My first sexual experience was not consensual. Ask my youth pastor.
[TRIGGER WARNING: This article details an experience with sexual assault, drug use, and self harm that may be disturbing to some readers. Please proceed with caution.]
Growing up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City, I never felt like I was in the right place. When middle school came around, my parents enrolled me in a school I really didn’t want to go to. I wanted to go to the performing arts school, but somehow I ended up at a preppy school further north. Quickly, I realized my new classmates didn’t understand my love for robots, reptiles and My Chemical Romance. A group of girls broke into my locker and ripped up my homework when I got voted “best dressed.” A blonde, spray-tanned 7th grader said I have beady eyes and chipmunk cheeks. In choir class, someone mocked me for not knowing who David and Goliath were from the Bible. My parents never made me go to church so I wasn’t familiar with many bible stories, which is rare in such a Conservative town. I decided to go to a youth group to learn a little and try to blend in. I ended up at a youth group for “alternative” kids, tons of hair dye and skateboarders. I finally found my people, and I looked forward to my new friends and pizza every Wednesday night.
After a few months, a new youth pastor showed up. He was charismatic, with a big smile and curly dark hair. Covered in biblical tattoos, he made a lot of jokes and had a fun nickname: Stevo, age 23.
He was also a self-proclaimed sex addict.
He preached about his unholy thoughts and how difficult it was to not watch porn and masturbate to a room full of middle schoolers. He glanced at me occasionally. I was thirteen, eighth grade. I had swoopy brown hair, checkered vans and freshly tightened braces.
I found a new best friend there, a girl named Lee. She was a couple years older and came from the south side. Lee always drank with older kids and had way more stories than any 14 year old should have. l liked how wild and carefree she was because I couldn’t be more opposite — I felt deeply uncomfortable in my own skin and I wanted to be just like her.
One day after youth group, Stevo offered to drive us both to Hot Topic at the mall. Stevo was driving and Lee was riding shotgun, making inappropriate jokes about sex positions. Stevo’s mood changed. His voice, cracking said “Would either of you make out with me right now?” We were parked in the mall parking lot now, and Lee started laughing hysterically. “I’m gonna go smoke a cigarette,” she cackled and slammed the door, leaving me in the car with him. Alone.
My vision went blurry as he crawled into the back seat and shoved his tongue down my throat. I’d never kissed someone with tongue. It was slimy and cold. I was overwhelmed and terrified. I’ll never forget how badly he was shaking, as if he know what he was doing was wrong and that excited him. He asked if I wanted to touch his dick and I told him no. I’d never seen one. He unzipped his pants and asked me to touch it, and I sheepishly dismissed it over and over again, feeling mortified. He kept pressuring me, trying to talk me into it while I sat there panicking. Eventually, I did it. I barely put my hands on it. I made an excuse to leave the car and felt a dark wave rush over my body. I felt like my face was on fire, and I immediately ran up to Lee and punched her arm, demanding why the fuck she left me in that car alone with that creep? She laughed loudly and we walked into the mall but I couldn’t think about anything else.
Empty. I felt completely discarded and used, a feeling I only recognize now in other unwanted sexual experiences with men. Lee, in her obnoxious way, told everyone we passed at the mall that I touched a dick for the first time. I was humiliated.
It was confusing because I *did* think Stevo was cute and a part of me was flattered that he gave me attention. I always thought I was mature for my age, or, creepy older guys would tell me that. Stevo had my number from carpooling to the youth group, but then he asked for my email, and I gave it to him.
I opened my email. A photo of his dick — ironically from his email address that started with worshiphim1985 as the username. After a quick, embarrassed glance, I never looked again.
He would tell me he thought about me and how special I was or how good I looked that day in youth group. During his sermons, he would make eye contact for a split second. He texted me saying, “one day I’ll meet my god-given soulmate and you’ll be my sexy babysitter.” He said this to a thirteen year old. It was weird to me he was already planning on cheating on his future wife, but nonetheless, I felt a confidence boost. I was insecure, and here was this older guy telling me I’m pretty. I had a secret to keep, and every time I went to youth group, it was a chance for me to see how he would act around me in public.
I didn’t know what sex was. I didn’t want to french kiss. I didn’t understand any of that — but I enjoyed feeling chosen. A few weeks after the first incident, there was a swim party for the youth group and Stevo gave a bunch of kids a ride home. One by one, he dropped everyone off and suddenly I realized he was taking me home last.
