Kyoto after dark is beautiful and safe. Back roads, busy shopping areas—my friends and I comfortably explored them all, enjoying the city’s nightlife. On this particular night, we spent most of the evening interacting with the locals in a mixture of broken English and Japanese. Everyone was friendly, in spite of the fact that we could barely communicate.
After a few hours of wandering around, we decided to join some other young people on the bank of a river. As soon as we settled down, we were surrounded by a group of young men who all seemed a little tipsy. Since we’d had plenty of friendly interactions, we were happy to converse with them. Some even spoke a fair amount of English and were eager to practice on native speakers.
I had just finished talking with one of the boys when a sloppy smack on my shoulder alerted me to another presence. When I turned, I saw that a different boy had broken away from the group.
“OK?” He asked.
I could only smile back quizzically.
“OK?” He repeated.
I began to wonder if he was asking if I was OK, so my reply was a tentative, “Yes?”
He sat down next to me and placed his hand on my shoulder, a little lower this time. “OK?”
“Yes, I’m OK.” I was beginning to wonder what he was actually asking when he slipped his hand down and grabbed me inappropriately. “It’s OK?”
To move past this incident, I couldn’t view myself as a victim.
My mind went blank. I couldn’t seem to comprehend what had just happened, because I was sure it was a mistake. I smiled awkwardly and replied, “What?” Again he touched me and repeated his question. I was unsure how to respond. I had heard of sexual harassment and assault happening to travelers abroad but had never considered the possibility of it happening to me.
In disbelief, I gave my best attempt at a refusal. “No. That’s not OK.”
He grabbed me again, and then, in spite of my protests, again. No matter how forcefully I said no or tried to push him away, the message was not getting through. Finally, my friends picked up on what was happening and told him to leave. Something seemed to click, and he got up and joined his friends, one of whom apologized to me.
Although I initially laughed off the incident, during the cab ride home, I struggled with why this had happened. I couldn’t help feeling as if my innocence had been spoiled somehow.
I knew I could address the incident through prayer, instead of getting caught up in a swirl of questions and distress. So when we returned to our hostel, I called a Christian Science practitioner. We spoke a lot about innocence, and how it is a spiritual quality, not something that gets used up or sullied by another’s inappropriate action. Innocence, being a quality of God, belongs to God, who is Soul, and as the expression of Soul, we, too, are always in possession of it. Our innocence is intact—always.
As I gained a truer understanding of my innocence, I had a realization. To move past this incident, I couldn’t view myself as a victim, because doing so meant I would be accepting the mistaken idea that God’s law of harmony only operates part of the time and that God’s man is susceptible to random acts of evil. However, if I was going to rise above the belief that I was a victim, I could no longer identify this young man as a perpetrator.
At first, I felt unwilling to do this. Wasn’t he the reason I was in this situation? Why should I forgive him for his wrongdoings?
His innocence was unchanged, just like mine.
The thought that came to me next, however, was very clear. What I was seeing as his wrongdoing was, more deeply, the belief of evil masquerading as his own thoughts and actions. He was responsible for his actions and needed to correct them. But I needed to see the spiritual reality: that as God’s child he was completely innocent. His innocence was a part of his God-created identity and remained unchanged, just like mine.
This shift in thought—from viewing this man as my perpetrator to recognizing his true identity as a fellow child of God—brought me instant peace, and forgiveness came naturally. I was able to enjoy the rest of my time in Japan without any fear or lingering concerns.
I’m also grateful to have this experience to draw on when I see news stories dealing with sexual harassment or assault. While our gut reaction may be to assign the roles of “victim” and “victimizer” to those involved, I’ve seen the power of prayerfully defending everyone’s spiritual innocence and denouncing the lie that God’s man could be capable of evil. This understanding of who each of us truly is healed me, so I know it can bring to light each individual’s inherent purity and blamelessness.
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