photo of Anaïs Chartschenko by Winter Hart
cross posted from Patheos Leaving Fundamentalism
Every time I apply for a job I have a pang of fear. Some jobs want to check your references. I am not afraid because I have a criminal history. I am afraid because my whole high school experience was a fraud. You see, I was home schooled. At first, I had big, thick text books with spines that smelled nice. I didn’t mind this as much, even though I was mostly left to my own devices to do my school work. I wanted to be smart. Discipline was not an issue. I wanted to go to college. I now see my naivety. I should have paid more attention when church members kindly informed me that college wasn’t for me or that god had other plans…
Before long, my mother had switched the whole curriculum up. I now was to do ACE which came in shockingly simplistic booklets, called PACEs. I was told it was much better, and I could work at my own pace. PACEs, get it? So for three years I stared at the PACEs, carefully filling in bubbles with my number two pencil. I can’t explain the boredom. I can’t explain the anger I felt with every depiction of a submissive woman making dinner. The curriculum featured multiple choice questions with only one right answer. There was no critical thinking involved.
I particularly hated the comic strips. I was in high school, and there was a cartoon man at the bottom of every page letting me know his thoughts on my obedience! There was always some moral to be found. Every subject was related back to the bible in the most annoying way.
Notice how the woman is in the kitchen drying the dishes, while the men have been out fixing stuff. In PACEs, women are always illustrated doing traditionally ‘feminine’ activities.
My sex education was a picture of a chicken and an egg. I suppose I did not need the chicken picture as I had already learned about the birds and the bees from upstanding members of the community who liked raping young girls.
I am sure that the isolating nature of the program helped make me even more vulnerable. I was so lonely. Most of the other homeschoolers I was around were younger than me. It was a much smaller pool to draw friends from than a traditional school. When an adult man decided he was my boyfriend, I was flattered. Even after he started abusing me, I made excuses to myself because I wanted to believe him when he said he loved me. His family was viewed favorably in the church, as was his behavior. This adult man was allowed to be baptized with me in the context of a relationship. I can’t imagine now, as an adult, condoning an illegal relationship. At the time I didn’t see it that way, but that is why there are laws regarding this; it is never okay for an adult man to be in a sexual relationship with a minor. Of course, this is making ACE a spoke on a wheel of issues that surround fundamentalism.
ACE’s emphasis on modesty contributes to a culture of victim blaming and rape apology.
Fundamentalists taught me from a young age to be compliant at every turn. They taught me to fear the outside world. They taught me that men are always superior. They taught me that if something is shameful, shut the fuck up. Suffering is a virtue. I could suffer so much I deserved a cross. I took pride in how much I could take without crying. What else could I do? The adults had chosen this whole life style for me. The point of my homeschooling was to further isolate me from “worldly” things. I think that is true for a lot of homeschooled children. I don’t believe that parents should be able to make this choice for their children. Teachers have to go through years of college to learn how to educate. Why do we allow someone to control a child’s education simply because they could procreate? Every child deserves meaningful education. They deserve science and math. They deserve to learn social skills.
Fundamentalists truly believe it is their duty to teach that only their world view is relevant. Every other world view is wrong and anti-god. The only education that truly matters to them is Bible-related. Everything else is “of men” and not necessary. It is too bad that what is not necessary often includes science, world history, and sex education. My educator took it one step further – anything that disagreed with the brand of fundamentalism I was raised to believe in was blacked out with a marker. I later read about how the Taliban does that. I read about the publics’ outrage and thought, this happens right here. Society allows black markers to be used in limiting an already limited education! It is protected under a proud banner of religious freedom. Should religious freedom involve allowing children to be taught outrageous lies as truth?
Every member of a civilized society deserves the ability to fill out a job application without dread that the education chosen for them will come back to haunt them. They should be able to make an educated decision about whether they want to be cut off from society or not as adults. Exposing children to only one opinion robs them of the ability to learn how to make good decisions as adults. Trying to merge with society when you have been willfully ill prepared is fraught with difficulties. It also seems just plain wrong. When I did graduate, I took the paper my mother had printed to the local college. I tried to get a scholarship with my high marks. I was denied. They would not recognize my diploma as legitimate. I had taken no standardized tests, even the SATS. The years of scribbling feverishly in PACES meant nothing. It felt like god was laughing at me. I was again comforted by members of the church that as a woman, I didn’t need college anyway. Why, soon I would be bouncing a baby on either knee! Of course, no good christian boy my age would want me as I was damaged goods. An older man might be interested…. Of course, older men were always my problem.
photo credit: wikipedia
Cross posted from Patheos Leaving Fundamentalism
I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed.
