Those Who were Lost and Now are Found: Girls in Captivity

Two important news stories have been circulating this week that deal with sexual abuse.* The first is the rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. You’d have to be living under a rock this week to have missed the story. But in case you have been living under a rock this week here is the article from the Huffington Post: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus Found Alive in Ohio After Being Reported Missing for 10 Years.

The second story is about Elizabeth Smart who has has been speaking out against the churches’ current teaching of Abstinence. She says that teaching abstinence only brings about a culture of shame and makes women who have been abused feel worthless and damaged beyond repair. To see her own interview: go here.

My responses to some of the things in the video:

  • She mentioned that people ask her, “Why didn’t you leave?” And I want to say, “How dare you ask that question? How dare you question her actions or lack of actions? How dare you, a person who was never been in that situation question how a little girl coped with her living situation? Only a person who has been there, a person who has survived her situation can know how they would react in that situation.” Elizabeth’s answer is to say that she was afraid. She was terrified of her captors. She links her inability to fight back to that of fearing that she was too lowly to fight back. This is a common feeling among those who have been abused.
  1.  First, your abuser tells you they’ll kill you, kill your family, and harm anyone you know if you tell.
  2. Then your abuser convinces you that you are worthless and no one will ever want you. Elizabeth in her interview explains that this message was also drilled into her through her religious circles.
  3. Then your abuser convinces you that even if you did tell, no one would believe you.

You begin to believe the abusers “truths” about you and about the things they will do to your family because no one has rescued you. You begin to believe that you are worthless because no one has saved you. Your abuser uses their power over you again and again and again, until you believe anything they say until the time that you are ready to leave, ready to get out. Until the time that you are ready to tell some. Ready to fight.

The girls in Ohio will be asked these kind of questions a lot over the next few years: why didn’t you call sooner, why didn’t you try another escape. They will be asked to justify their actions over and over again. Here’s my question: Why should they have to justify anything? They have survived and that is the best and the most we can ask of them. We can help them get help and healing and do our best to be there for them but we should not ask them to justify themselves we should only be thankful that they survived.

Questions the church, schools, and other organizations that deal with children and adults before and after abuse should be pondering:

  1. When it comes to messages of sex are we only thinking about premarital sex? 
  2. Is shame the only way to teach about sex?
  3. Where is the grace in our messages of sex and abstinence?
  4. Where is the mercy?
  5. Where is the love?
  6. How can we care for those who fall, for those who have sex before marriage?
  7. How can we best care for those who have been abused?
  8. How can we teach survival in horrible situations?
  9. How can we best prevent abuses?
  10. How can we best teach children to fight back?
  11. When should self defense classes be taught?
*Yes I do know that up to this point there has been no sexual abuse reported in the Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight cases, but I think to dismiss that possibility would be a grave mistake. I am lumping these cases together to show that even though the rescue has happened the journey to healing and a normal existence has just begun for these girls and anyone else that has been held against their will for a long period of time.
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