Tag Archives: Child sexual abuse

New resource for adult males with child sexual abuse histories


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).

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Counseling Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: Phase 2 mis-steps and correctives


Today Dr. Diane Langberg and I will be offering a 3 hour pre-conference CE training at AACC’s 2015 World Conference here in Nashville, TN. Our focus is on some of the common counselor mistakes made during the phase of processing the abuse history and all that happens as a person tries to see self and history through different eyes. We focus on the relational approach to repair the mistakes we make. I have a small bit on reframing resilience and posttraumatic growth. Our perceptions of recovery and where we (counselors and clients) should be headed sometimes need to be examined.

For those interested in seeing the slides from my portion of the talk, click: AACC WC Pre-conf 2015

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Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims of Trauma


This afternoon I will be speaking at Chelten Church on the topic of “Making the Church A Safe Place for Victims of Trauma.” This 3 hour continuing education seminar (co-sponsored by Biblical Seminary who provides the NBCC approved CEs) will focus primarily on trauma resulting from child sexual abuse. However, other forms of sexual violence and traumas (domestic violence, military trauma) will get a bit of attention as well. If you can’t make it or wish to see what I am talking about, you can download and see the slides: Making the Church A Safe Place For Victims.

Tomorrow, Mary DeMuth will speak on a topic similar to her book. Her talk is entitled, “Unmarked Marriage.”  I suspect the conference organizers will take walk-ins!

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Institutional betrayal: Secret ingredient to PTSD


We live in the world where human frailty and pathology is viewed in individual terms. When we see sickness we imagine that the person must have some weakness in biology, faith, or behavior. Rarely do we think about the role the system or community has played in the development of that person’s pathology. This is true when we think about a person diagnosed with PTSD. We therapists hypothesize about individual factors (personality factors, early childhood experiences (a slight nod to external causes) and neurobiological risk factors) and situation factors (the frequency, duration, and intensity of overwhelming trauma events) when we try to answer the “why” of the development of PTSD in a person.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to take into consideration of known research that suggests that environmental response to an individual’s trauma experiences may be a determining factor in whether PTSD or chronic traumatic reactions form.

In the most recent American Psychologist (2014, 69:6, 575-587), Carly Parnitzke Smith and Jennifer Freyd write about the concept of institutional betrayal. Traumatologists recognize Freyd’s name as the researcher who developed “betrayal trauma theory”, pointing to the especially toxic form of PTSD caused by those who were supposed to be safe and protective. These begin to examine “institutional action and inaction that exacerbate the impact of traumatic experiences…”

How can an institution betray a victim?

When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs. Examples include law enforcement accusing rape victims of “asking for it” with their clothing, church leaders allowing offender clergy to “leave with their reputations” or refusal to investigate a case of date rape when the reported offender is an important leader in the community.

In summarizing a couple of studies, Smith and Freyd point out that institutional betrayal after a trauma experience leads to higher rates of dissociation, sexual problems, and health difficulties. This is even more likely when the trauma takes place in an environment where protection of the members is trumpeted (i.e., church or military).

What are the common characteristics of betraying institutions?

Smith and Freyd note several characteristics found in institutions at greater risk for betraying members.

  • membership requirements to define in group identity. This produces a need for members to act in ways to maintain such an identity
  • Prestige (both leaders and institutions). Prestige produces both trust and fear, dependency and power
  • Priorities. “Institutional betrayal may remain unchecked when performance or reputation is valued over, or divorced from the well-being of members.” As the authors note, maintaining reputation as a priority will lead to neglect or attack of those who challenge reputation
  • Institutional denial. Blame a few bad apples, avoid institutional blame or responsibility

Those institutions that do make efforts to prevent abuse within its community may still yet fail to respond well. They may fail to use adequate screening procedures, normalize abuse, fail to utilize or follow appropriate response procedures, punish whistleblowers, and aid cover-ups.

What to do?

