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As an alumnus of Michigan State University, I am deeply upset by the appalling abuse of Larry Nassar. When people say something to me about being a Spartan, I am compelled to acknowledge that I am not very proud to be a Spartan. The school where I learned and thrived was a place of horror, shame, and abuse for so many others for such a long period of time.

As a follower of Christ, my identity was shaken to the core as I read Rachel Denhollander’s story. Rachel, a gymnast sexually abused by Larry Nassar, came forward with allegations of abuse. While Rachel’s courageous public allegations were important to Nassar’s conviction, Rachel lost the support of her church in the process. In Rachel’s words,
“The reason I lost my church was not specifically because I spoke up. It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community, crimes which had been perpetrated by people in the church and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community. That is not a message that evangelical leaders want to hear, because it would cost to speak out about the community. It would cost to take a stand against these very prominent leaders, despite the fact that the situation we were dealing with is widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse. Because I had taken that position, and because we were not in agreement with our church’s support of this organization and these leaders, it cost us dearly.”

Another part of my identity, a teacher, became sick and angry when I learned that a local teacher had been abusing children for the past thirteen years. In a small rural area, many people boast that the larger problems of the world don’t touch us here in this close-knit community. Why did the abuse continue for so long?  I don’t know, but I suspect it was because no one came forward.  Or, if they did, no one believed them.  After all, they were children.

As a volunteer, I spent time with my students helping to sort donations at a shelter in my community. Apparently my healthy, Christian community serves hundreds of survivors of domestic violence and abuse each year. This ministry helps primarily women and children to escape, to start over, and to rebuild their lives. This ministry is thriving. Apparently this close-kit Christian community includes those who abuse their families.

As a church member, I need to go through training and background checks so that I can work with children and teach in a church environment. Through the course of this training, I am reminded that abuse of children comes from family members, coaches, teachers, pastors, and youth workers. So in other words, all the people I am supposed to be able to trust to disciple and mentor my children are also the ones most likely to abuse them.

As a parent of daughters, I am told that most women will experience sexual assault or sexual violence during their lives. Too bad that sort of thing happens. But many women lie about it, so maybe I don’t need be concerned for my daughters’ safety.

Why does abuse continue and even thrive? Why does justice feel like oppression to those in power? Who has the courage to put a stop to abuse of power? Who has the courage to believe the truth of abuse and violence and to do something to stop it?

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

2 Comments

  • Jason Lief says:

    Thanks Rebecca. My kids went to the school you’re talking about, and two of my children had the teacher in question. It’s heartbreaking. There is something about the Christian culture in our area, and maybe others, that promotes passivity and “not rocking the boat” as some twisted form of virtue. I have students read Walter Brueggemann’s Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out for that very reason.

  • Victoria Karssen says:

    The women I know and love who have kept their trauma of rape a secret have done so to protect their parents and their families, to keep their community from knowing and seeing them as different, as damaged.
    No one wants the world to view them as weak or vulnerable. And because they are living in a world, rattled to their core, with a violent entry into the knowledge that they are never to be safe again!

    Women and girls are taught that they can ‘put themselves at risk’, which is well beyond inane. Really, why are we responsible to keep men from victimizing us! So women, girls, young men, and boys ask themselves if they could have done things to keep this from happening. They are enveloped in absolutely undeserved – yet very real and powerful – shame. Shame for being assaulted. Shame as their view of their own body as theirs is fractured, and they feel they cannot trust their own thoughts and judgments. They take blame for their own victimization!

    Where is a punitive system that makes these monsters think twice? And every day! Where are the good guys and what could they be doing to break down this evil of power and control?

    Rape and assault are like the tearing apart of a human spirit.

    There is before.
    And there is after.

    This is why so many keep their trauma unreported, and hidden.

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