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An open letter to Christian conservatives

this January, I found myself in a workshop co-led by Diana Anderson, author of the book “Damaged Goods: New Perspectives On Christian Purity.” intrigued — and still dealing with my own baggage from a too-conservative view of sex — I picked up a copy of her book and found myself nodding along. while it’s not neccessarily a book that will convince Christians of what’s wrong with the current stance on purity, it is certainly a thing of comfort and solidarity for those of us who have come through the purity movement and survived.

the book was still fresh in my mind when — prompted by the recent media attention focused on Josh Duggar — a dear friend showed me a piece she’d written outlining the deep and disconcerting ways she’d been hurt by conservative Christians and the purity movement. it absolutely grieves my heart that she went through this, and moreso because her situation is by no means uncommon.

with my friend’s permission, I’m sharing her story below. it needs no further commentary; her words stand for themselves.

scared girl

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To conservative evangelical Christians,

You just don’t get it.

In recent days a member of a prominent evangelical family has admitted to molesting multiple girls as a teenager. The response from the evangelical right has been that he was young himself so it’s not that big of deal; the “evil” left-wing media is outraged because the family is an outspoken Christian family, not because of the victimization of young girls. I want to set the record straight; you are wrong on both accounts.

I was raised in an evangelical household by two loving parents. I was taught that sex before marriage was a sin, and at 13 my parents made me pledge my virginity to an un-named future husband.

I was sure that God wanted me to be a modest, chaste young woman so that I would honor my family and my future husband.

I knew that I would bring shame to myself and to my family if I deviated from this plan, and worse, I might lose the ability to marry a God-fearing man one day.

A year later I was molested by a neighbor boy who was a year older than I was. Like me, his parents were committed to bringing him and his siblings up in a way that would honor the teachings of the Bible. Did they teach him not to touch young girls?

As an adult, I found out that my sister (five years younger) was a also molested by the same teenage boy. I eventually told my molester to stop. I don’t know if this was before, during, or after he was doing the same to my sister. Unlike me, my sister told my mom what was happening. As far as I know, my mom did not believe my sister because the neighbor was “such a good young man.” I don’t know how my mom would have reacted if the neighbor wasn’t homeschooled and didn’t go to our church.

I went to a Christian college — virginity still intact. Up to that point, I had never willingly done more than kiss a boy. I interpreted my molestation as something that happened because of the boy’s curiosity and because he could tell I had a crush on him. I didn’t view it as a violation or that I was taken advantage of because it was the girl’s job to stop a young man’s advances and to dress modestly. If the girl failed to do either of these, the repercussions were her fault.

In college, I started dating a young man who was actively involved in the church. He said all the right things. I thought he valued my purity, and for a while he did not push a physical relationship. Somewhere along the way he decided I was not the one he wanted to marry, so my sexual purity was no longer his prize for his wedding night. From then on he pushed me far beyond the limits I had set — limits that he and I had prayed over and held in high esteem. He knew I loved him. He knew that I believed he was the man I wanted to marry. And most importantly, he knew that if I were to tell anyone that I was not a willing participant, that no one would believe me.

In my early twenties, I lost my will to stop him. I gave him everything, and he didn’t ask. My good Christian friends figured out what they thought was going on, and I was treated as a slut and the cause for his disobedience against God. I saw a counselor and explained that he pressured me. I was told that “maybe God wants you two to get married.” On the night before Christmas break, after a Christmas party, I got the courage to tell him “no.” Unlike the neighbor boy, my “no” was not enough to stop him.

Eventually he found a pure, God-fearing girl to marry. I heard that on his wedding day the pastor (also his father) praised the new couple for remaining pure until their wedding day. My sexual assault was clearly my fault as I was not able find a godly husband. What followed was years of depression, shame, and distrust. I was treated as a commodity to these Christian men. I did not believe my purity was stolen, I believed that I had handed it over to them on a silver platter like a common prostitute, and now God would punish me. I would not marry the Christian man of my dreams because the prize I swore to give him at 13 years old was gone.

After college I had an emotionless relationship with another Christian man. We had sex within the first few weeks of dating and I was fully aware this was the only thing he liked about me. After him I felt even more worthless. This wasn’t who I was; however, my self worth was based on the ability to land a good Christian man, and that possibility, I felt, had died in college.

When I was 25 I started a new job and met the man who would one day be my husband. He was kind-hearted, responsible, driven, and a leader. I knew that he was out of my league. We went out on our first date nearly six months later. I was fully prepared to sleep with him, even if it was without a commitment — after all, I believed that I was a throw-away girl. I drank too much and then ended up at his place. I wore a tight, low-cut shirt and tight jeans. I put on more makeup than normal.

I did everything that I was brought up to believe would lead a man to have sex with me. But he didn’t attempt to sleep with me.

Instead he gave me a pillow and a blanket so I could sleep on his sofa. He told his roommate that he couldn’t watch tv in the living room where I was sleeping. He turned on a string of Christmas lights that led the way to the bathroom. Then, before he went to bed in his room, he took off my glasses and said, “You can trust me.” There were no sexual advances, not even a kiss. This situation baffled me. I was warned that non-Christian, sexually active males were only after sex. Why didn’t my protective parents warn me about the Christian guys? What did this man value that the others didn’t?

A few years later, we got married. He had to work to rebuild the wreckage that the others had left before him. He had to be patient with me. I was damaged — and I realized for the first time that I was the victim. He also had to repair the damages that were left over from growing up in a system that valued my virginity more than my humanity. When that teenage boy molested me, I had not asked for it, I had not deserved it, and he knew he was doing something wrong. I needed to have someone protect me from him. My sister needed someone to believe her.

My college boyfriend knew that I loved him, and used me. He also hid behind a system that is stacked against victims of sexual assault. In addition to the guilt, I faced possible expulsion from the college if they found me out. Who was I to tell? Who would believe me if my friends didn’t, if the counselors promoted a relationship with my abuser, and if I could face expulsion my senior year?

So how does my story relate to the Duggars? The problem with my story is that it is not just my story. The emphasis placed on purity and virginity in the evangelical church does not consider victims of sexual assault and molestation. I was more concerned that I would face punishment of biblical proportions after my assaults than my attackers were worried about being found out. I was taught that my worth as a woman was based on my sexual purity, not my intelligence, my work ethic, my kindness, or my empathy. If a man took advantage of me it was because I was immodest or not godly.

The response from the Christian Right to the admitted molestations lacks severity because of the system that is stacked against the victim. I am horrified that the Duggars did not do more to protect their daughters. Allowing their son around other young girls provided him new potential victims. The family is not the poster family for morality; they are flawed and their system is flawed.

If I had advice for a young girl in a conservative evangelical home, it would be that you are worth more than your virginity. Any man or boy that takes advantage of you cannot get away with it. The way you dress, what you believe, how you talk, and how you act do not give a man the right to treat you like their property. If you tell someone and they don’t believe you, tell someone else. If this advice is considered controversial, then you are in the wrong church.

It’s been ten years since I was assaulted. My husband loves me for who I am, not for my past; good men do that.

There is no shame in sex before marriage, but there is shame in someone taking what only you can give. There is shame in a system that protects those who violate the innocent.

I hope the Duggar girls are able to leave this system that is stacked against them and their future daughters. I hope the Duggar parents beg forgiveness from their daughters and the other victims. You can hold Christian beliefs and have daughters that are empowered if they are taught they are worth more than their virginity.

I’m hopeful that my attackers and Josh Duggar have learned from their actions. I hope that they learn to stress love over purity and that the self-worth of their own children isn’t based on virginity.