Plains Baptist Church
Credit: Ken Lund/Flickr

As soon as I read the account in the Washington Post about Roy Moore’s involvement with teenage girls, I saw the pattern of a sexual predator. I assumed it was only a matter of time before we heard from other victims. But there is an effort underway that is likely designed to stop that from happening.

Jonathan Swan writes this:

Steve Bannon has sent two of Breitbart News’ top reporters, Matt Boyle and Aaron Klein, to Alabama. Their mission: to discredit the Washington Post’s reporting on Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct with teenagers.

Bottom line: This story is about to get even uglier, if that’s imaginable. I expect more counter-attacks will play out in Breitbart News and other outlets over the coming days.

The rumors are already flying all over right wing media. The focus is on the idea that Leigh Corfman, who is the woman Moore sexually assaulted when she was fourteen, was a “bad girl.” They’re zeroing in on this part of her story:

She says that her teenage life became increasingly reckless with drinking, drugs, boyfriends, and a suicide attempt when she was 16.

As the years went on, Corfman says, she did not share her story about Moore partly because of the trouble in her life. She has had three divorces and financial problems. While living in Arizona, she and her second husband started a screen-printing business that fell into debt. They filed for bankruptcy protection three times, once in 1991 with $139,689 in unpaid claims brought by the Internal Revenue Service and other creditors, according to court records.

In 2005, Corfman paid a fine for driving a boat without lights. In 2010, she was working at a convenience store when she was charged with a misdemeanor for selling beer to a minor. The charge was dismissed, court records show.

This is typical of how sexual perpetrators get away with their crimes in religious communities. The perpetrator targets vulnerable children, abuses them, and their defenders come along to say that the victim is to blame for seducing them. As is often the case, the victims begin to act out in response to the trauma, validating claims that they are “bad.”

That is precisely what Corfman said she experienced.

“I felt responsible,” she says. “I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad.”

Many sexual abuse victims respond similarly. I would suggest that it is the teachings of the patriarchal church that has fed these ideas for centuries.

It certainly seems as if this is how Moore rationalizes things in his own mind. David Frum caught this from his public statements since the story broke:

Stories like this abound in the world of sexual predation found in both Protestant and Catholic traditions. It starts with the idea that the real “sin” is in having a sexual encounter as opposed to abusing a child. When a victim reports what happened, they are blamed as a participant that somehow seduced the perpetrator. From there, the feelings that emanate from the abuse are also labelled a “sin.” In a report on how Bob Jones University—a Christian fundamentalist institution—handled victims in counseling, we learn this:

BJU practices, preaches and instructs a version of Christian counseling that rejects “secular psychology.” In the school’s worldview, almost all mental problems – beyond the medical – are the result of sin.  As explained in the 1996 book, “Becoming an Effective Christian Counselor,” “most people in mental hospitals are not sick; they are sinful.”…

The method of counseling at BJU ends up punishing victims far more than their abusers, according to Julia, a former BJU student, who was also counseled by Jim Berg.

“[The offenders] are able to quickly move on. They say they’re sorry, they’re repentant, so they go right back,” she said. “As the victims continue to struggle in the aftermath, we are the ones seen to be in sin. Struggling with fear, confusion, anger, talking about what happened, or any other reaction to trauma is seen as sin. We are expected to repent of those sins and live as though nothing happened.”

While perhaps not chronicled as thoroughly as it was at Bob Jones, the underlying premise that both an abusive sexual encounter and the resulting feelings/behavior are “sin” is relatively common in fundamentalist circles. That traps victims in a never-ending cycle of shame. Because asking God for forgiveness doesn’t magically make those feelings/behavior go away, they are being insufficiently remorseful and continuing to sin.

This is one of the reasons why the sexual abuse of children flourishes in religious institutions/communities, as well as why it takes victims so long to go public with their stories. Young victims spend years locked in the shame that they are somehow responsible for what happened to them, and too often religious leaders affirm that when they break their silence. Many of them lead lives where the “bad girl/boy” image haunts them for the rest of their lives, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are now witnessing that response on a national level. The results are twofold: (1) the victim of abuse is being labeled a “bad girl” who is not to be believed, and (2) the message is being sent out to other potential victims that this will happen to you if you come forward.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.