Author: Dr. Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D. | April 2016

Arilia Winn, 25, may not have worn a scarlet letter, but she sure felt like one was on her back every Sunday she attended church. At the age of 24, she was an unwed, pregnant, Christian who was active in her church. Like the character, played by Hester Prynne in Scarlet Letter, who bore an illegitimate child, she too was introduced to the ugliness of the human race, but she never expected it from Christians! Yet, she exhibited great strength and maturity. This was just another form of abuse that she would endure and overcome. Read about her encounters and her words of encouragement to those who find themselves in abusive relationships.

Arilia Winn
photo courtesy of  Arilia Winn

People in the church say they’re pro-life, are the same individuals who shame unwed mothers 

Life hasn’t dealt you the best hand. Tell us about some of your adversities. Share how you were able to turn from victim to victor.

While pursuing my college degree, I met a young man who attended the same college and found myself in an abusive relationship for two years. The only route of escape was to move hundreds of miles away. I attempted to pick up the pieces of my life and continued pursuing my degree, at a different college. It took me seven years, but in 2012, I graduated from Santa Ana College with an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Bethune-Cookman University. I am currently pursuing a master’s in marriage and family therapy.

I want to help individuals who are in abusive relationships. I am currently a Crisis Line Advocate at a shelter for sexual assault and family violence. In this role, I instruct individuals to be safe at all times and watch for the red flags – power and control, which includes a partner wanting to know where you are at all times, who is overly charming, who puts you on a pedestal and you become his/her everything. He/she isolates you from family and friends and wants to spend all of his/her time with you. In other words, he/she is extreme.

Some examples of unhealthy extreme, behaviors that are red flags are: (1) Being asked to take pictures of street signs and landmarks and text them to him/her, to show your whereabouts and confirming that you are where you say you are and (2) Using tracking devices and taking other unnecessary means to monitor your activities. There are many other activities that are abuse indicators and each situation is unique. If you are uncomfortable in a relationship at any time, consider it a red flag and follow your instinct. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship:

  • Ask for Help. The first thing you need to do is reach out for help. Abusers have a pattern and it’s rare for them to change their behaviors. They will stalk and continue to abuse. Also, abusers can be male or female. Abuse can occur physically, emotionally and/or mentally. Pay attention and do not discount, ignore or excuse unwanted behaviors from anyone.
  • End all Contact. Stop seeing or talking to your abuser, totally!
  • Stay with Caution. If you choose to remain in an abusive relationship, have a safety plan. Keep important documents and items next to the door in one suitcase, in case you need to leave quickly. These documents include your and your children’s birth certificate, identification, change of clothes, prescriptions and anything that you need to survive that can fit in one item that you can grab and go! However, as previously stated, it is rare for an abuser to change and the best plan is to ask for help and end all contact with your abuser. Get away and stay away.

You are a single, Christian, unwed woman who had a child out of wedlock. What was the reaction from Christians and non-Christians? 

Arilia and Gia Winn
Photo courtesy of Arilia and Gia Winn

After ending the abusive relationship, I entered into an open relationship while pursuing my bachelor’s degree at Bethune-Cookman University. I became pregnant in my final year of college; however, I continued and was determine to earn my degree. I had a clear plan. Prior to this, I was always placed on a pedestal by peers and people in the church, because I did the right things. When I became pregnant, I was surprised by how I was treated by my Christian friends and associates. I was told that having a baby would be the downfall of my life. I lost lots of friends. I didn’t receive support or encouragement from my “church family.” People in the church say they’re pro-life, are the same individuals who shame unwed mothers. No matter what we do – keep the child or abort the child – we are shamed and feel like our place is not in the church. Many told me that God was not pleased with me. I wasn’t the first to be pregnant and unwed and I won’t be the last. Although some Christians were not supportive while I was pregnant, they were more receptive and accepting after my daughter was born. They even donated clothes. However, the friends that I lost are long gone. On the flip side, being unwed and pregnant did not phase non-Christians. In fact, they congratulated me and welcomed me more than Christians.

What are some struggles you experienced? What have you discovered about yourself? About God? 

The biggest struggle I have is in the church – finding my place in church ministry. I am unable to relate. I am a mother, but I can’t related to married mothers. I can’t relate to singles, because they are not parents. Now that I am single with child, what’s my place in the church? This is not addressed. There are no ministries where I fit in and feel comfortable. I can’t go out with married individuals, because I don’t have a husband and I can’t always go out with singles, because I do not have a babysitter and cannot stay out late, because of my responsibilities.

Another struggle is getting on my feet financially. When I file my taxes now, I am head of household. I’m 100% responsible for my family, 100% of the time. With this in mind, 50% of my paycheck goes to my daughter’s daycare. The other 50% goes to rent and bills. However, I don’t plan to be single forever and I’m expecting to earn a better income.

The church does not serve our needs.

Where are you now and where are you going?

I was living in a house that my stepdad provided. I recently moved out; now I  have my own place. I’m working. I’m in school. I’m taking care of my family. Things are getting better. My daughter is in daycare and she loves it. However, I want to help establish support for single mothers so that we can have some time to ourselves – to go to the library alone and read a book, get a manicure and just have some “me” time. I want to use my testimony to reach other women. I want to establish a ministry for Christian single women, because we are so common, but we’re made to feel uncommon; the church does not serve our needs. I want to provide online tips to young mothers, from a biblical prospective.

What advice would you like to share with other young ladies who are in similar situations, when it comes to dating? 

If you are going to date, establish healthy dating practices. Wait to introduce your children to the person you are dating. Make sure the person is going to be around six months later, because children attach to people very easily and then you will find yourself having to do damage control. Make sure you establish stability for your children.  Don’t just date anyone, especially when you’re feeling lonely. Put your child first. I believe there is someone out there for me and I want a serious relationship only.

Our motto is Learn, Build, Inspire, Model, Promote, Love … LIFE! What does this mean to you?

It means, I’ve learned from life’s experiences. I can learn from the bad and my mistakes. I can then use them to build myself and others. By not repeating mistakes and promoting healthy relationships, I aim to model and be an example to others.

Well said, Arilia, you attract what you say you want. Readers, say what you want and set boundaries. Speak life into your situation and act accordingly. Look for that silver lining in terrible situations. Your testimony just might be a transitional, pivotal point for others as they travel this life’s journey and save them some heartaches. You never know whose life you might save – physically, spiritually or professionally. Thank you Arilia, Keep us posted so we can update our audience after you have earned your master’s degree. 

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