Sometimes it is very difficult for someone who has been abused to step forward and express to others what they have gone through. It takes great courage to speak out about abuse. Many stay silent about their abuse most of their lives out of fear; especially, if the abuser is associated with a religious organization where family still attends, or, is a member of their family.
The following story is about a young lady who had to deal with sexual, emotional and physical abuse from a family member. After the courts stepped in and gave her an escape from this abuse, she was then abused a second time by people in a place where she should have been protected from it; a place that most regard as a safe haven not only for themselves, but for their children. Emotional abuse can be traumatic for any person; but to have it happen a second time is unfathomable. Sadly, those who have been abused can become easy targets for further abuse. This is what happened to Samantha.
My Mom and Dad only stayed together until I was about a year old. It wasn’t long after the divorce, that my Dad died by drowning. I was about 3 ½ years old at the time. For a while, it was just my Mom and me. We lived off and on with my grandparents and her younger brother so they could care for me while my Mom worked.
When I was five years old, my Mom started dating again. It was at this point that I was then placed with a babysitter while Mom worked. Eventually, my Mom married the man she had been dating. At first, I was happy. In my five year old mind, I was excited about having a “Daddy” that would love me. However, it wasn’t long after my Mom married that things began to change. My new Daddy began taking control of everything in my life.
He implemented stringent rules for me that created emotional turmoil in my little girl mind. It was hard to cope with the fact that he controlled every aspect of my life including my friends. It wasn’t long before I was not allowed to go play with my friends after school. I was confined to my home. As a little girl, this was traumatic for me. I felt alone and isolated and, in my mind, I truly did not understand why I was being treated this way. I didn’t understand why I could not have any friends.
I can’t remember at what age my Stepdad started coming into my room. At first, he would just touch me and tell me things to make me “feel good” about what he was doing to me. His “touching” soon caused me to get infection after infection. My mom and doctor thought it was because I wasn’t cleaning myself well enough. So, it wasn’t long before I had no privacy at all. Every time I went to the bathroom, my Mom would “check” me to make sure I was cleaning myself properly. Today, I still have trouble sorting this out in my mind.
When full on sexual abuse was going on, my Stepdad was also physically abusing me. He was verbally abusive to both me and mom but, for some strange reason, my Mom has a different take on my childhood and disagrees with me over what I say about it. Not having the support of my Mom regarding the abuse was another trauma that I had to deal with. As a young child, my isolation and abuse put me in a desperate frame of mind to escape it. The sexual abuse went on for years until, at the age of 16, after a year in my own room downstairs, I ran away. Finally, I was free of my abuser! My friends hatched a plan and snuck me into a friend’s house after school. It was a failed attempt, though, and 2 weeks later, I was sent back home. At first my Mom and Stepdad overindulged me; and then, it went back to the same thing. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know where to go. As a teenager, it is just very difficult to mentally handle a situation of this magnitude with no help from an adult. The pain and hurt, at times becomes insurmountable because you are not believed by the one who is supposed to love you and protect you.
One day, an adult friend I finally confided in about my abuse, decided to take action to help me escape. He took me to one of his friend’s house afterschool one day and dropped me off. He left and returned with a policeman. He turned my Stepdad in. I was taken into an emergency custody and after a night of endless questions, I was taken to a group home/shelter. A few months later, I was permanently removed from my home by the courts. My Mom and my Stepdad fought the allegations I made against my Stepdad (I made none against my Mom), but did not fight the removal. They did not care what happened to me. It was during this battle, that my Grandparents immediately started the process to be able to gain custody of me.
Today, my mom is still with my abuser. While I am plagued with flashbacks and have severe PSTD, they supposedly live a happy life. Even today, I find it difficult to understand how my Mom could allow all this to happen to me; how she can deny that it happened to me. As a child suffering abuse for many years at the hand of my Stepdad, I cannot reconcile this fact in my mind. But the abuse did not stop here. As a young teenage girl, now free of the sexual and physical and emotional abuse of my Stepdad, I never dreamed that years later, as an adult, I would be abused in a place that most regard as a “safe” haven. Never could I have imagined that I would see other children abused emotionally and physically by those their parents entrusted them to. The emotional trauma and flashbacks this resulted in caused me to get physically ill many times.
At Christmas time, a few years back, I visited a church with my niece. The people seemed friendly and inviting. They seemed to genuinely care about me. This was just what I needed as a result of my past. I fell in love with the church and, as it happened, conveniently lived right across the street from the Associate Pastor. It seemed perfect and convenient.
Then, after a while, I began to notice that all the ladies wore skirts or dresses. The Pastor did not push me to wear them, but I felt odd. The feeling of guilt this laid upon me was triggering. It made me feel as though I wasn’t right with God because I was wearing pants. Once again, I was taken to a place in my mind of feeling hurt and confused.
