Written by Danielle Tudor
I’m writing this post on November 11, 2014 – 35 years to the day since I was raped. Outside, Portland’s east winds are rushing down the Columbia River Gorge and whistling around my house, just as they did on that cold night 35 years ago. I believe that only God’s grace has brought me this far, and so the topic of this post is entirely fitting.
I’m still thinking about Sunday, November 9. A friend, Pastor Annie Hunt, asked me to tell the story of my journey from rape victim to advocate, at a special event for women at her church here in Portland.
My mother, my sister-in-law, and several other women relatives and good friends came, including my sons’ elementary and high-school teachers. Many of these women knew my husband. None of them had heard me speak publicly.
Another friend, Melody, introduced me by passing out Brazil nuts, which have exceptionally hard shells.
“When evil touches you and you’re hurt,” Melody said, “you will build a shell around your hurt. We forget what sweetness might be inside. Danielle didn’t know how thick her shell was. Today, expect to have your own shell opened, just a little.”
Then I sat on a stool in front of the church pews to speak. I always like to look approachable, the woman you think you could talk to, and I appreciate a small, informal gathering like this one was. That kind of setting helps me be as real as I possibly can.
I started by telling everyone that in two days, it would be 35 years since I had been raped.
“I’ve done a lot of work, especially since 2008,” I explained, “to be able to talk to you today. I was born and raised a Christian, but I’ve never been to a church meeting that dealt with what I’m talking about today, even during women’s retreats. So many women have experienced sexual violence, yet we avoid talking about it.”
In fact, the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence posted a poll that found 42 percent of pastors never or rarely mention domestic or sexual violence (http://saiv.org/broken-silence-a-call-for-churches-to-speak-out/).
I described my awful experience at the hands of Richard Troy Gillmore in 1979, how I had worked hard to forget all about him after his sentencing in 1987. I acknowledged my mother, who had helped me to move ahead by urging me to write a letter to Gillmore, forgiving him for the hell he’d unleashed in my life. I emphasized that I’d written the letter for myself, not for him.
Then I talked about opening up, how I began speaking out in 2008, and how my journey continues. About eight months ago, I said, I had participated in a church retreat for women. If Annie had invited me to speak to the group then, I would have been mortified. Sometimes I find it very helpful to pause, reflect on my life, and realize how far I’ve come.
Afterwards, some women, especially the young ones, asked me really good questions about what lay ahead for Gillmore and what more I would have to do to keep him in prison. Other women came up and told me privately what my talk had meant to them. It was obvious that some of them had suffered sexual violence, too.
As far as I know, few churches have held an event like this — even though, given that as many as one in three women may have been victimized, any woman you sit next to in church might be a victim of sexual violence. But change is coming! Faith Communities United to End Sexual Violence has designated November 23, 2014, as Speak Out Sunday http://wewillspeakout.us/speak-out-sunday/.
Why November 23? The United Nations has designated November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. November 25 will kick off 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, organized by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/. The 16 Days will be observed from November 25 through December 10. If your faith community cannot participate in Speak Out Sunday on November 23, visit that Web site to find a variety of ways that your church or synagogue can amplify these global efforts during the 16 Days — perhaps with a special event for women such as the one where I spoke on Sunday, November 9.