NEW YORK (NY)
October 28, 2020
By Leslie Goldman
The Christian church’s norms provide the perfect cover for sexual predators—and leave their victims feeling like the sinners.
With tears in her eyes, Shannon Dingle approached a female volunteer, the lone woman on an all-male staff at a friend’s church youth group. Dingle was 16 and had finally worked up the courage to disclose that she had been repeatedly raped as a child. “We had just heard a talk on purity and modesty, which was the only context in which sex was ever discussed in the church, so it felt like, Okay, at least we’re kind of in the right area,” Dingle, now 38, recounts. “They were talking about the choices people make, and I kept thinking about how my experiences so far hadn’t been a choice.”
The volunteer’s intended role was to be present if any girls wanted a female shoulder to lean on. So Dingle shared with her the truth about her rapes. “It never occurred to me that [my words] would be met with anything other than understanding.” But Dingle was hit hard by quite a different response: “She asked me if I had repented for my role in what happened.”
Also seared into Dingle’s memory is the time she attempted to confide in a pastor’s wife while on a youth mission. “My abuse included a lot of physical abuse as well, so that’s what I started with, because it was easier. She got this look of horror and disgust on her face and said, ‘But he didn’t rape you, did he?’” Dingle recalls. “It was as if she could understand and accept the idea of physical abuse, but she would look at me differently if there was any degree of sexual abuse.”
For years, Dingle more or less buried these exchanges, eventually starting therapy, marrying, and having children. Then in 2017, she stumbled upon #ChurchToo, a #MeToo offshoot. Spoken-word poet and author Emily Joy and author and trauma researcher Hannah Paasch created the hashtag on November 20, 2017, as an online platform for individuals who’ve experienced abuse at the hands of clergy or whose abuse was reported to clergy, only to be ignored, covered up, or flung back in their faces. “When I was 16 years old I was groomed for abuse by a man in his early 30s who was a ‘youth leader’ in my evangelical megachurch Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, IL,” Joy’s series of tweets began.
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