This changed one hot summer day when I needed a ride home from Vacation Bible School. I was delighted when the preacher volunteered to drop me off. As we drove, I chatted incessantly, happy to have him all to myself without people trying to get his attention in the church parking lot. When we got to my house, I was shocked that he walked me inside my dark house, even more surprised when he lingered in conversation, and thunderstruck when he kissed me right on the lips.
At 12 years old, I swooned over my good luck. He picked me out of all the girls at church. But the relationship, especially after he moved on, reset my moral compass. If all the church conversation about morality and sexual purity was a lie, what else was fake? Now that the “family of God” felt incestuous, I rejected the church and myself. Didn’t I want the preacher’s attention? Didn’t I cause this? When I careened from faith, I made a series of poor romantic decisions that later almost cost me my life. Still, I couldn’t very well criticize the church because I was an utter emotional mess.
On Thursday, all this came back to me after I read one sentence in The Washington Post. The article was about allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually touched a teenager when he was in his 30s. A sentence from Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time, jumped out at me.
“I felt responsible,” she said. I swallowed back tears as I read the rest. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.” After her life spiraled “with drinking, drugs, boyfriends,” she attempted suicide two years later. In fact, she didn’t come forward earlier because she worried that her three divorces and poor financial history would make people doubt her story.
One thing that 2017 has given us is a clearer picture of who’s targeted for sexual abuse and what it does to victims. An anonymous man who alleged that Kevin Spacey attempted to rape him as a child also explained that he’d been the victim of an incestuous relationship with an adult cousin. Formerly aspiring actress Lucia Evans said her abuse by Harvey Weinstein caused eating problems. “I ruined several really good relationships because of this,” she said. “My schoolwork definitely suffered, and my roommates … thought I was going to kill myself.”
The evil of sexual predators is that they attack the weak, make them weaker, then discredit them because of their weakness. These arrogant monsters go on to bigger and better things, leaving a collection of wounded people in their wake. But these victims, one by one, are coming forward anyway — well aware that they’ll be mocked and disbelieved, well aware that some will scrutinize their lives more harshly than their predators’.
“I’m not an angel,” Corfman pointed out. Moore, on the other hand, repeatedly claimed to be God’s warrior. However, the scripture he really needed to read wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments he so desperately wanted to hang in the state courthouse. It was Luke 17:2, which warns, “it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
The great thing about 2017 is seeing these victims standing up straight, no longer stumbling. May we also see justice prevail for the predators, this side of heaven.
Nancy French is a four-time New York Times best-selling author who has written books with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson, television personality Sean Lowe and others.