Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment and my seminary, Biblical Seminary, have teamed up to offer a 3 credit course for seminarians on the topic of child sexual abuse prevention and response. This course will run on our Hatfield campus on Monday nights during the month of June. To my knowledge, a course like this has not been offered before. I highly encourage you to send your pastors or church leaders for some continuing education.
Category Archives: sexual abuse
A few years ago, Dr. Diane Langberg presented on the topic of shame at the 2014 Community of Practice hosted by the American Bible Society. She describes the toxicity of shame as a distinct part of trauma, especially betrayal trauma. You will learn about the cognitive phase of shame, kinds of shame experienced and how the response to shame takes one of 4 common forms (i.e., withdraw, avoid, attack self, attack others).
Make sure you watch to the end as she shares some insights to how God understands and responds to our problem of shame. See how Jesus enters in to our shame.
Take a look at most books and resources for adults with abuse histories and you will discover that they do a great job illustrating the experience of females. The vignettes are often about the experience of young girls. The pronouns used tend to be female. These books are incredibly important and I wouldn’t suggest for a second that there are too many such books. But if you are a male and you have a history of sexual abuse, you may have to look far and wide to find resources that tell your story.
Look no further. Andrew Schmutzer, Daniel Gorski, and David Carlson have published, Naming Our Abuse: God’s Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016). All three tell their stories but do so in a way for other survivors to process (and re-write) their narratives as well. The book is written in 4 sections and is in the form of a journal with ample room for the reader to write along with the authors. The sections, The Wreck, Accident Report, Rehabilitation, and Driving Again, enable the reader to reflect on his own experience as well as move into next steps and ways to cope–first illustrated by three different voices and then followed by a good number of questions to engage. I would highly recommend that readers share the experience with a trusted friend and/or counselor so as to manage the response to the subject matter. As I said in my blurb, “…work slowly through this book, examining how you might tell your story (which has not ended!) to yourself.” Our stories are not over and it is important to examine how we may distort our own stories (or have them distorted for us by voices from our past or present).
One of the little treasures in this book are the letters the three men write to their little boy selves long ago. Read these letters and consider what you would say to your younger self from your present self (but avoid shaming and judging that child that you were).
Lady Gaga has a new song about the aftermath of sexual assault. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you likely have heard of Lady Gaga who is known for crazy getups and stunts. Known in my household as the lady who wore the meat dress, she sings these words (I’ve included just a few lines) in the song “Til it happens to you.”
You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine
Tell me, what the hell do you know? What do you know?
Tell me how the hell could you know? How could you know?
Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real
(How could you know?)
No it won’t be real
(How could you know?)
Won’t know how I feel
Her message is clear: If you haven’t been raped or assaulted (or experienced any other sort of trauma) you can’t possibly know what it is like. And since you can’t know what it is like, stop giving superficial comfort and advice.
Is Lady Gaga right? Does she offer sound counseling advice?
Yes and no. Yes, we are far too willing to offer platitudes to people in pain and wonder why they get angry and hurt and avoid us altogether. Lady Gaga captures the sentiment of the doubly hurt–first by the initial trauma and second by foolish words. The ancient Greek Aeschylus aptly puts it this way
It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer
Our quips roll easily off the tongue, but they injure the already wounded. Before you speak to someone and offer your ideas, do your friend a favor and be quiet. Ask them again (and again) to tell you what they experienced (past or present tense). But I don’t think Gaga goes far enough. I would argue that EVEN IF you have experienced the same trauma as the person in front of you, stop thinking that you know what they are feeling and struggling with. You may, but you may not as well. Do not assume your experience is theirs. Listen. More than you think you need to. Assumptions of “getting it” communicate that their pain doesn’t really matter to anyone.
But also, Lady Gaga is wrong (and I get it, this is art not counseling skills training!). It is possible to help others even when you have not had their experience. As long as you approach your work with humility and the heart of a student, you can do much good. You bear witness to their experience through your reflections and observations. You can ask good questions and paint word pictures of trajectories of growth. Do not think that just because you did not have the trauma, you have nothing to offer. Offer yourself (more than your words). If you fail to offer yourself out of fear of not being adequate, you also harm by not giving the present of being understood.
But let Gaga’s anthem be a challenge to those of us, myself included, who speak before listening and who assume rather than learn. We won’t get it. But we can bear witness.
Seeking justice for self and others is a good thing. No, it is a “God thing.” This world was created to be just and one day it will be made right again. However, now we live in a world where justice is sorely lacking around the world. Even in the United States where the rule of law is paramount, justice is difficult to come by for certain segments of society and for those especially who are abused in secret.
We’re doing a bit better. Rape and other sex crimes are taken more seriously. Laws are changed to allow old crimes to be brought to trail. Notice that the movie Spotlight is in the theaters, highlighting the massive cover-up of church sex abuse crimes. Churches are now much more serious about protecting the most vulnerable in their midst–in part due to increased child protection measures required by law. Organizations like GRACE tirelessly provide prevention education.
You might think then that victims will find it easier to report their crimes and to pursue criminal justice. And I suspect the data would show that more do report their crimes now than twenty years ago. However, easier does not mean easy. Though this essay is nearly 13 years old, I recommend those serving victims (public and private mental health providers, ministry leaders, criminal justice providers) read Judith Herman’s review of some of the challenges of reporting physical and sexual assault crimes. Some of those challenges include
- The humiliation of telling your story in a public and adversarial setting such as a trial (and telling it repeatedly with those who must question you)
- The possibility that the perpetrator will use the system to intimidate and to terrorize
- Being told that your case isn’t going to be taken up; being disbelieved when it is true
- Being coerced by family not to report due to the perpetrator being a family member
What can we do to help?
Most readers probably do not work in the criminal justice system. Yet, there are many things we can do to help those who need justice.
- Get educated. Check out resources provided by NOVA; know what abuse crimes are happening in your community; consider having law enforcement or a member of the District Attorney’s office come to a meeting with community and church leaders
- Find out what laws need to be changed and communicate regularly with your political leaders
- Become a victim advocate officially, or volunteer to go with a victim to his or her next court date
- When injustice happens between members in a close community, consider how restorative justice practices might be beneficial for victim and offender
- Mental Health providers can help prepare victims and their families for the challenges of going through the system
- Teach on the matter of justice seeking in churches; show that the pursuit of it is central to the Gospel (James 1:27)
I have the privilege of participating in the Change Seminar at the end of this month. Designed for survivors, family members, church leaders, friends, and clinicians, this Friday afternoon/Saturday seminar will Feature myself and Mary DeMuth and her husband, Patrick. Mary, author of Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse, will be speaking on church communities and their role in helping victims and their families recover. She will be speaking Saturday, November 1 from 9-2. I will be speaking on Friday afternoon, October 31, on the topic of making the church a safe place for trauma survivors (those who have been trafficked, sexually abused, or have PTSD from other causes.
To register: www.chelten.org/changeseminar or call to 21.5.646.5588.
For those of you in the Philadelphia area, you can’t get continuing education for much cheaper than this: 6 CEs for $100 (NBCC approved). If you don’t need CEs then the price is even lower, $45 for couples, $35 for couples if one is a ministry leader, $25 for individuals.
Isn’t it time the church became know for the leading edge of caring for (and preventing!) sexual violence?