A new film, The Starling Girl, has hit the theatres, and it explores a common but often troubling phenomenon: abuse victims who have conflicted feelings about their perpetrators. Right up front: If you feel or have ever felt this way, please know that you are far from alone. It’s absolutely normal, maybe even typical. Abuse victims often see or read about other abuse victims because of court cases, either criminal or civil. (In part, that’s because it’s easy and safe for news media to report on cases that are in the justice system, as opposed to reporting on abuse allegations that have not been filed in court.) The media are drawn to conflict. They are also drawn to things that shock and appall us. Criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits involving abuse are, by definition, shocking and appalling and involve conflict, so they attract media attention.
But often, the media simplifies conflict, portraying it as a clear ‘good guys’ against obvious ‘bad guys’ situation. So, when abuse victims read or see in the news media other abuse victims filing lawsuits or prosecuting predators, they often see a complex situation boiled down to an oversimplified duality between two opposing parties. And our societal expectation is that if you’re in conflict with someone, your feelings about them are clear and simple. You have unadulterated hatred for them or at least strongly dislike or disagree with them. However, human experiences and emotions are rarely this straightforward.
Consider your feelings about your own parents, for example. You very likely have deep love and appreciation for them. Yet you are very likely also aware of, and feel hurt and disappointed over, their failings. We’re prompted to acknowledge this phenomenon – of victims with muddled feelings towards their perpetrators – because of a new film. It’s called The Starling Girl.
According to one reviewer, “The Starling Girl delicately explores the gray areas of teen angst and fundamentalist guilt,” calling it “a movie about a girl and her youth pastor that refuses easy answers.” It’s by Laurel Parmet, and it’s about youngsters growing up in a fundamentalist Christian community. She finds herself “entangled” with her married youth pastor “in a way that defies her beliefs and topples her sense of self.”
In an interview, Parmet says, “When I was a teenager, I had a relationship with an older man. At the time, I didn’t see myself as a victim. I didn’t feel like I was being taken advantage of in any way. I considered myself quite mature. After it ended, I had a lot of negative feelings about it. “But I didn’t really know why and didn’t care to delve too deeply,” she explains. Years later, she interviewed women from conservative religious backgrounds and patriarchal churches.
She learned that “they believed that it was a woman’s responsibility not to lead a man into temptation and that their bodies didn’t really belong to them. My initial reaction was shock. I realize this guilt that I carried, that I don’t think I was really aware of.”
Then, she re-examined what a minister had done to her years earlier when she was a teenager. She realized that “he really was taking advantage of me.” And with this realization came a torrent of conflicting emotions. Out of that jumbled set of feelings came Parmet’s decision to make this film.
Parmet’s path is a familiar one to us here at Horowitz Law. We have helped survivors of abuse in many denominations, many of which are similarly male-dominated. Many victims of abuse in these kinds of contexts struggle with being both repulsed by the actual abuse and cover-ups AND feeling good about and grateful for the positive aspects of being in a religious community.
So she “wanted to make a film looking back at my experiences and exploring these universal feelings to really show what it’s like to get wrapped up in something that is intoxicating and exciting, and to show how anybody can fall into situations like this.” Parmet expresses the hope that this film will help people “see how complicated these situations can be. We can be exploited while also wielding power. Both of those things are truths.”
We at Horowitz Law share her hope. As more and more people talk publicly about abuse, more and more people will express and explain their own conflicting feelings toward the adults who assaulted them. That, in turn, we believe, will enable more abuse survivors who have started recovery sooner and whose feelings are, as Parmet says, “nuanced.” Then, healing will become less difficult for the men and women who experience both positive and negative feelings toward the individual who molested them.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.