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Sex with a Pastor: An Affair or Abuse?

August 2, 2015

 

 

 

Representing SNAP Mennonite (Canada), Dr. Cameron Altaras delivered the following speech at the annual SNAP conference in Alexandria, Virginia on August 2, 2015. More than 300 survivors of sexual abuse in faith communities and their loved ones gathered to hear speakers from around the world who educated and inspired us to “protect the vulnerable and expose the truth” about sexual abuses of power in our own denominations.  A video of this speech can be found here.  Author's note: Although a male pronoun for the pastor and female pronoun for the victim is used here, victims and perpetrators can be any gender.

 

A woman went to her pastor for advice.

Not for sex.

She never imagined her pastor would do something so egregious as to manipulate her into having sex with him.

 

The worst part was that because they were both adults, the woman blamed herself for having an “affair” with her pastor and then hid silently in her shame.

But it was not an affair.

It was an abuse of power.

 

Sex between two parties where there is a power differential is not and can never be labeled “an affair.”  Sex between persons with unequal power is not even about sex. It’s about power and control over someone with less power.

 

If approached by a stranger at a party, the sexual advances would have been obvious to the woman. But when her pastor became amorous, the woman was caught completely off guard. She thought she was making more out of the situation than her pastor intended. She ignored her screaming intuition, warning her that something was terribly wrong. It was not easy to rebuff her pastor, whom she held in the high esteem afforded by his position. She didn’t want to offend her pastor by refusing his pastoral hug the first time and it became increasingly awkward to refuse to hug him each time after that.

 

When looking back, the hardest thing for the woman is to forgive herself.

She asks: “Why couldn’t I have stopped it? I’m an adult, why did I just let it happen to me?”

 

What she doesn’t understand, however, is that she was completely unaware of what was happening to her when it was happening. And it’s hard to admit that she was being used, that she had been duped by someone she trusted.

 

Predatory pastors subtly manipulate potential victims like this woman to the point where her ability to say “NO” was completely undermined. But just because she didn’t say “NO” does not mean she said, “YES.”

 

The problem was not that the woman was vulnerable because she had less power than her religious leader. The real problem was that the pastor preyed upon and exploited that vulnerability.

 

Pastors who are predators set the stage perfectly. They play the roles of devoted husband, father, and servant of the church community. They are masterful at managing impressions others have of them. They paint a portrait of their self as an exemplary, charismatic leader and teacher.

 

But the pastoral portrait is more like that of Dorian Gray. There is a secret and deceitful monster, locked away in a dark, hidden closet. This is the perfect set-up so everyone will believe the perpetrator. And his victim knows that until the real portrait is unveiled, no one will believe her.

 

This woman and many others like her get caught in what is referred to as “the grooming process.” When pastors overstep professional boundaries with someone under their care, they become sexual predators. They interact with their victims in the same destructive ways as non-clergy offenders. They slyly spin their web around a potential victim and then slowly, methodically, move in for the kill.

 

Step 1: Gain her trust.

 

Step 2: Physically isolate her in a one-on-one meeting or a counseling session, for example.

 

Step 3: Give short pastoral hugs upon meeting and parting.

 

Step 4: Move to emotional isolation. Make the conversation increasingly personal to learn her issues, her weaknesses, her dreams and offer to mentor her. Slip in subtle questions about aspects of her sexual life. Touch her hand in a caring, pastoral manner and lengthen the pastoral hug.

 

Step 5: Prime her for the next steps through flattery and making her feel special, thus warranting the pastor’s attention. She won’t think to question the integrity of the words of a man of God.

 

Step 6: Enmesh himself in her life by befriending her family, her spouse and children, especially in public. This is to ensure that everyone, especially the woman, sees the relationship with the pastor as completely normal.

 

Step 7: In public, throw her knowing glances, brush by her in very non-accidental ways to cement the secretive specialness between them.

 

Step 8: Intensify psychological isolation: in private, subtly question, even criticize her friends, her family, her spouse and give an even longer, more meaningful pastoral hug.

 

Step 9: Share privileged information even of the pastor’s own unhappiness, his loneliness, especially his marital dissatisfaction. In brief, the pastor seeps under her skin and into all her places of least resistance and greatest need. He sets it up so the woman comes to believe she needs the pastor.

 

This grooming process can take a few days or last a few years, depending upon the skill and patience of the perpetrator.

 

Step 10: Move beyond pastoral hugs to sexual touching. All of this causes great confusion for the woman. How is she to reconcile the public man venerated by so many with the secret man doing something so wrong with her? She is an adult and she should know the difference between right and wrong. And the pastor is the epitome of a public example of what is right. Yet the pastor is able to manipulate his victim’s sense of self to such a point where the concept of right and wrong becomes totally distorted. It is almost impossible for the victim to pinpoint exactly when the warm and comforting pastoral hugs became sexualized.

 

The bond between victim and perpetrator is sealed, when the pastor receives the assurance, articulated or not, that their secret is safe – and of course the pastor told her that she was the only one!

