I[/dropcapt would demand thinking, long and hard, to recall a time when women’s accusations of sexual assault or rape did not lead to victim-blaming and shaming. Some would say it has always been “the way it is!” It is most often the case that the individuals who commit sexual crimes were no strangers to the victims. Take the recent rape/murder casualty from Laborie: Saadia Byron. One of her suspected two assailants was a former lover and father of one of her three children.
Of course we continue to feign shock and outrage with every report of sexual assault, more so when the victim did not survive. Or when, as was the case several months ago, the accused were church officials; shepherds of the flock, so to speak. But just when most of us had forgotten the publicized report, this incident was back in the headlines – with an arresting twist: lawyers representing the accused announced in a related press release that the complainant had decided not to pursue her charges, including her claim that the godly men had attempted to rape her.
During an emergency press conference her pastor had emphasized that their church did not, under any circumstances, condone sin and wrongdoing. He refused to entertain directly any questions relating to the attempted rape by two leaders of his fraternity. As for the alleged victim, not only did she remain invisible, even after the reported withdrawal of her charges that vindicated the accused, she refused to go public.
Meanwhile, several questions came to my mind. Why had the police not pursued the case, despite that the woman had dropped all charges? What about the evidence that had led the
police and DPP to lay the charges in the first place? In other jurisdictions the case would’ve gone before a judge despite the victim’s refusal to co-operate with the police. Why had the pastors themselves not sought to clear all lingering suspicions via a libel or slander suit? Why had the police laid no charges against the vacillating complainant? This week a volunteer, who claimed to be “a long-time close friend of hers” and a fellow member of her church, offered answers to those very questions. Of course, she requested anonymity “for fear they do to me what they’ve done to her”. For the purposes of this writing, I will refer to her by a name not her own.
By all “Meredith” told me during our meeting some distance from the STAR offices, for the last several weeks her friend has been living a nightmare, praying for the justice she believes she deserves. Meredith’s first shock—and let me say that after all these years as a journalist I am no longer easily shocked, even when the stories involve agents of God—was delivered when she told me her friend was herself a pastor’s wife now undergoing further victimization. So is her husband for whom preaching in his district has been made near impossible since his wife went to the police. She has been transferred from her teaching position at a private school, following “much begging”.
Meredith couldn’t find the words to describe the torment her friend endured prior to being transferred. She was labeled a Jezebel by parents who disbelieved her story; who said she should be fired “for disgracing the school” with what they determined, without justification, were false claims.
Meredith revealed her friend had made several attempts to settle her complaints out of court. She had reached out to church authorities, begged them to intervene. She had even written detailed letters about each of the incidents, which she’d addressed to the local governing body of her church. Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She had finally been left no alternative but to seek the assistance of the police. Only then did she receive a response from a high-ranking regional representative of her church: he expressed regret that the matter had reached the police. But he seemed to accept the decision “in the name of justice”.
Scared out of her mind that speaking to me might get her friend and her husband into more trouble, Meredith took me back to the roots of “this evil issue”. In her friend’s attempt to deal with a childhood trauma, Meredith told me, she had sought counselling, with the approval of her pastor husband. It was at the first counselling session that the alleged inappropriate touching had occurred. When she objected, the pastor had apologized, and promised there would not be a repeat of his behaviour. All too trustingly, she’d returned to a second session, only to be confronted by a not so apologetic counsellor who again touched her private parts without her consent. After she reported the incident to her husband, they decided to discontinue the counselling sessions.
Said Meredith’s confidante, her friend had complained both to the police and to a local health council.
In a second incident with another church leader, Meredith’s friend visited the home of a second pastor and his wife, and decided to spend the night. Meredith related that her friend had told her months prior to that particular visit that the pastor had made numerous sexual advances toward her, all of which she had rebuffed. On the evening of her visit, according to Meredith, the pastor changed sleeping arrangements, which permitted him to share quarters with her, rather than with his wife. Much to her astonishment, she woke up in the middle of the night to find the pastor had “launched himself on top of her in the bed”.
Meredith went on: “She had to fight hard to stop him from raping her. She begged him to stop. His family were nearby in another room. Finally he left and slept in the living room.” Meredith said her friend did not tell her husband about this incident until much later, for fear of repercussions to their relationship.
In a third incident, which ostensibly occurred in May, the woman had reported another pastor who begged for sex. “His wife wouldn’t sleep with him,” Meredith said her friend was told. “He even sent her videos of himself masturbating,” said Meredith, “asking if she could imagine how it would feel with him inside her.”
By Meredith’s account, the pastor relented soon after, promising to hose down his lustful ways and simply be a friend.
As earlier stated, the woman has withdrawn all charges against her pastors but, according to her very concerned friend, “It is not over”.
“She retains the right to take up the matter at some other time,” Meredith said. “Her withdrawal of the matter is not in the least a declaration that what she said is untrue. The police still have the files. The evidence is still there. In fact, some members of the justice system opposed her decision to withdraw the case but, at this time, her health is more important. Her life is more important. There is also the matter of her husband’s ability to sustain his family. He cannot afford to have that taken away at this time—and that’s more important than fighting against all the pressure to sit down and shut up.”
Said Meredith finally, her friend fully intends to present a written statement to her church’s governing body, detailing the rationale behind her withdrawal of her charges.