Post Author: Allison Unroe
Content warning: this article contains language about sexual assault and rape.
*If you are a survivor of sexual assault, we see you, we hear you, and we believe you. There’s help available. The 24/7 RAINN hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). You can also live chat with RAINN.
When The Young Clergy Women Project began (now Young Clergy Women International), the motto was “Because you’re not the only one.” This community takes comfort knowing that, even in the most unique struggles, others can often relate. In matters of sexual assault, many in our number say #metoo. Knowing we are not the only ones, sometimes that is also our ardent prayer - to be the only one.
Years ago when I was in youth ministry I found myself deep in conversation with a group of freshman girls in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. It was dark and cold — winter in the Blue Ridge mountains — and I’d driven a 15 passenger van loaded with kids through the ice and snow that day. I wanted to be in bed, but I knew this was important.
It had started as a bit of a joke — a sort of, “I bet we can get Allison to say that there are circumstances in which someone deserves to be raped.” The hypothetical situations they threw out were outlandish at first, but quickly the giggles had subsided and the what-ifs got very real. “What if she’s wearing a tight top and short skirt?” Nope. “What if she’s sloppy drunk and making out with him before she changes her mind?” Nope, not then either. “What if she’s walking alone at night when she knows she should have a friend with her?” Still no.
At around 3am the 14 year old leading the charge completely deflated. Her face fell. Her shoulders slumped. She gazed at the floor and mumbled, “I know you’re right. But you’d never convince my dad…”
I studied Greek and Hebrew in seminary, not math. I still don’t know my multiplication tables beyond the easy numbers – 1s, 2s, and 5s. But I also know my fours. I know my fours well because a man I knew and trusted raped me. Before I became a survivor, though, I was an advocate, so I knew the numbers. Back then the statistics said that one in four or five American women would be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And so I started counting.
In meetings at work and in worship at church and in workshops on retreats, at family gatherings and at dinner with my friends, I count. “One, two, three, four, five—I’m five,” I say in my head, “Let it be just me, God. Please let it be just me. Let my suffering be sufficient for all of us.” Once the numbers tip past six women I start hedging my bets. “What are the chances there’s another survivor here?” I already know. They’re way too good.
In large groups I count and I count, and then I divide by four. How many survivors are in this room? How far does the devastation reach? Is there any way that my trauma could be enough to cover all of us?
That night in those mountains, I did my usual quick head count. There were five of us — four teenage girls and me — in the room. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I am the one. Let that be enough. Protect these girls.” I’ve said that prayer over and over and over in my life. “Let rape culture be sated with the suffering it’s already inflicted. Let it end. Spare these beloved children of God, and let us heal.”
I don’t really believe that there’s a predetermined measure of pain in this world, some twisted quota that must be filled. I don’t think that survivors must continue to endure this pain before the violence can end. I don’t think God is waiting on us to intervene, though surely the amount of pain that our culture is willing to tolerate without real change is disgusting. I know my prayer isn’t logical or mathematical or even indicative of my actual faith, but trauma rarely makes good sense.
The truth is that I believe that God weeps with survivors in our suffering. I believe that survivors’ pain makes God mad with grief, like Absalom avenging Tamar at all costs, like the decimation of Sodom and Gomorrah for their determination to rape, ravage, and use each other. I believe that God weeps over perpetrators, too, lamenting how far off they’ve strayed, just as God sends Nathan to hold David accountable after he rapes Bathsheba and murders her husband. And I believe that God decries those who insist on blaming the victim, just as God rebukes Job’s friends for blaming Job for his own turmoil.
I do not feel forsaken by my God. I feel as seen as the woman at the well. I feel as loved as Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. And most days I feel as healed as the hemorrhaging woman after touching the hem of Christ’s robe.
But on the bad days, I count. I count and I pray, however illogical the prayer. This prayer, I know, is not about logic or who God is, or what I believe. It’s the cry of a survivor who knows this has to change. It’s a lamentation as ancient and holy as the Psalms, and I believe that, even as my heart begs God to let my suffering be enough, the Spirit intercedes for me and for all survivors, raising our real, true prayer to the God who created us for good and not for harm: How long, O Lord?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:2)
How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? (Psalm 62:3)
How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (Psalm 82:2)
O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? (Psalm 94:3)
How long must your servant endure? (Psalm 119:84a)
“Let it be just me, God. Please let it be just me.”
The Rev. Allison Unroe lives in southwest Virginia where she is the solo pastor at Fairlawn Presbyterian church and wrangles two beloved dogs.
Image by: Stephanie Sorge Wing
Used with permission