Why We Should Be Talking about Donald Trump’s Treatment of Women

Gage Skidmore / http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa

I’ve become increasingly stirred to write this over the past week, while my desire to contribute to the political conversation is admittedly low, my desire to advocate for truth has continued to increase. What Donald Trump described on the Access Hollywood bus is nothing less than sexual abuse. This is not a Republican vs. Democrat conversation, as we could just as easily reference the sexual abuse perpetrated by our former President, Bill Clinton. This is not a bewilderment at how evangelicals could possibly support Trump, nor is it necessarily a conversation on gender. That is not the point here. What is at issue is the way this most recent news cycle is ravaging the multitude of victims of sexual abuse all around us. At issue is the way we are recklessly handling sexual abuse as a society and the damage our handling of it causes. This is about the abuse of power; this is a story of how perpetrators groom victims; this is a story of sexual abuse.

Based on reported cases, one in four girls and one in six boys has experienced sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. I am part of the one in six. The sexual abuse I endured beginning at age 4 has affected every part of my being, and I have spent the better part of the last 20 years naming it, telling the stories in safe places, and by God’s grace, attempting to recover and heal from the deep impact of trauma on my life.

Dan Allender says, ”In spite of the growing body of research that underscores how one abusive moment can shadow a human life for decades, date rape, sexting, pornography, unwanted sexual advances, sex when intoxicated or stoned, groping, and other behavior that is sexually suggestive, demeaning, or harassing have become so common that in many people’s minds they hardly warrant being called sexual abuse.”

What I have come to discover is that I am far from alone in this experience. In fact, the strong response that we are experiencing as a culture while hearing Trump’s own admission of using his power to blatantly sexually assault women (as well as the now 10 victims who have come forward with reports of alleged incidents) is stirring up within many of us our own experiences as victims of abuse—men and women alike.

This past Sunday, as I sat in church during the prayer time, I almost stood up to address this matter in prayer. I realized my desire to say something was rooted in a deeper longing for leadership across our churches to address this matter in meaningful ways. The more I reflected on this, I realized, I myself have something I need to say.

I have given counsel and pastoral care to victims of sexual abuse, both male and female, and heard stories of both horrific and blatant abuse, as well as stories of very painful experiences where victims found themselves very unexpectedly taken advantage of by someone with cunning skill.

It is often when we experience abuse from those with a cunning tactfulness that we find it most difficult to name. They are those who were kind—those we trusted. Those we respected because of position, or age, or authority. They are sometimes people we look up to and admire. In short, they are often people from whom we desired care and even love who can wound us the most when these lines are crossed. It’s an uncle, a sibling, a grandmother, a neighbor, a Sunday School teacher, a peer, a boyfriend, clergy, or a boss.

It often starts with someone paying special particular attention to us. What often catches victims so off guard is that the person offered us something of value—kindness, a listening ear, a trusted hug, friendship, or like Summer Zervos (from season 5 of The Apprentice)—a job. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the trusted person crosses a line. When the line is crossed we begin to second guess and blame ourselves. Did I say the wrong thing? Did I send some sort of mixed signal? Being that we are sexual beings, and God created us to respond to touch or even verbal affirmation with pleasure or arousal— we often blame ourselves. The abused person begins to feel deep shame. It is often at this very moment that the victim feels powerless to resist and gives in either out of fear, out of believing it was their fault, or because they have now been unwillingly aroused.

This, I believe, is the moment where evil finds its grip—in the commingling of desire and shame. We wanted friendship, to be liked, to have someone see us. What we got was something altogether different. We feel deep shame. We then question ourselves, we blame ourselves, we push the feelings deep down and rationalize that it was nothing or the abuser didn’t mean it.

Then, the saddest part of it all comes. We desired something good and we experienced something bad. Therefore we conclude that desire might not be safe, people might not be safe, bosses might not be safe, family might not be safe. So, we toughen up and tell ourselves it will never happen again. We will never let someone get that close. In short, we stuff hope in a deep closet of our hearts and try to keep it subdued.

Do you want to know the most grievous part of this whole media exchange between Donald Trump and the victims who have come forward? For me, it is not the brave few who allegedly fought off his advances and have now bravely stepped forward to courageously tell their stories—for them, I am proud! It is not Donald Trump himself, because in many ways he is a dime-a-dozen. He is a narcissistic sex-addict who has used his power and money to take advantage of people whenever he pleases, in whatever ways he feels he can get away with. Then when they speak out, he tries to silence them through bullying.

