Recently we have heard many accounts from women and men who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, and the impacts it has had on their lives and careers. A lesson I learned from my own experience continues to inspire me in my desire to support others facing these issues.
When I was a freshman in college, I experienced sexual harassment and assault (not rape). I was incapacitated, and couldn’t fight back. The man involved was holding a pillow over my face, so I couldn’t call out for help or breathe, either. In my moment of extreme need, I reached out to God in prayer.
It was the week before Christmas, and I had been reading the nativity story in the Bible that tells of Christ Jesus’ birth. I had gained a deeper appreciation of the innocence and moral courage of Jesus’ mother, Mary, and the purity and strength of Christ Jesus. So as I reached out to God in that extreme moment, I thought of how Mary’s innocent trust in God’s loving care had both protected and empowered her, and that I, too, expressed this spiritual innocence and strength.
During that Christmas week I had thought much about the Christ – the spiritual, good, and pure nature of God that Jesus so beautifully embodied. As Mary expressed so much of true womanhood, Jesus was a shining example of true manhood.
A spiritual idea that has meant a lot to me is: “Into the real and ideal man the fleshly element cannot enter” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 332). It means to me that God-given innocence, purity, goodness, and love form the substance of my identity as God’s child, and that this isn’t unique to me, but is the spiritual truth about everyone. So no “fleshly element” – hate, violence, terror, evil, anger, or harm – could be a part of anyone’s identity or victimize anyone.
The first chapter of Genesis in the Bible refers to man – all of us – as created in the spiritual image and likeness of God (see verses 26, 27). All these ideas seemed to come together powerfully during this attack. I immediately felt a spiritual sense of God’s presence and strength with me, and I became calm.
The man had certainly not been behaving in a way that reflected this true, spiritual nature I’ve described, but I like to think that he must have felt something of it in that moment. He very suddenly stopped attacking me and let me go without a word.
Right away I reported the incident to the administration. Though no action was taken at that point, I nonetheless felt empowered by my new understanding of my innocence. I was able to successfully and calmly take my finals (including an exam in the same room with the man who had assaulted me) and leave for Christmas break. Since that time, I am grateful to say that I’ve had no trauma from that experience – not even when I was interviewed the following semester by a student/faculty/administration panel about the man’s behavior, in an investigation that finally led to him being disciplined.
While it was right he was held accountable for his actions, it has also been important to me to be able to pray about how I think about him. God has created us all as His spiritual children, reflecting the goodness and integrity of divine Love, not as aggressive, selfish mortals. This means that even those who have done wrong have the inherent ability to recognize what’s right and to act that way – to be reformed.
This experience helped me realize I have a choice to make about which identity I will accept as truly mine: a vulnerable mortal, or the cared-for child of divine Love. I chose to accept I was of God’s creating, and the result has helped me see that women and men alike, including those who have done wrong, can find comfort, protection, and healing in understanding our identity as the innocent children of God – not destined to be victims or victimizers.
Adapted from a testimony in the Oct. 22, 2007, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.