Oh god. My stomach dropped when I realized what he was doing. I had no intention of ever being alone with him again. I felt cornered — like I had to surrender because I was stuck in a car with him. He asked me if I knew what “road head” was and I said no. He explained it to me and I cannot describe how red in the face I was. I was quiet and he kept trying to convince me, explaining that it’s not a big deal. Everybody does it. A thought crossed my mind: what if the metal from my braces scraped him? I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, so I did what he asked. The whole thing lasted 30 seconds. He asked if he could borrow my tank top I was wearing under my t-shirt and used it to clean himself off. I got out of his car and walked straight into my bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. Was I different? Was I a woman now? He told me that he kept my tank top under his car seat and smelled it sometimes.
Yep, you read that right.
I kept his secret for a little bit, but I felt so overwhelmed that I started mentioning it to a few friends. Word was getting around that Stevo was doing something inappropriate with a girl at church, but no one knew it was with me. I don’t know if there were others. He called me, paranoid, begging for me to not tell anyone and said he might be leaving the state. I was kind of excited that he might leave because of me. I felt a sense of power again.
I found out he moved to Texas and started working at a computer store. Shortly after my experiences with him, my attitude towards the church changed drastically. I started carving shapes into my skin with a knife, writing 666 on walls, smoking cigarettes, and trying to find weed or alcohol anywhere I could. It was my goal to be the first of my friends to do drugs. I started writing music around this time too, and my first song was about God not being real. Because why would God let this happen to me?
I found solace going to hardcore and metal shows because the chaotic energy matched the way I was feeling. I met another older guy at one of these shows who was in his 20’s. He convinced me that we were in love, and even gave me his grandmother’s wedding ring. After getting me drunk and giving me cocaine for the first time, he took my virginity when I was just about to turn fifteen. (Cue my song, forever fifteen) He didn’t ask, he just did it. And so began the viscous cycle of thinking that men would take whatever they want from me. I got used to it, I felt like I needed to be hypersexual as a result, like that was my only way to get validation. The only way to get people to like me.
I was obsessed doing anything that would get me out of my own head. Ecstasy, cocaine, whiskey from friend’s liquor cabinets, adderall, cough medicine, computer duster, ketamine, shrooms. All before age 18. I don’t know how but I maintained straight A’s so my parents didn’t find out for a while. Eventually, they caught on and became overbearingly strict, which only pushed me to be more secretive and lash out more. Then came the therapist appointments followed by antidepressants.
But nothing worked.
I felt like this dark hole I was trying to fill would never shrink. Months later, I got drunk and jumped in front of a car at age 15, my first (and worst) unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Let me be clear: I don’t blame Stevo for all the drugs I did and everything that followed. Addiction runs in my family, but what he did definitely gave me an excuse to self-destruct.
I finally told my mom about Stevo when I was in my hospital bed after the suicide attempt, nearly two years after the incident. And later, I would tell the story drunkenly on first dates. I would lead every tinder date with the confession, terrified that men would see me as damaged goods so I wanted them to know my trauma ahead of time.
I thought I was complicit in the abuse, or that it wasn’t real because I thought he was cute.
I said no, but I gave in.
He pressured me, but he wasn’t violent.
I felt horrible, but I felt special.
I didn’t realize it for years that I was a victim of manipulative behavior and that I was “groomed” by my youth pastor. I didn’t even know what that term meant until YouTube recommended a video about a high school teacher that “groomed” a younger female student into a relationship for multiple years. It was so similar to my story, I started crying because I finally had the language to understand my experience. Finally, I felt like it wasn’t all my fault.
Here is a link to that story: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9388891/i-was-groomed-by-my-teacher/
As a 25 year old now, the thought of being sexually active with a 13 year old absolutely disgusts me. It’s revolting. It doesn’t matter if they look old for their age, engaging sexually with a minor is a criminal offense. I came out about my story on social media in 2018 when I looked him up on Facebook and saw that he is now married with two young daughters. He finally found his god-given soulmate and I feared that meant there would be a new “babysitter.” The thought of some young girl feeling so lost and disposable at the hands of this man is too hard to bare. I felt compelled to tell my story.
I am happy to share that I have been sober for almost two years. I live in Los Angeles, writing songs about my experience with depression, self harm, addiction and mental health. In my sobriety, I am learning to love myself and heal for the first time.
If you’ve experienced any type of emotional or sexual abuse: I see you, I hear you, and I believe you.
Oh, and Happy Easter Sunday!
Photo by Natribaus.