Smith and Freyd argue that transparency (about past actions/failures to act as well as power structures) and priority to protect the well-being of all members will move institutions away from the risk of betraying individual members. I would argue that the shift to protect moves from the institution as a whole to protection of the most vulnerable.

Let me recommend a few resources that have appeared here in the past:

  1. Diane Langberg’s 5 part video about narcissistic leaders and the institutions they lead. She too describes systemic narcissism.
  2. Why some spiritual leaders abuse (and systems allow it)
  3. Narcissistic systems
  4. Resources to combat narcissism one person at a time

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Are perpetrators of abuse “other”?


I write, teach, and provide professional care about matters pertaining to child sexual abuse. I sit on a board of a fantastic organization designed to help christian organizations prevent child abuse and respond well when allegations arise. From these experiences I can tell you that victims of abuse struggle the most when they finally get the courage to speak up but then aren’t believed–whether by other family members or those within their community. Since most abuse happens in secret places and since most of us live with happy public facades, it is easy to disbelieve the victim. In fact, the temptation is great since believing the victim means we must alter our perceptions of the perpetrator and the system that supports them. And that alteration disrupts our own lives, threatens our own comfort zone. Since some reports could be, have been false, maybe this one is too…

The first problem in stopping child abuse is the failure to believe victim stories of abuse. Victims know their information will destroy life as it was before the revelation. Believing that they will be singly responsible for damage done by revealing their abuse, they keep silent. Silence always enables further abuse.

But there is another problem, a second problem faced in stopping child abuse: treating abusers as “other,” some sort of monster that is so unlike the rest of us, we can’t imagine being in their presence. Think about these words. Perpetrator. Pedophile. What garish images come to your mind? Or, do you imagine someone with virtue along with their obvious and destructive vices? Do you imagine the image of a victim in that same person?

“Does it make sense to discard an entire oeuvre of work? Or does it simply reflect an inability to live with messiness and ambiguity? To chalk it up as nothing more than the work of a monster, to cast it out of the village, is to senselessly re-affirm the same basic strategy of denial and dehumanization that, ultimately, allows abuse to continue.”

If you are interested in considering the complexities of the person of the perpetrator, I highly recommend this essay where I found the previous quote. It is written by a victim of abuse perpetrated by his father. How do we account for the virtues, the generosities, the humanness, the victim experiences found in individuals who choose to perpetrate against others? Like the author of this essay, I suggest that doing so is absolutely necessary if we are going to make any dent in the incidence of child abuse.

“Most of us would sooner discard all parties who have been tainted by this event than we would look at how tenuous the sanctity of children really is, how commonplace abuse is, or see the capacity for the mostly good to do periodic evil. We live in the same universe as those who abuse kids. We walk among them. If we want to end the sexual abuse of children, it will begin with the recognition that we are simply not that different from them.” (emphasis mine)

Won’t humanizing perpetrators harm victims?

Humanizing perpetrators of abuse does not minimize the need for justice for victims. It does not decrease the place for restitution or incarceration. Naming humanity in perpetrators does not lead to excuse-making (we do that for other reasons!) nor demand explanations for abusive behavior (though sometimes this can be helpful, most would rather have acknowledgement of abuse done). It need not change our triage policy to prioritize victim recovery over all else.

But when we recognize that perpetrators of abuse suffer from the human condition plaguing us all (self-deception, self as the center of the universe, seeing others as objects for self-comfort, choosing fig-leaves rather than truth in response to shame), we have the opportunity to name these conditions wherever they show up in our lives. Naming them early and often hinders the development of the “split-self” where we live publicly one way but privately nurse other shame-inducing habits. And when we are more able to identify these features in ourselves, we may also find that we can identify them in others as well. While we are not responsible for the abuse perpetrated by others, complicity with abusive behavior (failing to respond to evidence of abusive behavior, allowing cover-ups, etc.) does stand as judgment on us.

Let us acknowledge that we are not so different, that “treatment” must start first in our own hearts so that we can help others before abuse takes place.

