Prophetic Survivors: Brianna Stevenson Kenyon
In the center of a large church classroom, a group of teenage girls formed a circle and passed around a rose. “I want you to touch the petals,” their retreat leader instructed them. “Then give the rose to the girl next to you.”
By the end of the rose’s journey, its petals had wilted. “This rose is ugly because so many touched it,” the leader said. “This is what will happen to you if you have sex with men who aren’t your husband. You’ll be ruined.”
That word—ruined—sounded all too familiar to one of the girls in the circle, Brianna. The teacher who had recently raped her had said the same thing.
Brianna’s rapist was David Beckner, whom she met her freshman year at Grace Baptist Christian School in Gaylord, Michigan in the fall of 2004. Beckner had just been hired as a teacher, as well as an Assistant Pastor at Grace Baptist Church.
Brianna was one of many abuse victims at Grace Baptist Church. Now, she has joined forces with other Grace Baptist survivors as part of the Blind Eye Movement, which she named. She chose the name not only because so many people were blind, often willfully, to the abuse going on around them, but because the victims themselves were blind to their own victimhood. Blindly led by pastors and church leaders who did not have their best interests at heart, Brianna and fellow survivors like Ruthy Nordgren were fed a profound lie—they were the problem, seductresses, at fault for their abuses.
Standing in the rose circle, Brianna had realized that it wasn’t just her rapist who believed she was ruined. It was the church, too. And if the church believed she was ruined, Brianna thought, then God must as well.
Brianna’s desire to please God had drawn her to Beckner—he had offered to counsel her. Beckner and his wife bought Brianna a Bible and invited her to beach days at Lake Michigan and game nights in their backyard. And then, during a counseling session at school, Beckner told Brianna that her single mom wasn’t enough—she needed a father figure. He said that he and Brianna needed to make a covenant in which she would promise to do everything he told her to do, including calling him “Daddy.” He read Bible verses about covenants aloud then had Brianna promise to obey him.
A “Covenant” of Lies
Soon after the “covenant” began, one of Beckner’s sons was hit by a car. This, Brianna said, is when Beckner started to touch her constantly—hugs as he cried about his son, kisses on the cheek in the hospital hallway, and hand-holding in the car when he left his wife at the hospital in Grand Rapids and drove back to Gaylord with Brianna. “This,” Beckner said, “is what fathers and daughters do.”
Beckner had previously made a rule that he could only hug Brianna with his wife in the room. Brianna said she felt uncomfortable with Beckner’s new behavior, but she couldn’t get past the idea that he was a pastor, a self-proclaimed godly man, and a former Marine who kept and enforced rules. He told her that father-daughter dancing in his kitchen, while no one else was around, was normal. She swayed in his arms until he spun her around to face a mirror and said, “Oh man, wouldn’t we make a great couple?”
One evening, Beckner told Brianna that they were going on a father-daughter ice cream date. There never was any ice cream, Brianna told me. There was a long drive and hand holding. There was Brianna shaking in the passenger’s seat, shaming herself for being so uncomfortable. And there was a rest stop where Beckner parked before saying, “let’s get in the backseat,” where he put his hand on Brianna’s leg while telling her this is what fathers and daughters did, that he loved her so much, that he would never hurt her. Then he kissed her cheek and ran his tongue across her lips.
Within a few weeks, Beckner was forcing Brianna to make out with him whenever he could. Anytime she would confront Beckner, Brianna said, he would tell her that she was the one doing something wrong by not trusting him. And then, one day at the Beckner’s house, while his son sat in the next room, Beckner began kissing Brianna and made her put her hands inside his pants. He sat her on the kitchen counter and tried to rape her, and then did the same on the bathroom counter before laying her on the floor and penetrating her.
“I’m telling you no.”
As a seventeen-year-old from an extremely conservative church and school, Brianna did not know what sex was. Beckner finally asked Brianna if she wanted him to stop, and she immediately said yes.
“I don’t understand why you did that,” Brianna told him. “I did not want you to do that.”
“Are you just going to let any boy do that to you?” he replied.
“I didn’t know how to stop you,” Brianna said. “And I’m telling you ‘no’ now.”
“This is your fault,” Beckner told Brianna. “You should have told me to stop sooner. No boy can ever marry you because you’re not a virgin anymore. You’re ruined.”
And then, a few weeks later, Brianna stood in the circle, passing the rose around.
“I felt like I died,” Brianna told me. “I became an empty shell, a robot, a rag doll. I was ruined. I was unworthy of love. And my abuser was all I had.”
Beckner began to tell Brianna that when she turned eighteen in 2007, he would leave his wife so they could be together. With no outside influences, a difficult home life, and Beckner's brainwashing, Brianna believed him and did not understand why it mattered if she was eighteen. She still had no idea she was being repeatedly raped. She knew she hated her life, but she felt that she was the problem, that she wasn’t worth anything more than the hell she lived in.