 

The woman wonders what she did to invite this. Did she maybe consent to his sexual advances because she didn’t resist them? Perhaps she tempted this revered man of God and possibly now poses a threat to his reputation.

 

Through her silence, the woman:

  1. adds to her own victimization,

  2. becomes complicit in protecting the perpetrator, and

  3. can’t warn any other victims.

At the core of the woman’s silence is the knowledge that the pastor is a widely respected public figure and the doubt that anyone will believe her.

 

She knows it’s risky to reveal the abuse to the religious authorities with the power to hold the perpetrator accountable. Will she be believed and supported? Or will she be re-victimized to protect the institution and blamed for having an affair? Re-victimization is even more traumatizing than the initial abuse. On top of all of this is her embarrassment that she, an adult, fell into this!

 

The damage caused by clergy sexual abuse reaches beyond the victims, violating the spiritual life of the entire church community. There is a massive sense of betrayal.

 

Not to recognize that this is a pastor blatantly abusing his power and call it “an affair” excuses the heinous acts of one who betrayed so many and attempts to blame the one who was betrayed the most.

 

And the woman feels betrayed by her very self: “Why did I just stand back and watch this man ruin my life?”

 

Do not ask her to forgive her perpetrator.

 

First, she must travel a very long and very difficult healing path to a place where maybe someday she can reach a place where she can forgive herself.

 

Sex with a pastor can never be called an “affair.”

 

Sex with a pastor is abuse.

 

Cameron Altaras grew up in a Mennonite community in Ontario, Canada, was educated in a Mennonite High School and College, then went on to write a PhD dissertation on issues of power and authority in church institutions, only to acknowledge much later that as a young adult she had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of one of the pastoral leaders in her own church community. Through many years of therapy, she also recovered the memory of childhood sexual violation by her teenage uncle. Legally changing her birth name was one important step on her healing journey. To name one’s self is a powerful image for her, as she reclaims the voice she lost at the hands of men she deeply trusted. Contact Cameron directly at cameron.b.altaras@gmail.com.

 

55 PREVIOUS COMMENTS

 

LISA SCHIRCH says:

Aug 13, 2015

Thank you Cameron for this important story. I’m grateful for you laying out the “playbook,” the manipulative and coercive steps someone took. This is very helpful to see how the coercion starts slowly and how the victim herself doubts her intuition about what is happening. I recognize that pattern in other stories I’ve heard, but I’ve never seen it so clearly articulated.

 

MARTHA SMITH GOOD says:

Aug 13, 2015

Thank you Cameron for this very clear understanding on the difference between an “affair” and “sexual abuse.” This is important information to be shared with the hope that those who may have suffered abuse believing they were responsible for encouraging an affair will find the courage to speak out and find healing.

 

 

JUDY JONES says:

Aug 13, 2015

Thank you Cameron Altaras.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com,
SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

 

 

CHERYL M says:

Aug 13, 2015

I agree with Lisa and Martha.
It is Good to see outlined, in plain language, the difference between Affair…and Abuse.
This was article has Great Value!

 

 

TIM LENNON says:

Aug 13, 2015

Thank you Cameron. These pastoral predators use their prestige, religious authority and their power to take advantage, exploit and control their prey. I commend this article for its clarity and insight.

 

 

SANDRA PEREZ says:

Aug 13, 2015

This article must go viral SNAP must be known about and spread all over our churches. This is an important issue to undertake.

 

 

MARY DISPENZA says:

Aug 13, 2015

What do I think? For me it is a “no brainer.”Catholic Priest’s have a vow of celibacy. Women and men trust and look up to priests and clergy for safety and spiritual inspiration – not for sexual gratification and pleasure. The sad result of it all is that the abuser priest and clergy walk away and his or her victim remain traumatized and guilty.

 

 

DAVID O'REGAN says:

Aug 13, 2015

This is an amazingly powerful presentation by a courageous and brave survivor of abuse. I will share on Social media to help other victims of these crimes. Thank you Cameron Altaras.
Dave O’Regan
worcestersnap@gmail.com

 

 

FRANK MEUERS says:

Aug 13, 2015

Cameron did an outstanding job of outlining the all too familiar pattern of grooming and using the power of the collar to force a person into a position they did not want to enter or tolerate. When one uses the power of an office to entice another into a relationship, there can be no assent, and the blame is with the person using their power to corrupt a relationship. Those who use God as a tool for evil are the worst of all.

 

 

DAVID LORENZ says:

Aug 14, 2015

I heard this at the SNAP conference. I was completely riveted. Thank you for sharing this – it will help protect vulnerable adults in the future

 

 

MJ says:

Aug 14, 2015

Perfectly explained! My prayer is that the church recognizes this truth and takes steps to protect potential victims as well as be a support to those abused. The church is not currently a safe place that God desires it to be. The church must recognize the dangers, dynamics, and truths of clergy sexual abuse and work to remove predators from the pulpit.

