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Why I Marched

Today, I joined approximately 60,000 women, men and children marching in Toronto for women’s rights. Such marches, originating in Washington, D.C, took place in 50 states and over 600 hundred marches in solidarity on 7 continents. For some, this was a protest against President Trump and his tweets and speeches that put women down, sexualize them or mistreats them. However, this march stood for so much more!

When I announced on Facebook that I was going to this march, I received quite a bit of resistance which surprised me, claiming, for example, that this was primarily a pro-choice march. In Toronto, we had an hour of speeches and this divisive issue was not mentioned. Instead, there was a focus on the way that women of all backgrounds and beliefs have been treated. What I found special about this protest march is that it brought together people who may not agree on many things, but who all stood for fair and equal treatment for women. It was a peaceful and nonviolent protest. There were people in their 80s present as well as babies. There were men of all ages there and many of them wore pink – to all the men who came, I want to say a special thank you for standing in solidarity with women’s rights. In doing so, you speak volumes that women’s rights are something that everyone should be concerned about.

At the outset, let me say a few things. First of all, I did not agree with everything that was said nor did I stand behind each sentiment on a protest sign. At the beginning of the march, we were given pins that asked “Why are you marching?” I spent quite a bit of time in the presence of women who I know have experienced similar things to think through why I was marching. The organizers of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. posted a four page typed list of what people were standing for. And most of those things were why I marched. Second, I am also aware that this is a pretty negative post. It is all things that I think people need to hear. However, I’ve also been blessed with people who deeply respect women and value my input, gifts, experience and knowledge. I’ve been privileged enough that I haven’t felt that my gender has prevented me from work or from fair pay, a privilege I know many others do not experience. I’ve had the privilege of working for people who did not treat me differently because I am a woman. I am thankful for these people in my life and for the hope they give me in respecting women’s rights.

So let me get personal.

I have my own painful story of what I endured growing up and the consequences of speaking up. I’ve written about that elsewhere and want to focus this blog post on some other things I’ve experienced. However, this was one of the major motivations for me to walk today.

There is seldom a week that goes by when I haven’t been “cat-called” or had a comment about my body by a stranger.

I’ve grown so used to these comments that I don’t think about them anymore. Well, most of the time. Sometimes they still catch me off guard and anger me.

In the fall, I was assaulted on the bus by a stranger. I wasn’t the only one. Someone told the driver, who was subsequently required to stop the bus and wait for the police to show up. He was only allowed to tell us that transit control required him to stop. The men on the bus were quite upset that we weren’t going anywhere. Then the police showed up and removed the passenger in question. Then came the stories from all the young women on the bus who had been assaulted to varying degrees spoke about their experiences. This all happened in front of others. Granted, I know all to well how consumed in a book or my own thoughts I can become as I commute. But I have since found out that this is a common experience for women on our transit system.

Since that day, I’ve found myself sitting closer to the driver.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a candle light service that ended such that I would be at the subway station waiting for the bus after midnight. I could walk home, but the street is not well lit, there are a couple of bars with people drunk and smoking outside, and often shady characters. I asked a friend if she’d wait at the subway with me until a bus came as I didn’t feel safe.

If I’m walking at night, I am holding on to my phone – just in case I need it.

I am no longer surprised if I hear that someone has been sexually abused or assaulted.

In a workshop with youth about bullying, I had them write down on sticky notes things that they have been called. The words that the girls have been called break my heart.

Online dating is a thing for my generation. Many people have found their match through these sites and, as a tool, it alone is neither good nor bad. But for every polite conversation I have with a guy, I’ve had to delete a ridiculous number of messages that are overt in sexual come-ons.

In a recent Facebook discussion, I mentioned a stat that I had read that talked about how roughly 50% of girls who get pregnant, the father is 5-6 years older than them. Depending on how old the girl is, that is statutory rape. A person’s response was “Oh please, they wanted it”. If that was the only time I’ve heard such a sentiment, I think I could handle it ok. But it’s not.

Also in that discussion, the same person said that women should be in control of their bodies… because they are the ones that get pregnant. First of all, this dismisses the many people who have been abused, assaulted and/or raped and it’s a message we hear all the time. Why didn’t we do something about it? Why didn’t we kick or scream? Why didn’t we say no? Why didn’t we report it? But even in consensual relationships, it takes two to make a baby! Yet, I hear over and over and over how women are the ones who are to be responsible and the men get off. Interesting isn’t it, how in Scripture, the adulterous woman is about to be stoned and there is no mention of the man with whom she committed adultery!

I know what it’s like to not be believed. I know what it’s like to be dismissed because I’m hormonal. I know what it’s like prepare a sermon and have it called “teaching” simply because I was in a church that doesn’t allow women to preach. I know what it’s like to say something and have it dismissed, only for a man in the room to say the same thing and be applauded.

Today was a day that hundreds of people around the world said that all these things are wrong. It’s a day that we stood in solidarity saying that women have the right to be respected and a right to equality. It’s a day when we said no to hate. It’s a day where we said we will not be silent. It is a day when we said to each other – you are not alone. It was a day where people came together – despite their differences – to say that we demand that women be treated well. All the time.

