Own It 

Letting Go of the Temptation to Dismiss, Blame and Minimize the Harm We Cause 
By: Cassi Cox

I will never forget the moment I truly came face to face with the impact of the worst decision that I ever made. 

It was YEARS after. More than a decade after I had selfishly acted out of my own trauma, chosen the defense mechanisms I had built out of a desperate attempt at self-preservation- THAT was when reality hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I hurt someone that I loved. 

I know that we throw around the phrase “I hurt you,” pretty easily these days. We use the wrong tone of voice, choose the wrong words, misspeak, miscommunicate and wholeheartedly admit, “I hurt you.” 

But I HURT someone. I hurt them in a way that changed them. I hurt them in a way that created defense mechanisms of their own; a catalyst, a ripple, a snowball. 

At the time I didn’t even say, “I’m sorry.” 

I made excuses. I justified myself. I had EVERY reason to make the decision that I made, after all. I was young. I was unsure. I was confused. I was scared. I was…..

I was focused on myself. 

And that is the whole damn truth. 

For YEARS, I made excuses. They were fine, it wasn’t that big of a deal. God removed them from my life for a reason. I was on a different path. This was “God’s will.” God knew what he was doing when “He made this happen for a reason.” 

“We all sin,” I said. “We all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” I chanted it to myself. I’m forgiven. Christ’s blood covers me. It. Is. Finished. 

How inexcusably selfish of me, to use God to justify my hurting of one of his children! To take the gift of Christ and use it to excuse the very thing he came to earth to eradicate. Jesus died to bring Heaven to Earth and here I was, using that very sacrifice to justify acting out of my own self-preservation. I used the selflessness of Christ to minimize my own selfishness. To allow myself the comfort of closing my eyes to the devastation I had left in my wake. 

More than a decade later I sat at a kitchen table listening to a recollection of years gone by. Conviction gripped my soul as I heard anecdotes that clearly traced back to my sin. My harm. They weren’t saying it. They weren’t blaming me, but I saw the thread woven throughout the stories of fear, pain and loss; the evidence of wall built and trust damaged, the remnants of my choices lingering. 

Forgiveness. It’s such a complicated concept. 

There is a song that I used to love. 

“I’m forgiven because you were forsaken. I’m accepted, you were condemned…” 

Now, I don’t love it so much. 

Why should I be accepted? I am the one that caused the harm. I need to own it, not pass the buck to Christ. 

To simply say that Jesus forgives, allowing that to cover our interpersonal sin is NOT to love our neighbor. We have to own it. The only real way to love our neighbor as ourself is to be willing to OWN our shit. 

To truly love our neighbors, we MUST be willing to look them in the eye and say, “What I did to you was not okay. There is no excuse, and it IS that big of a deal. I am sorry- with everything in me.” Then, expect nothing. You aren’t owed anything by those you have hurt. 

You aren’t owed forgiveness. 

You  aren’t owed a relationship. 

You aren’t owed a celebration of the good times and a minimizing of the bad. 

You did the thing. 

I did the thing. 

Own it. 

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

-CC

One of the best songs from my youth about refusing to accept responsibility

But What About Bathsheba?

by Deborah Schiefer

I recently wrote a blog for Christmas1 and in it, I referenced the women named in the lineage of the Messiah and their broken histories. When it came to Bathsheba, I debated whether or not to mention the idea that perhaps she wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in the relationship with King David, before the death of her husband. Ultimately, I opted to bring it up because it’s important, especially in a world where 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are the victim of attempted or completed rape in the United States alone.2

https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

I’m not sure about the corners of evangelical Christianity that others have been raised in but where I was raised, Bathsheba had always been painted as an active and enthusiastic participant in the affair initiated by David. More than that, most of teachings I’d received centered on the idea that Bathsheba went out of her way to seduce David and was accountable for his stumbling. Ah, good old purity culture! If you’re at all familiar with fundamental Christianity, you also probably understand that questioning this “reality” is a giant no-no. And so, like the good little girl I was, I swallowed that narrative until I left my conservative corner of the Midwest to join the military.

My faith has never been shaken but I did often find myself questioning these “truths” I’d been told. After the loss of my first three babies, I found myself scouring the Bible for women who also lost children, needing their hope. I found Bathsheba. As I read, my heart ached for this woman whose story I’d never truly known. I had always blamed her but as I studied her story for my own comfort, I found I believe the Bible makes it clear that she couldn’t say no.

After writing the Christmas blog, I really debated if this is a path I want to journey down publicly. I know how strongly we cling to the Biblical narratives we’ve been taught and I know how quickly we can open a controversial can of worms by going against the grain. But as a sexual assault survivor, I couldn’t not address it. Especially because I did choose to leave that possibility open-ended in the original blog for the sake of not losing the evangelical target base I was hoping to reach and convict. However, now?

Now, I’m not trying to reach an evangelical base and create change. Today, I’m purely here to stand arm in arm with a likely survivor of old, maybe bringing new light to her story, sharing reality with other survivors, and lending my strength to those living a modern-version of Bathsheba’s violation.

Last night, I poured over article after article and blog after blog from the most conservative sources, discussing David and Bathsheba. I found something that gave me a little more hope – that many conservative Christians today (compared to the conservative Church of 20 years ago) have no issue recognizing that it’s highly unlikely that Bathsheba chose to and wanted to participate in a sexual relationship with David. Much of that position comes from the same verses that keyed me into the reality of Bathsheba’s history:

  • 2 Samuel 11:4 mentions that she was in her period of monthly purification when David sent for her and slept with her. Sleeping with David would have broken the Law in more than one way and Bathsheba was clearly a Law-following woman
  • The assumption is always that Bathsheba was on her rooftop, bathing in clear sight and “being a tease.” This is because it’s mentioned that David was on his roof. The truth is Bathsheba’s location is undisclosed. Furthermore, in places where indoor plumbing is not a thing, outdoor bathing has always been fairly common. As recent as 12 years ago, when I lived in Hawaii, there were homes that lacked indoor showers. Those dwelling in those homes had outdoor showers where they bathed. If someone had lived at a geographically higher vantage point (as King David did in relation to Uriah and Bathsheba’s home), those with outdoor showers would need to trust those people to offer discretion and respect for privacy. Using their outdoor shower would not make them a tease. But I’ll get off my soapbox on this one, now
  • After returning home, she had no contact with David until sending a message to him to inform him she was pregnant (v. 5)
  • Bathsheba is never once mentioned scheming alongside David to cover her pregnancy
  • The Bible specifically states that the thing David did displeased the Lord (v. 27)
  • Chapter 12 opens with a message from God through the prophet, Nathan, in which Bathsheba is likened to a lamb, and not just any lamb. This particular lamb was so fond of and bonded to his master. This lamb was taken against its will and led to slaughter. Do we catch a parallel here?
  • The punishment given from Nathan was handed solely to David and solely mentioned David as the sinning party
  • A piece of this punishment included the fact that all things David had done in secret would be done through and in his household in broad daylight for all of Israel to see
  • In 2 Samuel 13, we find that David’s son, Amnon, brazenly and brutally raped his half-sister, Tamar, even sharing his plan with a friend. Tamar’s full-brother, Absalom, plotted against Amnon and later murdered him for the violation of his sister. The sin David committed in secret was carried out by his son, publicly
  • Coercion, power imbalances, and an inability to deny consent were not taken into account in the Law as documented in Deuteronomy 22:22-29. Essentially, because Bathsheba was not a virgin and because she was married, the definition for rape at the time the Bible was written would not have applied to her situation. Today, however, we legally recognize rape as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”3

Unfortunately, far too many conservative sources still describe Bathsheba as a temptress and continue the narrative that she intentionally seduced David. Even among the countless blogs and articles I read that acknowledged how grievously unlikely it is that Bathsheba truly consented and enthusiastically participated in a sexual relationship with David, the majority refuse to acknowledge that what David did would be considered rape or assault, today. The argument? That rape means physical force with the survivor physically fighting for their life and calling it anything else is redefining it. That’s not even remotely accurate. The quote shared in the last bullet point above proves that.

I’d say I have no words, but uh…. I think this blog is proof that I have plenty of words on the topic

In our modern world, if a person is incapable of saying no or fighting off an offender because of threat against themself or their family/friends, the assailant can still be charged with rape. As David was king, even if it wasn’t a spoken threat, Bathsheba would have faced a threat against herself and, as we saw in David’s response to her pregnancy, against her husband had she fought back or said no.