Thank you for this information!

 

 

DOTTIE KLAMMER says:

Aug 14, 2015

Excellent article. A pastor is under a professional contract with his church. Whether the contract is written or unwritten he is employed by the church to use his skills and training to benefit members of the church community. When he initiates sexual contact he breaks the contract. His congregation has a right to expect him to honor the boundaries inherent in his professional contract.
Dottie Klammer
SNAP leader
Richmond, Virginia

 

 

ELIZABETH says:

Aug 17, 2015

Thank you Cameron. I found your talk at the conference to be so clear and so powerful. It took me decades to understand that it was NOT AN AFFAIR AND NOT A RELATIONSHIP THAT HAPPENED. I was unfair abuse of power, position and authority. …Thank You

 

 

RICK says:

Aug 17, 2015

Is anyone aware that SNAP is also the name of the federal “Food Stamp” program ?

Not a big deal but this many cause some confusion when this name is used with the public.

 

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Aug 19, 2015

Yes, we are aware SNAP is also a food stamp program, but it shouldn’t take long for those seeking out an organization that deals with sexual abuse to find the right “SNAP.”

 

 

HILARY J. SCARSELLA says:

Sep 8, 2015

Cameron, you have such tremendous power to help stop the insanity that allows such violence to repeat. I can’t say thank you enough for using your energy and power and love to care for yourself, the vulnerable and ALL of us in the process.

 

 

SANDRA says:

Sep 15, 2015

I guess I’m weird – a Mennonite man with whom I had once worked (and, yes, he was several levels above me on the workplace ladder) called me when he was in my neck of the woods and asked if I’d like to go to a professional football game. I went, thinking it would be fun to catch up. But Mom’s voice rang in my head, “Put an extra $20 in your purse in case you have to get yourself home.” Wise woman, my mom. Sure enough, about halfway through the third quarter, the suggestion was made that we go back to his hotel. I said, “Are you effing kidding me?” got up and walked out of the stadium where I caught a cab home. Just get up and leave. I’ve never understood why that’s so hard. Screw the power trip; just get up and leave. And, on your way out, tell him off.

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Sep 16, 2015

Thank you so much for sharing this, Sandra. It is a common response of women who are fortunate to have had life experiences that allow them to make such a response as you did. I hope my story helps you understand why some of us are not able to “just get up and leave.” So many of us have been traumatized at very young ages. This early sexualization more often than not strips us of all fight or flight instincts. It can trigger the response of a younger “child-alter” who becomes frozen and unable to respond. You are lucky, very lucky, extremely lucky, damn lucky. You were targeted to be a victim of this Mennonite sexual predator and I’m so glad to hear of your strength to leave the scene. Please don’t blame victims who aren’t so lucky. Your frustration should be leveled at Mennonite men who prey on victims, not on victims who are unable to protect themselves as you did.

 

 

MJ says:

Sep 16, 2015

Great reply Barbra. Yes, women who were abused and/or did not receive the love they needed from their parents, are targeted by predators. Sadly, those who were raised in a healthy home and environment do not understand this dynamic. Also, the grooming process is not understood by Sandra. Many predators take years getting the victim to trust him and by the time they go in for the kill, it’s too late. It is much more complicated that simply getting up and walking away. While I am thankful Sandra was able to get away from her predator, most victims don’t have that luxury. And it still kicks me in the gut when people think it’s that simple. Thank you for supporting victims.

 

 

SHARON says:

Sep 16, 2015

Sorry, I thought the gist of the article was about grown women. I would never ever compare my experiences with those of minors who were abused. That being said, in the words of Nancy Reagan, just say NO, Hell NO, Are You Effin’ Crazy NO! In a spirit of care and concern, allow me to suggest two other ideas that worked for me – (1) Act like you’re crazy – you know, crazy like insane. I once tried that on a guy who was scaring me on the bus – just started running my mouth nonstop about a whole bunch of different things that made no sense. He first moved to another seat, as did some other passengers! I kept blabbering and The Scary Guy got off the bus at the next stop! (2) Do what my Dad always told me – “If someone tries to hurt you or makes you feel uncomfortable, come and get me. If I’m not around, tell someone you know and trust. But get someone to help you. Right away.” I knew in my heart of hearts that Dad would forget every pacifist principle he ever had if someone hurt me. I was blessed. Incredibly blessed. Having said that, I think we might do well to listen to people like me who used some simple tricks to get away . . . and, no I’m not saying it’s a simple situation, no way. Just saying there are lots of women like me who had great, wise Dads, who figured out ways to stay safe, to get away, who lived their lives without unwanted sexual experiences. I don’t think we’re hearing from them. That’s all.

