Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pedophiles, Partners & Churches: Double Standards & Cheap Grace

I personally know a number of partners of pedophiles who live within my geographical region.  And every single one of them are regular church attenders--some employed by religious organizations and all involved with the activities of their houses of worship.  Only one is still with her pedophile husband--he has been in recovery for decades and his church has strong boundaries in place to protect the children of the congregation--boundaries that he respects.  Churches and religious organizations, it seems, are playgrounds for pedophiles.  They are the perfect place to target, groom and victimize innocent children and adults.  And churches are eager to see a repentant sinner restored to grace.  One blogger, the son of a pastor molester, recently tackled the question How Should Christians Treat Repentant Pedophiles? 

It is an important question, to be sure.  But the companion question is often overlooked:  how do they treat the pedophile's partner?  Earlier this year I reluctantly applied for a position at a well-known church in my area.  I was reluctant because I have learned, unfortunately, not to trust religious organizations.  But my need for a job over-rode my hesitations.  When I was called for an interview, I voluntarily disclosed that my ex-husband had been arrested on child pornography charges--I wanted to be upfront, honest and authentic.  I wanted them to know that there was some unwanted baggage attached to my last name.  I was invited to interview anyway and graciously thanked for being honest but was also assured that the question would never have come up in the interview, it was a non-issue.

So I went and interviewed and was offered the job, which I accepted.  However, the senior pastor felt
that it would be in my best interest to have a confidential conversation with the counseling pastor on the church staff.  The session was scheduled the day before I was due to report for work.  The counselor walked into the room, sat down and began our conversation by stating that it was his duty to determine my level of culpability in my ex-husband's crimes.  His rapid-fire questions were intrusive, suspicious and shaming.  At the end of our meeting, he asked if I would change my last name before beginning work the next day (really, this is an impossibility!)  He justified his behavior by a brief history lesson.  The church had experienced three separate molestations of children by volunteers in a 25-year span of time and according to this pastor, the congregation had very strong negative feelings towards the partners of pedophiles.  They would be quite upset if they learned that I was on the church staff.  So, I turned the job down.

When my ex was arrested and his case became a media feeding frenzy, the religious organization he worked at made the correct decision to fire him.  But they also made the decision to distance themselves from me and my children.  I was a former employee and an alum.  I was left in dire financial straits and would have been homeless if family had not intervened.  I have since learned that at least one member of his former department visits him weekly--I guess to encourage him in the faith.  They attend his court dates and offer counsel to him.  I am happy that they are reaching beyond judgment, embarrassment and scandal to "minister" to him.  However, I have yet to receive a phone call on even a quarterly basis from these men or from this organization.  No one inquires how we are doing--or if we are surviving.

The church, it seems, is far more interested in restoring a fallen one than in ministering to the victims of his sin.  In fact, as my prospective employer demonstrated, the partner is often held to a higher standard than the perpetrator!  She is ostracized, blamed and maybe shunned while he is welcomed into the fold and gently and lovingly "restored."  All he has to do is admit guilt--or some level of it--and feign remorse and grace is extended.  She, on the other hand, is held to a higher standard.  Maybe it is a gender thing--the ole "boys will be boys" attitude or maybe the partner simply threatens the sense of safety and security that religious folk seem to enjoy.  Maybe her vulnerability frightens them.  I don't know.

But it sure seems like cheap grace and a double standard to this wounded soul.