Do you see how different that lands when we recognize that David was king? That he held ultimate human power in this situation? Can we see how unfairly balanced Bathsheba’s plight stood when we strip away the names and use “the king” and the “citizen”?

In short, there was no way for Bathsheba to have been able to consent. The only answer available to her was to comply. The Bible doesn’t even state how she responded to David’s lusts, just that he succeeded in sleeping with her. And given the way Nathan paralleled Bathsheba in his narrative, the way the punishment for the sin was dictated, and the way Bathsheba was given back her honor in the lineage of the Messiah, there seems to be strong support for the stance that Bathsheba was not a truly willing participant in this affair.

As Christians, we often try to connect a biblical passage with an application for our own lives today. This one seems so clear and simple to me, but maybe not so to others. What I see…

We so easily place our own expectations onto survivors.

Yeah, just not buying it
  • Expectations for how they should have behaved before the assault
    • How could she bathe on the roof?! Surely, she was asking for it.
    • Did you know she cheated on her boyfriend? She was a flirt and a tease. She had it coming.
  • Expectations for how they should have handled the attack
    • She could have said no. The Bible never said she fought back.
    • Men love when a girl comes on to them. Plus, he orgasmed. It couldn’t have been rape.
  • Expectations for how they should have behaved after the assault
    • She just went back home and acted like nothing happened until she found out she was pregnant.
    • She went right back to work. If she had really been raped, she would have been too traumatized to function
  • Expectations for how the survivor tries to find accountability and safety
    • She didn’t even try to tell her husband. She was just going to let the king pretend the baby was Uriah’s.
    • He never reported or even sought medical help. Why wouldn’t you at least get an STD test?

And in doing so, in both cases in history and current events, we miss the opportunity to meet survivors where they are, to empathize with the struggles and battles they face, and to extend God’s love and be His hands and feet to a marginalized and battle-worn community.

Christians, we should be in the trenches with survivors. All of us should be in the trenches with survivors, not just those Believers who have walked a mile in those shoes or love someone who has, but every single one of us, as the Body of Christ. We need to be willing to step into the crossfire, to lift them up, to fight for them, until they’ve found their fight and gained their voice. Until every survivor is empowered to command their own army in their own battle, we, fellow Christians, should be battling for them.

We should be the consistent safe place.

So why not start with our own history? Bathsheba. See her. Feel her grief and her loss. Her body. Her husband. Her child. And see how God restored her. Named in the line of the Messiah. Chosen for His holy purpose. Redeemed in the most glorified way possible.

If part of what makes the Bible so relatable and believable is that God never hid the dirty laundry of those, like David, whom He chose to use for His glory, then why do we try to wash their laundry for Him?

Be the safe place.

Find your fight – D.S.

[1] https://cassicox.blog/2021/12/22/come-to-the-stable/
[2] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem
[3] https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape

Your Defenses don’t Define You

By Cassi Cox

I keep seeing these trends of millennials like me making tiktoks or writing letters to their younger selves. I see the appeal, but what is done is done, ya know? 

Instead, I thought I’d write for those coming after me. Those carrying the torch. The ones that I can already tell will make this world better. A more apt reflection of Jesus, a more loving, less self-centered place that truly embraces the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor as oneself. 

A few weeks ago, my sister made a TikTok. She was essentially dedicating the song “Surface Pressure” from Encanto to me. Some of the lyrics include:

 “Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa

Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh

Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt

And see if she can handle every family burden

Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks”

You see, we have quite the dysfunctional family system. It’s become a multi-generational cycle and at this point the number of child protection investigations that my family unit has experienced has reached multi-dozen numbers. Addiction, abuse and exploitation have devastated our family. I currently have custody of 4 children that are part of my family unit but not mine by birth in addition to the 4 children I have given birth to. We were approached by another case manager about taking 3 more, but the Department of Child and Family Services said “No, you can’t. You are beyond your limit.” 

There were…like…a lot of stocking for Christmas. Ours, plus our four, plus our baby girl we lost in a late missed miscarriage, plus our four bonus kids.

My husband agreed. 11 children would have been too many. We can’t care for any of them well if WE are overwhelmed and overrun. But you see, there are so many children in this family. They are bright, incredible children who didn’t sign up for this. They didn’t ask for addiction, abuse and neglect. They didn’t ask to be in the midst of domestic violence, to know how meth is consumed and to have a better understanding of sexual expression than is appropriate of for any pre-pubescent child. 

Despite the awful circumstances they have lived in the midst of, they shine. They have developed numerous defense mechanisms that have served them as they navigated all of this. 

It’s taken me a very long time to learn though, that the skills we develop to keep us safe and thriving in toxic and dysfunctional environments don’t help us so much once we escape. We learn to steal because our parents sell their food stamps for drug money and our siblings need to eat, but once we are older, stealing leads to broken relationships and jail time. We learn to lie because we are told we must protect our abusive adults at all times, but when we escape, lying only serves to break healthy relationships and enable those relationships that mimic the ones we grew up in. We dissociated to escape violence, sexual assault and abuse but once we escape dissociation can continue. When we keep dissociating, we don’t thrive in work, in school or in relationships because the second we experience any trigger we retreat. 

I have discovered that escape was the easy part. It was easy to get out, to walk away, to say “NO MORE!” What was hard- really hard- was unlearning every skill that I used to survive the ongoing, every day trauma of survival. This unlearning is an every day, uphill climb. 

Recognizing that I refuse to be vulnerable. 

Realizing how few people have ever seen me break. 

Grasping the depth of my difficulty trusting people

 Looking back at past romantic relationships and realizing that I thought love was the “good parts” of the toxic relationships that I witnessed growing up. Now I have come to understand that those relationships were never healthy. Those relationships were always toxic and mostly abusive, and I was just seeking to emulate the “love bombing” stage. I actively ran away from what was healthy and loving. It terrified me. 

Recognizing that I protect and fight for others to the detriment of myself. I have actively placed myself in the path of harm my entire life to try to protect others with no regard for myself. This is not sustainable. It is dangerous and harmful. When channeled and used appropriately, this drive can make me a very effective advocate. Without boundaries and awareness, it can make me a martyr. I am still working to recognize that I MATTER TOO. 

I am writing this now because I hope that our next generation finds it. I hope that other survivors see this. 

If you haven’t escaped yet, but you see yourself in some of these defense mechanisms, I see you. I see you doing things you don’t want others to know about because you have to survive…but look at you. YOU ARE SURVIVING. 

If you have escaped, and you still see these defense mechanisms in your life, congrats! I am so glad you got away from that abusive, toxic situation. It takes a long time to sort out how these things that helped you survive aren’t serving you well anymore. Keep going, and remember- you developed these things because you were surviving. That’s no reason to get lost in shame. There is no shame in survival. 

If you are like me and you have recognized how so much of who you are grew out of your responses to your toxic and dysfunctional environment, please don’t lose hope. WHO YOU ARE IS GOOD. You were created in the image of GOD, beloved and chosen, called by name. Work with your therapist, your counselor, your people. Take a step back and look at the skills you used and draw some boundaries around them- that is the process I am still involved in. Is it bad to be strong and to “never break?” well, maybe never. However, there is nothing wrong with being someone who can handle a crisis, who is strong and capable, and who is selective regarding those getting to see the vulnerability. Is it wrong to fight for others? Of course not! But don’t lose sight of yourself. Remember that you matter too. Take the time to look at the defense mechanisms that you have used and draw some boundaries. 

You, friend, are good. You are capable. You are stronger than you know. 

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

CC

You’ve got this. Find your Roar.

A Messy Masterpiece

By Deb Schiefer

The end of the year brings a cascade of memories for so many people. With the accessibility and connection social media provides, we often find ourselves digitally surrounded by a waterfall of snapshots from seemingly picture-perfect lives.  
 
For so many, that perfection passes by mostly unregistered as we celebrate the closing of a beautiful year. I’ll readily admit that most years, I’m that person. Most years, I love this season when friends and family share the highs and best memories. There’s warmth and togetherness. Most years, it feels like sharing the joy.  
 
Oh, but those other years. The desert years in the middle of lush rain forest. It’s been a hard year to feel the Christmas spirit, let alone prepare myself for what feels like an onslaught of everyone else’s perfection.  