 

 

MJ says:

Sep 17, 2015

Great point, Sharon, about having dad’s who taught you and were there to protect you. The reality is, many women didn’t have that support. Try to imagine not having a home that loved and nurtured you. Then imagine being abused by that parent who was to love and protect you. Then imagine being sexually abused as a child. In these situations, the ‘grown women’ you are speaking of do not have the intuition or strength to fight or flee. That is why predators pursue vulnerable, wounded women and why simple tricks don’t work. At age 10, I was told that if the man who kidnapped and abused me was caught, they would rip me apart in court. Why? Because I didn’t fight, kick, or scream. It amazes me that this mindset still exists today when women are abused. Victim blaming never worked and never will. The blame should be on the perpetrator, always, in every situation. It makes no difference what a women is wearing. It makes no difference if she doesn’t scream. It makes no difference if she walks into danger. The full weight of the responsibility falls on the abuser. And by putting the spotlight on the victim to be held responsible, the offender gets little notice, as in the case of the Mennonite man who pursued you. He is the one who should be blamed and warned about. One last thought. It’s great that you had the strength to fight and run from those men you mentioned, but be careful you don’t get too comfortable in your own strength and certain you would never fall for such nonsense. You never know what you may face in the future and having more sensitivity in this area may be something you will need and is something to strive for. Be kind to victims. Victim blaming has no benefit and only causes pain to those already dealing with the destruction of abuse.

 

 

SHARON says:

Sep 17, 2015

MJ, I’m sorry that you obviously misread my remarks or misunderstood my intentions. I am NOT comparing child abuse to adult abuse. I am NOT blaming victims. I have friends who were raped as adults and friends who were abused as children. One of my best friends right this minute is with a husband who physically and psychologically abuses her and has done so for as long as I’ve known her. Another 60-something friend has endured psychological (and I fear physical) abuse by her husband for over 30 years after having been abused by her father. I don’t understand my friends’ situations; all I can do is listen and cry and wonder why. However, never having personal experience, I truly cannot understand, nor would I pretend to. All I’m trying to do is tell my stories, explain my life situation, what I learned from my friends, my parents, my larger family, in the hope that it might help in some strange way. I am a true believer in the power of stories. Two more come to mind. Parked my car on a dark side street one night; got out, locked the doors and then discovered two men, one at each end of my car, blocking my exit. I started screaming bloody murder and ran down the middle of the street to where I knew there were valet parkers for a restaurant. I never went quietly. Second story? Told to me by a cop, who swore it worked. If you’re trapped in a scary situation, fall to your hands and knees, pull up grass and eat it. Why? It makes you vomit. What’s the reaction to someone vomiting? “Yuck.” Might give you the “yuck” minute you need to run for help. If only one woman is helped by my stories, if only one woman recalls one story in an hour of need and uses it, I’ll be happy. Let me reiterate. The stories I tell are for ADULT victims.

I’m sad that you believe I’m “victim blaming,” when my only intent is to do the one thing I can that I believe might help. Tell stories. As for “get(ting) too comfortable in your own strength,” I’m drawing Social Security, share Carly’s assessment of my 66-year-old face and know, from my own life experience, that one can fight and run. I’d just like you to understand that. I don’t know what else I can say.

 

 

JESS says:

Jan 30, 2016

Hi Sharon,

One thing to know is once a person is abused as a child, they are easier prey as adults. Many are still healing…still numb…still not aware of what makes them desirable…what do they have to ptotect?

Also, the abuse detailed here is subtle and premeditated…not as obvious as one might think.

 

 

LYNNAE HERDMAN says:

Dec 16, 2015

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0197L1LE6/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1450295830&sr=1-1&pi=AC_SX118_SY170_QL70&keywords=Lynnae+herdman+fallen+to+freedom

 

 

LYNNAE HERDMAN says:

Dec 16, 2015

Thank you for sharing this!

 

 

FRANK MEUERS says:

Dec 16, 2015

This is a wonderful, well thought out and presented look at how a predator works. The fact that in this case, and so many others, that predator is an ordained person, which gives them unprecedented power over their victims, makes it very much worse.

This talk should be placed in a brochure and made available in all churches and institutions so perhaps some other person will see themselves in this scenario before it destroys his/her life.

 

 

LYNNAE HERDMAN says:

Dec 28, 2015

Oh my gosh, thank u so much for speaking. This is what happened exactly to me. I wish i could talk to u. I wrote my experience on amazon called Fallen to Freedom by lynnae herdman

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Jan 11, 2016

Hello Lynnae:
I would welcome a conversation with you. Feel free to email me at c.altaras@yahoo.com
Cameron

 

 

LYNNAE HERDMAN says:

Jan 11, 2016

I emailed you!!!

 

 

JESS says:

Jan 30, 2016

Here I find confirmation to my calling. To my current situation, you have spoken very clearly. This list is extremely accurate–especially when you are looking at women who have experienced a form of abuse as children or traumatic sexual experience at any time in life. I agree this should be shared widely in congregations across denominations.

