Re-victimizing the Victims

Re-victimizing the Victims


The following were originally written in July, 1999 on the MK Safety Net Forum, in order to begin a discussion about the re-victimization of survivors of abuse.

Dear Friends:

I hope to start a discussion on the topic "Victimizing the Victims". There are few reading this who are not aware of the phenomenon at this juncture in our culture and time. Nevertheless it behooves us, in light of all that is coming to light and the "stonewalling", deception, etc. that is current in the endeavors to shed light on the terrible darkness, to press even more aggressively and diligently to bring perpetrators of abuse to see the reality of the severe harm they have caused.

In the first chapter of Trauma and Recovery (pages 7,8), Judith Herman says: "It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering. (Here there is a reference to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany). In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail."

It's too bad Judith Herman didn't have the full account of the experience of Mamou Alliance Academy alumni since what she has written here could have described en totus that situation!

Obviously this is but a very brief intro to the topic. Eventually we want to get into the "recovery" aspect since that is ultimately what all of us desires and needs for inner freedom and peace.

Howard Beardslee
Parent of Mamou Alumni and Psychotherapist


The quote you have shared from Judith Herman's book is extremely powerful in light of the reality that resonates with my own experience of having bystanders in the missions community simply "stand by" and do nothing once we, survivors of Mamou Alliance Academy, started sharing our stories. Bystanders in the missions community are often many and varied, including but not limited to parents, other missionaries ("aunts" and "uncles"), fellow MKs, mission board leaders, board members of the mission board, pastors of home churches and missions committees of supporting churches, etc. When these bystanders hear our stories and choose to do nothing, the betrayal is excruciating. Bystanders may not think that they are making a choice, but indeed they are making a choice. There is no neutral ground once a victim/survivor's story is told. To simply "stand by is to make a choice. It is a choice to stand by the perpetrator and a choice to stand against the victim.

Here are some painful memories from my own experience of bystanders in the missions community. My parents served with the Gospel Missionary Union in Mali, W. Africa.

  1. I, and a number of other GMU, MKs repeatedly contacted the President of GMU in recent years regarding abuses suffered by GMU MK's at both Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea, W. Africa and at the GMU dorm in Ivory Coast Academy. We have repeatedly asked the leadership of the GMU to contact their MK's, to reach out to them, to ask if any suffered abuse and are in need of help, and to set up specific structures and personnel to help. This has not occurred to date. Nor has the President of GMU stood by us victims and wept with us. Instead, there has been continued stonewalling and a refusal to reach out and help GMU MKs. I did hear, however, that GMU's President did make a special trip to visit one of the alleged perpetrators and at that time stood and wept with him.
  2. I wrote an open letter to all the GMU parents from the Mali field, explained the abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy. The vast majority of parents (over 90%) never even replied to the letter. In that letter I even explained that there was no neutral ground. To do nothing is to make a choice, a choice to stand with the perpetrators, and against their own sons and daughters!
  3. In light of the stonewalling tactics of GMU, we contacted top level leadership of the IFMA, the professional association of interdenominational mission boards of which GMU is a member, to see if this association could help us in any way. We were promptly sent back to GMU with the message that the IFMA could not really help us in any substantive way; we would just have to deal with GMU basically on our own. In my opinion, we were told that the IFMA could not require its own member mission boards to respond in any particular way once reports of child abuse surfaced. The problem with this response by the IFMA is that GMU's stonewalling tactics have been allowed to stand, and there is no effective court of appeals above the level of the individual mission board. This forces victims to either remain silent or take their situations public (the press or the law courts). In the case of GMU victims, who did the IFMA choose to stand with? The victims or the perpetrators? In my opinion, there is no neutral ground; to choose to be a bystander is to choose for the perps and against the victims.
  4. Personally, I think the most grievous and painful betrayals have come from fellow MKs who went through the hell of abuse with us and knew the truth about what happened, yet they chose to attack us for bringing the truth to light. "How dare you attack God's anointed?", they said.

    I am so thankful for those MK survivors, members of the Mamou Steering Committee and the GMU Mali MK's, who chose to stick in there, year after year, and demand action, engagement, and remembering. GMU still chooses to stonewall and refuses to reach out to their own wounded MKs; the C&MA was dragged, kicking and clawing, to public confession and repentance regarding the horrors of Mamou Alliance Academy. The C&MA has started to turn the ship around but still has a long, long way to go in terms of responding appropriately to MKs who report abuse.

I am greatly encouraged by those MKs from a number of MK boarding schools (and other situations) around the world who are courageously stepping forward and demanding action, engagement, and remembering regarding abuses they suffered on the mission field.

To hear of abuse of MKs and to simply be a bystander is to make a choice, a choice to collude with the perpetrator(s) against the victim.

Rich Darr, Survivor of Mamou Alliance Academy