 
This year, I’ve felt myself drowning. This year, I’ve found myself grasping at any lifeline far more often than I care to admit. I’ve survived so much in my life. I thought I’d healed so much. How can I be back here, again, after so long? 
 
I started to type it all out. Share it all. But here I am, just not ready to talk. I’m not there, yet. Trusting the world isn’t my strength. It never has been. I’ll share this corner, that bit, a scrap here, and a piece there, but to share it all? To share the rawest wounds? Trust can be so, so difficult.  
 
That isn’t the point, though.  
 
What I really want to say? We’re at the end of the year and so many of our friends and family will share their best moments. They’ll rehash the highest of highs to commemorate the most beautiful parts of 2021. We all want to end the year strong and well.  
 
But that isn’t always reality and I cannot be the only one staring down the highlight reels of the people I love while wondering when or if I’ll ever be able to share my highlights without struggling to remember if I even had enough of them to merit celebrating. 

At the end of a year of crisis, difficulties, trauma, and hurt, the last thing we need is to layer on shame and self-loathing because our year end doesn’t look like the snapshots our loved ones are sharing. What we do need is to remember that these snapshots being shared everywhere we turn are just that – snapshots.  
 
No one has lived a perfect year. Those posts filling each social media newsfeed are the shiniest, happiest, best moments each person lived in 2021. Maybe they’re sharing their best moments to hold dear their favorite memories. But maybe? Just maybe… Some of the people sharing are sharing from a place of desperation. Desperation to be like everyone else. Desperation to feel normal. Desperation to feel happy. Desperation to just feel.  
 
And for those of you who, like me, have given up trying to piece together a memory reel from the less-than-handful of highlights we’ve been given and are ready to just close the door on 2021, hesitant to hope for a better year in 2022? Friends, we’re normal, too. It is okay to not be okay.  
 
And eventually… Eventually, we’ll look back on this shattered year and remember that broken crayons still create beautiful works of art.  

We’ll easily remember that a lump of clay must be worked and smashed and worked and smashed before it can be molded into something unique.  
 
We’ll see the parallels between our own life and the piece of coal that’s been pressed on all sides into the strongest diamond.  
 
We’ll embrace the fire that purified our spirits like refined gold.   
 
Today… Today, we survive. Today, we keep breathing. Today, we find our way to continue and we cling to that hesitant hope that it will get better because it always does.  

Today, we don’t have to find the silver lining or bury ourselves in toxic positivity. Today, we close the door on a difficult year.  
 
And if we need to? We unplug from social media for a few days while the rest of the world gets the highlight reels out of their system, knowing we really aren’t alone. On the other side of this screen, there’s a woman just like you and her main focus is surviving.  
 
And that’s okay.  
 
We’re okay. 
 
Find your fight – DS

Come to the Stable

by Deborah Schiefer

It’s ironic to me that in the months leading up to the Church’s celebration of one of the greatest gifts known to all of mankind, I’ve been witness and victim to the bullying, harassment, and judgment from the very people who claim the name of the One who saved them out of their spiritual poverty and despair.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Youch. This isn’t the hopeful Advent blog I was looking forward to reading.”

If you are, you’re right, but you’re also wrong. Bear with me? Because there is hope. And there will be. But first, I’m asking you to reflect this Christmas season. It’s already a reflective season, yes? We look back to the birth of the Messiah. The One who came to Earth purely to live a spotless life and sacrifice Himself in the most brutal murder just to wash us like snow.

Wash us. While we were still His enemy, He died for us. Knowing that the majority would reject His offer and spurn His sacrifice, He went to the cross.

Okay, so technically, it started that day in the Garden of Eden, but I digress. Just follow me. Reflect with me but reflect within.

Because in His coming, there were five women mentioned in the genealogy given in the Gospel of Matthew. In a hugely patriarchal society, women were mentioned. If these last several months are any indicator, most of you would have called for the stoning of several of these women. Definitely Tamar. Quite possibly Rahab. Bathsheba, for sure. And almost undoubtedly… I think most of you would have called for the stoning of Mary.

There’s the woman who seduced her father-in-law. The one who was a prostitute. The one who was an adulterer… or so we assume if we were raised in the Church where we ignore the imbalance of power and the victimization through voyeurism (that’s a discussion for another day). The one who miraculously became pregnant and even her betrothed initially assumed an affair.

So many of you would definitely have called for their stoning.

Ironically… or maybe not… one of the key players in this event of tearing down one of our own on baseless accusations has a really great article linking each of these women to a specific theme in the story of redemption (https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/the-women-in-jesus-genealogy-an-advent-reflection). They somehow managed to connect God’s desire to use all of us despite ourselves here but entirely missed it in the life of one of their own who experienced God in a powerful way, was changed, and become a new creation.

Again, I’m sidetracking.

But also, I’m not. That’s the exact point I want to make. That’s the exact reflection I hope I inspire each of us to do within ourselves. Are we so willing to grant God’s goodness, forgiveness, and redemptive power to those in the Bible and deny His power in our modern evangelists? We accept that before Saul became Paul on the Road to Damascus, he was one of the most ruthless hunters of Christians. We accept that David was a murderer, Noah was a drunk, Moses had a massive temper, Abraham lacked faith, Tamar committed incest, Rahab sold her body, Bathsheba possibly had an affair (and if not, then David was also a rapist), Peter denied Christ, Thomas refused to believe He had risen… I could go on, but the point is that we accept these things and also accept that God used these very same people despite themselves. God redeemed them.

Yet, when faced with the marred past of one of our peers who has already been open about her repentance and redemption, we refuse to believe that God may have held the same transformative power in her life that He’s granted to so many before.

That He’s granted to you.

If we dig deep within ourselves, I think we’d find that the reason we refuse to give the same grace to our cohorts that we give to Biblical historical figures might be something sinister and sinful. It’s a means of self-elevation but it’s deceptive. In our attempt to elevate self by focusing on the sins of others, we not only spit on the Cross but we also lower ourselves to a position of pride, arrogance, and gossip.

And so I’m here, reflecting on self. Recognizing my own anger which, though righteous, most definitely borders and falls into sin a lot lately. Asking you to join me in self-reflection.

The Advent season is a time to honor God, honor His gift, and honor the Son with memories and traditions that point to Christ. Perhaps this year, we should learn a lesson from the pain experienced by so many of us who are in or have recently left the evangelical Pro-Life Movement. Perhaps this lesson might lead us to a new tradition.

While we reflect on all God accomplished between Bethlehem and Golgotha, might we reflect on what He’s done for each of us.

Lest we forget, none of us gained His grace & mercy by our own merit

While I was His enemy, He created an elaborate plan of redemption to save me.

While I was His enemy, He suffered and died for me.

While I was His enemy, He sought me, met me, and called me to be His own.

I am no longer stained. My past does not define me and it will not negate God’s ability to use my present or my future.

And in light of the knowledge that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to close the chasm between my wickedness and His holiness, I know He transforms the worst of these…

Because I am the worst of these.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing because not a single one of us is beyond His love, His forgiveness, His care, or His healing.

Find your fight – DS

Dear Friend… Love Your Survivor

By Deborah Schiefer

Dear friend,

I am a trauma survivor and I hate the word “triggered.” See, social media and politics have taken a word that’s very real to me and turned it into something that paints me into a tantrum-throwing child.

But, friend, triggers are real and sometimes those of us with trauma histories really experience them. Some of us like to call it being “activated”* because “triggered” has been used in a way that does so much damage to the PTSD and cPTSD communities that it invalidates our experiences.

Sometimes, I experience this activation. When I do, it’s like the world or circumstances around me threw me back into the immediate moments surrounding my trauma or the secondary trauma** that came from it. I can’t think clearly. I need to survive.

I might freeze. If I do, you’ll think you see a mess. A mental breakdown. I can’t act. I’m not an unstable person, I’m just paralyzed by fear of what consequences my actions will bring.

I might run. If I do, you might feel like I’m pushing you away. You might feel unappreciated or like I blame you. I’m not truly running from you, I’m just terrified of what I can’t anticipate.

I might fight. If I do, you might think I’m aggressive and unfairly angry. You might think I’m taking things too personally or that my response is unwarranted for the circumstances. I don’t truly want to hurt you, I’m just scared about being violated or attacked by an unknown predator.