The youth pastor finally entered the room like a Vegas magician, so proud of his show. I could tell he was really revving up for this one. He looked around the room, then focused his eyes on me. “Once you are touched, no one will want you. No one will marry you. No one wants to eat a donut that someone else already took a bite from. They throw it away.”
The other kids looked at me curiously. If they did not know, now they did. I was the donut. I was touched, I was impure, and he knew it. I was raped by someone the guy knew, and here he was telling me God thought I was a disposable tissue now in front of everyone. He went on and on about the virtues of virginity while I had that sensation of being swallowed by the floor.
His words began to melt together. I got up, and left the chapel. I did not return. I think that was the last time I went to the church.
I grew up. I met people who did not think that being a virgin was a prerequisite for being a good person. I told myself a million times that the metaphor was boring and stupid, but still, at night I would dream of it. I would feel unworthy. I would remember what he said in painful detail, and how he looked right at me in a room of teenagers to say it. It felt staged just to point out to the holy kids that I was not.
It speaks to the education on abstinence. If someone loses their hymen, we need to believe they still are worthy. Virginity as a commodity is foolish, and makes vulnerable people more so out of the shame society levels on them. Who wants to raise their hand in the chapel to say they are the donut?
(photo author’s own. Anais Chartschenko, Stuart Perrin, Kristina Jones)
I listened in rapt attention as he described in heart breaking detail the conditions in which he had found children. They lived in cages and were sold to traffickers for small sums of money by their parents. His eyes got teary, and so did mine. I was lucky enough to attend one of the many speaking engagements Stuart Perrin is appearing at to support his novel, “Little Sisters”. It’s a page-turner thriller of a book, with scenes from posh New York City to the hinterlands of Nepal, and the brothels of Mumbai. Three sisters are trafficked by their family with three very different results.
Months after I read the book and saw Stuart speak, I was still thinking of the children and his dedication to saving them. How did this man set out on a path that ultimately saved the lives of approximately 10,000 Nepalese children? I decided to ask him.
How did you initially become aware of child sex trafficking?
Before 1992, I knew nothing about the horrors of sex trafficking. I had been to India at least ten times; I’d driven past Falkland Road in Bombay (where the brothels are), but I only thought to myself it was another oddity of Indian culture; and never asked myself the question: how did these girls get to the brothels?
I had been opening meditation centers across the world at the time and I supported myself by running an art gallery in Manhattan. Several of my students asked me to start a center in Kathmandu, Nepal. What a great idea, I thought. So much of my life and spiritual education came from Asia. It would be a wonderful opportunity to give something back.
A few months later, my colleague and meditation student, Kristina Jones moved to Kathmandu to open a center. Not long after she arrived, she telephoned me in New York to say that she loved Kathmandu and found it wonderfully exotic, but had no idea how to spend her time when she wasn’t teaching. I promised her that something would come up; after all she was in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Two days later she called me back. She had gone to a UNWO (United Nations Women’s Organization) meeting in Kathmandu about sex trafficking. She had met a Nepalese doctor, Aruna Uprety, who told her of children being abducted and trafficked into sexual slavery. Girls between the ages of ten and fourteen years were bought by sex traffickers in the hinterlands of Nepal and sold to brothels on Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. These children were tortured and raped and forced to have sex with twenty men a day. They remained in the brothels until they became so AIDS- ridden that they were discarded like used tissues.
I said to Kristina, “This is our work. We have to help these children!”
What did you do to help in Nepal?
From 1992-1994, as President of the Bahini Foundation, I oversaw much of its operations. I stayed in close touch with Kris Jones whether I was traveling or in New York City. I tried to raise awareness in the United States about the horrific child trafficking situation in Nepal and India. I made a number of trips to Kathmandu and worked with Kris and the children in the safe house. To my dismay, at the time, the world was deaf and dumb. No one really cared. Most people just looked at me in disbelief that something like this was going on. Meanwhile over 200,000 Nepalese children were living in bondage, and at least 10,000 a year were being trafficked to Indian brothels.
