A Difficult and Courageous Testament

The personal testament that appears below is probably not of the kind that we would ordinarily publish on our website.  However, given the urgency of the topic’s moment, the courage of those coming forward and the importance of our national exploration, we are sharing it with admiration for the author’s strength.

The piece is authored by Collington resident Jane Engle, for whom making her name public is itself an important statement.

I wish to take advantage of this moment in history to share briefly a few stories of sexual harassment and abuse from my life. I do so because it is healing for me to write these stories and, even more so, to make them public. I do so in the hope that other residents and those who read this website will also find healing in sharing their stories in whatever venue is appropriate for them. I do so in fear that residents or staff, who are now experiencing similar situations, have remained silent because they fear dire consequences. I hope they find support from all the stories that are being told and the strength to tell the authorities who can help them. What follows involve a family member, a professor, a doctor, a minister and a friend.

A member of my family sexually abused me. I “don’t remember” these events. They are “secrets” in the family. I’ve never told anyone about these events.

A professor during my university studies who was the chairman of my honors thesis sexually abused me over a long period of time. I discovered that he had abused many other students before and after me. The administration knew of his actions, but he continued to teach until many years later when he retired as professor emeritus. He was held in high esteem by the many professional societies he belonged to.

A psychiatrist sexually abused me while I was a student at another university. I saw him at the student health clinic where he was the only doctor. He told me he could help me if I was in analysis with him. First he told me lie on a couch. (This was actually the usual practice in analysis.) Then he said we should have back-to-back hourly sessions. Then he said walks would help me feel more open in the sessions. And then he held my hand during these walks. In his office he told me to undress so that he could help me feel good about my body. Then he felt intimate parts of my body. (This last sentence is so painful to remember and, even more so, to write.) It was almost a decade before I was told and believed that this was most certainly not done to help me and that it was  abuse. I then reported these events to the appropriate professional society.  A committee of psychiatrists listened to our disparate stories, decided that I was not telling the truth, and told the psychiatrist to continue his practice.

A minister sexually harassed an intern in a church where I was also an intern. I found out that he had sexually harassed previous interns as well as a seminary student who was in counseling with him. With overwhelming guilt, the reasons for which are hard to understand today, I told the authorities. The minister continued to serve at the same church during the year long bungled investigation. He told others who were in his care that the events were consensual. A person from the church where he previously had served knew of his behavior, but never said anything because “this would ruin his reputation.” Twenty years later I learned that he had just been retired.

A woman, who had been in a religious order and who is one of my best friends, told me in front of her spouse that she had been raped by a man who was and remains in a religious order. Her companion was horrified and said she had never heard about this even though they had been living together for many years. I’ll never forget her exact words, “This was just one of those things. It happens all the time.”

My stories are not unique. I am quite sure many women and men who read this have had experiences that have been more harmful and possibly even violent. Some will inevitably throw stones at those of us who speak about unspeakable things. We have only our integrity on the line. This being said, I continue to struggle with the “secret” in my family.

We appreciate Jane’s courage in writing this piece, and hope the community can find ways to support her, and surely others in tragically similar situations.

5 responses to “A Difficult and Courageous Testament

  1. Liberatory truth to abusive power

  2. Jane, thank you for sharing your stories. This has been a difficult time for many women in our country. Sexual harassment is a ubiquitous problem causing an incalculable number of women pain. I only hope that coming forward and speaking out loud is offering some relief and will discourage such future behavior.. #MeToo

  3. A very somber and distressing commentary – hard to digest perhaps especially for those of us fortunate enough not to have experienced such
    perverse actions. I really don’t know what else to say except to appreciate the willingness of those who now share those dark corners of their past lives and to ‘weep’ with with them.

    Jeanne Barnett

  4. Jane

    How awful for you. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Would that they were rare and uncommon. How mind-boggling that they are so commonplace. I even have one of my own. (Aren’t I the lucky one that I have only one.)

    Sometime after my father had died, our daughter revealed that he had molested her when she was quite young. It made me recall an incident with him, really the only one I can recall, when I was a child of 10 or 11. I spoke with some of my female cousins and found that he was big on “education” with some of them as well. I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I compulsively told virtually everyone in my office. I wanted to hire a skywriter and have it spread “Stuart Kittredge was a pedophile” across the sky.

    My father was such a good man in so many, many ways and much of who I am is because I am his daughter. And yet, how deeply, deeply flawed he was. It’s very difficult to reconcile. I wish our daughter had told us at the time he tried to mess with her. But given that she didn’t, I’m glad that she then waited until he was dead. I’m glad he is dead.

    Lorrie

    • Heartfelt thanks to Jane and to Lorrie for their courage and their honesty. I’ve responded to the “Me Too” initiative on Facebook, but will also share here. I was sexually assaulted first by a neighbor when I was 16, then again in the workplace in my early 30s. In the first instance, I kept quiet for fear of what my parents would do to the neighbor. In the second instance, I feared for my job if I confronted the behavior. In neither instance did I believe I had any power over the matter.

      Pat B.

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