Friend, I love you and appreciate our relationship, so much. Your support means the world to me. When I’m activated – when I’m re-experiencing my past trauma – it might scare you, too. It might make you feel so many things. But will you honor me by helping to fight for me?

These moments when I’m activated will always pass. They won’t ever last forever and as I learn how to navigate them with the loving help and support of friends and family, like you, these moments will become less intense. I’ll grow in my ability to trust the people around me, in my ability to recognize my emotions for what they are, and my ability to manage the onslaught of physical, mental, and emotional sensations that come with activation and flashbacks.

The way I respond when I’m activated will sometimes be unacceptable. There are times I might lash out. I promise I’m working on this. I didn’t choose this but now I have to live it. I’m working so hard to be aware so I don’t continue a cycle of bleeding on those who never cut me. Friend, I need your patience, so much. Once the moment of activation is over, if I’ve hurt you, will you tell me?

If I don’t apologize because I don’t realize what I’ve done, can we talk about it? I don’t always recognize when I’m activated. I don’t always piece together that what I feel in the moment is actually related to trauma I’ve lived in the past. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’ve behaved in a damaging or unacceptable way because I’m so activated and in so deep, my mind doesn’t connect what my body feels. While I can’t be responsible for the trauma others have inflicted on me, I can and must take charge of my healing. I want to become more self-aware. I want to heal. I don’t want my trauma to rule my life and relationships. Friend, I promise I won’t stop working on my healing, but sometimes, I might need guidance to see where I need to heal.

In that way, you can become a piece of my healing. Will you do that for me?

When I am activated, when I experience a flashback of any kind***, can you help ground me? Bring me back to the present. Help me see that the danger I anticipate is behind me or that the red flag my body is recognizing in the present is something I can navigate. I am safe. I am protected. I am loved.

Friend, will you support me, trauma, brokenness, and all? Will you stay with me? I promise I’m healing. This won’t be forever.

Love,
Your Survivor

* “Activated” is a term used by one of our team member’s therapists. I’m adopting it because I feel it honors us and our experiences better than the word “triggered” due to the social and political implications now given to that word.

** Secondary trauma can refer to the trauma that follows the precipitating event. For example, the primary trauma for a sexual assault survivor is the assault itself. Secondary trauma can include the process of reporting, being disbelieved, and/or any medical help that may be needed in the aftermath of the assault

*** Most people think of flashbacks as visual. The person experiencing the flashback is suddenly transported back to the time of the trauma and is seeing and experiencing it again. This is how they’re often portrayed on screen. However, flashbacks can include any situation that makes you feel like you’re in that place again. The person experiencing the flashback may not see their surroundings from the moment of their trauma but instead may experience intense smells, physical sensations, audio sensations, tastes, or emotions.

Inspired by a post written by Whitney Goldman, LMFT. You can follow Whitney on Instagram via the handle @sitwithwhit or on Facebook @sitwithwhitney

There is No Safety Without Accountability

A Call for More

By: Cassi Cox
Friends…Can we talk?

Maybe it’s just me, but I am going to venture a guess that it’s not. 

Watching the Josh Duggar saga continue to evolve over the last year has been incredibly difficult for me as someone who has experienced abuse within a closed system; A system that “handles everything internally,” assuming that those outside of it are villains, out to get us; A system that believes that those outside it can’t be trusted and would never understand “how we do things.”

What about you? 

Has this been as difficult for you as it has been for me? 

I lived this reality. It wasn’t an extreme religious  branch like the Duggars for me, it was a closed family system. I grew up in a family system affected by generational trauma, generational abuse, neglect and exploitation, wrought with fear of being “found out.” What would happen if the world knew about “us?” How would they judge us? Who would be punished?

Because of the generational nature of the behaviors, adults looked the other way. Cognitive dissonance is real and for us, created an environment where it was much easier to pretend that these awful things couldn’t be happening, couldn’t be as bad as we claimed they were, and were “being handled.” 

But they weren’t. We were scared. We were taught to believe that any outside supports were unsafe. The police were not to be trusted- they were out to get us and destroy our family. The Department of Child and Family Services certainly couldn’t be trusted. They were looking for a reason to “take us away,” and if they did then we’d never see our brothers and sisters again. Our teachers couldn’t be trusted either- they were in league with DCFS and the police. The only people we were taught to trust were our own. 

Watching what has happened with the Duggars has been so real for me. When the news of Josh’s actions toward his sisters/babysitter as a teenager came out, I wasn’t surprised. I have seen many theories regarding where Josh’s behavior came from, and while it is possible that Josh was molested himself, that isn’t what jumps out at me. Josh was a teenager in a closed system that taught him that his sexual urges were evil-that any thought, urge or physical response that indicated his sexuality was emerging was impure and sinful. This closed system also taught him that these thoughts, urges and physical responses were of equal sinfulness to any other sin- including acting upon them without the other party’s consent. Once Josh had experienced the naturally evolving sexual curiosity of puberty, he was already sexually impure by his system’s standards. He had no healthy outlets for his naturally emerging sexuality and he had no opportunity to discuss his emerging sexuality with anyone who wouldn’t shame him for its mere existence. He was on his own. 

Josh was never taught consent, because in this closed system there was no such thing as consent. You were to be asexual until you were married. Anything else was sinful. Then you were to marry and to engage in sex with your spouse upon demand. There was no such thing as consent because once married your body belonged to your spouse. As a man in this particular system, Josh would have been taught that once married his wife’s body was his to possess. 

And Josh played out that fantasy on female children without their consent. 

That abuse alone is horrific enough, but what came after makes it even worse. Because Josh never had to face real accountability. Yes- the Duggars attempted to “handle it,” but they did so within their closed system. They built their house in a way that forced the boys away from the girls and implemented a plethora of rules that in essence, blamed the victims. They made sure that the girls’ bodies were covered at all times, the girls were separated from the boys at all…vulnerable times, like night time, swimming, etc. They made rules like “boys can’t baby sit,” and “girls can’t sit on boys’ laps.” 

Their attempts to “handle it themselves” sent the clear message that boys cannot control their desire to possess and consume female bodies like objects and girls-no matter the age- are responsible for protecting them from acting on that desire. After Josh’s violations, every female in that house was treated like a temptress and every male was treated like a predator. 

And Josh? He was given a stern talking to by a police officer- one who was a part of the closed system and turned out to be a predator himself, and then Josh was sent “away” for awhile. 

Any of us watching that had experienced abuse in a closed system saw the enabling in this. We knew what was coming. We just sat here, watching from the sidelines waiting for the ball to drop. First the Ashley Madison scandal came, but we knew. We knew that it was much, much worse. Josh’s first sexual experiences were of violating the consent those not young enough to even know what sexuality was, and that behavior had never been directly addressed- just redirected at his wife. Sure enough, the most recent charges were brought, and a conviction regarding CSAM. 

Josh never faced accountability. Instead of holding him accountable, his closed system created rules and systems that policed the behavior of others within the community…particularly the potential victims. 

We still see this today. We see this in closed systems all over the place. I still see it in my family system, although I am doing my best to break open the closets and shovel out the skeletons. 

I imagine, though, that you might be tempted to think that you are safe from these experiences- safe from being a part of a system that looks the other way while someone is abusive and then skates past accountability for the sake of the community rather than the safety of the vulnerable. It’s a common phenomenon, believing “this will never happen to me.” If you are thinking that, let me give you a few more examples I have personally experienced or watched play out over the last few years. 