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Filed under Abuse, christian psychology, news, Psychology, self-deception

Video: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse in Christian Contexts


This video was shot last October during a conference in South Africa cosponsored by the World Reformed Fellowship and North West University. In it I cover these objectives:

  • Understand common practices of offenders
  • Develop policies to hinder predatory behavior
  • Avoid poor reactions to allegations known to compound injury
  • Provide care to all parties

I’m thankful to Boz Tchividjian of GRACE who allowed me to use some of his material since he could not be present to deliver it himself. If you are interested in seeing Boz’ far more eloquent work, check out videos at the GRACE site or, even better, click the link to the right of this entry and purchase the 5 hour video he and I filmed in 2012.

Link for video here. Link for accompanying slides here.

Want more resources? I encourage you to watch the other videos from this conference, especially the powerful one by Jim Gamble that should NOT BE MISSED (Thinkuknow) and another by Diane Langberg: http://wrfnet.org/resources/media

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The Mission of Trauma Recovery: Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims


A few months ago I asked readers to give me ideas about how the church could better serve victims of trauma experiencing PTSD and other
related symptoms. I did so as I was thinking about the presentation I would make to conference attendees in Potchefstroom, South Africa on October 18, 2013. So, I post these slides (in advance) for those who can’t join me there or who were there, but want a copy.

The Mission of Trauma Recovery South Africa

Conference link

 

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The problem of abuse and avoidance of grief


Last Monday night we had the privilege of having Dr. Diane Langberg on campus to speak to our counseling students. One of the 4 talks she did was entitled, “The Spiritual Impact of Child Sexual Abuse.” She stated that it was material that she developed after publishing her book, Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse. As you can imagine, she gave us a very powerful talk. But of all the things she said, one idea seemed to hit students and faculty alike. I do not have her quoted here but rather the essence,

  • Grief may be the most powerful emotion in sexual abuse survivors, more powerful than the pain of the abuse
  • Most clients work really hard to avoid grief; encouraging good grief is difficult work

I’m not doing justice to her thoughts here. But, I think she nails it. Sexual abuse destroys relationships, faith, trust, identity, and physical bodies. To grieve is to name and acknowledge what was lost, broken, stolen, etc. and to admit that many of the broken things cannot be restored in this life–at least to the levels that we desire. The work of counseling surely includes coming to a correct understanding about guilt, shame, love, boundaries. The work of counseling is about reconnecting with God and others. The work of counseling is about rebuilding identity. But, all of these activities require grieving what did take place, grieving what was lost (real or symbolic).

Most of us, whether we have suffered abuse or not, would rather not sit with grief. And so, we run. However, if the heart of God is shown in lament for the world that is not as it should be, then we ought not to run from grief.

May God show us how to lament and live in peace at the same time.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, counseling, Diane Langberg

7 questions about your church’s abuse policy


Over at Biblical Seminary’s faculty blog, I have a new guest post up pointing readers to 7 important questions to ask as they review their church’s existing abuse policy. One of the questions ISN’T whether or not your church HAS an abuse policy. I assume that every church has one already.

Read the post here.

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Of Babies and Bath Water: Navigating the Controversies of Repressed and Recovered Memory


Recently I ran a conference about abuse within the church. In these kinds of venues (this blog and conferences) I am asked about a couple of related problems—the problem of false memories of abuse and the reliability of recovered memories of abuse.

While I intend to address these matters here (and in future blogs), I want to reiterate something that I think gets lost in most conversations about recovered and/or false memories.

Sexual abuse is real. The vast majority of adult reporters of abuse during childhood never forgot the details.

Why say this first? Discussions of rare and extreme cases (i.e., repressed memories, recovered memories, and false memories) tends to create undue suspicion for all adults who choose to reveal their child abuse later in life. It is my experiences that conversations about false memories or recovered memories lead many to assume that a report of extensive or horrific abuse is probably false. So, let us remember that as we take up the matter of fully repressed memories of abuse, we are talking about a very small percentage of people.