A few months later, I was asked to volunteer in the church-run daycare because one of the workers was going out of town. I loved children and, I needed a part-time job, so I applied for a position to work in the daycare. After I was hired, I was immediately told that I had to wear skirts or dresses all the time now that I was working for the church. Suddenly, there was a list of countless rules that I had to now adhere to in order to keep my job. But these weren’t normal rules and standards you would find in the workplace. They were rules that controlled how I dressed all the way down to my skirt length and collar height on my blouse! Suddenly, these rules became the determination of my “godliness.” It wasn’t long before going to church, working the daycare and, attending all the church activities consumed all my days and nights! What I thought would be a part-time job, turned into a mandatory full-time job that I really did not have any choice about. If I did not do as they asked, it meant my allegiance to God was in question. If my allegiance to God was not total, then I was not ‘fit’ to hold the job in their daycare because I was not “right with God.” As a college student, this placed a huge burden on me emotionally and physically. It didn’t help matters any that the people in the church frowned upon me being in college! They somehow had the notion that women do not need a college education because they aren’t supposed to have jobs in the real world! They kept asking me what I was going to use my degree for; since a college degree for a women, wasn’t worth anything. Needless to say, I felt the peer pressure to conform to their ideas and doctrinal standards. This pressure led to a breakdown in my health and well-being.
I was exhausted, and my life and body showed it. Due to a brain injury I suffered at work in 2001, I suffer from epilepsy. I have to see a doctor and therapist weekly. Stress can trigger more seizures and, this is exactly what was happening to me! I started to get really sick, often spending nights in the ER and going to work or church in the morning because I was told I was not allowed to miss work or church. I was being forced to attend every function the church had as well as take care of the children until late hours. It was during all this, that I began to take notice of the tactics being used to punish the children. Some of these children were just toddlers! I witnessed 18 month old babies being physically held against the wall until they cried! They were not released until they stopped crying. The very Pastor that I trusted showed me how to do this so I could use the same tactic on the small children! I faked it as best I could while he was in the room and then grabbed and cuddled the child afterward. I would cry and cry each night after getting home. Seeing these precious children treated so badly was hard for me to deal with. The older children were put in “all fours” time out. This meant they had to stretch out with their hands on the floor in front of them until they cried; and then, they had to immediately stop crying. Often, I would hear the other workers say that if they could spank the children, they would. I once walked past the office door of the Pastor and he was yelling at a child to repeat to him (he was on all fours), “I will obey God” and “I will obey my teachers.” I wanted to go in… but I was afraid I’d make it worse for the child. It was after this incident that I decided that I would never send another child to the Pastor’s office again! That week, due to the physical and emotional load, I ended up in the hospital a few days.
In my mind, I could not reconcile “church people” treating children this way. But what could I do? Truly, they were not being bad kids. They were just being normal children. I was so troubled by it that I spent many nights in anguish over what I was seeing. If I spoke out about it, I feared retaliation from the Pastor and church people. Why should I be put in a position to be “afraid” to speak out about abuse? WHY was I so afraid of these people?
All of the sudden, life at the church was dreaded. Because of my seizures, I was not allowed to drive a car. Because of this, it made me dependent on others to get to and from work and my weekly doctor and therapy appointments. From work, I was taken by church people to my appointments (as they wanted me back at work afterward). Because of this, they started taking more than a third of my paycheck for gas to and from these appointments. Several times, I was called into the Pastors office and lectured over how they had “saved” me and I needed to pay even more for the gas of bringing me to and from my appointments and church. I explained that if he would let me have the days off for my appointments that I would not need their help. The pressure this placed on me was more than I could bear. Financially, I could not handle less pay. It was bad enough not being able to drive; how could I meet my financial obligations on less pay?
Finally, my doctor told me that I needed to quit my job because of the affect it was having on me emotionally and physically. All of a sudden, I was afraid again. I knew that if I put my notice in that I would be treated badly. I just “knew” that I would be hurt by these people. This fear made me decide that I needed to move away from the church and its people so that I would not be harassed by them. I found a place to live in a city and hour away and began to make my plans to move. Living across the street from the Associate Pastor, scared me to death now that I was feeling the pressure to conform even more. They watched and monitored everything I did; everything I said!
I was going to schedule to meet with the Pastor and give my notice, BUT, out of the blue, the Pastor’s wife left him. I was devastated. It also meant that he could no longer be Pastor by their standards. I was in shock and even more confused than ever. I realized that this meant that he could not be Pastor anymore. Their “rules” would not allow for it. It was at this point that I realized that my life would be thrown into even more chaos. I had planned on giving my notice to him and quitting the daycare upon advice of my Doctor (Because of the onset of too many seizures and sickness due to the stress). He was gone two days later and the Youth Pastor became the “temp” Pastor while they looked for a new one. I immediately contacted the Pastor’s wife to find out why she left him (we were friends on Facebook). I could not just leave a huge question mark in my mind nor, believe what others would tell me the reason was for her leaving. I wanted to know directly from the source.