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Jan 30, 2016

Thank you, Jess, for your confirmation of the accuracy of the grooming list I laid out in this paper. Survivors who have talked to me have echoed the same thing; it’s as if there’s a playbook that perpetrators follow. It boggles the mind!
I thank each of you who has commented on the article. Thank you for reading this and thank you for taking the time to respond. Please feel free to share it with anyone who would find it helpful. As a note, the oral presentation of this speech has been uploaded to Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32iVyVVta2s
Again, please feel free to share.
My hope is the more people can begin to understand the grooming process, the more victims of abuse can begin their journey toward healing and the more abuse can be prevented.
My sister alerted me to a quotation which is an encouragement to all of us to speak up. It’s from the book DEAR UNIVERSE by Yolo Alkili (I know nothing more about this book than the following quotation.)”Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we all can be free. Love so we all can be liberated. The moment is now. We need you.”
With much appreciation,
Cameron

 

 

DISSAPOINTED says:

Feb 9, 2016

I met a pastor on my way home. The conversation was all about Jesus, didn’t see a ring and didn’t mention family so i assumed he is single like me. we spoke on how I am a believer and saved. he asked if we could grab a bite to eat someday. I was flattered that a man of the cloth wanted to fellowship with me.

I was invited to Church where he ministered and really enjoyed the annointed man of God deliver the Word. Fast forward I was still waiting for him to get a bite to eat and fellowship… He called me, but we never went out and I was disappointed because he just stopped communication.

So I began attending a Woman’s Bible study and helping with the homeless!!! Awesome for me to serve although I belong to another ministry. One evening very late I received a text…didn’t know who it was. It was him. He sounded desperate and needed help so I allowed him to come by. I prayed before he came over and let my mother know.

We talked for 5 hours and he never made a move that was disrespectful. When he left I was glad I could help. I then got another call a few days later. This time he was in a hotel with wine and watching the game. I prayed before I went there and asked him what was wrong. He was acting paranoid and sounded like he was crying…I came there to talk again ensuring I am not giving off any signals but being supportive. He said he can talk to me about this only.

I listened and he had a glass of wine waiting for me which I drank and immediately felt slow and dizzy but was careful. He then told me about what he was going through and it SHOCKED me!! I did not think a man I met would have been involved in such thing! I just offered what the Word says and he agreed. I should have left but I felt we must be here for a reason.

He invited me into the part of the hotel that has a bed with the wine and wanted me to dance for him then he kissed me and pulled his penis out and asked what did I want to do. I said we can not have sex! He then wanted me to perform fillacio I did but then stopped and left. I was not proud of my weakened state and he said I helped him…I later received another call to see me. He came to my home again.

I told him I was not strong enough for him when he needed a friend. The younger woman he was involved with made me see why he and I never went out for that bite to eat. All the guilt I felt that I was not good enough to date him was destroyed by his advances towards me. I offered more advice just on the phone. He finally went away like I told him to get rest and find God again. Now he is back. I don’t communicate any more but wish him well. I miss him, the man I met on the plane. I don’t know if this was abuse, or someone who is wanting a relationship but only knows the unhealthy kind.

 

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Mar 13, 2016

Dear Disappointed. I can tell you are a morally upright woman and a woman of prayer. You made some very wise and courageous choices in this awful scenario. Yes, I’m so sorry to say, you were sexually abused by this man, who himself seems to be suffering from a serious emotional/mental illness. He needs professional help and should not be practicing ministry. It appears that you were just openly and honestly seeking a healthy, God-blessed relationship with a single man who was, as you say, NOT healthy, and using you in harmful ways instead of seeking the professional help he needs. You did nothing wrong and you are not alone in your having been betrayed by someone anointed by the power of the Christian church. As a “man of the cloth,” desperate as he was, he held a great deal of power over you and took terrible advantage of you. You did what he asked of you because when we are raised to believe pastors are representatives of God on earth and hold spiritual authority, then it becomes very difficult to say no to a “man of God?” These sorts of men too often exploit a young woman’s natural and sincere desire to help and care instead of facing and dealing with their problems in ways that help them instead of harming others.

Several parts of your story give me grave concern and I would very much like to talk privately with you about them. Cameron would also be willing to talk with you. You may reach us at this confidential email: mennonite@snapnetwork.org or contact me by phone at 540-214-8874. If you are experiencing symptoms such as depression, change in sleeping or eating habits, thoughts of harming yourself, etc. please let us help you find a therapist who is trained in helping persons deal with sexual trauma. What you experienced, because of his position in the church, is no small thing, even though others may be telling you it was. I hope you will reach out. There is confidential support available for you. My prayers and thoughts go out to you.

 

 

L says:

Mar 6, 2016

I experienced this as a 16 year old girl with a 42 year old pastor who invited me into their family home as I was friends with their daughter and was having a rough time at my own home.

I held the secret for years fully believing i could not tell anyone.

Now 12 years on, in retrospect there are very very clear grooming behaviours that I can see in the time leading up to that abuse. – but I still struggle to reconcile what happened to me.

When I sat with the police. They basically told me it wasn’t worth it.

