Solidarity Sunday: GiGi’s Story

January 27, 2020

by Gigi Townsend

Last month I was invited by the ACLU to meet with the Governor’s Chief Counsel at the State Capital to advocate, as a survivor, for criminal justice reform.

I am a survivor of violent crime by someone I trusted.

It was the first time I told my story publicly. After three years of doing the hard internal work of remembering, grieving, raging, healing, forgiving (myself, especially), and accepting, it was time to *RECLAIM MY VOICE*.

The only thing more devastating than the assault itself was the response of the Christian community when I disclosed. You’re lying. You’re jealous of his ministry success. You’re vindictive. You’re mentally ill.

And the subsequent loss of nearly my entire support system as a result… worst of all, most of my family.

The trauma of such responses from leaders and loved ones thrust many survivors into a destitute silence, never wanting to speak of it again. I was there for a season, speaking only with the professional support that have walked me through healing.

I refuse to *stay* there.

As I sat there in this prestigious building where the most influential policy makers sit, where survivors are both protected and dismissed, where perpetrators are both convicted and exonerated, where decisions are made on behalf of people like me and people like him, I was surprised by the lack of fear I felt. More importantly, the marked lack of shame, which once engulfed me.

The truth does not stop being truth just because others won’t believe it.

I was flanked by two other survivors who also told their stories. #Solidarity. The horror in the room was palpable.

As I spoke, some listeners averted their gaze, wincing at the circumstances around my assault (which was in front of my young children). Yet mine was unmoving. Wow. Somehow through three years of hard work, MY BACKBONE GREW BACK, and I suddenly just noticed. 😱💪🏽✊🏽

One of the most important parts of my healing journey has been training in martial arts. Go figure. The empowerment of knowing how to *fight back* – and kick a grown man’s *ss if I need to protect myself and my children – thrust me a mile ahead in healing. A different kind of “stand your ground”.

Somehow, this one hour at the State Capital, with the ACLU and my sister survivors standing behind me, was the equivalent of a year’s worth of martial arts. Truly. Telling my story is an elbow to the throat of the systems that protect predators and silence survivors.

So what does this have to do with Criminal Justice Reform?

Lawmakers say most survivors argue for longer sentences and harsher treatment. Indeed, these perpetrators deserve such, and, in general, sentences are WAY too short for the crimes committed. Yet, we were there to advocate for Criminal Justice Reform. What do I mean by that?

The reality is, 95% of state prisoners will be released from prison. So these perpetrators WILL be returned to our communities. They serve their time being treated like animals, so how do we think they will re-enter society being any less dangerous than they were the day(s) they perpetrated?

Quite the opposite. They are released into our communities *more* addicted, *more* violent, *more* hardened, having worked through *none* of the factors that contributed to the aptitude for violence and addiction. No programs in prison nor upon release as they transition.

There are many aspects of Criminal Justice Reform needed. This is one of them.

Furthermore, I say we start a movement for Criminal CHURCH Reform, too. Dismissing and invalidating the stories of survivors, thus protecting perpetrators as they continue to abuse others, should be a criminal offense. Statistically speaking, the average pedophile is reported SEVEN TIMES before any action is taken against them.

All those leaders who dismissed 20 years of claims by girls and young women that Larry Nassar was abusing them should have been held criminally liable.

All the moreso our “Christian” leaders who claim allegiance to the marginalized, colonized, Jewish carpenter whose life embodied the empowering of those victimized by a cruel system (and who became a victim of it, Himself); the One we call our Messiah.


#SilenceIsNotSpiritual is a call to action to the Church to stop standing by and start standing up for women and girls who experience violence.

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