CHICAGO, IL (October 20, 2016) – The man followed 13-year-old Meagan Gillan onto an empty elevator and stood beside her as the doors shut.
“I felt his hand on my backside and instantly became fearful about what might happen next,” says Gillan, who vividly recalls the incident that happened some 50 years ago. “I uttered, ‘Hey man. Cut it out!’ He removed his hand, the elevator doors opened, and I shakily found the nearest store to seek refuge. The feelings of vulnerability and anxiety have never left me.”
Yvonne DeVaughn’s story was different. “I know what it is like to have someone who is considered ‘powerful’ be your perpetrator,” DeVaughn says. “I spent from age six to 17 trying to anticipate and plan for my stepfather’s sexual advances. I spent most of that time on heightened alert to monitor his moves and became intimately familiar with apprehension, tension, uneasiness, and fear. Saying ‘No,’ ‘Please don’t,’ ‘Let me go,’ meant nothing to him. Pulling or turning away, hiding or finding excuses to stay out of his line of sight did not work. He was bigger and more powerful than I was.”
So hearing anyone boast about sexual assault—and then to dismiss such language as locker-room talk—is disturbing to both Gillan, now the director of Women Ministries for the ECC, and DeVaughn, director of the Covenant’s Advocates for Victims of Abuse (AVA). Their experiences were significantly different, but both women were sexually assaulted, and they want the public to know that all types of abuse are harmful.
While the latest national attention on the issue has been driven by audio recordings and allegations that a presidential candidate had committed assault, Gillan and DeVaughn emphasize that this is not a politically partisan issue. Abuse happens to and by people of every political persuasion, they say.
It also happens more than many people think. Lynda Delgado, an AVA regional coordinator for the Pacific Southwest Conference, noted that when Kelly Oxford, who has been described as a social media powerhouse, tweeted on October 7 about her experience, some 30 million people engaged with the tweets within one week, many of them sharing their own stories.
“It’s not a secret anymore,” Delgado says.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Covenanters are encouraged to educate themselves, use resources that are available online, and invite AVA speakers to speak to their congregations.