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SocietySeptember 21, 2023

Dear Jane: The final statement


Jane was 13 when she joined a church youth group. Within a year, she was in an intimate relationship with her mid-20s group leader. In the final episode of podcast Dear Jane, she comes face-to-face with him. This is her full statement.

Dear Jane is made by The Spinoff Podcast Network with the support of NZ On Air. All five episodes are available now on SpotifyApple Podcasts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. The series contains strong language and features, themes of sexual abuse, as well as explicitly sexual material and mention of suicide. Please take care.

I want to start by saying I’m meeting with you today not out of a desire for revenge or to inflict pain upon you, but rather to confront the past and express the profound damage that has been done as a necessary part of the healing process for me. 

I believe it is important for both of us to be aware of how this will unfold—I have things I need to say, and it is crucial that I am able to express them without interruption.

I want to acknowledge your willingness to meet with me. I understand that it may not have been an easy decision for you, and I appreciate you engaging in this process.

As I reflect upon what transpired between us during my teenage years, it is evident that our perspectives differ significantly. I do not look back on our relationship fondly or our connection as something that came from a good place. I want to make it abundantly clear that there was nothing right or pure about the connection we shared when I was a teenager. From that moment onwards, a deeply troubling power imbalance came into play, as you inserted yourself into my life in ways that were not only inappropriate but also profoundly damaging.

Your behaviour towards me was controlling, whether or not you intended it to be at the time is irrelevant because the fact remains: I was young, vulnerable, and impressionable. I had yet to develop my own way of thinking and feeling about the world before you began imposing your own worldview upon me.

My younger years, a significant time in my development, were tainted with guilt. You made me believe that I was somehow corrupting you, tempting you, and I internalised those beliefs. To put it plainly, the truth is, as a 14-year-old who was sexually inexperienced, I lost my virginity to you on a pool table while you used glad wrap in place of a condom. That is difficult to say out loud and no doubt difficult for you to hear in such plain language, but those are the facts. I refuse to sanitise what took place. This wasn’t an isolated event. You would go on to expose me to sexual activity in secret, even premeditating encounters by purchasing condoms. You also secured the medics room at camp so you wouldn’t have to share a cabin with others and I could secretly visit you in private. Your sexual connection with me was repeated, and planned. 

There is no world in which any adult can justify engaging in a sexual relationship with a minor. Morally and legally, it constitutes sexual violation. What makes it even more disturbing is that you were in a position of power as my youth group leader and someone nearly 11 years my senior.

I naively placed my complete trust in you. As a new Christian I admired your relationship with God and believed your commitment to your faith was a sign of your integrity. My family also trusted you. They were uncomfortable with our relationship but reluctantly allowed it to continue, believing that I would be safe and protected with such a good Christian man. If they had known what you were truly capable of, I have no doubt they would have taken the necessary steps to protect me. 

I struggle to reconcile how judgemental and vocally condemning you were about the decisions made by others when you were engaging in such damaging behaviour that would’ve rightly appalled any reasonable person. The audacity to believe you had the right to cast judgement on others for what could at worst be described as minor missteps, or moral rules that only the most misguided of self-righteous zealots would ascribe to, while you were engaged in unlawful sexual activity with a minor in your pastoral care is beyond confounding. The hypocrisy messed with my head then and continues to do so now.

It is crucial that you understand the gravity of your actions and the profound impact they had on my life.

Jane (left) and friends at youth camp (Image: Supplied)

Your insistence that I was “special,” sits uncomfortably with me. I was not special. I was an ordinary kid, not mature beyond my years in any way. The photos and letters from that time reflect a typical teenager – talking about trivial annoyances in class, getting upset when my favourite felt pens went missing, and complaining about homework assignments. There was nothing extraordinary about me, except for the fact that I fell prey to the influence of someone who held power over me.

In a weird twist, the way you put me on a pedestal strongly implied I had some sort of hold over you. This inappropriately misplaced power in my hands that I wasn’t ready for. By making yourself such a constant presence in my life, convincing me we were divinely destined to be together and being so clearly enamoured with my affection meant there was a huge weight of responsibility on me not to hurt you. At that age I shouldn’t have been shouldering that level of emotional responsibility. 

When we met up 10 years after our relationship ended, I believe you were looking for closure – and perhaps you found it. You may have even believed I found closure at that time. I want you to know the cloud of shame that constantly hung over me meant I wanted to play down and bury the years we were together because to acknowledge what happened with us meant acknowledging I had been part of something sinister. I spent decades feeling culpable for what happened between us, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I still struggle with accepting there is not some part of me that is rotten to the core. 

That makes me so sad for the little girl who simply headed along to youth group to connect with friends and take part in some fun social activities. I never felt like I was inherently contemptible before I walked through those church doors. 

