Commentary

When I was raped by a fellow student 3.5 years ago, I was treated egregiously by both the administration of my school — Baylor University — and the broader community in the fallout. But do you know who didn’t fail me? My church.

In the months — now years — following my rape, many members of my church banded together to support me financially and emotionally. My parents were overseas, but several members of my church wrote checks that helped me afford therapy. They sent me Christmas gifts. They cobbled together donations to buy me a laptop for law school that I am typing this on even now. Many of the women at my church still reach out to me just to see how I'm doing.

At the time, I was receiving hate mail on a regular basis from other evangelicals who cared more about Baylor football than about doing the right thing. I was told I was going to hell. I was called a liar and a whore. I was bullied. I was disbelieved. But not by my church.

My church believed me — they didn’t need to see the Baylor police report. They didn’t need to analyze my story, and they didn’t need to question my memory or my motives. They merely took my word for it. They accepted it at face value.

But amid the Brett Kavanaugh hearings for his Supreme Court nomination, some of those same people have banded together in his support — even in the days after Dr. Blasey Ford (and numerous other survivors) came forward. It confuses me, and it tears me up inside.

Many have tried to tell me, "Oh I believe you! But your situation was so much different than this one." So I feel like I should clarify: There are many things about my situation that were not different.

I remember being raped in his bedroom but I don’t remember his address. I don’t remember the house. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I still don’t remember how I made it home that night. I know it happened after 5 p.m. but I couldn’t tell you the exact time. I cannot tell you what I was doing the rest of that day, before it happened. I do not remember who I saw. I do not remember who I talked to. I do not remember whose house I went to. I imagine that I must have gone to class and/or work, but I do not know if anyone could confirm that they saw or talked to me that day. And it has only been 3.5 years, not 3.5 decades.

It was so forcible that I bled but it took me weeks to call it rape instead of “sex gone wrong.” And while I don’t remember how I felt when I walked — did I walk? — out of his apartment, I know I didn’t go straight to the police, like everyone thinks they — like I thought I would, if it ever happened to me. I never did a rape kit. It took me weeks to make any kind of official report. It took me even longer than that to tell a therapist. It took me even longer than that to tell my family. It took me even longer than that to tell most people I was close to. I’ve still *never* officially reported it to any local police — never officially pressed charges — never officially followed up with any entity other than my then-university.

But I know who my attacker was; I will never, ever, ever forget his face. Like Dr. Blasey Ford, I knew my attacker. Cases of mistaken identification do happen, but typically in stranger-rape cases, and neither of these cases is that. Saying "I believe she was assaulted/raped but not by him" is tantamount to saying "I don't believe her at all."

Most saliently, due in large part to my and many other former Baylor students going public about our assaults, a very important judge no longer has his job due to his mishandling: Judge Ken Starr, whose investigation led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, who came out publicly in support of Kavanaugh, who used to be Kavanaugh's boss.

This Kavanaugh situation and mine, they are not so very different.

I don’t deserve belief any more than anyone else does. The thought of a church rallying around their own but attacking others who walk the same path disgusts me.

Kavanaugh is just fine, just like we knew he would be. He got confirmed, just like we knew he would. Meanwhile, his accusers still can’t go home because of death threats.

To the evangelicals who believe some but not others based on convenience: I know that you are human, and we cannot make the right judgment calls all the time. But before you share a political meme or judge a survivor's story based on what you perceive to be "valid" points, you should listen with open minds and prayerful hearts. And sometimes, if you cannot use your words in a loving manner, it is best not to use them at all.

Stefanie Mundhenk Harrelson grew up in the church as a missionary kid; she now lives in Washington, D.C., and attends Georgetown University Law Center where she's getting her J.D. and her M.A. in philosophy. 

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"My Church Believed Me. Not All Survivors Are as Fortunate"
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