As a Partner, what do I need from my religious community or house of worship?  What should churches do with the pedophile's partner?  Here are my thoughts, and this list is certainly not complete:
  • Partners should be welcomed graciously and treated as co-victims.
  • All services and ministries of the church should be made available to her.  She is one of the "widows" that Paul speaks about in I Timothy.
  • She should be offered a supportive and compassionate environment in which to heal.
  • Supporting her healing means allowing her to progress at her own pace and in her own time; avoid advice-giving unless you have walked in her shoes and certainly do not urge a quick forgiveness or reconciliation.
  • Understand that her experience with her pedophile partner is or was mixed; it is rarely all good or all bad.  As such, her children may have had a very different experience than she did in the home and need supportive and compassionate people to help them heal.
  • Recognize that she has been betrayed in a profound way on so very many levels.  Do all that you can to be sure that she is not further betrayed or victimized by the church's treatment of her.
  • Learn all that you can about psychological trauma so you will better understand her when she is triggered.
  • Under no circumstance should she be placed under church discipline or in accountability with a pastor, elder, church staff member or small group leader.  She has been powerless in her marriage for a very long time.  Her level of trust towards men and women in leadership may be nil.  Give her time to heal and be a trustworthy companion for her on the journey.
  • If she is still married to the pedophile, she should not be shamed under any circumstance and must not be told to submit to her husband as a spiritual head.   
Pedophiles:  And what can the church do to prevent a pedophile from making it his playground?
  • Repentant pedophiles should be kept on a very short leash in the church.
  • They should be held to a strict standard of accountability; their behavior should match their words completely and at all times.
  • Church leadership must remember that deception, manipulation and denial are as commonplace as breathing with pedophiles so must verify, verify, verify absolutely everything he tells them.  His partner or former partner is a good place to begin the verification process.
  • Understand that pedophilia is very, very difficult, if not impossible to cure.
  • Do not try to minister outside of your area of training and competency.  Skilled and specialized therapists are still sometimes fooled by these men.  Don't think you can do more than they can to help contain and control their behavior.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, believe everything he tells you about his wife and marriage or about his prior history and behavior.  Remember, he is very prone to incredible deception, distorted thinking and skewed judgment. 
It is time for religious organizations to become places of healing for traumatized and betrayed partners and victims.  It is time for abundant grace, compassion and mercy to be extended to them.  But the church must become inhospitable to further abuse, molestation, grooming or victimization by the pedophile. While he may seek restoration and participation, the church must never cease to monitor him lest he turn it into his playground and begin preying on its children.
Make the church inhospitable to child abuse!    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grooming: It's not Just for Pets and Children

My brother and his partner do not have children but they have two rescue dogs who hit the jackpot when they became part of the family.  These dogs have their own masseuse, trainer, sitter and groomer.   Their food is prepared fresh and the nanny cam connects them to their dads 100% of the time.  I do not have a pet but I understand more than I ever wanted to about grooming, and I am not speaking of styling my hair, putting my make-up on or caring for a pet.  I am understanding grooming in a very new and devastating way.

One definition of "groom" is action intended "to prepare or train someone for a particular purpose or activity" (New Oxford American Dictionary).  We understand child grooming as that subtle, gradual but escalating process that a perpetrator uses to exploit a child for sexual purposes.  The process consists of identifiable steps or stages:

Stages of Grooming:
  1. Targeting and befriending the victim; sizing up vulnerabilities and areas to exploit.
  2. Gaining the victim's trust; collecting information about the victim.
  3. Filling a need the victim or her family may have; testing boundaries.
  4. Isolating the victim; lowering the victim's inhibitions.
  5. Sexualizing the relationship.
  6. Maintaining control over victim; includes making the victim feel responsible for the abuse as well as using threats and coercion to maintain the secrecy.
Recognizing that the subtle but powerful process of grooming leads to child sexual abuse, many states are beginning to enact legislation that makes grooming a felony.  Parents are warned to watch for individuals who are showing undue attention to their child, both inside and outside of their family and friend circles.

But the grooming process is not confined to child predators only.  Inmates target, befriend and test correctional officers and staff (termed "ducks" by the prison population). Downing a Duck describes the inmates' grooming process with correctional staff. 
And Dr. Phil describes the process in his Life Code book.  He identifies toxic people who are intent on exploiting us in romantic relationships, friendships and even in the workplace and houses of worship.  His list of the exploiter's playbook, called The Nefarious 15 is amazingly similar to the stages of grooming listed above.  Women who have been in violent romantic relationships may also recognize a pattern in the wooing process they experienced with their violent partner.