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Tackling Trauma

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I’ve been rather sick with a dreadful cold that knocked the energy out of me and took with it my voice. So I’ve had lots of time to think about all the things I want to write on this blog – thoughts on Holy Week, thoughts on God’s call on my life, thoughts on compassion – but no energy or clear mind to actually write. Over the past few days, I have been wrestling with a lot of thoughts and desire to get involved in advocacy around childhood sexual abuse. I read something earlier this month that declared April to be Child abuse prevention Month and there are a couple of places that are collecting stories that I would like to contribute to. Then just the other day, I learned of a research study requiring participants who have gone through the criminal justice system against their abusers and I am excited to hopefully get involved in that.

Yesterday I began what will be an eight week journey of hopefully growth and healing. I started an intensive child abuse/trauma therapy program. I just finished day 2 of the program and I can say that I think it will be really helpful, but also very intense. I am so thankful that I did not try to tackle this program at other times in my life when I had the opportunity because I really was not ready for it. In talking with several women about readiness and talking with my own therapist, I have become convinced that there is a time for doing hard work in an intensive way, and a time to not do it. I’m glad I went with my gut that I was not ready, because now I see how I have things in place that I did not have last year that make it more possible for me to fully engage in this program.

Anyways, one of my hopes and dreams is that my story will encourage others who are on the same journey. So far my reflections on this blog have been rather intellectual and theological, and while they do  come from within a context of my current life experiences and thinking, I do not feel that they have fully addressed what I set out to address in this blog. I hope that as I share the ups and downs of my story and my journey, others will be encouraged to work on their own healing – whether from abuse or something else – and that my life will be a testimony to how God works. I hope too to do my part in breaking the silence of abuse and encouraging others to find their voice.

So here goes it…

Last week when I found out that I would be starting the program I was filled with excitement and fear all at the same time. Excitement because of the potential growth and healing, as well as the amazing privilege to be able to be guided by professionals who specialize in trauma therapy. Fear because I did not know what would happen in the group – what would I discover about myself? my history? how will I cope? The facilitators warned me that it would get worse before it would get better. But honestly, no one could prepare me for how this week would start! I had decided that I would bike to and from the program, saving money, exercising and also doing something healthy to transition from intensive therapy to “real life”.

I was almost at the program when I passed by one of my dad’s colleagues. Thankfully I was on my bike and I don’t think she saw me. But this was enough to send me into dreadful panic attacks. By the time I got to group, I was coughing uncontrollably because of being sick and the panic attacks and had to leave the group several times since I felt that I was disrupting it. At one point I left to throw up – this has never been one of my coping strategies, but was more of a sign of how distressed I was. Throughout the group, I was a coughing, sputtering mess and was totally embarrassed by it all. It took the afternoon and evening to digest what had happened and why I was so distressed.

My dad and I used to work at the same place. He was an ethicist and I was a receptionist and later a research assistant. It’s hard to believe that this was ten years ago. He is internationally known as well as highly regarded amongst his colleagues. I gave that job everything I had and people were impressed at my maturity for my age (I was 17 when I started working there) and I made strong connections that would later get me into university and provide excellent references for job applications. He and I were well liked. During my first few years of university, I hung out with a couple of other philosophy majors in the attic of the building where we worked. We decorated the room with pictures of the great philosophers (Kierkegaard made it up there of course) and would have many debates on ethical issues interspersed with intense reading times.

And then I had to call children’s aid and did not go home one night. I suddenly dropped off the planet at my former workplace and hangout. I was terrified to go back there.

The place where I go for the trauma program is literally 10 steps from the entrance to where my dad worked. I was supposed to do this program 4 years ago, but knew that I could not run the risk of bumping into my dad every day for 8 weeks. Now I know that he is no longer working there. But I underestimated how the proximity to the building would effect me.

When I saw my dad’s colleague – my manager – I felt intense fear. Throughout the past seven years, I have struggled with feeling like I am to blame. Going through the court process, as brutal as it was, allowed me to put blame where it belongs. But I realized yesterday that this has really only been an intellectual exercise. My family has made me out to be the black sheep, the one who ruined the family. My mom has used language such as “protecting the children” from me, making me feel like I am the criminal. The criminal court process isn’t designed to empower the victims and in cross examination, I felt like I had to defend my very being, again feeling like I am the criminal (Did you know that the accused has the right to choose whether they will testify or not? Their side of the story does not need to be looked at directly, while my every action, word spoken, letter written, and therapy record was questioned and used against me to make me out to be a crazy, vengeful liar.) Bumping into my dad’s colleague reraised questions that I’ve at times struggled with – what do they know? what do they think of me? how do they answer the questions of the fact that one day I just disappeared when I used to spend every day there?

I realized that my anxiety was related to a core belief that I am the criminal, that I am the one who has done something horribly wrong and should be punished for it. Cognitively, this is ridiculous and I can see that clearly. But inside, I feel the fear of being found out and the shame, as if my Dad’s actions were my fault, as if my Dad’s criminal record was my own doing, as if my Dad’s losing his job was out of my own volition.

Intense anxiety and fear…. intense realizations…. and on only day 1!

Yesterday before I left for the trauma program my beloved housemates laid hands on me and prayed for me as I embarked on this journey. I pray that God will reveal to me who I am, and meet me with his abundant love in both the exciting and the fearful moments. I pray too that as I (re)experience feelings that I will learn healthy ways of dealing with them. I am thankful that I do not walk this journey alone. I have a whole network of people who are praying for me and for this I am so very thankful.