She was a young college student. He was a lawyer who worked in the office of the state attorney general in Montgomery, Ala. They met at a college-related function and he immediately started showering her with attention.
Although she was very attractive, she wasn’t accustomed to this kind of attention from a man in the “adult world,” especially someone with his sort of position and power. She was flattered to have someone like that notice her and think she was worth taking seriously.
He asked her on a date and ended up taking her to his apartment. Very soon, he was trying to sexually force himself on her. It wasn’t just a request. He was physically trying to take her clothes off against her will. She realized that this important man was trying to rape her.
She was able to escape that night and find another way home.
Afterward, she felt shame and humiliation. She didn’t tell a soul, because it felt shameful that such a thing could happen to her and she couldn’t imagine trying to make someone believe her word against the word of such an “important man.”
Even when she finally told me the story several years later, she felt embarrassed, as though she was somehow the one who had done something wrong. I was the first person she had told. I don’t think she ever told anyone else.
Although she wasn’t raped that night, the incident left her with emotional scars and with a struggle over unexplained feelings of shame.
And what of the man? I don’t know where he is now, but at one point he had been appointed to a much higher political job in Alabama state government. He was powerful and well-known. He was frequently quoted respectfully in the media. Nobody knew what he had done that night — and I’ll always wonder how many other young women he tried to take advantage of.
Every time stories come out about “important people” being accused of sexual abuse or rape, I think of what happened that night to this woman I used to know. I’ve thought about it a lot this week as five women have come forward — so far — with stories about Roy Moore acting inappropriately toward them. (At least one of the stories is of attempted rape. Another is sexual abuse that would be considered attempted statutory rape of a 14-year-old. The others are just stories of a man in his 30s who used his power and position to flatter teen girls into possible sexual relationships.)
It sickens me that so many people — both men and women — are willing to pretend these charges can’t be true. Sex abuse by powerful people — almost always men, in my experience — is rampant, but most people prefer to remain in denial. In the case of Moore, they deny or ignore the abuse in order to protect political power. Many people would rather look the other way and deny these women could be telling the truth than risk having a U.S. Senate seat fall into the hands of a Democrat — just as Democrats used to defend Bill Clinton against many abuse charges because they wanted to protect him from Republican attacks.
One of the worst problems with our corrupt and immoral political system is that it leads people to support evil politicians. After doing this for awhile — and after hating “the other side” so much — it seems natural and pragmatic to ignore whatever evil you have to ignore in order to get the political result you want.
But this problem goes much deeper than Roy Moore and it’s deeper than any political position. This is something that goes to the ugly and unspoken core of something about humans.
We like power over other people — and almost everyone ends up abusing that power in order to get what he wants or to make himself feel important.
If you’re in denial that this is a serious problem or if you are among those defending Roy Moore this week, you need to bring this down to a very personal level — because that’s where this abuse happens. If you’re a man, ask yourself how you would feel if such abuse happened to someone you know and love.
How would you feel differently about this if you knew it had happened to your mother? To your wife? To your sister? Or to your daughter?
Tuesday night, my friend Isaac Pigott suggested an experiment for men who don’t yet have clarity about this problem. Here’s what Ike wrote to men:
Let’s say you got an assignment, to speak with women you know on a first-name basis. Ask them about the sexual assaults and harassment they’ve experienced. Continue until you find ten women.
They can forgo the details. That’s up to them. Just simply ask this:
• How long after it happened did you tell a friend?
• How long after it happened did you report it to an authority? (boss, cop, teacher)
I’ll wager you will find a broad disparity in those timeframes. (I know I did.)
I’ll also wager that if you tell me you can’t find ten, that you didn’t really try.
Finally, I’ll wager that if you did try it, that your heart would be broken and you’d shed real tears for their pain, anguish, embarrassment, and trauma.
The people who are yelling the loudest about political conspiracies have no idea how those words sound to the women who are still being made to feel ashamed and afraid. There are many more of them than you think.
We should all have our hearts broken by this epidemic of abuse and assault. This is not a political conspiracy. This is a wide-ranging problem that affects everyone. (And if you think it’s political, remember that powerful people of every political group are guilty of such abuse.)
I’m especially heartbroken this week that so many people who call themselves Christians are standing up for Roy Moore. For political purposes, these people are willing to overlook what Moore is. They’re willing to tell women that their abuse doesn’t matter. They’re willing to let the women in their lives know that they don’t care enough about women to stand against those who would put them at risk.
The people who are willing to do that — while pretending to stand for Christians values — have completely lost track of what is important and how to pursue truth, justice and love. If you want to fight your political battles — which I see as useless at best, but that’s a different issue — don’t do it at the cost of embracing evil of any kind. Fighting one evil by supporting another evil is vile and obscene.
Dr. Russell Moore (no relation to Roy Moore) is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s one of the Christians I’ve seen most vocal this week about the responsibility of Christians to stand up about this issue. He understands that this goes far deeper than a Senate seat or transient political power.
“A church that worships Jesus stands up for vulnerable women and girls,” Russell Moore said. “A church that worships power sees them as expendable.”
If the modern church is willing to excuse the abuse of women — and is willing to say to women that their abuse is worth overlooking in exchange for political power — the church has completely lost touch with the message and person of Jesus.
Abuse of personal power and position is rampant today. It’s obscene. Most of the abusers are powerful men. Most of the victims are powerless women. We have to let these women know they are not expendable pawns in a political power struggle.
Unless we are willing to stand up for the abused and powerless among us, we have no right to call ourselves followers of Jesus.