I am in a good place now. But the church mishandled my allegations and my abuser still holds a prominent place in a global ministry.

 

 

RACHEL HALDER says:

Mar 6, 2016

Thank you for sharing. Your story is sadly not uncommon and so terribly frustrating, infuriating, and straight-up sad. Grateful you’ve found some healing. Thank you for sharing your own story with the world.

 

 

BARBRA GRABER says:

Mar 13, 2016

Thanks so much for sharing this, L. My heart grieves for your precious 16 year old self whose world must have been shattered. I also identify and understand the struggle to reconcile what happened even years and decades later. I would share Cameron’s concern that this man is still in global ministry. At one time it seemed I had no options for holding men like this whose secrets I held accountable. I also wanted to believe I had to have been the only one and he couldn’t possibly have done it to others. Sadly, I’ve had to face the truth, that men like this can have hundreds of victims in a life time. And they don’t necessarily stop when they get “old.” But the good news is that we are not alone anymore. Through a variety of survivors’ networks there is an army of support out there to help us name and hold accountable our predators in ways that feel safe for us and yet alert others to their danger. There are many options and I hope you will contact Cameron to discuss them. She and I are both leaders in the Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP, which offers us many resources. We can walk through this together! We share a confidential email at mennonite@snapnetwork.org.

 

 

RAY HERRERA says:

May 3, 2016

THIS INJUSTICE MAKES ME SO ANGRY HIS DAY IN GODS COURT WILL COME SUDDENLY AND JUSTICE WILL BE SERVED

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Mar 11, 2016

Dear L:
I am so sorry to read that you, also, were mislead and then abused by a pastor you trusted. I understand the difficulty and the struggle to reconcile what happened to you. You showed a lot of courage to go to the police. Unfortunately, their lack of help is a form of re-victimization. I am so sorry this is what occurred in your situation.

Your church also proved unhelpful and re-victimized you. Both of which, again unfortunately, indicate their lack of understanding of issues of abuse of power and how to handle them. On the other hand, maybe they knew exactly what they were doing and simply wanted you to go away so they could cover up their own culpability in the matter.

You state that because of the church’s mishandling, the perpetrator is still in a prominent place of global ministry. My concern, here, now extends to others who already have been or could potentially be victims of his. Has the church made it public that this man is a dangerous sexual predator? Or are they allowing him to continue in his ministry without disclosing what they know? If they withhold this information, with one fell swoop they protect him, give him a free pass to abuse again under the cloak of ministry and place others, who might fall victim to him, in the path of a very dangerous man. If this is the case, and if you would like to pursue action to ensure his name becomes public so that he cannot abuse others, please contact me. I will be happy to work through options with you. I can be contacted at c.altaras@yahoo.com

Cameron

 

THE LIES AND THE LEAST – SPARKING CONVERSATION says:

Mar 26, 2016

[…] it is, by the very nature of the power imbalance in a pastor-congregant relationship, an act of sexual and spiritual abuse.  Further, when said pastor repeatedly lies about the timeline of events in order to cover up […]

 

 

BELOVED says:

Apr 7, 2016

I recently had a “relationship” that has a lot of signs of abuse/exploitation. A pastor who was “separated.” BUT also a NT greek professor and bible teacher. When we first met, I told him I wanted to be with a Christian man who would support my desire to be celibate until I remarry. You’d at least think A PASTOR would say ‘yes.” But he tells me that “pornea” in the Bible means…”temple prostitution.” I knew he was lying and twisting the Word in some part of me. But another part wanted to believe the fantasy….this handsome, charming, minister wanted me. And I would become a pastor’s wife.

It lasted less than two months but in that time we had phone sex many times and one in person encounter. The way this came about was so subtle. And I knew it was happening but felt addicted to the man…wanting his love. I have also been with another narcissist in the past, and it felt familiar.

Now it’s over and I have no contact at all. I’ve confessed to people in my church, am now getting help but feel horrible for the other women who will cross his path. I’ve written a letter to expose him, but hesitate on starting the process, as I know I’ll be thrown under the bus and he will simply charm, lie and deceive.

The worst part. No guilt on his part AT ALL. I was utterly wrecked with guilt and shame. I think he’s a sociopath and I deeply regret not listening to my gut. But still, HE DID IT not me. Our first sexual encounter was following me saying I had just broken up with someone.

Oh, that’s so hard. Do you want to talk? I’m here for you.
Yeah right.

And he counsels. So he knows the words to say and the buttons to press.

When I’ve had a bit more emotional sobriety, I do plan to warn people.
He is a dangerous predator, a preying pastor, and a deception.

