I consider myself very spiritual though. I definitely believe in God and pray quite frequently, but it's just the whole organized religion thing that I don't always agree with. Still, with that being said, sometimes I really enjoy going to church, and tonight I just felt like going.
The message was on forgiveness. The minister touched on many types of forgiveness. Forgiveness of betrayal, forgiveness of personality flaws, forgiveness of roommate issues, etc. But of course, no mention of forgiveness of sexual assault. But it did get me thinking.
Is it necessary to forgive in cases of sexual assault?
There was a short period of time in college that I felt like I had to forgive A.T. in order for me to move on. It had almost been two years, and he was about to graduate (we were originally in the same year, but I now had to make up the semester I took off). I got in my head that I needed to hear myself say aloud to him (cringe), "You hurt me, but I forgive you," in order to free myself of the control I felt like he had over my life and mind.
I was really considering it until I told one of my best friends, a guy who I didn't realize had become friendly with A.T. playing club soccer. My friend responded that he thought it was a great idea, that it "would give [A.T.] the opportunity to apologize" because "you know, he's actually a really nice guy."
WTF - a really nice guy?! Give him the opportunity to apologize?! No, this interaction was meant for me. Although my friend's comment was upsetting and high lighted one of the problems with acquaintance rape - mutual friends often confuse pleasantries for someone being a genuinely good person, making it even more difficult for the victim to process their emotions - I was grateful that my friend unintentionally steered me away from verbally forgiving him.
You see, up until my friend's comment, I hadn't even considered the response of A.T. during this imagined interaction. Creating an opportunity for him to justify his behavior as an honest mistake, allowing him to feel better about himself, was not something that would have contributed to my healing. Besides, I wasn't even convinced that he felt any remorse for his actions. I decided that I would forgive him silently.
If you had asked me whether I'd forgiven him up until a few weeks ago when all my hurt resurfaced, I would have likely said yes. However, now that my pain is once again exposed, I realize that I have not forgiven him. I'm not even close to doing so.
In fact, I'm pretty angry and would love to use his face as a punching bag and shake him until the rest of his balding blond hair falls from his head. And to get rid of that superficial smile that keeps popping up in my facebook feed as mutual friends tag him in pictures from our recent high school reunion. The same reunion I couldn't attend because seeing his name on the planning committee emails caused such a strong emotional response in me. Perhaps the fear I felt was unwarranted, but it was enough to keep me from getting that plane ticket.
During my semester away from school, people talked. I came back for my junior year, and it seemed like everyone knew why I had left. Having so many other people know exacerbated my feelings of vulnerability, but I did receive some validation about his character.
An acquaintance who I didn't know very well approached me one night after a friend's birthday party. She hugged me with tears in her eyes, saying that A.T. had attempted the same thing with her. When he ignored her boundaries, she pushed him off of her, resulting in him getting angry and hitting her. She said that when she found out about me, she was planning to back my story if I decided to press charges.
Two other girls said he was a creep, that he had tried to verbally coerce them into having sex on their periods. And another girl, who had been interested in him, lost interest in him when she awoke drunk with him in her bed. Although she had been sexually active for years and had really been interested in dating him, she still felt like something was off in how he behaved that night and no longer felt comfortable around him.
How do you forgive someone when it is doubtful that they have changed their ways? Is it necessary to do so, in order to move on?
The minister gave many examples of praying, saying that instead of praying to get out of a marital slump, one should pray for our hearts to be opened to our spouses. Instead of praying for economic relief, one should pray for a less materialistic heart. I'm comfortable praying for the strength to move on from this, but I am not willing to change my view of him. Not unless I knew he was truly sorry. Not unless I knew he had stopped doing similar things to other girls.
According to dictionary.com, one definition of forgive is "to cease to feel resentment against." Perhaps when I am further along in the healing process, I will feel less resentment towards him. But another definition of forgive listed on dictionary.com reads to "absolve, acquit," and I don't really see myself ever freeing him from the blame of doing what he did to me. Maybe this two-fold definition is what people mean when they say "forgive, but not forget."