Well, I had no choice now. I had to give my notice to the new temporary Pastor. I had to go talk to him and tell him I was moving and give him my two week’s notice. My doctors were insistent that I needed to step down from work (at this job).
At first, he understood, or so it seemed. He almost immediately said “So, do I understand you would also not be going to church here?” I said, “Yes, because I had no transportation since I was not allowed to drive.” He said the city I was moving to had an Independent Fundamental Baptist church and offered to set me up, and the church people would all help me move. Now here’s where it got hairy. He said, “I’ll talk to them. Come see me before church tomorrow.” I said, “Sir, no way will it be an IFB church!” No sooner had I said the words and the fears began to mount in my mind. After a short, “What are you thinking?” lecture, He cautioned me to reconsider and pray about it. He said, “We’ll talk more tomorrow.” The whole conversation left me afraid. I could not sleep well as I anguished all night over the backlash I was going to receive for leaving the church.
The next morning, I came into work and the 8:00 worker was already there. She took my class and I was called into the office. Sitting there was the Associate Pastor’s daughter, his wife, and the Pastor. I was floored and said, “What’s up?” I was trying to get my class ready for the teacher taking over for me while I left for my appointment. He said, “Sit down. It has come to my attention that you are talking with the former Pastor’s wife. Why is that?” I simply told him that I want to show my concern (Really, I wanted to know why she left her husband). He said, “That is not permitted and you need to cut communication with her. She is being church disciplined, and members aren’t allowed to talk to her.” I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. May I go now?” He said, “Do you already have a ride to your appointment because we can’t take you and really need you to work today.” I told him I did and reminded him that I couldn’t skip appointments. He said okay but then the Pastor’s wife went into a tirade accusing me of numerous things! I was then told that, since I was unmarried and divorced, I was no longer allowed to be around the teen girls because I was a bad influence. I told them that my ex-husband was abusive. He said, “The reason doesn’t matter, AND, as you are going to your doctor today, you need to understand that sometimes people outside the church do not understand the things we do here. So DO NOT, under any circumstances, talk to your doctor, your family or anyone else about this meeting, church or daycare business. If I find out, and I will, if you are still talking to the Former Pastor’s wife or, you tell your doctor what happened here, I will make your last two weeks here difficult for you! Basically, I will become like Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde on you, do you understand?” This is coming from a man who is over 6 ft tall and very big. He also threatened to fire me before my notice was up. The panic and fear that this instilled in me left me terrified of being physically hurt.
I left the office and tearfully got my babies ready to go. Somehow, I knew I would not be back. I whispered to them that I loved them and I left to a waiting car and never went back. When I sat down in front of my Doctor, I broke down into tears and I told him everything that had happened. I told him about the abuses I witnessed toward the children in the Daycare. I told him about being threatened by the Pastor. I told him how they monitored and watched everything I did; that they were controlling my life. I laid bare all my fears and emotional trauma that I was carrying as a result of that place. At the end of the session, after spilling everything, he sat on the edge of his chair and told me that he had to report this to Child Protective Services, and encouraged me to also report it. As I left this appointment, the panic set in fast that I had to get far away from that church as quickly as possible. I was afraid; deathly afraid of what they would do to me.
About a month later, I moved to my new city and have never gone back. That whole thirty days as I waited to move, I was terrified. I had to watch my back and hide in my home as best I could; especially since I still lived across the street from the Associate Pastor! Those first few days home, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I slept a lot, actually ate, and threw away several skirts. I have only worn a skirt twice since July of 2011. I constantly blame myself for the children I couldn’t save from that horrible place.
A few months later, I got word that the “Pastor” stepped down after becoming sexually involved with one of the 17 year old girls. It was called an “affair” though she did not consent, and this was her youth pastor. She was kicked out of her home for refusing to stand up in front of the church and apologize for the affair. This type of public humiliation is common. The blame is always placed on the woman or the girl in every situation where there is a sexual relationship or abuse taking place.
Recently, I found out the church has a new Pastor and he let go all of the former people that were working at the daycare and hired new people. Have things changed for those kids? One can only hope and pray. For now, I am free of the mental and emotional and spiritual bondage that they put me under. My health has improved and for the first time in a very long time, I am starting to shed the fear that kept me always looking behind me; always hiding. I am not free of the PTSD that this has caused me. I still suffer daily. However, with the help of my doctors and therapists, I hope to be totally free of the affects my past has on me and the effects that this abusive church has had on me.