Crime and Sin – How Churches Fail Victims of Sexual Assault

When I was a teenager, I attended Rexdale Alliance Church. I was one of very few teenagers at the church, if not the only one, who was not living at home. As I’ve outlined here, I had a fucking hard start and it didn’t get easier when I left home. I was young, but I looked even younger.

This was taken a few years later. I still looked like a kid at 20.

This was taken a few years later. I still looked like a kid at 20.

Add to my childish visage the fact that I was shockingly naive due to my religious upbringing, and I made a perfect victim.

My church had a youth group that met weekly. I was trying to hold on to my last vestiges of normalcy so I made the effort, travelling from Malton to Rexdale by bus for one of the events. I was still, I think, under the belief that it all had a reason and there was a god protecting me. Or something.

After the event, one of the youth leaders offered me a ride home.

This youth leader was closer to my father’s age than mine. He was the sort of man who sported a mullet like it was still fashionable and talked about sports like he was actually invested in the outcome. He wore his jeans tight and his t-shirts tucked in. It was like no one had told him the 80s were over. He thought he was still a teenager.

Perhaps that’s why he did what he did.

On the way home, he started asking me about how hard it was living on my own. I was honest. Most of the time I was struggling to make ends meet. I was tired from working and going to school. I was lonely.

That’s when he put $100 on the dashboard.

“If I gave you that…” He paused like he was gathering his courage, “Would you strip for me?”

At this point, I had never had consensual sex. I was too body shy to wear a bikini at the beach. I was still reeling from the sexual abuse I had experienced at home.

“I won’t touch you.” He kept going like my silence indicated contemplation and not shock.

I mumbled a refusal.

“I won’t hurt you. I just want to watch you.”

A that, I demanded he let me out of the car. He pulled over and pressed a $20 bill into my hand.

“Keep that. You need it.” I did need it, but I didn’t want it. I tossed it back in the car and walked the rest of the way home.

The next day, I called the church and reported him.

A few days later, I was given their official response: He had repented. Since he had repented, I was supposed to forgive him. He left a message on my machine asking for my forgiveness. It was also made pretty clear that since he was forgiven (by god) that I wasn’t to “spread rumours” about him. I was to keep it to myself.

I did.

He stayed at the church. I eventually left.

While my experiences don’t hold many parallels with the mess created by the Duggars, one theme carries through both narratives: If god forgives a sin, then there was no crime.

While I know better than to read the comments, I still do it. In relation to the Duggar story, there seem to be two schools of thought. One says that a pedophile is a pedophile and that hurting children is always a cause for outrage. Another says that god forgives, so why can’t we?

Beyond the obvious fact that our country does not operate by biblical law, the answer is that gods do not speak for victims of crime. One’s godhead may forgive them a sin, but they cannot absolve a person of their civil responsibilities. Sin and crime are not the same thing.

For example: Same sex love is a sin to some belief systems, but it is not a crime. Hitting a child with an implement is not a sin in some belief systems, but it is a crime. To assert that forgiveness of a sin by a non-universal godhead forgives a crime committed against a fellow human being ignores completely the rules set in place to protect people like the girls involved in the Duggar case and like me. By placing the arbitrary and randomly enforced rules of one sect of a religion over the rules of society, by seeing crimes as sins, churches do a disservice to their own followers.

In the end, what mattered most to teenaged me was the clear message that the safety of my body was secondary to the protection of his soul. My reality was not as important as his abstract self. His forgiveness was a prayer away. If I were to pursue it beyond that, I would be sinning against my “brother.”

That is the trap of calling a crime a sin. A sin can be washed away with a few words. A crime cannot.