One of the hardest things about pushing a church for more accountability is the overwhelming pressure to “make nice.”

Most of us feel this pressure, in one way or another. Women in particular are taught to do emotional caretaking, to accommodate and take responsibility for the feelings of others. For someone with the kind of childhood that Kathy had, however, this pressure can feel like life or death, because in the past, it has been life or death. For many abuse survivors, people-pleasing is a survival skill.

Part II, among other things, is a story of Kathy struggling to navigate between the survival skill of people-pleasing and her pressing need, as a child abuse prevention professional, to push her church leaders for more accountability.

Asking for care, for recognition of our particular vulnerabilities as survivors, is not easy, and it’s doubly challenging when your needs are treated as a burden. The story here is unfortunately a common one in churches: a perpetrator’s wife is viewed as the victim most worthy of protection, and her desire for silence becomes a weapon used against other victims to inflict shame on them for speaking and insisting on accountability.

These are hard details to share, but we know that they will resonate with many advocates and survivors. They have resonated strongly with us. Thank you, Kathy, for your vulnerability and your courage. — Stephanie

Part I of Kathy’s account can be found here.

Kathy requests that anyone wanting to reach out to her do so through her advocate, Stephanie Krehbiel, at Respectfully, she asks that those wishing to be in touch do not attempt to reach her directly.

On June 10 (2016) I went on a second walk with the lead pastor. During this walk it was clear she did not want to be with me. She was cold and distant. I asked her about this and she said she didn’t think I had noticed her attitude about getting together with me. When a person has been abused as a child the actions of others are always on our radar. Children who have been abused have to keep the emotions of others in the forefront of their minds in order to stay safe. Often times we know how other people are feeling before we know how we are feeling ourselves. Because of my childhood abuse, when I sense someone has negative feelings towards me, as I did that day, it is very uncomfortable because that often meant danger to me as a child–so I scrambled to “make nice.” I remember even asking her that day, “Do you still want to be my friend?” Looking back, this speaks to how I was being pulled back into my childhood and how I felt I needed to keep this powerful person happy and to make her like me. At the end of our time together that day we did plan another time to meet in July.

The weekend of June 10-12 we had Vacation Bible School (VBS), and the perpetrator’s wife was the director. The very next day, June 13, as scheduled, he was sentenced and taken into custody. No one else, besides Tim and me, thought this was wrong. A woman who was actively supporting a man who had sexually assaulted a child should not be in charge of children’s activities. No one else seemed to recognize that her thought process about child safety may be skewed. No one believed that children could be put at risk–at least if anyone else did, they did not state this openly.

On June 30 Tim sent an email to two of our pastors. I have included Tim’s email because I think it is a good example of how he was trying to help them understand what victims and survivors might experience when leaders are not sensitive to their needs.  

Tim’s email:

“I told Kathy yesterday that I would communicate with you, since she didn’t have the energy to do so (some days are still overwhelming to her as a survivor, particularly as she writes her next book and has been planning her Sunday School Life-Sharing class on sexual abuse in July, among other things). She commented to me yesterday that she was glad we would be going to our cabin at Marion Lake this weekend because we wouldn’t be in church Sunday and thus wouldn’t have to listen to prayers for [perpetrator’s name] (I’m not sure exactly what prayers are being planned, but understood that they would not include victims and survivors this Sunday—correct me if this is wrong). I realize that Kathy has worked with you in planning this series (of 5-6) monthly prayers designed to address different groups affected by [perpetrator’s name] sexual abuse. I’m also aware that she sometimes under-anticipates the emotional backlash of events that might otherwise seem to be fair or innocuous at first thought.

Kathy certainly doesn’t oppose prayers for the perpetrator, his wife and the victim. The problem is that victims and survivors have traditionally been isolated from the respect, honor, grieving, and ongoing community support that they so desperately need … Privacy is generally a safer place for survivors and victims’ than public exposure and potential shaming. Imagine how it would be if we treated everyone who had lost a parent or other family member to death—if they felt stereotyped, are subtly blamed, and are generally viewed as being emotionally handicapped and over-reactive.  Without ongoing expressions of love, empathy, support, and public affirmation/understanding, it would likely take us longer to recover from a loved one’s death—just like it takes victims and survivors now.

