Speaking Up Against Sexual Harassment: The Brave Choice to Not Remain Silent

By Aida Maravillas

God's Brave Women - Aida's Story


The phone felt heavy in my hand as I contemplated the call I had to make.


My level of discomfort over the series of crossed boundaries was overwhelming. The final crossed line had been bothering me for weeks. I knew it enough to shout it out, but I didn’t feel brave enough to do so. I worried over what the conversation might lead to, knowing that once the words left my lips things would be different somehow.


I had already addressed concern with our pastor over uninvited phone calls from a fellow church member. He would talk about service details and choir rehearsals, but the conversations would shift into more personal topics. The frequency of the calls had increased and when I stopped answering, his attitude towards me during church became hostile.


I had advised him several times to call the pastor directly regarding personal matters and clearly stated I could not be the one to help him. We asked our pastor to have the phone calls stop all together. I was relieved when they did.


However, I was caught off guard when we ended up volunteering at an event together. This time he made a comment that set off some alarms within me. I felt uncomfortable for several weeks before I spoke with my husband about it. It was time for me to say something to my pastor.


As I thought about what to do, I felt the sting of past violations. From age seven through my late twenties, I had been harassed and violated emotionally and physically. The experiences varied from unwelcomed comments, cat calls and whistles as I walked through my neighborhood growing up to unexpected and uninvited physical touch that shocked me. It hardwired a freeze response that kept me silent.


I finally recognized the numerous isolated experiences I encountered over time were the result of one predator who works tirelessly to invade all of our lives, as clearly stated in scripture, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) This time I saw the pattern of his chosen weapon to try and shut me down.


 

"I finally recognized the numerous isolated experiences I encountered over time were the result of one predator who works tirelessly to invade all of our lives, as clearly stated in scripture, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

 

I realized how the trauma of each unrelated experience constructed a wall within me. Silenced with shame, insecurity, and doubt, as well as difficulty trusting others, I faded into the background of most social gatherings until I found a safe place to be myself – whoever that was. I cautiously approached friendships, guarded my heart in all types of situations, and had a jaded view in my interactions with others.


For years I felt like more of an object rather than a beautifully woven woman, knit together in the image of God.


 

"For years I felt like more of an object rather than a beautifully woven woman, knit together in the image of God."

 

Experiencing this incident within the walls of a church building that was like my second home – a place where I had let down some walls and felt safe while I served others – complicated how I felt. I recognized the true enemy in the situation, and I refused to allow him to take away anything that drew me closer to God. I refused to stay silent this time.


In a moment of boldness, I dialed my pastor’s number. Unaware of how my call would unfold a series of events, I gave up control by completing the call. It was time to tell what happened, regardless of what might unravel as a result.


My pastor was a busy man, always serving the needs of others. He had taken me and my husband under his wing. He answered my call and listened to my concerns with a sensitivity I needed.


Speaking up opened a messy situation. I was heard and it was time to step aside, trusting the leaders to discuss the matter and make decisions on what the next steps would be. As I waited, I reminded myself that I was under the authority of my leaders, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” (1 Peter 2: 13 NIV) I had chosen to be part of this church body and I needed to wait, to see the process through, and to trust that God was going to use this situation for good.


 

"I had chosen to be part of this church body and I needed to wait, to see the process through, and to trust that God was going to use this situation for good."

 

It can be hard to understand someone’s story when you can’t relate to their experience. As the word got out, others made comments that were harsh. Fingers pointed at the boundaries I put in place by stepping down from some leadership roles while an investigation took place. I was accused of being unforgiving, and of doing something wrong because I wasn’t singing anymore.


The unsolicited opinions of others revealed the valley I was walking through, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4 NIV) I chose to lean on God alone in the presence of my enemy.


Some people spoke and others stayed silent, but God was working. He revealed the most precious people of all, those who chose to walk each messy step alongside me. They listened and prayed with me, nourishing my walk in the community I needed while others were pruned away. I trusted that God would use this situation for good, and He did.


Fear showed up many times in the form of sleepless nights, my stomach turning when I wondered if he would be at service, feeling my heart race and heat flush my face when we crossed paths, and when the words of others left me feeling judged. When fear showed up, I prayed. I leaned into the foundation I had built in my walk with God.


It was important for me to recognize that the shortcomings of others were not a reflection of God’s absence. They created a space for me to be certain that my dependency was placed fully in Him and not in others.


 

"It was important for me to recognize that the shortcomings of others were not a reflection of God’s absence. They created a space for me to be certain that my dependency was placed fully in Him and not in others."

 

My journey was not about a wrong made right. It was a step towards a healing I did not realize I needed. The leaders heard me, but the person in question refused to acknowledge any wrong. What matters is how speaking up changed me.


 

"My journey was not about a wrong made right. It was a step towards a healing I did not realize I needed... What matters is how speaking up changed me."

 

It changed how I step into relationships, how I live out my different roles in life, and how I know that my value is greater than what I believed. I am now able to help other women declare their value and worth because I believe it for myself too.


Being brave does not need to be grand act. It can be the action of moving forward despite the presence of fear.


Speaking up was scary and empowering at the same time. It was a step towards using my voice as I walked towards the fullness of God with open arms, finally embracing the fact that I am called his Daughter.


 

"Speaking up was scary and empowering at the same time. It was a step towards using my voice as I walked towards the fullness of God with open arms, finally embracing the fact that I am called his Daughter."

 

If you have experienced sexual harassment, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. God did not intend for you to live in shame over what you have experienced. He loves you and has a calling on your life for you to be the beautiful woven creation that He intended you to be.


 

Brave Woman Manifesto


Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!

And by the way...


You are Brave!


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About Aida


Aida Maravillas is a speaker, writer, and life coach who uses her professional mental health background, faith, and life experience to help overwhelmed moms balance the demands of motherhood with their own self-care.


Her Self-Care Planner is a free resource developed to help mothers recognize how to implement a practical self-care routine that is attainable. This free resource is available HERE.

Aida lives in the midwest and has been married for 25 years. She and her husband have three daughters who range from young adults to the tween years. They also have a grandson in his toddler years.


You can connect with Aida on her website aidamaravillas.com or on Instagram @aidamaravillaswrites.