I THOUGHT I HEARD IT ALL!
In 1997, 15-year-old Tina Anderson became pregnant after being raped repeatedly by an older man she knew from church. Shockingly, when her pastor found out, he forced her to apologize in front of the entire congregation in Concord, New Hampshire, and then promptly helped whisk her away to live in Colorado.
According to Tina, the first time she was raped by Ernest Willis, it was in the backseat of his car after he'd given her a driving lesson. She didn't tell anyone because she was terrified that she'd be blamed. After being raped by Willis again, Tina became pregnant. Willis, ever the vile human-being, offered to drive her out-of-state for an abortion or to punch her in the stomach to cause a miscarriage. It was at this point that Tina confided in her mother, who in turn notified their pastor, Chuck Phelps.
It turns out, she was right was right to fear being blamed. In a disgusting turn of events, Phelps told Tina she would have to go before the entire congregation to apologize for her sins. Excuse me? It seems that Phelps explained to Tina that while Willis "may have been 99 percent responsible," she needs to confess to her "1 percent guilt in the situation."
After Tina acquiesced in this humiliating act of victim-blaming, the church and her family shipped her off to live in Colorado against her wishes, where she was instructed to give the baby up for adoption. While Phelps did contact the police about Willis — you know, since he was 99% guilty and all — it became nearly impossible for them to do anything about it since Tina was now hidden away in Colorado.
This appalling story is finally seeing the light of day because Tina Anderson decided to come forward this year. Sadly, it wasn't until this February that Tina truly realized that the assault on her was, in fact, zero percent her responsibility. That's when she decided it was time to share her experience with others and to seek justice for what had happened to her as a teenager.
You might have noticed that I am using her real name, something highly unusual in rape cases because victims' names are protected. This is because Tina wanted it this way. She wanted you to know exactly who she is and what was done to her, not only by Ernest Willis, but by those she entrusted to protect her.
Since Tina came forward, Willis has been arrested and released on bail. In New Hampshire, in cases of sexual assault of a minor, the statute of limitations does not run out until 22 years after the victim turns 18. Just as importantly, police are investigating exactly how much church leaders knew about the rape. Of course, if the adults in Concord — meaning Phelps, Tina's family, and every church congregant who heard Tina's "confession" and sat silent — had acted compassionately and responsibly back in 1997, they would have saved Tina over a decade of heartache and their community a lifetime of guilt.
Roxann MtJoy is a freelance writer and case manager at a domestic violence shelter. She is producing and directing a documentary on women's colleges in the United States.