Journey Story

Reporting Sexual Assault, As A Queer Woman

by Rev . Katherine Katsanis-Semel

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault, violence

The incoming President of the United States has an awful history in regards to the sacred feminine. As Christians, we cannot always control the broader cultural climate (try as we will, and try as we must), but I encourage us to remember that whenever we move into and out of fear and shame, and whenever we tell the truth about terrible acts, we honor that which is holy. In these moments, we honor that which is holy in ourselves and others.

Truth telling liberates—it always has and it always will. 

This remains a constant, even in these troubling times. Whether or not we are persecuted for it, truth telling fuels liberation of all kinds – so help us God. That is why, as a President Elect accused of sexual assault becomes President, I am telling this story.

Before I was assaulted, I had a healthy sexuality, which had not become either something to which to be addicted nor something to be buried. My sexuality was a playful part of me that gently weaved together Divinity and humanity. I knew folks who felt great pain, in relation to their sexualities and/or sexual identities.

I also knew folks who felt great pain, in relation to their gender expressions and/or gender identities. Yet, for the most part, I wasn’t one of them. I can see now that it was hard to appreciate the power of this aspect of life when I had not experienced its shadow side.

All of that changed a few years ago. 

I had returned from a retreat to New York City, where my spouse and I lived. I woke up early one Saturday morning to go to Central Park and enjoy prayer and meditation. I was committed to deepening intimacy with my Higher Power; I decided that nature was the ideal environment, in which to explore this deepening intimacy. So, I got dressed, grabbed my prayer beads and kissed my spouse goodbye.

By 10 AM, I was about fifteen blocks north of our home, in Central Park. I sat on a bench with a scenic view and closed my eyes, as I engaged in what some mystics call, “Practicing the presence of God.” As I did so, I felt a distinctly different presence to my right; then, I felt this presence draw close. I thought that the presence was a big dog. Yet seeing as how I sat on a public bench, to which all have access, I didn’t give it much thought. I kept my eyes closed.

What happened next will be left undescribed, yet let’s just say that it wasn’t something that I would have chosen. After the terrible act happened, I staggered away from the bench. I staggered away, while the perpetrator disappeared into the woods. As I didn’t know if he had a weapon on him, I’d stifled screams, though I do remember wanting to scream. Within half an hour, amidst strange shock, I entered the Central Park police precinct and reported the crime.

I despised this part, even though I knew that it was important for me to do. 

I despised it because I abruptly outed myself as queer (due to a phone call to my spouse, in front of the officer to whom I made the report). Shortly thereafter, she arrived to meet me, confirming the fact that I am queer.

I resisted being seen as a queer woman, reporting that a man had violated me. The collective consciousness, with its history of variegated witch hunts, welled up within me and threatened to spill out everywhere, until I was swimming in it. So, I resisted, even though I went through with it. I resisted because intuitively, I knew that our systems aren’t designed for such disclosures; rather, they are designed for silence and compliance. They are still designed for women to seem hysterical and reactive.

These are truths that I cannot quite prove, yet they were confirmed due to how much resistance surfaced, as I explained what happened, filed a report and made a call. The officer was not emotionally supportive, yet neither was he hostile. I wonder if I had reported a crime perpetrated by a woman, if he would have been kinder. Who knows?

Even now, in telling my story, I expect questions about my identity as a queer woman. 

The first thing that my socially conditioned self feels required to share is that, before this terrible act, I was already queer. (By socially conditioned, I implicitly mean partially damaged. I mean partially damaged, as much of the conditioning that we receive as queer folks leaves us feeling less than whole.)

In my middle of the road, Kinsey Scale way, I’d already felt the welcomed touch of male and female identified individuals, prior to being assaulted. I was comfortable with that and still am. (For the record, I’ve sometimes referred to myself as a lesbian. I’ve referred to myself as such, since it’s been a socially efficient way to self-identify, particularly as pertains to being in a same-sex marriage.)

Furthermore, this terrible act did not change my fundamental sexuality, nor did it change my fundamental relationship with either my spouse or Higher Power. And this terrible act that left me feeling violated—enacted by a man—did not make me have sex with people of a different gender than those with whom I’d previously shared myself. It feels necessary to assert these truths, in a country wherein some still find value in reparative therapy; this harmful practice assumes that LGBTQ+ folks are inherently wounded and that we became how we are by way of trauma.

These truths acknowledged, a terrible act did challenge me. 

How did it challenge me? It challenged me to appreciate how powerful sexuality is, when it’s utilized as a way to express love. The flipside of reality often surfaces, in light of violence. For my experience of being assaulted brought the power of sexuality alive, in an intensely new way. It helped me to understand why so many folks in our culture, particularly Christian subculture, are preoccupied with sexuality. I sort of got it before, but, “…why all the fuss?” I’d ponder. As someone who had not been sexually assaulted, I didn’t get it.

I was also challenged when, several days later, other women and I were at the same precinct identifying the perpetrator against men who looked like him. It was a gutting experience, this task of needing to look one’s perpetrator in the eye, so as to identify him. To say that it’s traumatic is an understatement.

For me, identifying the perpetrator was almost as terrible as the assault itself. That expressed, what I gained from this initiation was the intimacy with God, for which I’d worked through less extreme means. “Lean on me—depend on me—surrender into me, so as to survive this,” Jesus whispered, at every turn. When I found out later that our perpetrator had been charged and brought to justice for multiple assaults, I felt relieved, yet not happy. Justice brought relief, yet not happiness.

For how could I be happy for an outcome whose cause I wanted nothing to do with? 

Even though lessons were gleaned from experiencing this terrible act and its aftermath, I still don’t fully know why it happened. Yet, I infer that it has to do with speaking up, writing down and reaching out. The meaning of this event for me has to do with conveying to folks of all genders and sexualities how powerful this aspect of us called our sexuality is. Like money, sexuality is neutral in nature, yet it can equally be utilized for good or evil.

Sexuality can be life-affirming or life-compromising. Our sexuality can be utilized to signify care or degradation. I also realized that queer folks (whose sexuality has been historically pathologized and criminalized), face an additional barrier when it comes to reporting sexual assault. If you’re anything like me, you don’t wish to seem like a damaged, “nasty woman” for pursuing justice.

That acknowledged, I know I must move into and out of fear and shame. I am invited to move into and out of fear and shame if I am to heal on this tough planet of ours. For “no justice/no peace” doesn’t just have to do with exploiting Mama earth and exploiting (many of) her children. Rather, “no justice/no peace” often has to do with the exploitation of “Mamas” everywhere, whether or not we are technically mothers.

Photo via flickr user martinak15

Comments (2)


Rev. Katsanis-Semel, I am
Rev. Katsanis-Semel, I am saddened that you had this experience yet I appreciate the spiritual truths that were revealed through your processing and contemplating it. Thank you for the reminder that truth-telling liberates and that even in the most threatening circumstances, letting go and letting God allows us to move forward.

"Shanti" Thomas E. Lorio

Dear Kat, Thanks for posting
Dear Kat, Thanks for posting a very powerful message.
You are a very brave woman and I admire your courage.
Blessings to you and your spouse,
Om Peace, Om Joy, Om Bliss, SRF Devotee in Austin, TX…..Shanti….

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