I cut into Amanda’s story on CNN with the 911 call on Monday morning. Her voice so incredibly young for her age, her syntax evidence of a decade of being squelched. Writing about it now even stirs up the anxiety I felt when I listened to her. The anxiety attack so acute for me Monday morning that I had to flee the house, do anything for distraction, get my breath back, get the ground back beneath me, because when I was twenty, I was abducted by two men and brutally and violently sexually assaulted and beaten.
I was a Mormon missionary in a small town on the Franco/Belgian border. The beating resulted in a skull fracture, a broken jaw, nose, ribs, and road rash on my thighs. The assault left me with a broken coccyx, genital trauma and rectal and anal tissue damage that I still deal with to this day, thirty-two years later. I escaped my captors after being dragged behind their speeding vehicle, my pants at my ankles. In that interminable moment the instinct was to pull myself off the abrading pavement, but the logic was certain death if I didn’t escape the car, so I let go.
Systematic desensitization got me to a point of admitting it, remembering it, talking about it. And then I listened to Elizabeth Smart speaking at John Hopkins University at a conference on human trafficking. While I wouldn’t dare compare my incident with hers, she articulated in her speech something we shared, something I believe all rape victims share, the truncation of human value that only the physical invasion into a person’s being could execute.
A nightstick invaded me. Up to that moment I was beaten to a point of defenselessness.
I know the moment when the truncation happened, in a gutter on a bridge in the dark. I had pulled myself off the road fearing I’d get hit by a car or they’d come back and run me over. I had pulled my pants up racked with pain. And then the shame.
Elizabeth Smart very hesitantly tells of an object lesson in her speech. It’s the “ABC gum” doctrine, one that I had heard before, too, but by virtue of my gender ignorantly thought it didn’t pertain to me. But other lessons did.
I grew up with the better-dead-than-unclean school of virtuous training. It was reinforced in the Mission Training Center, a place where nascent missionaries attend to learn teaching methods before reaching their assigned areas. In a fireside, Gordon B. Hinkley, who’d later become President of the church, was quoted from a general conference talk, “I know what my mother expects. I know what she’s saying in her prayers. She’d rather have me come home dead than unclean.”
Not my mom. I knew she’d just rather have me come home, regardless the stains.
It was later, having tucked it all away and faking my way through the rest of my life, when I read a book called The Miracle of Forgiveness, by an author that I had grown up with, a leader, the president of the church through my adolescence, a man I revered as a prophet who talks to god. President Spencer Kimball wrote:
“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”
My shame bifurcated into two levels; not only had I no value due to the invasion of my body, I had no value in not dying in my defense.
To restore myself, my self, I have since truncated something else, similar to the moment I let my body fall to the pavement that was tearing the skin from my legs. I let it all go, all the promises, all the doctrine, all the saving ordinances, all the comfort, some of the fear, most of the judgement, much of the shame.
Any institution that purports the value of a human being to be connected to their sexual purity creates an incredibly vicious cycle in human behavior from which none come unscathed. The result of which, manifest throughout any religious influence, at the very least, is a discounted soul. When aspirated with the invasive trauma of rapists and molesters, the soul surrenders, will flatlines, the light goes out. That is a fate worse than death.
We are not sticks of gum. Look at Elizabeth Smart. You’ll see battlefield courage. When the press unfortunately pries its way into Amanda Berry’s life, the same will be displayed. An examination of my own is rife with mistakes and poor judgement, but it is scaffolded by the value of the purity of my motivation to be a loving man, husband and father. The only way that can be taken from me is if I allow it.