1. Sexual Abuse Is Insidious
The closest I ever came to sexual abuse with that youth pastor was at a leadership retreat. M and I were alone, praying together, after he’d asked all of us on the leadership team to pair off to share prayer requests. He and I found a private, closed room, sat on the floor close to each other, and shared our struggles with candor and intimacy.
He was in his thirties, I sixteen.
At one point, I wondered, Is he going to kiss me?
Ewww, I thought immediately. He’s your pastor.
At the time, I didn’t wonder why a thirty-something man would share his problems with a teenager. I didn’t notice that M gave all us girls backrubs and lingering hugs; allowed suggestive jokes in meetings, saying they were ‘edgy’; and regularly arranged intimate one-on-one time with girls more than a decade his junior. I didn’t know any of that was weird; I thought I was hormonal to notice it at all.
Later, when I learned J (who like me, had never been kissed before our youth pastor did so on a different leadership retreat) had been sexually abused, I didn’t think, that could have been me. Only with the eyes of an adult, better boundaries, and two decades of life under my belt did I recognize how often that pastor crossed a line with everyone, and that he very well could have targeted me.
Rather than a deeply shocking, obvious, violent event, the sexual abuse in my youth group happened slowly, under everyone’s radar, in ways that we could easily explain away. I wish I could point out a clear line where M’s closeness to me morphed into something darker. But I can’t.