Tag Archives: sexual abuse

If you thought about posting #metoo, consider taking this poll.


Are you watching #metoo trending in social media settings? It is sobering to remember that the numbers of men and women who have suffered sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are astronomical. Such posts have the opportunity to help others recognize this hidden wound that many carry around their entire lives. I’m grateful when a victim is able to voice something that has held power over them for far too long. It can be part of the healing journey. And yet I also know that voicing our pain can lead to further pain. I’ve created this anonymous poll to find out how those who have considered posting #metoo (whether you posted or not does not matter) to see how the hashtag trend is impacting them. Results will only show how many numbers of votes per option.

Thankful for all who respond here.

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Filed under Abuse, sexual abuse, Uncategorized

Conference Opportunity: Redeeming the Impact of Sexual Abuse (10/31-11/1)


the%20change%20seminar%20flyer-001[1]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?

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Filed under Abuse, counseling, sexual abuse, Violence

How does small-time tyranny last?


Tyrants use fear to control subjects. Thus, we understand how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is elected by 100% of his constituency. To abstain or cast any other vote would be suicide. But since most do not live under such oppression we may wonder how individuals cave to lower-level tyranny here in democracies or locations where we have choice about who we vote for and where we live and work. Why do organizations allow dictatorial leadership? Can’t we all just walk away?

Thanks to one of my students, Dan McCurdy, I pass on this recording from This American Life about a “small-time” tyrant in an upstate New York school district. The story is about the dictatorial dealings of a facilities manager of the school district–not of a principal, teacher, or even a school board member.

How is it possible for one with so little power (so we would normally assume) could wield such power over employees? How could he set off bombs, fire individuals, vandalize homes, threaten others with harm, simulate sex, and more without getting fired?

How? It is simple. He was,

surrounded above and below, by people who looked the other way. (near the end of the above recording)

Why do we look the other way?

We look away for all sorts of reasons. Consider a few of them:

  • Fear that no one will come to our defense if we stand up to abuses (which of course will be true if no one else sees or responds)
  • Need to protect what we have (e.g., position, income, career, reputation, etc.)
  • Cover up own failings (e.g., if he goes down…I will go down)
  • Perceive benefits outweigh consequences (i.e., in this case, school board received lowered energy costs, fewer worker complaints)
  • The people who complain of injustice matter little to us
  • Believe psychological abuse does not really happen

In Anjan Sundaram’s Stringer, he describes the most powerful of dictators are ones who instill fear when present and yet also instill fear of what life might be when that person is gone.

What to do?

When we hear of crazy stories such as the one in the recording, we shake our head and imagine ourselves standing up to power, standing up for the little guy. Too often our imagination never see the light of day. So, how can we keep ourselves sensitized to injustice and ready to act for the good of the weakest community member?

  • Identify our current fears. Who has power over us? What does love and grace look like when responding to this power?
  • Identify places we have chosen safety over truth. Who can help us rectify this problem?
  • Identify those places where we have power over others. Who do we have power over? How do we wield it? Who has God-given us the responsibility to protect? Where do we need to give power back (when taken or used inappropriately)?
  • Fix eyes on how Jesus uses power. How does he wield it with those who have the most power? The least power?
  • Identify habits of cover-up. Where, for reasons of shame, guilt, or comfort do we cover up and present self as someone we are not?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, deception, Justice

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

Pastoral Counseling for Sex Offenders: 3 Dos and 3 Don’ts


As the church does a better job in understanding the epidemic of sexual victimization (1:3 women, 1:5 men report unwanted sexual contact by age 18), the church also faces the challenge of understanding how to care for sex offenders in the community. Gone (hopefully!) should be the days where a congregation just ignores offenders and acts as if their sins are in the past needing no further follow-up. And we don’t want to swing to the other extreme of making it impossible for sex offenders to be part of the church community. Rather, the church will best represent Christ to victims AND offenders when it exemplifies the grace of limits to offenders.

The local pastoral counselor (whether in the church or in a para-church organization) will be called upon to participate in the care and counsel of a sex offender. In preparation for this eventuality, every pastoral counselor should embark on their own continuing education. Read books (start with the difficult book Predators by Anna Salter), meet your local ADA who prosecutes sex crimes and find out what is required of offenders after they leave prison, find local clinicians who specialize in treating the various kinds of offenders (e.g., adolescents, adults, Internet based, those who have been incarcerated, etc.)

