By Rachel Blevins – November 27, 2017
While the Catholic church is no stranger to sexual abuse scandals, victims from other religious communities have recently taken to social media with the hashtag #ChurchToo, to call out the predators who were disguised as trustworthy Christian leaders.
As Twitter user Elizabeth Halford noted, after the hashtag “MeToo” went viral, several of the nearly 2 million users from around 85 countries who shared their stories, were sharing account of sexual abuse that occurred at the hands of religious leaders.
“Following the #ChurchToo hash with interest. Many #MeToo stories at the hands of the church,” Halford wrote. “And me? I was made to sign a purity contract at age 11. And witnessed a man confess from the pulpit having sex w/a child. Praised for his bravery. No further action.”
Another Twitter user, Rosemary Johnson, shared a similar story. She claimed that she had witnessed multiple men publicly admit to sexual harassment and assault, and instead of facing consequences, or being reported to the police, they were “praised for their bravery & honesty.”
“I CANNOT COUNT the number of times I’ve heard guys in church PUBLICLY admit to molestation, harassment, assault, etc, only to be praised for their bravery & honesty,” Johnson wrote. “No consequences. The church’s legacy of protecting abusers is sickening. #churchtoo”
While the idea that a man can confess to and repent of his sins is one that has been present in religion for centuries, several of the women who were using the “ChurchToo” hashtag, noted that by putting the men in an environment where they were praised for confessing their sins, many of them went on to do the same thing again and again—partially because they faced no negative consequences for their actions, and partially because they knew that every time they confessed to a new set of sins in church, they would be praised for their “bravery and honesty.”
Twitter user Robin Anderson said she was sexually abused by a pastor when she was 7 years old, and because—even after it was reported—the pastor faced no consequences, he continued to abuse young children.
“I was sexually abused by a pastor. When reported, the social worker chose to protect the minister instead of my 7yo body,”Anderson wrote. “Because of that, the abuse continued for years. Kids deserve better. #churchtoo”
In some cases, the abuse went unreported for years, but in many cases, the individuals sharing their stories with the “ChurchToo” hashtag noted that when they attempted to report the abuse they endured to family members and church leaders, they were told to stay silent. In some cases, they were even blamed for the actions of their abusers.
Twitter user Darlene Darrow claimed that she was raped by a member of the church when she was 9 years old. In response, she said that both her parents and her pastor made her “forgive” and even hug the man whose abuse would stay with her for years to come.
“I was raped when I was 9 by a member of my church,” Darrow wrote. “The pastor, and my parents, told me I needed to forgive him, as that is what Jesus would do. They made me hug my rapist and tell him I forgave him. #churchtoo”
Some women also claimed that they were told to “repent for their roles,” as if there was something they could have done differently to prevent being preyed upon and sexually abused. Twitter user Shannon Dingle claimed she was encouraged to “repent” in order to feel “pure” once again after she told a youth group volunteer that she had been raped.
“At a friend’s youth group, in response to a talk on purity and modesty, l went with tears in my eyes to a female volunteer. l shared that l had been raped and felt shame about not being pure,” Dingle wrote. “She responded by asking if l had repented of my role in what happened. #churchtoo”
Twitter user Debbie McNulty wrote, “I was 12 but it was viewed as cheating. I had to pray with my abusers wife for forgiveness. She was so disappointed that I broke her trust. #churchtoo”
The sheer number of accounts on social media in which the victims claimed to be not only minors but under the age of 10 when they were sexually assaulted by pastors and members of their churches, is incredibly worrisome and unsettling.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, in addition to spreading across politics, Hollywood, and Catholic and Christian churches, the problems of sexual abuse and pedophilia are also apparent in religious organizations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is currently paying $4,000 a day to withhold documents detailing child sex abuse committed by its leaders.