Crying and vomiting are not uncommon occurrences when taking someone home from a raucous night of drinking. I was maybe 16, so I hadn’t frequently driven home a lot of drunk folks from parties, but this wasn’t new to me either. I tried to calm Erica* down, realizing alcohol can make people emotional and hoped that any puking would happen once we had arrived back at my house. What I did not expect was through the heavy sobbing would come the whisper of ‘He raped me.’ I had older siblings, so I knew what to do with folks who were drinking. THIS was new. THIS I had no idea what to do with. I didn’t know what to do with the feelings of panic, protectiveness, heart breaking sorrow, anger and the desire to just get home and put her to bed that completely flooded me. I was definitely too young to deal with this; but so was she.
At my young age, cleaning up Erica’s vomit after tucking her into bed, I remember feeling useless, but also afraid. We never said anything to anyone. We didn’t know any better, to be quite honest. It wasn’t what I had seen on television shows, or the stories you hear about stranger danger. It wasn’t a masked villain. It was her boyfriend. She was too drunk and he couldn’t take no for an answer because she wasn’t able to give it. She blamed herself for the situation. I didn’t blame her, but I didn’t know how to think through it either. Being much older, I see the situation much differently. Most women I know who have courageously shared with me their own stories of sexual violence have similar themes; they drank too much, it was someone they knew, and the blame and shame they place on themselves is alarming.
We were both too young. But no one is too young, too old, or frankly too anything for sexual violence. We are all too human for it, both the victims and the perpetrators. Now I am not too young and not unaware of what to do. Yet some feelings of paralysis remain: how am I to move and act within my beloved Church that has so much more they can do? My Church that has the unfortunate reputation for sending women back to their abusers. My Church whose universities see far too much sexual violence in their student populations. My Church that has had its own share of sexual abuse. As I contemplate and pray about women who have suffered sexual violence and abuse, my prayer leads me to the hemorrhaging woman who encounters Jesus in Mark, Matthew and Luke. She has been suffering and bleeding for years, but courageously reaches out for Jesus, desiring to be healed. I see so many women reflected in her: women who suffer quietly, never quite able to fully be themselves in a community because something as been taken from them, but who so deeply desire to be loved and to be healed. I continue to wonder as I pray: Jesus did not know this woman was there, but we, the Church, know that victims of sexual violence are among us, even if we don’t know exactly who they are. Why must they be the ones to reach – and why aren’t we reaching back? Why aren’t we the first to reach out? With sexual violence affecting so many, women and men, how much more can we do in parishes, high schools, universities, anywhere at all, to reach out to them and do whatever we can to help them heal and to prevent the hemorrhaging from happening in the first place? I don’t have all the answers, but I know I have to begin with these questions.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
While sexual violence affects women and men in all different circumstances, this reflection is particular to my experience as a white, heterosexual and cisgendered woman in the Catholic church.
CatholicHow greets our newest contributor, Ellen Romer, who will be focusing upon issues most pertinent to women in the Church.
Ellen works in Admissions for Boston College School of Theology and Ministry where she is also pursuing a Masters in Divinity. A Midwesterner to her core, she loves cooking, football and the people of God.