My suggestion is that you always include prayers (or statements) for victims and survivors whenever you pray (or request prayers—as in the Prayer/Praise notes) for the perpetrator or his wife. The church did not act correctly in its silence earlier this year, and has not yet demonstrated adequate understanding of the predicament of victims and survivors, in our opinion. Regular attention and respect directed to victims/survivors, particularly when publicly addressing the needs of a perpetrator, helps to prevent further “triggering” for survivors as well as helps the congregation to grow in its respect for these sexual minorities (victims/survivors).”

In response the lead pastor said she appreciated his perspective and suggestion on my behalf. The other pastor’s response, which I’m sure she did not realize, imposed shame on me because she stated disappointment that I was not coming to church that Sunday when I had helped put these prayer moments together. There was no concern expressed for the pain I was experiencing nor was there any follow up.

Sunday morning, July 10, I gave a presentation about childhood sexual abuse (CSA) to our adult Sunday School (SS) class. Many class members expressed appreciation for what I had to say. The perpetrator’s wife was also there, however the lead pastor was not (the lead pastor is a member of our SS class, but typically does not come due to pastoral duties on Sunday mornings). I shared from my own personal experience with CSA: about why CSA is so destructive–because the trauma occurs while the brain is still developing; the many losses a person experiences; and the things that the church can do. Some class members, who could not be there that Sunday, had asked us to videotape the presentation for them, so we did. Click here to view this 29 minute original video. The names of most of the individuals have been edited out, as the talk was only intended for this SS class, originally.

Giving this presentation felt very empowering to me as a survivor. It was empowering because I was able to let people know what it is like to experience CSA and its impact as a child and as an adult. I have been a workshop leader for most of my adult life so it felt good to use my gifts and have those appreciated by many members of the class. Maybe these people really did care about CSA and might want to hear more.

On July 15, the lead pastor and I had lunch. I had strongly considered not going, because of the hurtful way I had been treated the last two times I had been with her. I did go, however, and almost immediately after we sat down to eat she seemed very upset. Her hands were shaking and her voice was trembling. Then she said, “Sally (the perpetrator’s wife; not her real name) and I want to know that you are not going to use Sally’s name in your presentations because she has a reputation to maintain in this community.”

I was shocked and hurt by these words and finally defended myself against  the lead pastor. I asked her if she had watched the video of the talk I had made?  

Well no, she hadn’t.

Then I asked if she thought I was such a horrible person that I would deliberately try to harm Sally in my presentations. Her answer was, “well no – no I don’t think you are.” But this is exactly what she was accusing me of! The reality is Sally’s husband is in prison for sexual assault of a child and his name has been in the newspaper and is a matter of public record, due to his crime.

The other reality is that the pastor had no idea what I actually said to the SS class, because she was not there and had not watched the video. She knew there was a video because the third point Sally made in her written statement to the pastor acknowledged this. To this day (fall 2017) I don’t know that any of FMC’s three pastors have ever watched it. If any of them have, they have not communicated that to me.

Another disturbing part of this 7/15/16 luncheon occurred when I asked the lead pastor what she, in retrospect, would have done differently (at this time, nearly 8 months after this man’s arrest). Her response, as best as I can remember, was: “Well, you’re not going to like my answer—I wouldn’t have handled the situation any differently, except I wish that I would have been more responsive to survivors.” Her response to the perpetrator’s arrest had been to keep it silent from the congregation because his defense lawyer had advised her to do so. Is that what she would do again? It would seem so.  She shared this to a survivor sitting right in front of her. I was one of the most outspoken survivors in the church and yet she had not treated me in a caring and supportive way. And what will happen when the next perpetrator is arrested in the congregation? Will it be handled exactly the same way?  

We left this lunch on a little better note. Again, due to the trauma and shame I experienced as a child it is extremely uncomfortable to have someone mad at me or feel there is a conflict in the relationship — so I “made nice” — even though I didn’t feel like the conflict was resolved.