  • Hollywood, prior to the #metoo movement 
  • The Catholic church’s decision to move priests who were abusing children to new locations rather than addressing the pervasive issue of child sex abusive happening at the hands of Catholic priests. 
  • My recent experience in a small, rural church. After an interaction with the worship leader discussing what defines lust- and me arguing a position oppositional to theirs- They approached me alone in the church building, in front of my children to discuss “not having a threesome.” I had never propositioned them for sex of any kind, nor indicated a desire to engage in sexual activity with them. This would be considered sexual harassment in any other setting, and yet that individual is still on the stage as a worship leader. They have never even taken a break from that position despite church leadership being made fully aware of the situation. 
  • A good friend of mine was a part of a church that had the following policy. Men could not be alone in a room with women because they could either be tempted or she could accuse him of sexual misconduct. The policy existed specifically to protect men from accusations and from temptation. Implicit in this policy is the assumption that accusations are JUST accusations, and that false accusations of misconduct are so pervasive that a church needed a policy to protect men from women making them. *NOTE* This is not an uncommon policy in evangelical churches
See “My Love Louder Journey” for medical documentation regarding adhesion and mastectomy surgery. Abby is clearly threatening revenge porn.
  • Abby Johnson, who runs And Then There Were None and is a well known Pro-Life speaker bringing in millions of dollars for pro-life causes recently publicly attacked a rape survivor. She accused her of fabricating her entire story, stated she had evidence and then failed to produce any evidence. She has made all sorts of demands on the survivor that violate her confidentiality and safety, participated in gossip and slander and allowed videos of psychological breakdowns and attacks on the survivors minor children to thrive on her social media while deleting all comments supporting the survivor and correcting Abby’s misinformation. I wrote about this in my previous piece, My Love Louder Journey. She is still actively threatening to share nude photos of the rape survivor’s body after her partial mastectomy publicly. Abby has expressed concern about her sons being falsely accused of rape and referenced that part of the problem is that “women aren’t acting respectable.” Abby has a history of making racially charged comments, including “Ok K-pop,” stating that police should racially profile her son because he is black and called a black minister a “thug,”  a stain on the black community  as well as the name “Tyrone” (that is not his name) after getting into an online altercation with him regarding abortion. Her own testimony may or may not be stolen (see the book Redeemed by Grace by Ramona Travino) and her fame-making story begins as a disgruntled employee that may or may not be seeking revenge. In all of this, Abby ends her abuse by stating that she is going to pray for the people that she is abusing. 
“It goes both ways,” According to Abby, both men and women need to take responsibility for ensuring men don’t rape women.

The pro-life community has continued to look the other way as she has engaged in these behaviors. Even recently, when the rape survivor she attacked was one of their own, the movement made excuses for Abby, justified her behavior and hid behind the “the accusations must be true if Abby is saying it,” approach. Many pro-life platforms removed all content created by the survivor without discussing it with her and those who have not loudly supported Abby in the midst of all of it continue to platform her, have not removed her content and have openly expressed anxiety regarding no longer working with her.  Why? Money and the Movement. 

The system, the movement, the cause… all more valuable than the survivors and those who are vulnerable. 

These are not all that different from the Duggars. Predators being protected. The survivors and the vulnerable being trampled and cast aside in the name of preserving a closed system. 

Until predators are held accountable- truly accountable- there will be no safety in any system. The pro-life movement will not thrive. The name of Christ will taste sour in the mouths of those desperately in need of his touch. Churches will not feel safe and families will not produce children that value human dignity and thriving over reputation and image management. 

Yeah…I’ve had enough. Have you?

That status quo is not enough. 

The time is now. 

Today is the day. 

Use your voices, friends. 

Be Bold. Live out loud. 

Until Next Time,

CC

Your Journey is Real… And Uniquely Yours

by Deborah Schiefer

When my Mom was first diagnosed with early-onset dementia and I became a part-time caregiver for her, I thought I was alone. During my late childhood years, she became increasingly abusive toward me, peaking in my adolescence. The abuse became so severe, I ended up moving in with another family for my own safety and healing.

These were the first people who ever spoke the words, “you were abused” to me and validated my experience in my home and with my family.

Things between she and I did improve. She eventually sought counseling and healed to a point where she could understand the gravity of what she had done. She apologized and never laid a hand (fist or foot) on me again. But the emotional and verbal abuse never fully ended until after dementia took over her mind. It came in cycles between rage and depression with lulls of peace scattered throughout. If it’s not clear that my Mom suffered with mental illness, I’ll say it now.

When I stepped up to fill a gap in her care, I didn’t know there were others like me. No one talks about it. We choose a life that society uses to invalidate our trauma so most of us stay quiet and try to cope alone. But when faced with one of life’s curveballs, we’ve chosen to lay aside the bitterness, hurt, and anger that we rightfully feel for the wrong done to us. Instead, we pick up love, healing, grief… Which is not to say we don’t also feel the bitterness, hurt, and anger. We do. We’ve chosen to give our abuser the life, dignity, and respect they did not give us when we needed someone to care for us.

What I’ve learned? I’m far from alone. In the last year of this caregiver journey, I’ve met so many others like me.

“I know it seems backward, but she’s still my Mom.”
“I know everyone expects me to send him off to a home, but he’s the father of my children.”
“I have to give him what he never gave me. I can’t live with myself if I didn’t.”

For me, personally, caring for her is almost redeeming what she didn’t give me as a child. It’s knowing the abuse didn’t win. It’s embracing that there can be so much evil and hate in the world, but only I get to choose if that will change who I am.

Trauma and the reactions to it are not one size fits all. 

There are those who could never step into this role for their abuser. They deserve only love, respect, and support. There are those who freeze and those who run. In different areas of my life, I might be any of those personalities, too. Because trauma is conflicting and confusing. Because each human is as unique as their fingerprint. Experiences shape each of us and we shape them. Our minds are designed with a unique capacity. What breaks me may not break you and vice versa. Where I might fight back, you might retreat. Where I freeze, you might brawl.

The sooner we come to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma – whether it be a terminal diagnosis, witnessing a fatal crime, experiencing assault, living in a domestic violence situation – the sooner we’ll be able to become a safe place for all trauma survivors.

Your trauma response does not need to match mine or my expectations for your experience to be valid, for you to be believed, and for others to give you respect and treat you with dignity.

You do not get to invalidate another’s trauma because their reaction did not meet your expectation.

Survivors will survive by whatever means their unique mind and body need to use.

That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Find your fight.

My Love Louder Journey

Working with Jennifer Christie, the Pro Life Movement and Sexual Assault Survivors: A Testimony

Hi Friends, 

Wow. What a few weeks it has been.

I’d like to share my Love Louder story with all of you. 

I know that I don’t have much of a platform. I’ve never been in this to have a platform.  I have always been in this to walk alongside fellow survivors, reminding them that they aren’t alone and to encourage women and families to choose life for themselves and their children even when the odds seem stacked against them. I want to see women thrive and NOT put into positions where they truly believe that they NEED abortion in order to do so. 

That is what drew me to Jennifer Christie. (Brierly) 

Jen and I met when we were moderating another PL group together. We became fast friends and when I was in need of booking a speaker for my banquets as a PRC director, I was strongly considering Jennifer. You see, it is easy when you are trying to raise money for a PRC to bring in a “name” that people follow and utilize their platform to generate money for your nonprofit. We see it all the time- that is why speaker bureaus exist. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted the people who were interested in supporting our centers to understand that I wasn’t just here to satiate their political desires, to fuel their zealousness for a cause and to generate a politicized frenzy in order to generate finances from it. NO. My goal was to truly get people invested in the work of the PRC, which involved providing support and resources to women and families. It was about parents being confident that they COULD get through a pregnancy and they did not NEED abortion and the encouragement that they were capable, supported, competent and that hope existed. Jennifer’s story was so much of that- despite the horror that she’d endured, her testimony was one of hope, healing and restoration. She talked about how the ugliest and most desperate moments in our lives do not have to define us and that God can bring beauty from the rubble and the ashes. As I reflected on the women I encountered every day across three centers, I knew that this was the story our communities needed to hear. 

Jennifer was an incredible speaker for our events, despite the chaos of Covid-19 and all of the disruptions that came with it. Despite the gossip being circulated otherwise, Jennifer did not share graphic, horrific details of her assault story. She shared very little of the actual assault and the bulk of her testimony focused on healing and hope.

I joined the Love Louder team in the Spring of 2021, after a year of close friendship and year(s) of acquaintanceship. I initially came aboard to volunteer on the hotline- which I did. Two days a week. I also began to contribute content for our social media and donor base. We met our clients where they were and did not demand they follow a prescribed format in order to receive our services. We saw each client as an individual, assessed her situation and needs and moved forward from there. We matched clients with volunteers as best we could, and ultimately Jennifer ended up working with a significant number of clients who are deaf while myself and two other volunteers took the bulk of the rest of the clients. It is important to note here that we had another team member for a time- Pro-Love had two individuals on the LL board due to their affiliation. One, the ED of ProLove, was supposed to be helping the new startup set up for success. The other was specifically supposed to be serving in a volunteer capacity as treasurer and on the hotline. In my time with love louder I did not experience any team interactions with the ED of pro love and Love Louder that offered any element of support to Love Louder to set the organization up for success. In fact, when I joined the team there were numerous aspects of nonprofit operations that the Love Louder team was not aware of. The ED of prolove would obviously be aware of all things required for nonprofit success and was specifically on the board to help serve those purposes, but the only real guidance she had given the Love Louder board was to ensure that Love Louder had an identity apart from Jennifer- which we were pursuing in having multiple members of the team present on Social Media and in communications. Some of the most basic information had not been communicated to the team. 