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Apr 8, 2016

Dear Beloved: I am so sorry you got trapped in this man’s vile web. You are right to be concerned about the same thing happening to others. Should you wish, I am happy to talk with you about options you might consider pursuing in this regard. Cameron

 

 

RAY HERRERA says:

May 3, 2016

I am living this nightmare right now My wife has left me and has accused me of being Jealous because the pastor insists on hugging her and its okay to be alone in the church with her because she is a godly women and he is a pastor the have both have character assassinated me as being dangerous and a monster I have never threatened my wife nor even cussed names at her in 26 years of marriage but yet they have both manipulated my kids and other people to believe their Lies I have done nothing but live and spoiled my wife and Kids this man is a dangerous sociopath and my wife has become a lying narcissist over night its like he has put a spell on my wife this is demonic I have witnessed so many devilish things here it sends chills down my spine this is insanity at its highest.

 

 

ALISHA M says:

May 18, 2016

This was very to the point especially that I was also abused by a school janitor growing up. He went to prison and yes, there was multiple victims. My heart is troubled and it is saddened and to make matters worst, there is a slight chance a baby was formed. The janitor went to This pastor will be held accountable, trust me. Thanks to this, I forgive myself and I have a new man in my life that is single and a God fearing man. I will love him as hard a I can and soon take his last name. Cheers to, the name change healing process. And just for some more insight, he asked to sell me a new house and suggested coming to the church and he also asked if he could marry my new boyfriend and I. When in public, he reference my boyfriend as my fiance. We only been dating for one week today. Manipulator is true.

 

 

M says:

Jun 13, 2016

Cameron, Thank you for your excellent description of the grooming process. It is pretty much word for word what happened to me. My abuser called me one afternoon after I attended his Bible Study. He said that I didn’t seem myself, I seemed depressed. He asked if I wanted to. One in to talk with him. He was a therapist as well as a pastor. It was the first time someone recognized my depression. He told me I needed to let my husband know I was coming in to talk to him. He used the first 6 meetings to learn everything possible about me and my family. He said odd things like you and your husband look like Barbie and Ken, and I remember the first time I saw you. He knew I loved to learn and gave me ideas for books I might want to read and discuss with him. The pull of having someone to talk to about my depression and understand was strong. I liked that he thought I was smart enough to discuss books with him. I never dreamed I was being groomed. A few months after the first 6 sessions he asked me again to come in. He thought I was sad again. I went. The situation quickly got out of hand. He asked me to go to lunch, for a ride on his motor cycle…when I said no it wasn’t right he made me feel foolish. He said friends do this all the time. So I went and felt terrible. Then he started sexualizing things. I said I want to just be friends, that I loved my husband. He told me he had enough friends and was angry. I was unable to stop thighs from happening. He scared me and I already felt trapped, like I had already done something wrong and didn’t tell anyone. Although I was able to not have sex again I was trapped having lunch with him for 4 years. Last summer when I hit bottom I finally told my husband. It was the only way to be rid of the monster. We are struggling…I think listening to your video has helped. Thank you

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Jun 13, 2016

To all of you who have responded to my article on Grooming thus far and to those who may yet respond, thank you. The fact that you have the courage to name what happened to you is inspiring. And because you can name it for yourself, you are now equipped to help others see it before they, too, get trapped by a perpetrator who really doesn’t care one bit for them. It is so sad that pastors give themselves permission to use their power to ruin other peoples’ lives, rather than focusing on bringing healing and hope to the world as befits their role as a leader in a religious community.

 

 

MARY JO NOWORYTA says:

Jun 14, 2016

Thank you Cameron for speaking this truth and working to raise awareness of clergy sexual abuse. It is tragic that the church continues to ‘restore’ abusers to positions of leadership, not understanding that restoration to God does not mean restored to the pulpit. Working with victims of clergy abuse, spiritual leaders who use their positions of power to seek self-satisfaction have been with several to many women. It is not a one time accident. It is a very well-thought out plan to pursue and conquer. It is a character issue. When church leadership allows an abusive leader back into power and they abuse again, those leaders are just as responsible as the abuser himself.

Thankfully, there is hope and God is fully willing and able to heal! To all survivors of sexual abuse, don’t give up on hope!

Mary Jo Noworyta
Victim Support Coordinator, The Hope of Survivors

 

 

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN says:

Jul 10, 2016

This happened to me.

 

 

HEARTBROKEN says:

Sep 15, 2016

My wife and I just left our church after watching leadership rally ’round a predatory pastor and distort Scripture to defend his continued presence in our community of faith. Protection of the institution at all costs is a real and devastating phenomenon, and it amplifies the destruction wrought by a sexually-abusive minister. Thank you for so clearly laying out the playbook of a predator, for confirming the monstrous nature of these acts, and for having the courage to speak truth from your own pain. You have encouraged my heart as we wrestle through the hurt and loss in our own hearts.

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Sep 16, 2016

Dear Heartbroken: I am so sorry that this type of abuse happened in your church and was not addressed as the evil it is. I hope that there are those around you and your wife who understand and support you, as you continue to deal with your hurt and your loss.