Working with Dr. Aruna Uprety and RHEST, we first identified kids through offering free medical camps in remote villages and took referrals by police or teachers of families who were known to have trafficked their kids. We tried to convince their parents to put them in the RHEST safe house instead of selling them to traffickers. That was (and still is) challenging, because the poverty is so devastating. The average income for people living in the hinterlands of Nepal at that time was about $15 to $20 a year. Traffickers paid as little as $50 (the average wage of a teacher or policeman at that time) for a girl- and more if she was a virgin. The family was told that she would go to Bombay, Calcutta, or Delhi to “work.” No one in the village knew what the work would be, but they believed that the girl would be able to send money home. In addition, the family would no longer have to worry about having to raise a dowry for the girl.
We weren’t always successful, but the girls we were able to save were enrolled in local schools where they would be safe. We also welcomed women with children who had escaped from brothels in Mumbai. We had to remain vigilant to keep the girls from the clutches of sex traffickers even after we brought them to RHEST’s safe house.
On one occasion, Kris pretended to be a medical professional and went into the Falkland Road brothels to document the appalling conditions the girls lived in. Had the brothel owners known what Kristina was really up to, most likely they would have killed her.
In 1996, Kristina became ill. The pollution in Kathmandu was so bad she had begun to develop lung issues. I asked her to return to the United States for treatment. Dr. Aruna Uprety who ran RHEST (Rural Health and Educational Trust of Nepal) incorporated Bahini under the auspices of RHEST. Bahini was the first organization of its kind started in Nepal. About a year and a half ago, Aruna telephoned Kristina and I, and told us, that because we started the Bahini Foundation it saved the lives of about 10,000 Nepalese children.
What was your inspiration for “Little Sisters”, the novel?
The Bahini Foundation produced a three-minute promotional video, "My Name Is Gita” to raise money, which is still being shown on VTV in Hong Kong as a public service announcement. Kristina is an accomplished singer, and she sang a song in the video about a girl named Gita. After seeing the video, I knew the story needed to be told in a big way. The very idea that 200,000 children were being raped, tortured and forced to live in sexual slavery, and almost nothing was being done about it, made me sit down and write “Little Sisters.” The world had to know that this was going on. At first, I wanted to make a Hollywood film. I wrote a script, but no movie studio would touch it. “It’s too dark,” they said. I even considered making a documentary, but decided that was too dangerous. No brothel would allow us to film what really goes on. If we tried to do that, we’d probably get killed. I wrote “Little Sisters” as a novel because fiction was the only way I could render the truth and make it palatable for people to read. “Little Sisters” is a multicultural family story and a love story. The underlying dramatic theme is the horror of children being sold into sexual slavery. It shows how these children are transformed from innocent kids into sex slaves.
What are you currently doing as an activist?
My book, “Little Sisters” has been instrumental in setting up anti-human trafficking events in many cities throughout the United States. The whole point is to create awareness- to make people realize that this isn’t just a Nepalese and Indian problem. This is going on in just about every city in the United States. There are over 200,000 children being trafficked today in America and it’s a 32 billion dollar international business. I’ve done panels with members of the FBI, with police detectives that work in anti-human trafficking squads, and with heads of NGO’s working in the field at NYU and The Ethical Culture Society of New York City. I was recently given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the Atkinson Memorial Church in Oregon, City, OR. There are two events coming up in Carmel, CA and one in Monterey, CA the last week of January. I‘ve been given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the West Hills Universalist Unitarian Church in Portland. I will also be speaking to the Lion’s Club in Eugene, OR. Both of these events are the third week of February. In March I have two panel events in at Westchester County, NY public libraries. There will be a member of the FBI on one, a chief of Police, executives from NGO’s and someone from the D.A.’s office. In early April there will be a similar event at another Westchester County public library. Sometime, around the third week of April, there will be an all-day anti-human trafficking event at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, OR. Besides Kristina and myself, the list of tentative speakers may include members of the U. S. Congress.
How does the situation in Portland, OR and the USA compare with Asia?
According to the Portland Police, the situation in Portland is very similar to what I speak about in my book “Little Sisters.” In my book they are called traffickers and Gharwalli’s (Madams). In Portland they are called pimps. Children in Portland are kidnapped, seduced, bought, and stolen off the streets. They are raped, tortured, brainwashed and forced to sleep with twenty men a day. The situation in the United States is just as horrific as the situation I speak about in “Little Sisters.” Two hundred thousand girls are presently living as sex slaves in this country.
How can people contribute to this important work?