While these pro love representatives were still on the team, I demonstrated to the chairman of the board (SF) how to create a budget, how to use google docs, google sheets and how to scan and track receipts. She had been in and out of the team since I had joined due to things going on in her personal life, which I will not disclose here because I highly value confidentiality, and the entire team- especially Jennifer- was trying to be supportive and extend grace to her as she navigated these difficult circumstances.  

When the pro love representative who was supposed to be serving as a treasurer was approached about her difficulty keeping up with her responsibilities, she agreed that she could not keep up and was in over her head. She willingly stepped down. From there, the Chairman of the Board stated that she was going to use the budget spreadsheet and reconcile the accounts. Over the course of months, that did not happen. I have seen the budget spreadsheet that she attempted to make and it is a jumbled, disorganized mess. 

During this time, Jennifer’s speakers bureau was approached by someone claiming to believe that Jennifer was untrustworthy and therefore must be lying. This woman claimed to have known Jennifer for “over 25 years.” In fact, this was someone that Jennifer knew 25 years AGO. There is a significant difference between knowing someone FOR 25 years and knowing someone 25 years ago. The difference is like my best friend- we’ve known each other FOR 15+ years and know the core of one another’s souls and my ex’s sister. We knew each other 15+ years AGO and I’m sure she would tell dramatically different stories about my trustworthiness than my bestie would. We began, as a team, to discuss how best to handle these allegations. 

Jennifer’s previous boss posting to social media that someone claiming to have known Jen for decades claims she is mentally ill, etc. Jen has no current relationship with this individual.

Jennifer’s speakers bureau spoke directly to me. Jennifer’s representative stated that on the 10th there was no snow, but she did not want me to tell Jennifer that “because then she will change her story.” She then told me that there WAS snow on the 28th, not the 10th, but she didn’t want Jennifer to have those dates. She repeatedly reiterated her desire that Jennifer not know about the weather reports, lest she “change her story.” She also said that she had spent hours reading Jennifer’s blogs and testimonies all over the internet and her actual story had remained consistent for years, but this “didn’t add up.” She lamented the history of speakers within her bureau lying and exaggerating their stories in order to get more attention and told me of times they have had to cancel speakers or ask them to edit their testimonies in order to stay on the speaking circuit. At least one of those speakers is still working with that bureau. 

This was my first big red flag. This Christ-centered speaker’s bureau had made up their minds that she was lying simply due to a 2 week date discrepancy and a weather report. This indicated a significant lack of understanding of trauma from the very beginning of all of this. 

It is well known to anyone who has any background in trauma- or even a basic understanding of trauma (which anyone representing speakers who talk about abortion, rape, surviving abortion, surviving abuse, etc. SHOULD understand) that memory in survivors is fragmented. The memory of a survivor encodes whatever had the individual’s attention at the time. Obviously, for someone experiencing a rape that led to the creation of a child as well as a plethora of medical conditions the attention would not be focused on creating a linear calendar of events. The attention would be focused on sensations- experiences like wind, for example. Or snow. The feeling of a big coat wrapped around her, fumbling with her bags, the confusion about his face- how he looked so innocent. Fear affects the way that time sequencing is encoded into the brain. This is why, when we experience traumatic events, it feels like time slows down or speeds up. It feels like 2 weeks last a month, 2 hours of waiting for test results feel like a day and why a survivor may genuinely believe that she spent months locked up in a dark room when it was really only a week. Time doesn’t make sense when the brain is working through fear- and this affects not just short term memory, but also long term memory. 

That’s why I was not surprised at all by my call with Jen after I spoke with her speaker’s bureau. Her response was EXACTLY what one would expect of someone whose memory had been affected by trauma. She didn’t immediately go into problem solving mode. She didn’t start trying to “find a way out of the lie.” No. She began to psychologically tailspin. I’ll never forget that phone call. It is seared into my memory forever. 

“What do you mean there was no snow?” She asked.

“It didn’t snow on January 10th,” I said. 

“Yes it did snow. There was snow. If I remember anything, I remember the snow,” She replied. 

“The weather reports confirm there was no snow on the 10th, babe.” I told her. 

“There was snow though. I know there was snow. I KNOW there was snow. Call the weatherman. Tell him he’s a fucking liar, because I know it was snowing. Cass. It was snowing. Don’t tell me it wasn’t snowing. Please, Cass,” and she began to cry. 

“I know I remember the snow. It’s the clearest part. I know there was snow. Nooooo.” She began to sob.

I cannot write this without crying. 

Jen,” I said. “I believe you. You remember the snow and that is important. Our brains are funny things and they do all sorts of confusing stuff in the moment during trauma. We just have to figure this out, because we need to decide how to handle *NAME REDACTED*” 

“But it was snowing, Cass,” she sobbed 

“I know,” I whispered. 

“I can’t do this. I can’t go back there. I can’t… It was so cold. It was snowing.” 

I know, love. We’ll get through this. Okay? Talk to Jeff.” 

She did not immediately backtrack. She immediately spiraled. She did not immediately try to “preserve her story by changing details.” She got stuck in the sensations of those awful moments- something completely reasonable and expected if someone was, in fact, assaulted. It was not until later, when the team began to put together pieces of what happened, that the date of the 28th came up. I didn’t initially bring it up, either. I didn’t tell her to “change the date to the 28th to coincide with the snowstorm.” That date came up a few days later, after Jennifer recovered and was in a psychological place where she could begin to look at some of the information from that time in her life. 

We assembled as a team to figure out how to proceed. The speaker’s bureau was asking for Jennifer’s police report and medical records and the entire team was uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. We discussed the reality that most survivors of sexual trauma don’t have reports and Love Louder existed to support all survivors as well as bringing to light the difficult realities surrounding surviving assault. There were also very personal reasons why we did not believe this was wise- namely that just going back to the details of that time was extremely traumatic. Police Reports and Medical documents from rape intakes are extremely detailed and invasive- I know- I have been in the room when a rape kit was performed. These reports would outline- in a very detailed way- exactly what had been done to Jennifer’s body. Every scratch, every bruise would be described and likely photographed. That would also include descriptions and photos of her breasts, anus, vulva and even the parts of her vagina that are able to be seen via speculum exam. At least, this is what I experienced when I was a part of a rape kit examination here in IL. This is NOT information that ANYONE is entitled to. Providing this information to anyone- even her closest inner circle- would have been yet another violation of Jennifer’s privacy and her body. There is a reason that this information is considered closed and confidential and at Love Louder it was very important to us to prioritize the confidentiality of survivors- to communicate and set the example that survivors are not- should not- be expected to allow their bodies to be violated yet again in order to be believed. There was only one member of the team who expressed hesitation regarding this approach, and she still ultimately agreed that this was the best approach. This member of the team was also the least active, the most uninformed and untrained regarding trauma and the most inexperienced when it came to sexual assault and trauma. 

While we were in the middle of a Zoom meeting discussing this exact thing, Abby Johnson showed up. She popped in, interrupted everyone else and declared that she can shut this down quickly. She reminded us that she IS ABBY JOHNSON and all she needed to do was call the pregnancy resource center that the accuser volunteered for and served on the board for. She stated that she’d just go to them, tell them she had all of Jennifer’s reports and tell them they’d better rein her in or else she’d be speaking out publicly against the PRC. Please note that Abby did not have any reports. She was just going to threaten them and use public defamation as her weapon of choice in order to demand her way. She encouraged Jennifer to do nothing and let her handle it by throwing her name around, due to our affiliation with Pro Love. 

This made the call that they were un-affilating with Love Louder even more shocking. Jennifer believed that Abby was going to fight for her- that they were friends and she was supporting her. In private conversations Abby had begun to pressure Jennifer to go ahead and just release the reports. She was saying that she wished she had a police report or records to “prove” her story is true. She pushed and pressured Jennifer repeatedly to make the reports public- to send them not only to the organization that was accusing her of lying, but also to her accuser. 