Dos and Don’ts

After improving your understanding of the nature of sexual offending and the available resources, consider these three dos and don’ts in order to avoid some serious pitfalls

  • Do treat them as fully bearing the image of God, just as you would a victim of a sex crime. Your relationship with the offender should not be a barrier to their ongoing growth and sanctification. Do you share the same mercy and grace as you would to someone you may feel more compassion? Do you see them as less human? Your compassion should lead you away from an adversarial or judgmental approach to them (this does not mean you won’t be firm or even skeptical!). Accusations, no matter how accurate, rarely lead to transformation in another. Instead validate their feelings and experiences. They will have lost much: friends, family, finances, standing. While it came at their own hand, you surely want to validate this experience.
  • Don’t treat all sex offenders the same. Recognize differences between adolescent and adult offenders, Internet only offenders and direct contact offenders. You do not want to have a one-size-fits-all approach for supposed fairness reasons. If you don’t have training in understanding these differences, do not assume you already know how to counsel these individuals. Get training, supervision, and consider referrals.
  • Do assess on a continual basis. As with all clients, a competent counselor never stops assessing for treatment readiness, commitment to change and growth, commitment to the grace of restriction, insight and more. Does your client show a growing evidence of empathy towards victims and the community? Does your client evidence a thirst for community supports and accountability (vs. passive acceptance)? Does your client give evidence of being solely focused on personal experience; give evidence of resistance and bitterness that others do not offer blanket trust?
  • Don’t use words, time, or other factors in determining growth and repentance. Far too frequently, churches use the right words, a few tears, and the passage of time to indicate when they reduce oversight over an offender. These are not good indicators of change! In addition, do not confuse repentance with a requirement for reconciliation. Do not neglect the matter of restitution but do not hold requirements of victims to return to a former level of intimacy with the offender. Not all that is broken in this life can be fixed in this life. Do not fall prey to the fantasy that all things are restored and reconnected in this life. Yes, our God can work miracles, but he also gives grace to us to continue with our thorns in the flesh.
  • Do set specific goals. Whenever we provide counseling for chronic issues, it helps to set goals that can be evaluated even as there may be a long road still to go. A competent counselor agrees upon goals with a client. Some of these goals might include (a) growing in empathy for others, being able to sit with the experience of others without bringing up one’s own, (b) deepening Gospel understanding about sin and impact of evil without either despair or superficial repentance, and (c) accepting limits and little trust as a way of life.
  • Don’t be caught off guard by common concerns of the offender. In my experience, offenders often have these questions that repeat on a fairly regular basis: Where can I worship? When can I come to church? Why can’t I worship with my family? When will I be done and be treated like anyone else? Doesn’t [victim] bear some blame? Why does [victim] get to make decisions about my worship? Why am I treated as a leper?  These questions are important and being prepared for them means the counselor can more likely respond with compassion and clarity. This can only better serve the offender and reduce the bitterness that comes from unanswered questions.

 

Additional links to check out:

1. Church Ministry to Sex Offenders 

2. Sex offenders vs. Sex Abusers?

3. Search “sex offender” in search box in the upper left for more blogs on this topic

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

Treatment of complex trauma: Why mistrust of the counselor is necessary and good!


I am reading Christine Courtois and Julian Ford’s, Treatment of Complex Trauma: A Sequenced, Relationship-Based Approach (Guilford Press, 2013). I won’t be blogging through each chapter but I do recommend it for those working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, especially those who are new to “complex trauma.”

The first two chapters give an overview of complex trauma reactions and diagnoses. If you want to know more about complex trauma, see this post about another edited book by these two authors. Chapter three, “Preparing for Treatment of Complex Trauma” begins the meat of the book. In this chapter they take up the ever important issue of empathy, safety, and respect as foundation to therapy. They emphasize the need for,

safety within the therapeutic relationship with a therapist who is empathic and respectful yet is emotionally regulated with appropriate and defined boundaries and limitations. (54)

Challenging Counselor Safety Is Common and Good?

This empathy and trust relationship is both foundation and method of treatment (59). But while the therapist is responsible to see that at safe therapeutic relationship has been built, it requires the client to be involved in building such an environment. The truth is that the client’s role in building safety in the counseling office is by passive and active testing of limits. Most counselors tolerate suspicious questions the first or second time. But, it is important for counselors to,

being prepared to patiently and empathically respond to active or passive tests or challenges to trustworthiness as legitimate and meaningful communication that deserves a respectful reply in action as well as in words. (60, emphasis mine)

If the therapist understands and does not take mistrust as a personal affront, the therapeutic relationship can evolve gradually. The client can begin to recognize  that the therapist actually “gets” why he or she is initially skeptical, self-protective, or “realistically paranoid” and does not pressure the client to be a “happy camper” but instead works to earn trust by being honorable, reliable, and consistent. This also implies a view of the client’s initial mistrust as expectable in light of the client’s history–that is, as a strength rather than as a deficiency or pathology. (63)

Sometimes clients can present in an opposite way–to be entirely deferential and affirming the counselor before a track record can be developed. Therapists with these clients need also to be prepared to encourage a healthy level of distrust.

