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Sexual Abuse, Intimate Love, and Healing

with

Becca Stevens

In today’s episode of Heart of Dating, Kait sits down for an emotionally filled, beautiful conversation with the incredible Becca Stevens.

Becca Stevens is an author, speaker, Episcopal priest, justice entrepreneur, and founder and president of Thistle Farms which is a community of women survivors of prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Thistle Farms includes a holistic 2-­‐year residential program, justice enterprises that employ survivors, and an education and outreach program that includes a national network of 50 sister communities. The Global Market of Thistle Farms helps employ more than 1,800 women worldwide.

They are doing absolutely INCREDIBLE things.

What is Thistle Farms?

21 years ago we opened a house for women who were survivors for trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. We didn’t want to be a halfway house, or a treatment center or shelter. We wanted to be a sanctuary.” And that is exactly what they have done!

Thistle Farms brings in women from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction and provides them with housing and work. They have provided these women with economic healing, which has since turned into a largely successful enterprise in the United States which also operates internationally.  In fact, many of the department heads – around six of ten – have graduated from the program and then worked for the company afterward.

Can you define different kinds of sexual abuse?

After Kait elaborates her meaning behind that question – how some women might have experienced sexual abuse in relationships without even realizing it – Becca shares that she really is working to understand the rape culture hitting our society at this current time. She herself was sexually abused as a child by a member of her church after her father was killed in a drunk driving accident. Sexual abuse has had a huge impact on her life personally. However, she doesn’t really differentiate between kinds of sexual abuse and tries to treat all survivors similarly.

What I truly believe is that there are universal issues behind sexual assault and violence toward women. Whether it’s a stranger or someone you’ve dating, it’s a universal problem that women bear on their backs. It’s all related. We experience that fear, that terror, in the same ways that has a ripple effect on us.

That being said, Becca tries to be very sensitive when talking to survivors. She never tries to invalidate the experiences women have had. “When women and men really start having compassion toward each other and our stories, it becomes healing,” Becca says.

What does intimate love look like after the #MeToo campaign? And how does that translate into dating relationships?

THIS QUESTION!

Our bodies, our minds, and our spirits don’t heal the same way,” Becca says. “san

She goes on to talk about the fear that is so present in relationships as well. “Men are scared, women are scared, and we have to ask, ‘What does it really mean to love each other?’ It means to honor, to adore… but my main question is, ‘How can we stay honest and still loving? How can we respect each other’s’ boundaries, desires, and needs?’”

When you came into a relationship with your husband, how did you navigate the grounds of sharing your past of sexual abuse with him?

She starts off by saying that her husband is patient, gentle, and kind, and since they were married when she was 24, she didn’t really understand the extent of the abuse she experienced. As a result, it actually did affect their relationship in some ways. She says that her husband said to her, “’Being with you sometimes is like walking through a field of landmines.’ I would be okay and then I would blow up – I would have highs and panic attacks when my child was five, and I realized that’s because that was the same age I was when my father was killed and the abuse started. I was living it through my child.”

However, she says that she saw some of the deepest, truest love from that. Her husband stayed loyal and true to her throughout this time of hardship. “He has taught me so much about being loving and compassionate.

Becca also says that she told him when they were dating about her abuse. But she does say that sharing about her past didn’t necessarily mean that she was healed. “When women have that history,” she says, “it’s not going to be something you’ll get over. You incorporate it. Because you’re different afterwards. It’s like if you lost a limb. It’s gone. And my innocence was gone at five or six years old, and it wasn’t coming back. So to have the most patient and loving partner to give you a deep, deep commitment can help you get so much.”

She says that when she was 30, she actually went back to her attacker and his wife and talked to them about the attacks, and says that the first question he asked her was, “How many people have you told?” This really brought her to the point that there is so much shame that comes with sexual assault – both on behalf of the victim and the attacker. “But I did NOTHING wrong. I was a child! And I can – and SHOULD – tell anyone I want to about that!

What are the specifics to “doing the work” – grieving, processing, and coping?

After laughing about how sometimes we don’t want to “do the work” but just have a beer, Becca says that the work might be different than anticipated. Since Thistle Farms works to help women “do the work” for healing from abuse or trafficking or addiction, it often times is joyful.

Maybe there’s some funny stuff about being in prison,” she says. “We’re there to laugh, there to cry, and there to work. We’re there for each other. Don’t freak out if it is a bad day and there’s a lot of work to do. But also don’t freak out if someone doesn’t want to talk about it and they just want to go out and have fun!

What are some spiritual practices or disciplines you could advise to help us heal from wounds like this?

Becca actually wrote an entire book called Love Heals that is FILLED with ways to heal from wounds! We highly highly recommend this amazing book. It has prayers, images, daily practices, and stories all of which can inspire healing and growth for those that need it. “How does love heal through this kind of pain? How does love heal through creation around me? How does love heal through time? What does compassion and forgiveness look like after this?” This is pretty wisdom-filled, which makes sense seeing it took her 20 years to write!

Let’s say someone gets into a serious relationship with another person and is unaware of their sexual past – compartmentalized out of shame or fear. What would be your advice for people that are recognizing their sexual abuse inside of a relationship?

Kait actually shares that this specific question was asked because it ties into a personal experience of hers: a boyfriend of hers asked if she had ever been raped and didn’t know how to respond because she truly didn’t know the answer. Through this experience she realized she had compartmentalized her experiences of sexual abuse and rape until that very moment.

Becca says, before answering and after thanking Kait for her vulnerability, that it may not be compartmentalizing, but just an inability to articulate what happened and a lack of words for such an inhumane and horrible act that happened.

Becca clarifies that she thinks perpetrators count on that kind of reaction where victims blame themselves and don’t speak up. “That’s the crazy thing about #MeToo: how many people come from ONE perpetrator. I mean, no woman was just SOOO special to Weinstein. I just wonder about the wake that men like that leave behind. Because if there’s 10 women that come forward, there’s probably 50 that aren’t speaking up.

She also says that it’s important to recognize that you should not be going into a relationship with the intent of having them heal you or trying to heal them. “They should be sharing it with you,” she says, “not doing it for you. Here’s an analogy. It’s like when you’re having a baby and the husband is the ‘coach.’ Like, when did you EVER have a baby? You should be my friend, lover, co-parent, but you do NOT get to be my coach. It’s the same with healing. And they shouldn’t be expected to be the coach when they’re the boyfriend or the husband.

MAN isn’t that true.

Kait also adds that many men feel pressured to be "Mr. Fix-It" and help them solve their problems, when, in reality, for real healing to happen, he probably just has to listen, go through it, and feel it with you.

Do you think there’s a right and healthy timing in dating to tell the other person?

Becca clarifies that the only right and healthy time to share is when it is safe. You shouldn’t be throwing your pearls before swine, and with that says that is part of the pearls of our life. “You need to make sure you’re safe when you tell them and that it won’t do damage,” she says. The two also emphasize the importance of graceful dialogue within that kind of conversation. For example, being present, listening, and empathizing with the other person is crucial. “In graceful dialogue, it doesn’t hurt to focus on listening and then asking, ‘What are the words of compassion I can offer?’

What’s your biggest nugget of dating advice you have for listeners?

Be gentle with people,” she says. “It’s such a fast world, with social media and hookup culture, I just wish there was more gentleness. We are fragile people in a lot of ways. So let’s be sweet to each other.

Other Resources

Becca Stevens Website

Thistle Farms WebsiteInstagram: Thistle FarmsInstagram: Becca StevensLove Heals Book

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