Recently two friends and I stumbled upon the subject of religion as we were sharing things that happened to us when we were little girls.
None of the three of us attends any type of church now. None of us has much respect for organized religion.
As we shared experiences, we discovered that each of us had had some type of scary attention from a minster or an adult member of the churches we attended with our families.
We were lucky little girls. None of us was raped by an adult in our churches. In some cases though this was because the adult had no opportunity or was interrupted.
We share a dislike for organized religion.
When we first mentioned our dislike for organized religion, we were still laughing from the previous subject we had been talking about.
Once we learned that each of us had gone through scary situations as children attending church or church activities, our mood changed. Later, I realized that automatically we began to speak in lower, softer voices. I had a fleeting thought that we had retreated into our powerless feelings from long ago.
What happened to me
My scary experience happened when I was ten or eleven. I spent part of each summer with one set of my grandparents. Both of my parents worked all day so it helped them when my brother and I went to spend time in the country with the grandparents.
The incident happened on a Sunday afternoon at a church picnic.
The picnic was held on a wealthy churchgoer’s farm. The farm included more than 500 acres, a picnic pavilion, a lake, and trails for hiking.
I left the pavilion area with a group of kids and adults to hike one of the gentle trails. The farther we went, the more people left the hike.
I stopped to rest and a man I had never seen before this picnic stopped too.
He put his hands on my shoulders from behind and began massaging them.
I became uncomfortable.
“Doesn’t that feel good?” he asked me. I moved away, not sure why I had started to feel uncomfortable. (I don’t remember the exact words from my encounter with him, of course. I am using the words that my fear has kept with me all the years since this happened.)
“Yes,” I said as I walked toward more adults in the group.
He started to walk beside me and asked me my name. I told him and kept up with the group. We came to a resting area with benches.
He managed to guide me away from the group to a more wooded area. The farther away from the others we got, the more his hands roamed over my shoulders, down my back and then around my waist.
I was too young to wear a bra, my mother had told me. But he found my small breasts without any problem.
All this time he was softly telling me I was safe; he just wanted me to know how pretty I was becoming and how grown-up.
Now I was afraid.
All my life I had been taught to obey adults. To be a good little girl with good manners at all times. And this was a Baptist church picnic!
I wanted to cry. I wanted my mother. I wanted my grandmother.
Finally self-preservation won out over good manners in front of adults.
“Leave me alone!” I cried as I broke away and started running back to the pavilion.
I stopped before I got there to catch my breath. What was I going to tell Granny and Granddaddy?
Suppose they didn’t believe me? Or suppose the man was someone important in the neighborhood? How could I dare embarrass my grandparents in front of the whole congregation and their guests?
I knew somehow that I was going to have to keep what had happened secret. I couldn’t tell anyone.
We all remember the fear.
Now let’s return to adult me and my two friends. As I said before, none of us was raped. Each of us had been touched, squeezed, rubbed, or otherwise molested.
I purposely use the word molested because each of us was traumatized and, another deliberate word choice here, each of us was invaded. We were made powerless.
And none of us told.
Why didn’t we tell our parents, grandparents, or our other adult family members? Why did we three little girls already know that we probably wouldn’t be believed? Suppose someone said it was our fault? That each of us had ‘asked’ for it?
My friends and I grew up in a more restrictive time, so maybe some people understand our dilemma in having to keep the incidents and our unreleased feelings from the incidents unspoken and unresolved.
The problem with that logic is, not much has changed. The horrible behavior of Catholic priests to little boys in their care is finally being addressed, in some cases. There is still abuse of children by Protestant clergy and adult church members that continues and is largely unacknowledged.
This is still happening.
I researched this issue briefly on Google Scholar, only to find most Protestant abuse situations still go unreported, the same as the abuse cases in the Catholic churches. I felt obligated to do at least some basic research on this .before I alleged that children are still being abused in church settings.
I stopped looking for relevant research though when I remembered that most cases still go unreported. How can we blame children for not speaking up, when the society around them silently signals them to remain quiet? If this weren’t true, greater numbers of adult rape victims would speak up, wouldn’t they?
This continuing abuse is why I led this article with a headline urging parents to not send their children to church alone.
I once read a quote by a captured child molester that was so scary I’ve never forgotten it. This career child abuser said that he and others found victims in churches because these children were taught to trust and obey all adults. Doesn’t that remark give you chills?
Will this problem ever be solved? It can be and will when more parents and churchgoers learn to be on the alert for inappropriate behavior.
Even more important, we must let children know they will be believed and supported when they report anything that made them even feel “icky.”
We can only hope this change happens soon, before new generations of children face the possibility of this trauma and its worst manifestations.