Today’s guest post is from Brian Bowman, pastor of Valley Life | Tramanto (Arizona). It describes part of his journey as a believer and a victim of sexual harassment. Sexual assault and harassment are currently in the news on a near-daily basis. Brian’s story is a good reminder that we do not always know who in our churches are struggling with a background that includes being victimized sexually in ways ranging from harassment to molestation to rape to being trafficked.
I was a freshman at a Christian university in South Carolina. He was the head of security for that university.
He paid me $50 a week to take part in an exercise program, and he monitored the results, observing my technique, measuring growth, and checking muscle tone. He told me it was for his doctoral program in exercise science. I never figured out if there was even such a program.
I would later feel guilty for not being suspicious when he told me to keep it a secret (something about school policy). I was in the program—or so I guessed—just doing push-ups and sit-ups in his office once a week for several months. He would try to talk to me about school, who I was dating, and my dad, but I would rush through conversation and try to get back to my friends and schoolwork.
Eventually, I hit the goals that he had set, and he told me that I’d be paid more money for the next level if I were ready for it. He suggested a sex act prior to the workout, saying something about boosting hormones.
I called the university president’s office and asked to meet with him. I ended up sitting down with a dean and telling the story. I do not remember much about the meeting with the dean. I felt he was kind, and I felt he wanted me to transfer, but I didn’t want to. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Soon after, I was really struggling. Outbursts of anger, profound depression, and suicidal ideation were damaging my family and friends who checked me into a mental health treatment facility in North Carolina.
I cried hard every night in that place. I was diagnosed and drugged. I had not done anything wrong, but I was very ashamed. I was very ashamed that I had taken money. I felt like an unwitting prostitute.
I was very ashamed of my desire to be protected. I kept telling myself, “You are 18 years old, an adult. No one wants to protect you.” I was very ashamed that I did not attack him. I could have easily physically overpowered him, but it was as though he had the upper hand. The words “he is the head of security” have sounded the same in my mind for 25 years.
I was very ashamed that I left town, and that he stayed. I moved to Oklahoma not long after coming back from the treatment center. The first five months in Oklahoma were difficult—the most difficult. I was alone in a new place and truly believed that I had lost.
I was tricked, used, and thrown away. I was uncovered. I had lost.
I met and married my wife, Brooke, later that year. She flushed my pills down the drain in our first house in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She said,“You are not more broken than what God can heal.”
Some Truths About Sexual Assault
Here are some truths about sexual assault, abuse, or harassment—whatever you want to call it—although they may not feel very helpful:
- The victim tends to feel responsible. Even knowing that the victim tends to feel responsible didn’t help me not feel responsible.
- The people in authority in our lives usually don’t want to know the truth. The disruption required to act is so high that very often those in authority find themselves paralyzed. The fact is that many of those in authority would be forced to face their own shame and hurt if they were to act.
- Abusers, authority figures, and victims often adhere to a strict code of silence. Either by coercion or subtle expectation, the pressure to stay quiet is powerful (I feel it even as I write this), and it is harmful. My friend says bad news never gets better with age.
What Helped Me
Here is what I have learned and found to be helpful:
I was victimized, but I was not ruined. Sin ruins. The sins committed against me were relatively tame, even kind of PG, but they had the power to ruin. And certainly, there were aspects of my life that were ruined, messed up, or totally destroyed.
But as for me—I am not ruined. Here’s why.
Jesus took the ruining.
I was fooled, manipulated, and humiliated, but not ruined. Christ took that on himself. It is not on me. Today, right now, I am not ruined. Jesus was ruined for me.
Twenty-five years ago was pre-internet. As soon as I realized that you can search for people from your past, I googled him. I found out he had died. I saw his obituary that talked about his accomplishments.
I suppose all those things are true—or as true as obituaries are supposed to be—but it’s also true that he hurt me. It’s likely also true that he had been hurt by someone else. The dynamics of sexual abuse and abusers easily scramble my thinking.
But this one thing I know from experience: if the head of security would have looked to Jesus Christ, he would have found Christ ruined for us so that any one of us can be healed, and our lives resurrected from destruction. Even me, even him.
This article originally appeared at the Valley Life blog and is used with permission.