Please note that Abby’s testimony has been under scrutiny for years. It is well documented that she was a disgruntled employee immediately prior to becoming a pro-life advocate and speaking out against planned parenthood. There is no evidence of the ultrasound guided abortion that is the crux of her testimony. She can prove nothing except that she once worked for planned parenthood and quit in the midst of disciplinary action. Yet the organizations and folks coming after Jennifer with pitchforks? None of them are demanding that Abby “prove” that her story is truthful or she be excommunicated, have all of her materials pulled and have her children publicly ridiculed. Why? Could it be because Abby gets paid approximately $20,000 per speaking engagement because she generates a significant amount of money for the events she speaks at? In fact, if you google “Ambassador Speakers Bureau,” Abby’s name pops up immediately. The reviews on Ambassador state, “This banquet was the largest attended and that reflected in giving…” 

Abby proving herself would not involve re-traumatizing her, making her relive the greatest violation of her body. It would not put countless other rape and SA survivors into a tailspin, believing that their stories cannot be shared and are not safe because they do not have reports to back them up. No, Abby’s “proof” would not violate confidentiality or harm countless other survivors but it isn’t demanded because ABBY brings in the money. While she is busy accusing Jennifer of fraud, she is raking in tens of thousands of dollars for organizations based on a testimony that she, herself, has never “proven.” She brings in more money in one event based on her unproven testimony than Love Louder brought in during its entire existence. Literally. 

I am so grateful now that we not only did not obtain Jennifer’s reports, but they were never shared in the Love Louder team discussions. It hurts my heart to see how much confidentiality has been abused in the last few months. It is devastating and truly demonstrates a deviation for God’s heart for his people. I don’t know when Abby began to communicate with others about Jen, spreading gossipy speculation. I do know that is what is happening. Had we obtained these extremely sensitive documents, there is no way to know that their confidentiality would have been preserved. There are members of the previous board that are actively breaching confidentiality, sharing voice and text messages that have all context removed from within those discussions. They are also sharing private information publicly about Jennifer’s medical conditions, her family life and her assault experiences- her memory, her mental health, etc. Her previous boss- who is an attorney- is sharing video of her prior to a suicide attempt in a very clear cry for help. All of this is in an effort to not only try to discredit Jennifer (as if proving that a survivor of significant trauma has mental health difficulties somehow proves she is lying about the assault) but also in an effort to harm her close relationships. Audio and text clips are being sent to people to try to alienate Jennifer’s relationships- audio and text clips that Jennifer believed she was sharing in a closed, confidential space. 

Please note that venting can be healthy, when done appropriately in a space that is confidential, full of empathy and safety. Many of the texts and voice clips being sent around to people in an effort to undermine her relationships were shared in a space comparable to that of a Bible Study group or a Recovery group. She believed that she was in a safe, confidential space where she could process what she was experiencing and thinking regarding a variety of things happening- including her relationships. These previous board members are taking these confidential messages outside of the original context and sharing them. Not only is this inappropriate and violating to Jennifer, it also needlessly harms others for the sake of furthering a slander campaign. They have shared her medical conditions, her children’s medical conditions, gossip and slander about her marriage and now her actual license plates. 

When Jen refused to do as Abby said and make her confidential legal and medical information public, all hell broke loose. First, Pro Love cut their affiliation with Love Louder. The entire board was in an uproar over it because just weeks prior Abby had been saying she was going to leverage her clout to lie about having Jennifer’s records to protect her. Both Ambassador Speaker’s Bureau and Focus on the Family spoke of someone “well respected within the movement” who was questioning the veracity of Jennifer’s story and making accusations. Could this “well respected person within the movement” be the same one generating thousands of dollars in revenue FOR the movement? The one Jennifer said “No,” to and held her boundary? 

Focus on the Family did ask for a packet for verification. One of their representatives was aware that we had made a decision that her police report and hospital record from the day of her assault would not be included. We have correspondence from their representative stating that this should be adequate for them. They only changed their minds AFTER speaking with this “well respected member of the pro-life community.” The information that we included in this packet is the type of information that one would present to a court of law. Since then, the medical professionals who included information in this packet have been harassed by those involved in the smear campaign. Jennifer even asked if this (the book deal) would change if the police report was sent with significant redaction OR a police report number was sent. She was not sure she’d want to do that, but she wanted to know. When this happened, they began to reference a deadline that had never existed. When all of this happened, we discussed it as a team and Jennifer decided not to fight for the book deal. She knew that with the previous documentation, the lack of an actual deadline given etc. that she probably could fight, but she decided she didn’t WANT to publish with them. She concluded that this platform was not the ideal platform to use when discussing trauma and rape if this was how these conversations were going to be handled. We, as her team, supported this decision.

Email from Jen’s book rep. referencing that Focus was not going to accept a police report now due to a deadline that the board knew nothing about.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding a “falsified ultrasound.” This is because there is an ultrasound where a date in one spot was changed from 2/15 to 2/25. I don’t know, nor care how or why this was changed because the ultrasound clearly shows what Jennifer’s testimony has stated all along- a tiny little pea- most likely a gestational sac. The top right corner shows the ultrasound date as 2/15. The ultrasound was done on February 15- the day after valentine’s day-Consistent with her story of discovering that she was pregnant ON Valentine’s day. The pregnancy also shows to be approximately 5 weeks and 3 days along, per the ultrasound. The due date in the upper right hand corner states that the due date was 10/15/2014. These dates are clearly unaltered. Using a basic pregnancy and conception calculator, one can conclude that the possible dates of sexual intercourse (in this case, assault)  that led to pregnancy are January 14-January 29th. These dates are consistent with the snow storm that struck in Wilmington. It is completely reasonable that there are not a bunch of news reports, etc. In fact, sexual assault and rape survivors rarely get news coverage. 

This is an image of me logged into Jennifer’s medical portal. I have blacked out all of her confidential information but you can clearly see her name and her face. In her records I can see her assault, PTSD, numerous bowel surgeries and breast issues as well as medications and diagnoses consistent with seizure disorders- consistent with the medical history she has shared publicly.
While I am not going to share Jennifer’s entire medical history here in order to preserve some confidentiality, this piece of her medical history is very important to share. In her surgical history there is a note that a subdural hematoma was evacuated on 1/28/2014. This is consistent with Jennifer’s testimony that she experienced a brain bleed as a result of head trauma from her sexual assault on the night of the big snowstorm in Wilmington- 1/28/2014. You can also see numerous ongoing bowel issues in this image.

There are numerous accusations surrounding fraud. I have gone through the Love Louder bank account as well as Jennifer’s personal paypal account. There is no record of Jennifer scamming her nonprofit out of thousands of dollars. The love louder account shows what you would expect from a nonprofit startup. Costs for office expenses, travel expenses, marketing expenses. Jennifer’s personal Paypal shows numerous outgoing payments directly to survivors of sexual assault as well as outgoing payments that were used to finish off registries and pay for supplies for survivors. Note that these were NOT Love Louder funds. They were not donated to Love Louder. These were registries, financial assistance, etc. that Jennifer did on her own, through her public figure page for survivors in addition to the work she was doing through Love Louder. Some of these transfers go directly to the survivors’ Paypal accounts, others go directly to amazon, where the registries were being fulfilled. It is clear that Jennifer is not “getting rich” off of her story or off of donations from people who also want to support survivors. Instead, she is investing into survivors. She was using her voice and her story to impact other people who were hurting and struggling. Comments from survivors that Jennifer and Love Louder supported have been deleted from the platforms. This cultivates a narrative that everyone believes these allegations and that there is no defense to be had on Jennifer’s behalf. That is false. 

Since this all began, the accusations and gossip have snowballed. This tends to happen when we are dealing in gossip. Jennifer has been accused of faking her post-assault injuries and using them to profit. Comments from people who have seen her have seizures have been deleted. Comments from those who knew her immediately after the assault have also been deleted. Other board members and I have seen portal reports detailing her medical chart. I have seen the charges regarding her surgeries in the last year. There are accusations that she couldn’t have had a partial mastectomy because the charges in her bank account reflect that she saw a surgeon who does cosmetic procedures. This is absurd and a cursory amount of research regarding mastectomy treatment will show the need for cosmetic treatment as well. This is not a “boob job” and calling it one is a slap in the face to every person who has experienced treatment for breast lumps. 