I grieve deeply for the youth I should’ve had and often consider how much healthier my relationships with others would’ve been if I hadn’t been robbed of an ordinary youth.

Relationships shape how we interact with the world, and our teenage years are when we truly discover ourselves and set the blueprint for our lives ahead. Spending the majority of my teen years in a relationship that was truly the opposite of normal and healthy set a warped blueprint for how I have gone on to operate in close relationships. The shame and self hatred I’ve carried has seen me sabotage good relationships and stick around in ones where I was treated badly because I simply didn’t believe I deserved good things.

I have been in treatment for severe clinical depression along with social and generalised anxiety for the best part of 20 years.

The harm caused by our relationship extended beyond me as an individual. You deceived my family, the church, and all the innocent young people in our youth group in the most serious of ways. These young individuals attended church with the intention of deepening their relationship with God. Little did they know that the person they trusted most – the head youth group leader – was embroiled in disturbing behaviour. Their innocence and trust were shattered alongside mine.

Your stringent rules and expectations regarding our conduct as members of the youth group were controlling and suffocating. You dictated the music we listened to, the clothes we wore, and prohibited us from participating in innocent activities like trick-or-treating or shopping on Sundays. 

You went so far as to use my best friend as a sort of pawn in the game of our relationship, asking her to keep watch while you spent time with me in the changing rooms at the gym, and inviting her to join us on outings so we could be together without it looking suspicious to others. You told her she would be the maid of honour at our wedding and godmother to our children to make her feel special and like she was doing something good and blessed by god in protecting the nature of our relationship. 

Over time my friends, who were essential to what should have been my well-rounded development, grew distant and felt as though they had lost me entirely due to your pervasive presence.

The people who I was close to at the time I attended the youth group and who now know the true nature of our relationship are suffering from the guilt of not having stepped in to stop it. They feel an immense and unjustified level of responsibility for the harm that was done, and have had a really difficult time coming to terms with what they consider to be their role in the damage that was done. I will tell you what I have told them so many times, that the blame lies squarely on one person’s shoulders, and that person is you. 

I’ve spoken a lot and repeatedly of how wrong your actions were and how much damage they caused not just to me but to people I care deeply about, and there’s more I could say on these things but there are also other areas I want to speak to.

One of those things is my reason for making the podcast series. I know you have no choice but to accept this series is being made, but I also hope I can help you understand why.

I’ve mentioned that I spent decades in denial of the reality of what happened to me as a teenager. In 2016 I read an article that was about someone I knew who had groomed a number of young women. He was some thoughts expressed by his victims that hit me like a lightning bolt they put into words so many of the things I had been suppressing for so long, I recognised my own experience in these from that moment on over the past seven years I have been wrestling with processing everything that happened to me and the consequences that followed.

It’s been a really hard journey. I’ve had to face many confronting memories, and attempt to rebuild my sense of self worth. The good news is that in facing the facts of the harm that was done and how it has since affected my life has given me the opportunity to start working through it with the hope that I can reach a place where I’m no longer shackled by the chains of my past.

It’s my hope that in talking about my experience in a format where I have control of the narrative might provide the same clarity to other victims that I got when I read that article in 2016. If I can help other people with similar experiences realise they are not at fault for things that have happened to them as the result of someone else’s decisions then I will have achieved part of what I set out to do in making this series.

I also hope it will serve as a resource to churches and other organisations that have a youth community in order for robust and actionable policies to be put in place, and followed through on for the protection of those in their care.

It’s also my hope that this series will help others who work with young people to realise the necessity of boundaries and perhaps reflect on their own behaviour or potential behaviour in order to either address their wrongdoing or prevent it from happening in the first place. Perhaps if you’d heard a story like this from someone who lived it before you met me, none of this would have happened.

The final reason for me doing this series is to be able to take my power back. By speaking my truth, in a public forum, I am no longer holding a deep, dark secret that I should never have had to hold in the first place. For too long, the narrative of what occurred between us has been governed by your version of events. My account is not watered down. It is not exaggerated. It’s just the truth and I’m hoping the truth will set me free.

I know it’s not an ideal situation for you to have to revisit the past in this way, and believe me when I say I’d rather not be in a position where I feel the need to tell my story. Were it not for what you exposed me to in my youth, we would not be sitting in this room today. We are here as a result of your decisions, not mine, and I will not be made to feel guilty for doing what is right for me. You don’t have power over me any more.

While I choose to believe your intention was never to hurt me, it’s really important you understand that intention and impact are not the same so there can be no justifying the damage that has been done. 

Dear Jane is made by The Spinoff Podcast Network with the support of NZ On Air. All five episodes are available now on SpotifyApple Podcasts and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. The series contains strong language and features, themes of sexual abuse, as well as explicitly sexual material and mention of suicide. Please take care.

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