By becoming aware that sexual slavery is one of the most heinous crimes on earth today (a crime that’s equal to the holocaust); by letting their congressmen know about this crime and demanding that something get done; by volunteering time and money to authentic agencies that are working diligently to end this problem; by attending events, reading books, and educating themselves in regard to human trafficking; by being outraged; by saying to themselves that children are the future of our world and they can’t be living out their childhood as sexual slaves; by recognizing that slavery is a larger industry today than it was in 1840, etc. etc.
Men also need to be encouraged to get involved. They make up the largest percentage of customers in the sex trafficking marketplace. This is not just a women’s issue. This is a human issue. By bringing men and women together to protect our children, we create a stronger future for everyone living on this planet.
Anais Chartschenko is a contributing author of Love Magick Anthology. She blogs at www.anaischartschenko.com
Stuart Perrin, an American spiritual master of Kundalini Yoga, is the author of many books including The Mystical Ferryboat, Leah, A Deeper Surrender: Notes on a Spiritual Life, Moving On: Finding Happiness in a Changed World, and Little Sisters. He writes at: http://www.stuartperrin.com/
cross posted from Patheos
His mother told him she had seen demons around me. I had heard of overprotective mothers, but this was ridiculous. What was worse is that this guy believed his mom. He offered to pray for me. Guys- a word of advice: It is a complete mood killer to tell your date that you are praying for her immortal soul.
I actually tried to convince him I was not possessed, which is a sad thing to admit. It seems like something you would not have to do, but, alas… For some of us who grew up in a fundamentalist back ground this is par for the course. It’s eerily similar to the Monty Python skit about the witch. People love killing witches. It doesn’t matter what you do once someone decides they have seen the evil in you, either. Everyone else is dying for some entertainment, so now they see those damn demons too.
Were you physically attractive to someone? You are a witch. Did you dye your hair? Hate to break it to you, but you are a witch. Did you read books about evolution? You invited satan and his evil hosts in, sweetheart, and you are most certainly a witch. Did you eat cheese? Heavy cream sauces? Did you drink caffeine? Did you pierce your ears? Good heavens, gather round, we have ourselves a witch!
The prayers were flung at me hot with accusations. They were tawdry, these prayers. I don’t know why I still had the capability of being shocked after everything, but there I was. Shocked into silence, staring at this guy who claimed he loved me.
After that point, he treated me with less respect. I can’t believe I must say there was an after that point… I try to give myself a break- I was young, okay?! After all this talk of demons, the guy still claimed he was interested in marriage. At that time, I thought of myself as damaged goods. I was convinced I should take what I could get. One day I burned my back pretty badly on a hot radiator. My sister was spending time with us, and was surprised at how callously he treated my medical needs. She was an awesome sister and shared her concerns with me. I blew her off that day, but it stuck in my mind.
Shortly after that, we were in a car accident. As the car spun out of control, my delusions about being a good wife were shattered. I knew if I lived, I did not want to live like this. I could not marry someone who saw evil in me. I could not be expected to confess my bullshit sins to some judgmental preacher. I would never allow myself to be subjected to a Monty Pythonesque mob of witch haters again.
I ended the relationship. No one has accused me of being possessed since.
(in response to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ryan-j-bell/a-year-without-god_b_4512842.html )
I think the pursuit of knowledge is always beneficial. It doesn’t matter how you came to the decision that it is time to reflect and read about view points different from your own. So what that Ryan Bell is writing a book to document his process? I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to do the same thing.
How can I capture the emotion I felt at reading Carl Sagan’s eloquent explanation of the solar system some 14 years later? The feeling when I finally read a book by Richard Dawkins, who gave me science- that world that had been previously denied as the devil’s territory? My heart raced, I sweated, and I felt faint. I felt a weight lift from me. I was not the most important of creatures, one of god’s chosen in the remnant church. I was not about to be tortured, because it was not the end times as taught by the prophet.
I no longer was cursed by the sins of my ancestors. I was free of the sin that was put on me as the result of rape. I could listen to secular music, and revel in the beauty of opera; I could dance!
I am on one teeny tiny planet, with an atmosphere, and a moon that reflects light. I am an amazingly unlikely outcome of genetics. The world is full of these beautiful moments that I can appreciate because they are not tainted by sin. They are the remarkable outcome of thousands of years of evolution. When I stopped believing in the literal word of the Bible, and the Prophet, my depression became less marked.
I came from the religion that Ryan Bell came from. By his choice to live as an atheist even for one year, he is losing everything he built. I’m not sure that most people who are criticizing him understand what that means. He lost his career. The community he loved has disowned him. Unless his family is on the very liberal side, they may disown him too.