For me, I am most grieved by the likely hundreds of other women who took the bait; who allowed a person like Trump to have his way. I’m grieved for young and innocent girls and boys who have no language to describe the trauma they have experienced. I’m grieved for the adolescents who have been deeply wounded, who have had their curiosity confused, their desire fractured, and their hope crushed through being used for the sexual gratification of another. I am grieved for the millions who have a story they believe they can never tell!

As a pastor, I want to leave you with a few words of encouragement. If these media stories have stirred up painful experiences in your own life, find someone you can trust and share your story. Secondly, to my fellow clergy, we must become unafraid to address these issues in our churches.

This is not a political issue. This has nothing to do with the debate over sexuality. This evil called sexual abuse and harm has been experienced by 25% or more of your congregants. When a bully like Donald Trump says the things he says, and victims of abuse are telling their stories all over news media, please know this is a matter that is impacting your entire community in deep places. Pray for it, name it, encourage safe places to talk about it. Your silence on this issue may have many questioning if you even care about this matter.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Well said, Mark. These words are painfully hard to hear but they are words that desperately need to be spread far and wide. May victims be encouraged and may we in church leadership have the courage to speak up in defense of the powerless in our midst. Thank you for your courage and vulnerability.

  2. The sadder thing is we don’t know how to weed out those who are actually victims and those who are just claiming to be victims because of some reward they seek.
    It’s not because we believe that Donald J. Trump couldn’t do that… It’s more that we that we can believe he might. But in the political atmosphere of the day, we can also believe that it’s possible for his opponent to bring out any accusation that muddies the water. We want to believe that victims of sexual abuse wouldn’t lie. We want to believe in personal integrity. Yet we also know that his opponent is willing to lie to us… to maintain her position and we can believe that it is possible that bringing all this out in the open now is instead of last year during the primaries is just another attempt at political theater.
    So we have another question that is begging to be asked… is this just another example of “win at all cost” attempted by his opponent?
    The other question is, are we willing to believe these examples disqualifies Donald Trump…. While letting his opponent continue their campaign even though they have done somethings just as grievous? Are we actually acting hypocritical in this case… Holding his wealth and prestige…. even his past wrong doings and his attitude against him… even if he isn’t that way now… or didn’t do things that he has been accused of? Why are we not holding his opponent to the same standard? It is also possible that he is someone who is loud, obnoxious and arrogant, who lies… But not doing so now.
    I agree with your statements and the main content of the article. It’s very good with a lot of insight and information.
    It’s difficult to tell your story when you are a victim of abuse of any kind. It’s also difficult to take back false accusations. And here we have the problem that we don’t know for certain that the accusations are true… only that it’s easy to believe a person of his temperament could do such a thing. The only real evidence is a recording from 11 years back and though it’s easy to believe that he was speaking literally… using unconventional and guttural language…. It’s also possible that he was speaking figuratively…. about coming onto a woman in his past and who pushed off is advances at the time.
    That’s not to excuse the inexcusable…. but rather to make us think about what we might be excusing.
    Right at the moment there seems to be nothing that might save the Trump campaign, other than him having a “come to Jesus” moment…. And even then most everyone would write it off as something of political expedience even if it were true.
    As I’ve told many friends on Facebook and elsewhere… This may come down not to a choice of the lesser of two evils… But a choice of judgments. We actually have a choice of more than two candidates… but none of them are very good.

    • I too deeply appreciate the main content of this article and understand how difficult it is to be vulnerable. Yet, I wish for a more balanced approach and by that, I don’t mean dealing with Bill Clinton but wife his candidate wife. As a predator enabler she has done even deeper damage. For those of us who have been abused and reached out only to be bullied into silence and to discover she had full knowledge and supported his behavior rips open the wounds leaving a more painful hole in one’s heart and soul often preventing any other attempt to reach out. To avoid being political, but dealing with this painful issue, we must not excuse or ignore the greater harm done by the sadistic and abusive enabler.