But, the issue of repressed and/or recovered memories and the construction of false memories is indeed worthy of a careful review given the strong feelings on both sides of the recovered memory debate. In order to be as careful as possible, I want to consider a few topics that may help us understand the issue. First, I will explore foundational topics (memory, forgetting, repression, and dissociation). Then,  I’ll explore the how trauma is known to create confusion, self-doubt, and “motivated” forgetting. Finally, we’ll take up the practice of counseling victims of sexual abuse and the particular matter of dealing with memory retrieval in counseling. Strap in!

Just in case you NEED to know my opinion at the outset…

I find Partlett and Nurcombe’s 1998 summary of an APA report on the topic to be fairly comprehensive,

The plain point here is the consensus set forth by the Working Group:
1. Controversies regarding adult recollections should not be allowed to obscure the fact that child sexual abuse is a complex and pervasive problem in America that has historically gone unacknowledged.
2. Most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them.
3. It is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be remembered.
4. It is also possible to construct convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred.
5. There are gaps in our knowledge about the processes that lead to accurate and inaccurate recollections of childhood abuse.[1]

I would add one more point: most people (myself included) in this debate are motivated by strong feelings as well as “facts.” These feelings may be the result of experiences with those who appear to be abused or appear to be falsely accused.

Issue one: Memory and Memory Retrieval

Let me start by stating the obvious: this isn’t a neuropsychology primer on memory and I am not an expert in memory. However, there are a few things on which I think we can agree:

  1. memory is a whole brain biochemical process. While structures like the hippocampus are clearly involved in memory storage, no one structure handles all aspects of memory storage or recall.
  2. memory is multi-faceted. Researchers differentiate between recognition and recall memory, explicit and implicit memory, short-term, long-term, and working memories…and much more.
  3. memory-making is a process.  The formation of memory requires attention, perception, encoding, storage, and retrieval. Thomas Insel calls it a 5 act play. A person moves from perception to long-term encoding to retrieval and finally, expression of memory.
  4. relational and affective context influences memory formation and memory retrieval
  5. the act of recall may change memory,

The concept is simple: memories are not fixed; they are periodically retrieved, and modified each time they are retrieved. This process of strengthening a memory by retrieval is called reconsolidation. One profound implication of this concept is that what you recall is not only a reflection of what you first learned, but also a product of each time you have recalled the original information.

How does this relate to our issue of recall of abuse?

  • memories are both fragile and yet not so. You recall what the house you grew up in looks like, even if you haven’t seen it in 30 years. And yet, your recall may or may not be particularly accurate. You may remember a large house even when it is much smaller to your adult eyes.
  • repetitive recall along with high levels of emotion may solidify memory. Most of us know exactly where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001.  You remember this because you talked about it, played it over in your mind, and because of the powerful biochemical process kicked off when you heard of the first plane crashing into the twin towers.
  • Most child sexual abuse has little corroborating evidence, especially when revealed decades later. This leaves victims by themselves to sort through the narratives they and others tell about their history.  The result? Ample opportunities for both denials of actual abuse as well as false memory.

Return with me to my first point. Most child sexual abuse is never fully forgotten. Some memories may be lost, others distorted, still others intentionally forgotten. Memory, as we have seen here is not a structure but a narrative.[2] In most cases, the story being told has much merit, even if some important details are perceived rightly. Thus memory retrieval during therapy (something that WILL happen whether therapist or client wants it) plays a powerful role in the re-storying work of therapy.

In my next post on this topic, I will make some comments about forgetting, motivated forgetting, dissociation, and repression.


[1] Partlett, DF & Nurcombe, B (1998). Recovered memories of child sexual abuse and liability: Society, science, and the law in comparative study. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 4, p. 1273

[2] “Rememberings—whether valid or invalid—are communicated by means of narratives.” Sarbin, TR (1998). The social construction of truth. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 18, p. 145.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd