Speaking the Unspeakable – The Allender Center Departs for Africa


For most people, everyday conversations do not include disclosure about arousal, genitalia, or the nuances of sexuality. The Allender Center on the other hand continually invites people to stretch beyond culturally normative vocabulary. Our vernacular brings out into the light what has been kept dark and secret, out where bodies, souls, minds and sexuality can bear their rightful truth and beauty.

It is not until we enter the specificities that we are able to engage the ways the abuse has penned roles, identities, and beliefs. The specificities are also where shame, arousal, ambivalence, and rage creep and stalk. So we often resist speaking aloud the specificities because the generalities offer the illusion of protection from humiliation and exposure. The specificities are the sensual moments (the tone of a hoarse whispering voice, the touch of scratchy, cheap bed sheets against bare legs, the metallic taste of fear…) and the taboo words.

Recognizing this reality, that we (The Allender Center) speak the unspeakable, I am caught with the difficulty of  how to do this work with cultures different than my own. People from different cultures might not respond well to our well-crafted tools of specificity. Our specificity may quickly lead us into the taboo.

I found myself in this predicament while I counseled a little girl from a world very different than my own. Typically boisterous, sassy and defiant, she grew uncharacteristically quiet. “I’m scared, I don’t like to be at home,” she labored to speak as she cowered and tried to hide her face. Her voice shook and it became apparent that she was conjuring every bit of courage to disclose. “My brother isn’t very nice. He hurts me.” I swallowed and attempted to calm the raging storm of thoughts. She did not need to say any more, I instinctively knew her brother as perpetrator. A specific art form is required for therapy with children and I was still fumbling about in learning this skill. Yet the added dilemma was interacting with a girl about her sexual abuse when it was unclear how her tribe interacted around such matters. How would I advocate for her with her parents in a male dominated culture where violence and abuse are often dismissed? How would I speak the unspeakable in a way that wouldn’t project Western self-righteous overtones?

I drew a stick figure and handed over my crayon. I awkwardly asked her to circle the areas where her brother had touched her. We never used words yet I knew that words would be required when I addressed her family.

We, The Allender Center, (specifically Dan & Becky Allender, Jan Myers Proett and myself) depart today for Ethiopia. We seek to tackle some of these questions with leaders from various West and East African nations who work with trafficked and exploited women. We hope to talk about sexual harm and abuse. We will fumble. We will need interpreters, and not just for our different tongues. Please pray and please return here for updates while we are away.