I’ve been stewing on an issue and need to come clean. Over the past couple of years, some survivors have told me they have felt forced to disclose their stories to journalists. These survivors want to share some of their story, but may be afraid to share all of it. Or these survivors may feel uncomfortable sharing personal names and then feel guilty when pressured by journalists when they say no.
There is a difference between victim advocates who share stories of survivors and journalists who share stories of survivors. Journalists are paid via their publication or via their website with pop-ups asking for financial donations to support their work. The victim advocates that I know of do not receive money for their work. They often remain connected with victims many years after the fact because they have walked alongside them, cared for them, and many times become friends for years (or maybe life). There are a couple of reporters I know who truly are invested in survivors, but they are the exception. As I look through my phone contacts, I see survivors’ names from the earliest days of my blogging, and we have remained friends, sharing space together of painful times, but also moving beyond that pain. For victim advocates, the focus is on the victims and their health and well-being.
I am concerned about the pressure survivors feel when asked by journalists to tell their stories. First of all, if a journalist is asking YOU for your story, you need to ask why? What is in it for them? Telling your story publicly can alter your life forever. Why? Because you are putting your name/face out their publicly in a permanent way. If you want to get a new job, your future employer may search the internet and find all of this history (mine did!). Your children and grandchildren will be able to look your name up and find information on you. If you have a run-in with someone, they can look you up and find your story. You and your personal story are permanent on the internet. Once disclosed publicly, you cannot erase it.
Ask any high-profile victim what it was like when they went public. Survivors are often re-victimized as church leaders and other commenters attack them for coming forward. They are now re-victimized publicly and mercilessly. Again, what’s in it for the journalist to break this story? And what kind of care are journalists offering to survivors when the survivor is getting publicly attacked relentlessly because of exposing their personal story? The victim advocates I know care for the survivor before, during, and after publication.
While I used to think that naming survivors’ names was important, I am now of the mindset to encourage survivors to keep their names private and use a pseudonym. We already know that abusers don’t change, even when the truth is exposed. Abusers simply rebrand themselves. So why should the survivors have a permanent public record online that follows them for the rest of their lives, while abusers continue on with their lives guilt-free?
Conferences on Spiritual Abuse
Another concern I have is conferences on the topic of church abuse with big name speakers, and charging survivors money to attend. Why are we charging survivors to get help from the harm they endured by abusive church leaders? Shouldn’t we be giving them help free of charge? I think churches/church groups/donors should be picking up the conference tabs for survivors. And frankly, if it weren’t for survivors and their stories, we wouldn’t understand what we now know about spiritual abuse. Maybe survivors should be charging these people who want to host conferences!
Additionally, some conferences ask well-known victim advocates to speak. Thinking out loud here – I wonder if the victim advocates are being compensated for their time and travel expenses when they come to speak? If not, why not?
When I started this blog, I considered every survivor and their story to be sacred. To be privy to such a personal story is to be given such a personal part of someone’s lives, it needs to be treated with care, dignity, and respect.
When we start marketing the stories of survivors for personal gain, we are no longer supporting survivors, we are exploiting them.
7 thoughts on “We Must Not Exploit Survivors and Their Stories”
I agree with you, JA. The last thing abuse survivors need is to be exploited, and the routine appeal, “If you publicize your story with me it will help to stop abuse, and will help you heal,” rarely delivers as promised, in my experience.
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Good thoughts, Julie Anne! Similar could be said of those people who contact you about a potential series that deals with churches/religion. I’ve seen several inquiries through the years geared to Pentecostalism, none of which materialized. Caution is needed because in these shows you have zero control over what the final film looks like. Editing can make it seem you are saying/doing something you are not, etc. Those shows are definitely in it for the ratings and money.
I have been writing a series of articles about sexual abuse and my former church group. Some of them I write on my own. If I am working with someone on one, I usually have them preview it before it goes live. They can then check it for accuracy as well as propose any changes. There’s one that I’ve set aside for over a year as the survivor wanted to share, but was also very concerned about sharing.
As a journalist myself, I just want to suggest that being paid doesn’t necessarily equal having no ethics. In fact, ethics is a big topic in the journalism world and something we think about a lot. If a journalist truly cares about victims, he or she should be able to tell a victim’s story very skillfully, with good research, while also avoiding pressuring the victim. Just today, I had someone tell me they didn’t want me to write a story about them (not a victim, just a feature story candidate), and I said I fully understood and left them alone. When we are ethical, we know when to keep after the guilty and when to back off from those who could be harmed by our exposure. Sometimes stories are safest in the hands of professional journalists who are trained in legal and ethical standards. I would hope a Christian journalist would be regularly searching his or her own heart and making sure motives are as pure as possible.
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As a survivor of adult clergy sexual abuse, thank you. I’ve been feeling this for years. Someone writes a book about abuse in the church. It’s great so I sign up to receive emails. Then my inbox is inundated with sales or subscription pitches. So they’re essentially profiting off of survivors. Then they want to charge me to attend a conference? Where other advocates are making speaker fees and promoting their book or business? Clergy sexual abuse victims have actually become a market, making it even more difficult to discern who loves and wants to help or who is exploiting us to make money. I don’t want to profit one cent off the hell that pastor put me through and how dare someone else think it’s okay if they profit off my own money after what I survived.
Some people have no scruples at all.
So long as it makes a buck, it doesn’t matter what’s trafficked.
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You have been doing this a long time, Lois. I like how you take care to ensure accuracy and also protect survivors.
If, and ONLY if, you feel comfortable sharing your story, and all the possible consequences from that – may I suggest searching for small accounts, such as YouTube channels, that preach/encourage the abusive acts you went through.
For example, I know of a self-proclaimed Preacher/Prophet who has 20+ YouTube channels. He has a fairly small following, only 1.83k followers, but his misogyny and obsessions and phobias and hatred and lies and obsessions, etc. are horrible to read and hear, and abusive, in my and other’s opinions.
He has me blocked, but not on every one of his channels. Very few people post critically about him, but people need to know that abuse and religious abuse, are actual things, and small pastors/preachers need to know too.