Brianna said Beckner made her rehearse lines to recite to anyone who questioned her relationship with him. He told her that a GED was better than a high school diploma and convinced her to drop out of school. He told Brianna that moving his family to West Virginia, near his wife’s parents, was his duty as a good man. Once they were settled, he said, would leave them to spend the rest of his life with Brianna.
And then he coaxed Brianna to leave Michigan and move in with him and his family.
Beckner treated Brianna like a daughter at times—when she sat in the backseat of the van with his children, when he told her she had to get a full-time job, when he preached to her from the pulpit on Sunday morning as he wept impassioned tears while proclaiming his love for Scripture. Hours later, he would rape her again.
Truth and More Lies
And then, one day, during Brianna’s shift at Subway, Beckner’s wife, along with a pastor and his wife, confronted her.
“I know you’ve been having sex with my husband,” Beckner’s wife said. “Both of you need to be out by the time I get home from church tonight. You’re a whore.”
Brianna ran to call Beckner who yelled at her for apologizing to his wife and told her to say it wasn’t true, that she’d been sleeping with someone else. Panicked, Brianna tried to convince Mrs. Beckner that she’d misunderstood to no avail.
That night, Brianna packed her things and Beckner took her to a hotel. “Well,” he said after checking her in, “I gotta get back home and fix my marriage.”
The next day, Beckner put Brianna on a plane to her grandmother’s house. Soon after she arrived, Brianna said, began calling her constantly—for phone sex, to demand she get a job at a women’s clothing store so she wouldn’t be working with men, to tell her that he would commit suicide if she stopped speaking to him.
Eventually, Brianna began dating a man who told Brianna she wasn’t at fault for her relationship with Beckner. Brianna changed her phone number and filed a restraining order against Beckner. She hasn’t spoken to him since.
Brianna’s counselor taught her that she’d been abused, molested, and repeatedly raped. Brianna watched Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and discovered that she wasn’t the only person who had been forced into sex against their will. Even still, the effects of Beckner’s abuse rippled throughout Brianna’s life. She married her boyfriend who emotionally and mentally abused her. Eventually, they divorced.
In 2011, Brianna called Pastor John Jenkins, the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church and Superintendent of Grace Baptist Christian School, to tell him what her experience as a student had really been like. Jenkins seemed shocked by the information. It wasn’t until 2019, after Brianna told her story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and spoke with other survivors of abuse at Grace Baptist, that Brianna would discover Jenkins had been feigning surprise. He’d told a former student in 2010 that Beckner and Brianna had had “an affair.”
Jenkins, too, blamed Brianna for seducing Beckner. He had done nothing to stop Beckner from harming Brianna during his time at Grace Baptist or to keep Brianna from moving to West Virginia to live with the Beckners. And neither, Brianna learned, had Robert Perrotti, a pastor at Grace Baptist Church and the principal of Grace Baptist Christian School who had received a letter from a fifteen-year-old classmate of Brianna’s named John Pavlick expressing concern about Beckner and Brianna’s relationship.
Convinced that what had happened wasn’t her fault and terrified for Beckner’s daughter whom she had loved like a sister, Brianna finally went to the police. But an officer told her that there was no chance the prosecutor would take her case. Years later, she’s trying again, because, as she put it, “there’s no statute of limitations on hurt.” The detective Brianna is working with now says that the prosecutor who wouldn’t take her case made a huge mistake. If the law will allow, he wants to help Brianna press charges against Beckner.
Tear Away the Blinders
Brianna is no longer a robot or a rag doll in the hands of a predator. She dyes her hair as an emotional outlet—something she did that night in the hotel after Beckner left her. She is a gentle mother who attended to her daughters’ needs even as she spoke to me. And she tells the truth even through nervous laughter and nausea, even as she shakes on a Blind Eye Movement Facebook Live video while sharing her story.
“I want to help open all the blind eyes. I want to help girls see themselves as beautiful and worthy,” Brianna told me. “I didn’t feel like I was worth anything.”
Brianna and fellow Blind Eye Movement members pursue justice for victims and raise awareness about patterns of abuse at Grace Baptist so that future generations can be spared the horrors they endured. According to their Facebook page, “[On] December 9th, 2018, we went public with two survivors stories...since that time we have helped twenty-eight more survivors come forward.”
“Girls don’t have to be controlled or used for evil,” Brianna said. “Our bodies are our own. I feel like those messages can help so many girls who haven’t gone through hell yet and hopefully keep them from going through hell, as well as helping victims who have been abused to see their self-worth. Knowing other people have gone through what I’ve gone through has given me a little community. It helps a great deal.”
“Really,” Brianna said. “I’m just thankful to be alive.” Hell may still haunt Brianna, but she’s fighting back the darkness.
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