After lunch, I contacted Sally, the perpetrator’s wife, and she emailed me a copy of what she had written about my talk in Sunday school and read to the pastor before our lunch. The things that she wrote came out of her own pain from this horrible situation. However, almost everything she wrote was an attack on me and Tim, or an attack on the talk I gave in SS. Her statements blamed me and Tim for the pain she was experiencing and how she felt like a victim.  Sally wrote things like: “This is NEVER going to die down thanks to Kathy’s new invigorated crusade.” “Now that Kathy has a name to put with her presentations, it feels like she is on a crusade to share all her pain and someone to blame it on now, my family.” The truth that she did not seem to be able to face is that “this is never going to die down” due to her husband’s sexual violence against children.

After I read these words I was deeply hurt. The words that Sally wrote were very painful. However, I knew she was in her own hell, because of her husband’s actions. I realized that she must not have felt psychologically safe enough to process this reality, so she minimized and deflected her pain in other directions. Her statements about my talk were some of these deflections.

As I reread the statements she wrote, another realization came to me – the lead pastor had read this before coming to our lunch and accusing me of wanting to harm Sally’s name in my presentation. My thoughts swirled – really? Was this true? My pastor and someone I thought was my friend, had read these statements about me and had no compassion or empathy about how these words might hurt me?

This lack of compassion toward me was hurtful because I had allowed myself to be vulnerable when I gave this talk in SS. Not only had I shared educational information about childhood sexual abuse, but I had shared personal details about my own life and experience with CSA.  Many of these pieces of my life were painful to discuss, but I was trying to help others understand what children experience when they are sexually violated and the long term effects.  As a result of the pastor’s confrontation at our lunch and the words Sally wrote about my talk, I felt hurt. I felt betrayed. I felt devalued.    

I called the pastor to make sure this was true. I left a message on her answering machine and she soon called back. At this point I had been crying for a couple of hours, so when she called I could not hold back the tears… “ had you read what Sally wrote about me before our lunch?” I asked.

“Yes” she said.

“Okay, that’s all I need to know.” I hung up and continued to cry long into the night.  It appeared, based on these hurtful statements made at our lunch, the pastor viewed Sally as the victim. And I was viewed as the one causing Sally’s pain. The pastor had intervened on Sally’s behalf, as her rescuer, when she confronted me.   

Soon after I got an email from the lead pastor which stated:

“Kathy, I believe I told you when we met that I had met with Sally that morning prior to our meeting. She shared it with me then. I also told her that I was meeting with you later that day. I asked permission of you both to share what I shared/asked of you both.

You are also carrying significant pain, Kathy. Since February, my prayers have been for you and Tim, for Sally and (perpetrator’s name), all together. That may not make sense, but it’s how I’ve lifted you all up. The wounds that came from what (the perpetrator) did are individual and relational, and, after his family, especially among you who were once close friends. I am sorry, Kathy, for hurting you, which I clearly have.”

This felt like a lot of excuses, self-protection and a non-apology, apology. Clearly, she had no understanding of how her actions had harmed me. She was only sorry that she had hurt me, but it did not appear that she was sorry for anything she had done that was inappropriate.

After other emails and a visit to her office I reached out again to the lead pastor. Even though I was the one who had been treated so poorly by my pastor I was the one to continue to reach out. In late July, we exchanged these emails. My email to her stated, “I’m very sad about all that has happened between us. I have valued your friendship and I don’t want to lose it. I’m not available in August, but let me know if you want to get together after that.”

She responded, “Kathy, thank you for this. I also am sad and also value your friendship very much. I would like it if we could touch base again in September sometime.”

It is now fall of 2017, over a year since these emails were sent, and there has been no communication from the lead pastor. I cannot bring myself to reach out to her again. Because my attempts to get support have been so painful I will not put myself through that again. These wounds are still there and her lack of trying to connect with me only deepens those wounds. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I had gone to her for support, but it had been a very damaging and shaming experience instead.  

This all was very hurtful to Tim and me, but the level of protection and enmeshment exhibited by the lead pastor toward the perpetrator and Sally, as well as the dysfunctional thinking expressed by Sally’s written words, seemed to be off the charts to us. Sally had stated, for example: “What Tim did to me is almost as bad as what [perpetrator’s name] did.” We assume that she was referring to Tim’s late April 2016 confrontation of [perpetrator’s name] and Sally together, in which Tim asked Sally to resign from Nurture Commission and said that he suspected her of knowing (or that she should have known about and prevented) the abuse that had occurred. Others in church had wondered aloud to us about what Sally had known and whether or not this was the first time the perpetrator had molested a child. Does a man start, at age 70, sexually abusing children? This seemed strange to us and to others. Of course, we had been told by Sally and the perpetrator that, in fact, this was the only child.