Jeff’s ownership of the car in the car accident. From Geico claim.
Car Accident Initial Report
Police Details from Car Accident

The story continues to evolve, because apparently people are desperate to live inside of a Lifetime movie. Now it includes rumors that Jeff, Jennifer’s husband is abusive, Jennifer is having an affair, Jennifer is making up car accidents, and apparently is such an expert at faking injury makeup that I didn’t realize that her injuries were not real when my face was literally pressed against hers taking photos at the Pro-Life Women’s Conference. That since she had seizures when she was younger and battling an eating disorder, she must not have experienced a TBI after the assault. She must have been faking ALL of it. 

Me (Cassi) and Jennifer. I’m just a few inches away from the injuries that are being claimed to be falsified with expert injury makeup. Think I would have noticed?

It’s absurd. 

The board members who exited Love Louder have their own stuff going on that played a factor in their decisions regarding all of this. Unlike them, I am going to choose not to air the personal information that they discussed and shared in our Love Louder team discussions publicly. Their decisions have probably been the most devastating of all for me in all of this because Jennifer was not the only one who trusted them with the deepest parts of her self. I did too. I believe that these individuals were overwhelmed with the disorganization of the finances (left a mess by none other than Abby’s own staff member, unsupported by Abby’s own executive director) and then were thrown off by the ultrasound. Because they were already vulnerable due to confidential factors I will not discuss, this sent them into a tailspin and these vulnerabilities were exploited. They didn’t wait to have any discussions or to try to navigate through it. They jumped at the worst-case-scenario…betrayal. From there? Confirmation bias is a real thing. And in this case it has led to gossip and slander that is so extensive it is now involving minor children and explicit photos. 

I have my personal views on what happened that led to Abby’s decisions regarding Love Louder. None of these are fact, all of it is speculation and I will not try to present it as anything other than that. However, here is what I experienced: 

  • Love Louder created a platform that was reaching and interacting with survivors regularly. While Abby has quite a reach with donors, she does not have a significant reach with actual clients and relies on referrals from supporters to generate her clientele. 
  • Love Louder began to speak about things that did not align with Abby, and because of that, ProLove’s point of view. We spoke at length about believing survivors, supporting women, victim blaming, the dangers of purity culture and how that impacted sexual assault in faith based spaces, sexuality and sexual behaviors in survivors and appropriate responses to these behaviors that are not rooted in shame, etc. My own content on Love Louder’s platform included writing about the dangers of closed systems, the reality that sexual assault and rape do not look the way people who haven’t experienced it expect it to and a focus on helping survivors find hope rather than forcing survivors into behavior modificiation style approaches. 
  • Love Louder truly focused on empowering women and survivors. While Abby and ProLove claim to be pro-woman, a cursory glance over Abby’s own social media demonstrates a lack of respect for women as autonomous beings as well as a lack of understanding and acceptance of groups that have been “othered.” Love Louder embraced those who were on the margins. We worked graciously and empathically with women and survivors whose experiences are the very things Abby spent much of her time trying to refute even exist. Oppression. Marginalization. These are not experiences that Abby and ProLove set out to help people navigate, they are experiences that they denounce the existence of. It is my belief that Abby did not want to continue to be aligned with an organization that spoke hope and encouragement into those spaces rather than jumping on board her beliefs. She was already growing concerned about our deviation from her platform, as well as our rising interactions with prospective clients as opposed to just other pro-life personalities when all of this kicked off. 
  • Jennifer not taking Abby’s suggestion to make the police and medical reports public enraged Abby. She wanted to control Jennifer’s narrative and when Jennifer placed boundaries around what Abby could and could not dictate, Abby couldn’t tolerate it. This is consistent with Abby’s long history of public defamation when she doesn’t get her way, her weaponization of her followers and most notably, her response to Planned Parenthood. Her carefully cultivated comments section further confirms that Abby is not interested in the truth, she is interested in a narrative. 
  • Jennifer continued to not release the police report, so Abby continues to try to create situations that will force her hand. First by using her name to get organizations to try to force her to do so. Jennifer held her boundary. Then, when none of that worked and Jennifer agreed to leave the movement entirely, Abby lost all power over her. Jennifer’s page and Love Louder’s page had been down for quite awhile before Abby made her public post and Love Louder had already begun to dissolve. By creating a public scene, she hoped to force Jennifer’s hand. When that didn’t work she continued to spread what is CLEARLY libel in an effort to rope Jennifer into suing her. If she were to end up suing Abby, Abby’s lawyer’s could demand just about anything for discovery- including the police reports and medical records. There have been numerous claims that all of these investigations are happening- the FBI, the state, the fed, etc. Nobody on our team has been contacted regarding anything. IF there was an investigation and any wrongdoing was determined to have occurred then any board members that were on the board at the time of the wrongdoing could be on the line- including Abby’s own Executive Director and staff member who was supposed to be functioning as the Love Louder treasurer when all of this alleged fraud was happening. I do not believe Abby’s intention is to “bring the truth to light.” I believe it is to try to force Jennifer’s hand, to violate her consent and to force her to lose her ability to say “No.” To put her in an impossible situation where Jennifer believes she has no other choice but to give her most vulnerable information over to someone who is actively hurting her.
    • That, my friends, is abuse. 

References: 

https://time.com/3625414/rape-trauma-brain-memory/

​​https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/fact-fiction-pro-life-celebrity-abby-johnson-unplanned/

https://www.salon.com/2009/11/03/planned_parenthood_2/

https://www.sagu.edu/thoughthub/the-psychology-of-venting

Pregnancy Calculator 

https://www.healthline.com/health/mastectomy-reconstruction

Your Perfectly Imperfect Memory

A Guest Post By Deborah Schiefer

BS, Psychology, Focus on Crisis and Trauma Response Counseling

Did you have birthday parties as a kid? They’re fun, right? Where was your 10th party? What time of day was it? What was the weather like? Can you tell me everyone who was invited? I need a list of all the gifts you were given. What was the flavor of cake and what did it look like?

Wait… you can’t tell me all of that? Perhaps you never really had that party after all. How could you not remember every person in attendance, what the weather was like, and all of the gifts you were given? That was a good day! Your memory should have been working perfectly to capture everything!

Have you had a child? What time did you go into labor? What time did you leave for the hospital? What were your nurses names in L&D and then later in the maternal fetal ward? What color hair did each of them have? What was the weather like that day? What was your baby’s initial APGAR score? What color was your hospital gown? Don’t look at pictures to figure this out! Just use your memory. That was the happiest day, how could you forget anything?

You may remember the day, possibly even the time that labor began, but I’m guessing you don’t remember all of those details. But your child is proof it happened. You didn’t steal your baby… But that was such a monumental day!

The truth is, memory isn’t perfect. Not on the best days of our lives. Not on days when our bodies experience physical trauma, like the birth of a baby. Most definitely not during an unwanted, unsolicited, traumatic event.

We look to trauma survivors to remember every fine detail, in perfect sequence with absolute certainty, and without any mistake to corroborate their history, but we don’t hold ourselves accountable by the same standards to remember everyday events in our lives. And the truth is, when trauma occurs, our brain splits functioning. The logic of your left brain is overridden by the need for survival in the amygdala and hippocampus, resulting in fight or flight. Chunks of memories may be entirely lost. When facing immediate or chronic danger, your brain doesn’t need logic and rationality to survive. You need to jump. Run. Fight. Retreat. Freeze. You need immediate action and your brain is designed to allow that to happen by overriding the logic and language of left hemisphere function in favor of the imagery, impulsivity, and emotion of right hemisphere function.

And you lose logic, linear, language, and perfection with it because the hippocampus and amygdala – the right brain and the Central Nervous System response – do not function in logic, linear, language, and perfection.

Much like the memories of your 10th birthday or the day you had your firstborn child, a survivor might remember snapshots. The weeks following may not be perfectly linear. Unfortunately, the weeks prior may not be remembered with perfect accuracy either.

But is that truly unfortunate? I’d argue not.

Because this person lived to become a survivor. He or she is still fighting with whatever they have left after trauma. His or her brain has done precisely what it was designed to do to make it through this event and the aftermath.

I can’t truly call that unfortunate.

It’s strength.

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/p4.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/expert-answers/trauma-memory/faq-20448198