Over the summer, I started at a new job, which I’ve decided I can safely describe as a “dream job” – one to which I can bring my full self, and in which I can use all my gifts and strengths. Whereas my old job focused primarily on anti-sexual violence work from an advocate perspective, my new job focuses primarily on sexual violence occurring in the context of human trafficking from an advocate, trainer, and policy perspective. Sex trafficking exists along and as part of the spectrum of gender violence, and yet the history of the modern movements against sexual violence and human trafficking have had very different drives and trajectories.
A few months ago, I attended a training webinar in which Marissa Castellanos of Catholic Charities of Louisville presented on best practices for faith-based organizations involved in anti-trafficking work. She encouraged agencies to use trauma-informed practices, and spoke clearly and strongly against the somewhat common practice of tying services to participation in faith-based activities. “We don’t want to replicate the patterns of the traffickers,” she said, noting that trafficking survivors, by definition, have a traumatic history of being required to do things they don’t want to do in order to have their most basic needs met. When our actions as advocates require survivors to cede their power to our concerns, we counteract any verbal messages we may offer about empowerment, agency, and freedom.
Ultimately, many of us model our relationships with each other, with power, and with hierarchy around our concepts of the divine. Someone who views God as an authoritarian power who rules through punishment of evil acts and reward of good may be more likely to view punishment and reward as justice, and harm as the result of individual acts of evil. Someone who views the divine as a loving, nurturing Goddess who nudges with maternal love, or a raging chaos goddess who protects the vulnerable with fierce intensity, or an impersonal energy that impels process and evolution – someone who believes in any of these kinds of divinity may likely model their understanding of hierarchy, justice, agency, freedom, and love around the ideals that each of these models conveys.
This goes beyond how we approach survivors of human trafficking, and has obvious connections to how we perceive and support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I can’t help but wonder, as I have seen and read commentary about Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and other accusers of high-profile men, what our current culture around gender violence says about how we conceptualize the divine. What must people believe about God to find justice, humor, or validation in cruelty and attacks directed at someone who bares the most vulnerable of their traumas on the national stage – traumas that are still raw and painful even after decades? What higher power can people honor who place greater emphasis on a party’s immediate seat on the court than they do on the process of investigation?
When conspiracy theories abound and people seem hell-bent on embracing any rumor that justifies biased worldviews born of patriarchal lore even in the face of all evidence to the contrary, what kind of fearful cosmos do they believe was created, and by what kind of God? How do people understand reality then, when even truth laid before them cannot be trusted, and the earth is flat, and white cisgender heterosexual men are marginalized, and feminists are evil and ugly. (And further, what do these people not see when staring into the beautiful power of femme, queer, nonbinary, trans, Black, Brown, and Indigenous resistance? What poison must have been allowed to fester in someone’s heart for them to look at generations of survival and genius and creativity and community and defiance and see ugly, unworthy, or less than? To you, my stunning friends in the resistance, you are beautiful. Your skin and breath and life are precious; your beliefs and thoughts and needs are legitimate. I see you; I will stand with you.)
This is not a problem of any one religion, so don’t get too comfortable. I work day in and day out with brilliant people from every religion, including Christians whose activism and social justice (as radical as any I’ve seen) are guided by their belief in Jesus. These people show up for survivors in present, unbiased, nonjudgmental, and nonpartisan ways. The ones working in human trafficking run agencies whose shelters embrace and care for those who’ve been rejected from other shelters for failure to meet expectations around religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If people reading the same texts, knowing the same Jesus, and believing in the same God can come up with such different approaches from each other, the problem may not be the text or the religiosity. Maybe it’s how we construct worldviews around our concepts of power, hierarchy, and exclusion, and then cram our theologies into them, all the while insisting this is the natural shape of the divine. Maybe we simply fail to realize how much of our interpretations of texts and understandings of the divine were constructed for us before our births out of cultures with hierarchies we now understand to be harmful.
I don’t have any answers. I’m tired. It’s been a rough week for survivors, with our constant traumas replayed on the national stage and in our social media feeds through idiotic commentary and intentional manipulation of reality. It’s been a rough week for those of us who work full time in the field of sexual violence, as we continue holding space for all survivors’ voices and truths, for their healing, and for their equitable treatment and access to options. I am now privileged to see incredible work happening behind the scenes at the national level; this work is giving me life right now, even as our culture tries to suck all life out of us. If you’re a survivor, know that there are powerful, brilliant, dedicated people working around the clock to hold space for your validation and healing.
My God values consent, re-centers marginalized communities, and prioritizes the body’s safety as sacred and pleasure as a blessing, and because of my faith, I will do the same.
Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, healer, and consent and sexuality educator whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a focus on religion, gender, and social justice. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests are ever-evolving and include spirituality, new religious movements, religiosity and popular culture, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy, and she sometimes blogs at The Sacred Loom.