Tim started digging deeper. It wasn’t difficult for him to access court records, talk to the county attorney, and to the perpetrator’s son. Because of this digging he found out that the perpetrator had a long history of sexual crimes against children and women, spanning several decades.  

Tim met with the lead pastor on 11/9/16 to present the extensive history of the perpetrator’s sexualized violence that he had uncovered, and also pointed out how she had violated the church’s Safe Sanctuary policy in not immediately informing the congregation in November 2015 about the perpetrator’s arrest. Tim also outlined for her the multiple adverse consequences of her actions, including the risks to children, and the re-traumatization of survivors. Click here to read the document that he gave her on 11/9/16, as well as the pastor’s brief statement at the Annual Congregational Meeting a few days later, on 11/13/16.  So, now she was aware of the extent of the abuse perpetrated by this man, but as far as we know she did very little with this information.  

Tim then tried to meet with the church’s Safe Sanctuary Committee and was rebuffed, but the chair of Nurture agreed to meet with him on 11/30/16. He presented the same findings and concerns to this leader that he had done earlier for the lead pastor, along with the request to present his concerns to the entire Nurture Commission the next evening (12/1/16). The chairperson, however, adamantly refused to allow this, finally giving Tim the reason for her refusal, stating: “But Sally will be there.” Sally’s presence on Nurture Commission was the reason this topic couldn’t be discussed. I advised Tim to email his findings and our concerns to everyone on Nurture instead, which is what he decided to do. (The original document linked here has been minimally edited to protect the child victim and remove names.) We heard after the meeting that this topic and our concerns were, in fact, discussed. There was a person on the commission that said she felt it should be talked about. This seemed to open the minds of the others. After that, the church board started talking about it. Finally, there seemed to be some movement on this issue. We were thankful for this, but it was also hurtful that for months Tim had been trying to get the leadership to openly discuss sexual violence, but had been put off.  Now someone on the Nurture Commission had said “let’s look at it,” and immediately people started taking it seriously.  

In December of 2016 the church board finally started talking about the way the leadership had handled this. There were many conversations about this issue. One church official stated to us: “We know what we did wrong, so why can’t we just admit that and move on?” I responded that behind each case of the perpetrator’s sexual violence is a person whose life has been devastated by it. To just say, “now we get it and this was bad, but let’s move on,” doesn’t honor the horror of what these individuals have gone through, and the fact that this sexual violence was happening while the perpetrator was attending our church.  

Now that leadership was dealing with this issue I started to become more vocal. It felt safer for me to speak up now that those with power were acknowledging what had happened and appeared to be open to talking about it. One of my main issues to tackle was the fact that Tim had been speaking out for victims and survivors since January 2016 (in our SS class), and since March of 2016 (when he called the lead pastor directly), and he had either been ignored or dismissed by church leadership. As I raised this with various church leaders I got an interesting response from some.  The response was, “there are deep wounds on both sides.” The implication was that Tim had also caused “deep wounds.”

This was frustrating to me. What did they mean? Yes, I know that Tim is blunt, insistent, and has a “dog with a bone” personality, meaning he would not let things go. When Tim believes something is important he will continue to speak the truth and seek justice. In this situation, he was trying to speak truth to power– to religious leaders that would not listen and who wanted to silence the truth in order to protect a man who had sexually violated children and women. Tim spoke out to bring justice to this situation and for other victims and survivors. Now it appeared some in leadership in the church were trying to make him out to be the bad actor and were striving to not hold the church leadership, who had made these decisions, accountable for their actions. This is called “blaming the whistleblower.” Little did I know the extent of blaming that would occur in the months to come.

Kathy requests that anyone wanting to reach out to her do so through her advocate, Stephanie Krehbiel, at Respectfully, she asks that those wishing to be in touch do not attempt to reach her directly.