Seventh Day Adventism is very insular. They believe they are the remnant church, and everything outside of them is worldly. They do their best to avoid anything worldly. You can go your whole life without having to deal with anyone outside the church. They have their own churches, schools, and hospitals. They have their own television network, as well as publishing company because you are discouraged from reading anything that is not the bible or Adventist produced. In one of the towns I lived in, everything closed on Friday night in observation of the Sabbath.
I found out about Ryan Bell because I have a few of my old Adventist friends on facebook. They were talking about him. One of them claimed she could tell he wasn’t a good leader, and questioned his spirituality. If you are not all the way in, as demonstrated with Ryan Bell, you are out. You can not change the church from within for very long. It does not want to be changed. His big sins? He championed LGBTQ and womens’ rights.
I am glad he has decided to use his platform to talk about his experiences learning. He has come from a place where even thinking about questioning the status quo is sinful. I think he should be cut some slack. Who knows how he will feel in a year? Maybe he will be a Christian, and maybe he won’t. The point is, he will have been able to ask himself what he believes.
I made a list of 10 books that I read along the way. Each of these helped me explore the world outside of fundamentalist parameters:
1. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution- Richard Dawkins
2. Cosmos-Carl Sagan
3. Feet of Clay-Anthony Storr
4. Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology- Paul Broks
5. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales-Oliver Sacks
6. Beyond Good and Evil-Nietzsche
7. His Dark Materials- Philip Pullman
8. The Elegant Universe- Brian Greene
9. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings-Maya Angelou
10. Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs-Leonard Cohen
cross posted from Patheos
My rapist had listened to me. I had warned him I was thinking of telling on him. I was getting tired of being his rag doll. He explained very gently that no one would believe me, or if they did they would tell me it was my fault. He decided to demonstrate this. He was very sensitive this way.
He brought me to the pastor’s office on the big church campus. There were two men inside the office. The pastor, who I didn’t know, and a blond blind man, who I didn’t know. Then there was a rapist. And then there was me. Three adult men in a locked office, and a minor girl. Me. It’s good to know a room’s dynamics.
My rapist had big blue eyes that he filled with the most convincing tears. He cried about how I was making him sin. I was causing him to stray from the path, and he had raped and sodomized me, and blah blah blah cry whine poor him. I sat there silently. I mean, what a show! What should I say? Adult me wants to reach back in time and say fuck you to all the men in the room, dial 911 to report some rapes, and get child me out of there. But, alas, I had been programmed to be polite. Be nice. And I actually kind of felt sorry for my rapist at the time. I mean, he was crying! He was apologizing, kind of! Not really, but in a way!
After he was done sniveling, and was passed the tissues, all eyes turned to me. The Jezebel. They wanted me to agree to forgive this whole unfortunate event, to pray with all of them. The blind man offered that he used to be angry at god, like he could tell I was, but now he wasn’t! So see? It would be in everyone’s best interest for me to comply. Forgive and forget, and make nice with my rapist.
When I remained silent, they started to wonder if I was touched by the devil. That was why I was so alluring to this poor, helpless man. They wondered if I might need an exorcism. The rapist had seen me shake when raping me once, after all. What was that all about? Must be Satan (Sadly, I have no demonic powers. It’s epilepsy. Damn.)!
I didn’t want to have an exorcism. Everyone was praying but me, and my eyes were wide open. This was one of the most frightening events in my life. I wanted out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. He had just confessed to doing all this torture and somehow what he had always assured me was right: No matter what, it was my fault. No one would stop him, no one would help me. I was scum. He was holy; he just needed a quick touch up. “Dear Jesus, I totally raped the hell out of this underage girl. You forgive me though, right?” Of course! He was free and clear, his soul pure as a dove.
I remain soiled.
Starting tomorrow, my book will be on a special sale at Amazon for one week!
Today- World Poetry Day-I released my latest book. It is a YA novel in verse about a girl in treatment for anorexia.
Every bit of food I eat
Is turning into more thoughts
And what do I do with the thoughts
I am too afraid to say?
After a party changed everything, Miranda loses her appetite. She is placed in an eating disorder treatment program, where she must be brave enough to face the truth she was trying to bury.
A novel told in verse
Holy smokes. This is the kind of review that makes it worth rolling out of bed in the morning.
I love this quote by J.D. Estrada : "Disclaimer-if you're not ready for something raw and dark and honest-brutally honest-you might want to skip it."
Of course he goes on, and says why you do want it, but that line killed me.