Sincerely,
Cameron

 

 

SANDY says:

Sep 22, 2016

I was sexually abused by my pastor two years ago at age 30. Am still disgusted with myself and cannot understand how I could have allowed such a thing to happen. The man was almost twice my age at the time, married with two kids. I loved him as a father and looked up to him and had never had thoughts of a sexual relationship until years into our relationship when he started hinting about it. Now I realise I was being groomed all along. I went through all the steps you mentioned and even more as it took him over a year to finally get all my defenses down and “go for the kill”. I still wonder if God has truly forgiven me. It got nasty between us when I finally got my voice and strength to stand up to him. I was very disrespectful towards him and later audio taped one telephonic conversation where I got him to confess that he’d done this to me without his knowledge of course. It circulated in the church and I emmediately left but some people blamed me for that and stood by him. He denued thatbit is his voice of course. This is something that I do not want to keep hidden but also feel like it taints my reputation. I had a friend/ potential boyfriend say to me once that he would date me if “he didn’t know me like that”. I had gone to him for support a year earlier while I was trying to find a way out of the situation.This statement that accidentally slipped out of his mouth has haunted me since! I feel like no one would ever want to be with someone like me if they really knew what I’ve done. But at the same time I want to be able to speak about my experience and help other women. Am torn between just pretending this never happened and being honest about it and hoping someone some day will see past that into the person I really am.

 

 

LYNNAE HERDMAN says:

Sep 23, 2016

You were a victim of clergy sexual abuse and abuse of power. I hear and feel everything you are saying. I am so sorry this happened to you! In some states it is a crime and against the law. I have some videos on you tube about my story lynnaeherdman25@gmail.com or just type in my name. You are so not alone! I hope you are getting counseling with a woman counselor because it is a great support. We all beat ourselves up, we have up days and down days and then very dark days. My pastor was also a spiritual Father figure so I thought! He was a pastor manipulator and groomed me well. But I did have to face myself and say what was broken in me that I couldn’t say no? How can I become stronger, healthier. We all can rise, and look ahead. God has a plan! We have to take one day at a time and sometimes one hour at a time. Blessings to you! I pray for healing in your heart, and soul. Your brave to share and it’s good to speak out and have a voice. There are so many out there, we are not alone!!!

Lynnae

 

 

LISA SCHIRCH says:

Sep 23, 2016

Dear Sandy, This on-line community of survivors and advocates believe you and we are here to stand with you. We know how difficult it can be to speak the truth and to get yourself out of such a difficult situation. This is a terrible thing that happened to you. This pastor was in a position of power and authority and used that influence to manipulate and coerce. You are not alone. Many others have also faced this. Saying a prayer for you tonight. Much love to you, Lisa

 

 

CAMERON ALTARAS says:

Sep 23, 2016

Sandy, thank you for having the courage to share your story. I echo the comments of both Lynnae and Lisa. You are not alone. Unfortunately, there are many women who get caught in such evil snares set up by wolves in shepherd’s clothing. It is so painful and shameful to speak of what we allowed ourselves to get trapped in. Yet, unless we speak, these horrors will never be named and never be stopped.

I do hope there will be someone who will come into your life, whose heart will be big enough to love all of you. As I realized that my relationship was becoming serious with the man who is now my husband, I told him that my deepest desire of him was to be wholly loved and wholly known. This meant that I had to be wholly truthful about the path I’d walked before I met him. Telling one’s truth especially after guarding such a painful secret makes one vulnerable. There can be no true intimacy, though, without such vulnerability.

Wishing you peace on your healing journey,
Cameron

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN says:

Sep 24, 2016

If you have asked God to forgive you, rest assured that He has forgiven you. You must forgive yourself, and I know that is hard. I also had a sexual relationship with my pastor, it also became public. I’m praying for you sweet sister, that God would give you peace, that He would surround you with people who will love and support you through this hellish healing process. I’m so very sorry you are walking through this!

BARBRA GRABER says:

Oct 9, 2016

My heart goes out to you, my dear fellow survivor, Sandy. Thank you for your raw, courageous honesty. I am so proud of you for being smart and courageous enough to speak this here. I’m so glad you had the smarts to ‘disrespect’ him (I’d call it defending yourself!) and for making the video as evidence. I’m appalled at the stupidity and mean spiritedness of your congregation. They aren’t worth your time. Neither is any man who would ever consider you unworthy of his time. Just make sure he is worthy of yours. I know many men who would would understand your experience for what it was: sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, abuse of power, sexual assault. They would call it out and they would defend you. You don’t need to settle for any man who is not man enough to understand the power dynamic at play when a pastor preys on an unsuspecting young woman or man. These men have intensively skilled, planned strategies to do what they do. They are egocentric bastards who are too proud to get help. You don’t need to worry about God forgiving you. God has not forgiven you because you have done nothing wrong that even needs forgiving. All God wants you to know is that he weeps with and for you, that he stands with you, that he hates the evil perpetrated against you. Don’t spend another minute worrying about God’s forgiveness. That’s a no-brainer. Worry now about forgiving yourself. You did nothing wrong my dear. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught in a predatory net that was not of your making. Much love to you, Barbra Graber

 

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