Chances are your social media feeds are flooded with two words this week: Me too.
Those two words have taken on a new meaning. And many of us, myself included, are left wondering how to respond.
I humbly offer these three suggestions. If you have more, please share them in the comments below.
WE NEED TO BE HEARTBROKEN
It's heartbreaking for me to see how many of my friends and family members have been a victim of sexual assault. Though I've heard stories from those close to me, it's absolutely eye-opening to see just how big of an impact this depravity has had on our world. This heartbreak reminds me of Nehemiah.
When Nehemiah heard about the pain, destruction, and desperation in Jerusalem, his heart broke. Scripture says that he "began to weep and continued mourning for several days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (Nehemiah 1:4).
If you know the story, you know that Nehemiah does more than just weep, mourn and pray – but it's important to realize he does do those things. And not just for a few days (the words "for several days" in verse 4 are misleading). Nehemiah weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for FOUR MONTHS.
I'm a problem solver. When I see a problem (and this is a HUGE problem), I want to fix it. But before we can do that, we have to spend time weeping with those who have been hurt, listening to their stories, and praying with them.
WE NEED TO BE INSPIRED
As much as I'm heartbroken by them, I am even more inspired by the flood of "Me too." posts. Inspired by the courage it takes to step out and be vulnerable. Inspired by the willingness to put it on the line to support other victims who are too afraid or otherwise unable to stand up. You are giving voice to the voiceless, and putting the spotlight on a problem society has ignored (at best) or tried to hide.
Please continue to do so. Continue to be strong. Continue to be vocal. Continue to inspire.
Rather than highlight the individual stories that have filled my feed this week (and I would never be able to include them all), I thought I would do something slightly different in an effort to provide inspiration.
If you've been a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. Not today, not ever.
Nothing speaks to that like looking back at the stories of our Saints. Inspired by a Facebook post from Veronica Arnold Smither, here's a just a few of the saints who could have said "Me too."
St. Maria Goretti
In 1902 (when Maria was only 11), her neighbor, Alessandro, attempted to make her CONSENT to being raped (as if that's even possible) and after she refused, he stabbed her fourteen times. While on her deathbed just a few days later, she said, "I want Alessandro Serenelli with me in heaven forever." Alessandro converted while in prison and (once released) went to her mother's house to beg forgiveness! He later entered a monastery and was present at St. Maria Goretti's canonization.
St. Rita of Cascia
At the end of the 14th Century, Rita was forced into a marriage at age 18. Her husband was a violent and abusive man. Despite his constant abuse and infidelity, Rita was stuck. As is true for many woman, she had no independent resources and soon had two kids. Rita put up with her husbands abuse for the love of her sons. After the death of her husband, she joined an Augustinian community of religious sisters.
Early in her life, Agatha became a consecrated virgin. Agatha's decision didn't keep the men at bay. Men like Quintianus (a high ranking official) thought they could force her to turn away from her vow. When Agatha rejected Quintianus's persistent and aggressive marriage proposals, he had her arrested and brought before the judge – himself. After failing to blackmail Agatha into sex in exchange for not imprisoning her for being a Christian (illegal at the time), he imprisoned her in a brothel. Agatha refused to accept customers – despite constant and aggressive abuse. Still refusing to renounce Christ, she was sent to prison where she was brutally tortured and mutilated. Her faith remained constant until her death around the year 251.
St. Thomas Aquinas
In 13th Century Italy, Thomas faced strong pressure from his family to "man up" – especially when they found out he wanted to become a priest. So much so, that his family locked him in a room with a prostitute in an effort to make him into a "real man" and dissuade him from becoming a priest. They failed.
WE NEED TO TAKE ACTION
If all that comes from the "Me too" movement is heartbreak and inspiration, then we haven't really heard the cries of those who have survived their abuse. There is so much to be done that it's easy to be overwhelmed by the problem and do nothing. Rather than attempt to draft a complete solution, here are just a few simple ideas for ways to take action and take a stand against sexual abuse.
Open your eyes.
Sexual abuse happens everyday in communities, schools, churches and workplaces around the world, but most of us don't see it or choose to ignore it. Starting today, be intentional about watching for signs of sexual abuse – even in the places where you'd least expect it.
Open your ears.
This campaign has given a voice to a problem a lot of people didn't realize was there. It's been effective, but it's a shame that it took this long for these stories to be heard. Starting today, create a safe space where young people can share their stories, their hurt, their pain. Don't just try to solve their problems, take the time to listen first.
Open your heart.
People are hurting. Whether the pain is new or old, they're hurting. We all need to be loved unconditionally, but that is especially true for people who have been abused, neglected or assaulted. Starting today, go out of your way to let the people in your life (and in your ministry) know that they are loved.
Open your mouth.
Sexual abuse flourishes in the silence – in the dark. It's easy to ignore when no one talks about it, so we need to do the opposite. Starting today, publicly speak out against abuse. Take a stand and challenge those around you to do the same.
Mother Mary, protector of women, pray for us.
St. Agatha, patron saint of rape victims, pray for us.
St. Maria Goretti, patron saint of purity, pray for us.