What is not helpful is “artificial neutrality or passive and intellectualized detachment on the part of the therapist…” (64). It is my sense that we usually do this when we are afraid of the client. Not so much afraid of being injured, but afraid of failing or being consumed by the trauma. Or, we get consumed by our own history. A healthy therapist must stay emotionally present yet aware of own internal machinations. A healthy therapist must be able to predict some of the angst that arises in treatment of complex trauma and able to prepare self and client for this inevitable distress.

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

What makes a PTSD friendly church?


In a few months I will be speaking to church leaders as to how to improve the capacity of the church to be a safe place for victims of abuse. I have a number of suggestions for them but I am interested in hearing from readers things that churches (leaders) do that make the church a safer place for those who have been abused by those in positions of power. What have you actually seen done that helped you (or someone you cared about) feel at home and increasingly safer in the church community? Of course, consider the flip side as well: what has been done that made you feel less safe.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity

Evangelicals speak out about abuse cover-ups


Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments (G.R.A.C.E) tasked one of its Board members, Diane Langberg, to author a better response to abuse scandals in evangelical denominations (better than weak apologies and defenses of esteemed leaders penned in the last month or so). Here’s how it starts. After you read the beginning, read the rest here and use this link to add your name and voice to the message that we are not longer going to keep silent.

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well-known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different from from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Diane Langberg, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals

Why are some people prone to spiritual abuse?


Have you ever wondered how a person could stay in an abusive relationship? “Why don’t they just leave the first time they get hit?”, you wonder. I suppose many have the same question when they hear about those who are being abused by spiritual leaders. Can’t they just up and leave and find a new church? Well, there are a few reasons why someone might be prone to become spiritually abused.

Environmental:

  • Need. Tangible help received from a person or organization (with a sense that without that help there would be serious problems) increases the risk a person will tolerate inappropriate behavior
  • Culture. A black/white culture that treats outsiders as heretics. A community that puts pressure on compliance will be a community that is tempted to use spiritual abuse to get that compliance
  • Gender views. religious authoritarian systems that promote male dominance in all areas of life will be more prone to use spiritual controls over women when women are perceived to exert too much power.

Personal:

  • Identity. When your identity becomes too wrapped up in a system. The more you need a system (or think you do), the greater the importance you feel being connected to an institution or leader the greater the likelihood that you will not jump ship at the first sign of manipulation or abuse
  • Self-doubt. A deep belief that others know better than you. Such a person will likely turn off their warning signs when others coerce them using spiritual language. The more a person denigrates themself, the more likely he or she will allow others to exert control and accept an abusers judgment that he/she is a sinner in need of discipline
  • History. Ironically, those who have suffered abuse are more prone to be re-victimized again.

Spiritual abuse, a form of psychological abuse, almost always creeps up on a person. It rarely shows its true form until the victimized person is fully entangled. And even then, the victim is commonly confused and unsure of self. Clarity rarely comes until after the person has extricated themself from the environment. Why? Those in power use well-known verses and doctrines to shape conversations and press others into submission. For example, who would be against forgiveness? Against reconciliation? These concepts form the heart of the Gospel. And yet these wonderful portions of the Gospel are used to force victims of sexual abuse to quickly forgive their perpetrators and to reconcile with them–as if the offense never happened. Those who desire justice may be forced to keep silent under the guise of reconciliation.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Uncategorized

Mission to Worship: How Preventing Abuse Fits in the Mission of the Church


I will be part of the speaker panel at a conference entitled: Mission to Worship: With Heart, Hands, Voices, October 16-19, 2013. The catch is (for my N. American readers)…it is in South Africa! The conference is sponsored by North-West University theology faculty and the World Reformed Fellowship. I and Diane Langberg will be doing both plenary and breakout sessions on the topic of trauma counseling and the matter of responding well to abuse allegations in the church. There are other tracks so check the schedule for those topics.

It is exciting to see a theology department, seminary, and Reformed para-church organization take on the matter of sexual abuse and trafficking. Should be an exciting time.

 

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership