Warning: this is a sensitive subject, it may be triggering. The purpose here is to air things out, not to open old wounds, if you have them. It’s ok to take a pass if this brings up too much.
I was touched inappropriately by a fellow missionary while we served in the same area. My family knows. I wish the incident didn’t happen, but it did. I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that when individuals, especially older white males, are separated from their partner for long periods of time, or are sexually repressed, or are in compromising power dynamics that often look like mentorship…sometimes people act out. And when people overstep others’ boundaries, people get hurt. Touching, when someone doesn’t want to be touched, is wrong. Children and adults alike are victims of this.
In Malagasy culture, inappropriate sexual touch is taboo to do and to talk about. I think it is unhelpful to look away from the subject because then we who were the recipients of disgusting things (that we don’t want to begin with) become further isolated. Our experience is seen as invalid or too uncomfortable to face. But our discomfort is real, and we deserve the right to be heard, and the right to be helped. There are many of us that this happened to. There are still perpetrators out there- they are not so far away, folks.
Consent means recognizing that you give and receive permission to go further with each other, particularly on a physical level. Consent is critical. Unfortunately, we live in a world where too often things and experiences and dignity are taken away without consent. What you do with that reality defines the impact that you will make.
I’m not here to offer a balm or to ask for your pity. I’m here to remind you to be smart, to pay attention to who your children are around regardless of how safe they seem, and if you are a professional in ministry, to watch closely how you interact with those you minister to- because you are in a position of fostering vulnerable relationships. Most of you know this already.
I haven’t done research, but I think perpetrators do what they do because they seek power, or they seek to alleviate a stressor they can’t shake, or they themselves have been violated in the past…or maybe a multitudes of other things. If we don’t talk about sex, about the fact that it’s a human need, and that there are healthy ways to explore what it is or its consequences, then we are letting more perpetrators do what they do in silence, even when they know that what they’re doing is wrong. Challenging and reforming a system takes time and intentional work. I think discussing sex will help in letting people be comfortable with setting their own boundaries. The next blog post will present tangible resources that address a variety of subjects in relation to sex. I hope it’ll be useful; I would be glad to hear what resources you know of that are carefully researched and effective in their clarifications about sex, safety, and discussion.