A Christian Response to
©2005 Kimberly Hartfield, B.S., M.S.
Sexual abuse of a child is considered to be any inappropriate exposing of a child to sexual stimuli by anyone who has influence on the child, in order to erotically arouse that person, without concern for its effects on the child. The perpetrator must always be held accountable when abuse occurs, because of his or her obvious awareness of sexuality. No child can deal with this kind of abuse physically or emotionally. Even a child who is too young to know that the abuse is wrong will likely develop problems from the inability to cope with this type of stimulation. Sexually abused children often mentally withdraw from a conscious awareness of the abuse. The victim may have unclear memories, but certain experiences may trigger intensely distressing feelings. The victim almost always feels that “Something is wrong with me,” and that the abuse is somehow “my fault.” In a child’s eyes, the exposure and consequences of telling may be worse than the abuse itself. Sexual abuse is clearly a betrayal of the child’s trust, especially when the abuser is known to the child. The child often develops a pronounced inability to trust anyone, which prohibits revealing the abuse, usually for years.
The first step in recovery is for the abused person to discern the violation and to tell the secret. The response to the divulgence of sexual abuse is critical to the victim’s ability to recover from the ordeal. A compassionate response is vital to re-establishing trust and getting help for the victim. Christians must never minimize abuse, blame the victim, or tell a child to keep the secret. It is imperative that victims receive the assurance that it is not any fault of their own. Counsel should be sought for the victim, and often for the child’s family members as well. The emotional damage of childhood sexual abuse can be devastating to the victim and to the whole family. Most victims commonly experience sexual guilt and with sexuality being integral to the total person, abuse inevitably affects one’s total self-concept. C.S.A. often interferes with the development of attitudes toward self, sexuality, and relationships. The victim often develops distressing emotions, ideologies, and demeanors. The effects of C.S.A. include poor self-esteem, fear, depression, anger, suicidal behaviors, inappropriate sexual behavior, sexual disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-abuse, anddifficulty in relationships with atendency toward involvement with relationships reminiscentof theabusive situation. These are usually characterized by feelings of mistrust, indifference, and/or hatred.
Where prevention is concerned, parents should talk to their children on several occasions about the difference between good and bad touching, whiletelling them that they can and must say “no” to any touching or behavior that makes them feel uncomfortable; and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible if this occurs. Parents should never tell a child to do everything an adult tells them to do, while explaining that showing respect does not always mean doing whatever a person in authority says to do. Parents should also be aware that C.S.A. is not always perpetrated by a stranger or even an adult. Sometimes family members, friends of the family, neighbors, people in positions of authority, and even other children close to the same age, can be abusive. Children sleeping at home, either alone or with others, and spend-the-nights should always be properly supervised, but even this cannot ensure a child’s safety. Providing a safe, caring, and open environment, so children feel able to talk freely, is vital in both the prevention and the resolution of C.S.A. While children often do not seek help at the time of the abuse, until it is properly dealt with, its damaging effects will continue to assault the victim in many areas of the personality and lifestyle.
Telling the secret is one of the most important aspects of the victim’s healing process. Once this ground is broken, the seeds of restoration can emerge from every survivor of C.S.A. Another integral part of the healing process is taking the victim’s self-blame and placing that blame on the abuser where it truthfully belongs. Finding forgiveness for that abuser through the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is a key point also in that process. Christians can help victims find the seeds of healing by encouraging them to use godly means of overcoming the abuse and helping them to grow into the tree of life that God intended them to be.
Christians must be made aware of the extent of C.S.A.and that many of our sisters and brothers need help in dealing with the conflicts of its aftermath, sometimes even years after the abuse has occurred. Those Christians who have experienced C.S.A. themselves and found hope in Jesus, if they are sufficiently healed to be stable enough to console others, should do what they can to comfort others with the consolations they have been comforted with of God (II Cor 1:4). Christian survivors can make other victims aware, not only that they are survivors of the ordeal, but that they can be over-comers in Christ Jesus. Christian comforters can tell other victims that they can be clean from any defilement that they may be feeling as a result of their victimization, and that they too can become a new creation if they have not yet begun that process. Christians who comfort should pray for victims of C.S.A., while also encouraging them to seek help in dealing with any unresolved issues. Christians should also pray for abusers of C.S.A.survivors, because many of them were C.S.A. victims themselves. They can be told that God’s judgment is sure for the unrepentant and be shown how to seek forgiveness in God’s mercy.
Though statistics say that most abusers never stop abusing, some Christians believe that all things are possible with God and that abusers can heal if they are truly repentant, while seeking professional help. Victims should never be coerced into staying in a situation of abuse in the hope that an abuser will change. The abuser may change with the help and healing of Jesus, and the victim may forgive the abuser by the grace of God, but the victim must not be compelled to prove forgiveness by remaining in an atmosphere of repeated exposure to abuse. Victims can find true forgiveness for their abusers and experience the grace and healing that goes with it; but this usually happens only after years of a healing process that begins with a safe atmosphere of self-discovery. This environment, along with therapeutic and spiritual counseling with a knowledgeable and compassionate comforter, whether that person be a professional Christian counselor, pastoral counselor, or a lay person survivor of C.S.A., can facilitate the metamorphosis of the new creation in Christ Jesus that every Christian C.S.A. survivor can become.