In the last couple of weeks, you have probably heard of another case that is causing outrage. Let's play a quick game of, "Which headline is satirical?"
What do these three cases have in common?
- The perpetrator was talented.
- The perpetrator was in a position of privilege or power.
- People defended and supported the perpetrator, either by hiding what was happening or demonizing the punishment.
- The victim was portrayed as doing something to the perpetrator. "They've suffered because you came forward! How dare you do this to them?"
Granted, each of these commonalities were present in different degrees and forms, but they are all hallmarks of victim blaming. In this world view, the perpetrator often becomes the victim and the victim becomes the monster, the danger.
For me, the most infuriating part is that I understand why this is a world view that is so hard to kill. In many ways, it is comforting. If something happens to someone, they brought it upon themselves. If I wear the right clothes, carry myself the right way, I will be safe from harm. If I teach my kids to do the same, no one will ever be able to prey on them. If someone is a victim of sexual violence, they had to have left themselves open to it. They had to have let it happen.
My father molested me before I could talk or walk.
I was drugged and raped by the man that was soon to become my step-grandfather.
Tell me: in what way did I let them do this to me? Where does the blame fall to me?
I'll say this to anyone who wishes to hold on to the idea that victims of sexual violence are a complicit party in the problem: until you open your eyes and wake up from that comforting ignorance, you will continue to be part of the problem.
Perpetrators should be held accountable for their predation regardless of age, race, sex, talent, and privilege.
Victims should be supported regardless of age, race, sex, talent, and privilege.
Any other stance stands on the wrong side of morality and, hopefully, history.
- Eleven takes a closer look at the events surrounding the abuse I experienced in fifth grade.
- Desires of the Heart is a recording of the testimony I gave at Awaken City Church of finding my identity in God.
- Deuteronomy 24:16 — “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin." ↩ Back to post
- Bentovim, Arnon, and Bryn Williams. Children and adolescents: victims who become perpetrators. ↩ Back to post
- Glasser, M. et al. Cycle of child sexual abuse: links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator. ↩ Back to post
- Boyles, Salynn. Do Sexually Abused Kids Become Abusers? ↩ Back to post
- Allen, Nick. Roman Polanski: backlash as Whoopi Goldberg says director didn't commit 'rape-rape' ↩ Back to post
- Victim in Sandusky case forced to leave school due to bullying. ↩ Back to post