A lesbian who was raped by her pastor to “heal” her of being gay has spoken out about her experience ahead of the government consultation on a conversion therapy ban.
Angela Paterson is now 49 years old and living openly as a lesbian, but told the i that she’ll “never forget” her horrific experiences of conversion therapy as a vulnerable teenager.
Paterson joined Lancing Tabernacle Church in West Sussex, which at the time was led by reverend Max Donald, when she was 14.
When she was 19, in 1990, she became homeless. Donald was aware that the teenager was vulnerable, with a history of sexual abuse, and asked her to move in with him and his wife.
Paterson said knew she was a lesbian, and believed what her evangelical church taught her – that being gay meant going straight to hell. Donald initially sent her to a counsellor for conversion therapy, but when that was ineffective, he embarked on four years of abuse in his mission to “heal” her.
The abuse began gradually, Paterson explained: “I’d be in bed and he would come into my room with a cup of coffee, sit on the bed and on the odd occasion touch my hair and say, ‘We really want to look after you.’ Then we would be in the lounge and he would just grab my hand.
“I was confused but I also thought, ‘This is a pastor, someone I can trust.’ Then I was at the fridge one night and he grabbed me and kissed me on the lips. I was really taken aback but he was trying to reassure me, [saying], ‘It’s OK, I just care about you.'”
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The pastor told her that he could “heal” her of being a lesbian, and the abuse soon turned into rape as a form of conversion therapy.
Donald would tell her that the rape was “OK by God”, and she added: “As far as I was concerned, he was closer to God than anybody else… I thought it might work. I was a broken person when I moved there. So I stayed.”
Finally, at the age of 23, Paterson confided in the wife of a youth leader, and while they originally took her away from the pastor to a residential evangelical house, they soon sent her back. Once she returned, she was forced to “confess” to having an “adulterous relationship” with the pastor in front of the entire congregation.
Donald later also confessed “adultery” and left the church, and he passed away 2010.
In the years since she escaped the abuse, Paterson has tried to speak to various religious organisations about her experience, but has been dismissed or ignored, which she said has had a “huge effect on my wellbeing” and deterred her from going to the police.
“It’s another way of systematically shutting people down,” she added. “It’s so messed up and so patriarchal.”
In a statement to the i, Lancing Tabernacle Church said it was “completely unaware” of Paterson’s allegations, but insisted they would treat such claims “very seriously indeed”.
Now, Paterson has decided to publicly speak out about her experience ahead of a government consultation on conversion therapy which will “ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom”.
Paterson insisted that any form of conversion therapy, from rape to prayer, causes huge “damage”, and that any religious exemptions “would still leave it wide open to abuses happening”.
She desperately wants to use her experience as evidence for the consultation, insisting she would speak to MPs “in a heartbeat”, and urged the government: “Get some people in a room who have had experiences of this and deeply listen to them.”
Anyone who has been effected by rape or sexual abuse can contact the Rape Crisis hotline on 08088029999 in the UK, or the RAINN helpline on 800.656.4673 in the US.
Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) can also be contacted on 08088010340.