      • Indeed, we cannot ignore or excuse enabling behavior, but I have two responses here that bear consideration. First, as I understand it, Mark was deliberately not addressing politics here. So, the “but the Clintons too” is not really applicable to the heart of this article. Secondly (and please remember that I did say we cannot excuse enabling), as a former domestic abuse victims’ advocate, I was trained to understand that a victim does not always look like what we expect, and that often, the pattern of abuse forces the victim to become complicit due to some power or control the abuser wields over the victim. There were probably many reasons Hilary enabled Bill’s behavior, but that does not negate the fact that she was/is a victim of his lechery and abuse herself. But, again, the intent of this article does not seem to be favoring any political candidate over another, so can we make sacred space to honor people’s real stories of hurt and talk about how we can understand and better serve those who have been abused rather than who we should vote for? Our political ideas are important, but everything has an appropriate place and time. It would be healing to leave political arguments at the door at some point and seek solutions for the deeply entrenched rape culture in our society.

        • Hi,
          I affirm the need for pastors to be diligent to care for those who have been abused & to adress the issues of sexual & other abuses from the pulpit.

          But, this must be a political & legal issue as well. The reason the media is broadcasting about Trump’s sexual abuse is because of the Presidential campaign. Abuse victims will be going to the polls – sexual, verbal, emotional, mental, and physical abuse victims. This election is worsening wounds in this nation. Deep healing is possible &does happen.

          Pastors &priests need to be able to preach about issues addressed in the Bible. This highly sexualized culture needs to be aware of Biblical purity & other principles of Jesus’ teaching. Our culture is plagued by the idea that morality is relative. Our culture is “the world” plagued by evil as scripture illuminates. Our fight is occurring in the heavenlies. Our fight is also an earthly reality. Part of reality is the political process in the U.S. Politics directly impact our laws. If we want justice for victims, we must elect politicians who make laws & appoint judges that will protect the people, protect victims. It’s important to address these issues in toto.

          As a Jesus follower, I am an overcomer. My abuse began @ 5 years old & lasted years. That resulted in many years of struggle. I still struggle in ways &I’m in my 50’s. I have forgiven my abuser &am moving on.

          I have to approach life as a whole. I was a victim. I am an overcomer. I am a voter. BUT, first & always I am a Christ-follower. I can’t compartmentalize my abuse apart from my vote. I can see evil @ work in this culture with many facets & consequences. I also know &trust Jesus as Savior & Healer. Jesus has always been with me throughout my life, my abuse, etc. I won’the settle for anything less than a full & wholistic life of rich purpose &meaning that can only come from Jesus.

          I am glad of this discussion because silence is an enemy to healing.

  3. I cannot fully express the appreciation I have for your good words. I relate most particularly with two parts of your article: First, the phenomenon of questioning yourself. After countless encounters with men and boys who either did or attempted to molest me, I came to wonder what it is about me that is so appealing to homosexual males. But even more so, I identify with your observation about the symbiotic interchange of desire and shame, or excitement and fear, to the extent of so linking them that I became unable to distinguish “normal” sexual attraction from degrading. The more shameful a prospect of sexual practice was, the more desirable it was . Conversely, the stronger sexual attraction was, the more shame it incited – all to the point that I myself engaged in very inappropriate, exploitative sexual conduct. A sobering reflection indeed.

  4. Well said, Mark.
    I remember some of your sermons about your own abuse and it was painful to hear and yet so lifting to see how well you have changed your life and have such a beautiful family who are lucky to have you as their husband and dad!!
    We miss you at Asbury.

  5. Hi Mark,
    You’ve expressed the horrible nature of sexual abuse with great clarity and truth.
    The difficulty is that Hillary Clinton is for abortion & knows that Planned Parenthood is selling baby body parts. She is for unilateral politically correct thinking.
    Trump would challenge Roe v Wade.

    I’m going to have to vote the Republican party platform & against the Democratic party platform. Both candidates are inexcusable in their crimes, yes crimes. I can’t vote for 1 more baby to be treated with such cruelty. The babies can feel the pain of their murderers actions.

    I wholeheartedly desire sexual abuse to end. The pain it causes is immense & most of the time lasts a lifetime & lives on for generations. Sex trafficking & other systemic abuses abound. We need a free nation to continue the fight against evil. I believe this nation will lose its freedom of conscience, speech & religion if Hillary isn’t stopped. I don’t believe all Democrats are like Hillary. I see only 2 choices for President. My guts wretch toward both . It’s a terrible choice to make.

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