But as the former partner of a pedophile, I am realizing that my groom groomed me before I said "I do."  As I look at these lists and think back to the days just prior and just after we started dating, I see the pattern and it is startling.  Questions I am asking myself include:
  • What vulnerability did he see in me?
  • How did he use that vulnerability to gain my trust?
  • What information did he learn about me and then use to make himself more attractive to me?
  • What boundaries did he push?  
  • How did he test my willingness to tolerate boundary violation or rule-breaking?
  • What tools did he use to lower my inhibitions?
  • How was it that I bought into his "truth" and believed his lies?
And, the most important question:
  • How can I change, grow and heal so that my vulnerabilities are decreased? 
Socrates believed that "An unexamined life is not worth living."  His bold statement challenges the Pollyanna encouragement I have so often received in recent months--to forget the past and forge ahead.  But if I want to learn from the past, then I must examine it--I must boldly look at the choices and mistakes I have made, the times I have been targeted, deceived, manipulated and betrayed.  I must learn how to spot a groomer both for myself and for those I love.  Because one thing I have learned for sure and for certain:  grooming is not just for pets and children.  It happens to adults as well.  It happened to me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

When the police broke down my door, armed with a search warrant, I sat at my dining room table for hours. I sat and listened--in my nightgown and robe, with morning breath and bed head--as they lectured me on the fact that child pornography is not a victimless crime.  They were preaching to the choir but I didn't tell them that.  As an advocate for victims of abuse and exploitation, I had witnessed the lingering and overwhelming devastation of one single victimization on an adult woman; unfortunately few of the women I worked with had experienced just one single victimization.

In countless conversations when my ex tried to paint the pictures he loved as "artistic" or create a story about the "happy" children depicted, my pleas to see them as victims were ignored or discounted.  While he professed to love children in a healthy fashion, he could not or would not see that the images he enjoyed were taken on the worst day of that child's life--that they memorialized a horrendous action against the innocence and sanctity of another human being.  Of course, as I have since learned, the pictures he showed me were the G-rated ones; I had no idea how far he had progressed down the slippery slope of child pornography.

But as the former partner of a pedophile, I have felt my own share of grief and shame over the actions of my spouse.  I have grieved for the children impacted by his sin.  The detectives told me that they have been able to identify some of the child victims in the photos circulating on the web and each time an individual downloads their picture, the victim is notified.  This was horrifying to me to think of the thousands of times victims are once more reminded of the worst day of their life, knowing that yet another individual is gaining pleasure at their expense.

Recently I stumbled upon a blog that documents abuse and child sexual exploitation within religious organizations.  One post dealt with partners of pedophiles so needless to say, I was intrigued.  I have linked the particular post above so you can read the post and comments for yourself but one just took my breath away.  It was a response to a comment by a former partner of a man convicted of child pornography who was haunted by the images she happened to see in her ex-husband's collection.  The response was written by a child used in pornography:
Used by permission
Falene's grace, compassion and mercy amaze and inspire me.  Her words give me hope that maybe we can do something about the victims and co-victims of pedophiles and abusers.  If she can offer forgiveness as a victim, maybe there is hope--even and especially for women like Sarah and like me--the silent co-victims.  We hide, isolate and cower in fear because we know how much hatred there is for men like our spouses; we know that often we are judged guilty by association--by the public, those in law enforcement and often within the therapeutic and religious communities.  But Jesus said "A little child shall lead them," and though Falene is no longer a child, she is leading the way and I am eternally grateful for her example.

So Falene, I do not know you but I honor you.  Thank you for demonstrating grace and for offering the only thing that can possibly set dear Sarah free--forgiveness.  My hope is that you have found healing, that you are happy and that your days of victimization and exploitation are behind you.  Please know that there are many more Sarahs out there--women who grieve and lament over the actions of the men they fell in love with. Your powerful words are a balm to our wounded and fearful spirits--a promise that we can be free because of the power of your forgiveness.