How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender
Years ago, before my current husband Jeff and I were married, I asked one of my daughters how she would feel if Jeff officially became one of the family. At first she responded enthusiastically, about how awesome it would be if he lived with us, about how we can watch all kinds of spooky movies and he'll make us laugh and feel safe, about the midnight chocolate cake quest on that night when no one could sleep.
But then she added somberly, "As long as I don't have to call Jeffrey 'Dad.'" I assured her no one would ever make her call him anything she wasn't comfortable with. She nodded and said, "Good. Because dads are bad." Dads are bad. Her father, during the decade we were married, sexually abused a beloved family member for at least three years. His victim bravely disclosed her abuse when she was 12.
Last month's controversy over a Leadership Journal article written by a convicted sex offender included the criticism that the author barely mentions his victim, except to implicate her in her own abuse. Plus, his wife and children are mentioned even less. This emphasis on a sex offender himself over his primary victims (those groomed and directly abused) and secondary victims, such as his wife and children (those groomed and impacted by the predator's betrayals and deception) is sadly common amid cases of abuse within evangelical culture. My non-evangelical friends, both Catholic and secular, did not seem to have this problem. But now, thankfully, this trend seems to be shifting with more evangelical Christians encouraging victims to share their experiences.
When people found out about my ex-husband's abuse, I usually heard one of two responses. Many evangelical friends from our church advocated for me to stay married to him, to forgive him. It felt like they meant for me to somehow forget the devastating harm he has caused. As if that was possible. Others wanted me to hate him, dehumanize him, and claim him a monster. But it isn't like I had a switch I could flip to turn off loving someone. Plus, he is not a monster, but a human being bearing the stamp of God's image. And this truth, that he images God, makes his betrayals so much worse.
What neither side understood was, like many family members in this unfortunate, heartbreaking situation, I felt both love and hate, empathy and anger, and so much more.
One of the legacies of being groomed and betrayed by a sex offender is a horrific ambivalence. We struggle with experiencing and processing more than one opposing emotion at one time. I would feel love and hate in the same moment or pleasure combined with disgust and aversion. I would feel empathy for my ex-husband punctuated by horror.
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