Consider Our Response

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On the evening of Wednesday, September 24, 2008, I was sexually assaulted by a professor from my Christian undergraduate university. After reporting it to the university, I sought out  my church family and other Christian friends for guidance and comfort. What I often received, though, were pointed questions and veiled accusations about my behavior and about my decisions. Already covered with the confusion and the shame that comes with sexual abuse, I resorted to calling my pastor. Still though, there was that chiding tone, even in my shepherd’s voice.

After Pastor Willis* fired off a couple of sentences, I interrupted him and in a battle-weary, shaky voice, I said, “Pastor Willis, I really don’t need anyone else telling me this was all my fault.” I heard Pastor Willis take a brief inhale, as his tone changed. The once absent warmth came into his voice, as he now began to counsel me, rather than correcting me. Since that time, I have come to witness other ways in which the residue of abuse can continue, far beyond the actual incident.

My friend, Ryan*, shared this account of a traumatic experience from his home church. Ryan’s father, an on-staff church elder, was caught looking at pornography on the church’s computer. As a condition of his father’s repentance, Ryan’s father had to stand before the entire church congregation, confess his addiction to pornography, and ask the congregation for forgiveness.

On the day that happened, Ryan shared that he, his mother, and his sisters had to stand alongside his father, too, in front of the entire congregation. Thankfully, Ryan’s father received help for this addiction and currently supervises another program that helps other men break the addiction of pornography. While Ryan’s story has a positive ending, what Ryan said he found the most painful about the occurrence, was that he began to notice that people in the church were shunning him, for what his father had done. Ryan said, “People started to shun me, and, I didn’t do anything.”

Stories like my own and Ryan’s remind me that, discipleship should not only reach its culmination at preaching/teaching the Gospel and at leading people to Christ. If we call ourselves the Body of Christ, we also have to walk with one another, even through the painful times. When I think about discipleship, I remember that passage in Romans 15:1 that talks about "...letting the strong bear the infirmities of the weak". Furthermore, Galatians 6:1 also tells us that, “...if we see someone overcome in a fault, those who are spiritual should restore such a one with a spirit of meekness, lest we also be overtaken in that fault”. So now, the question becomes this: How does the church follow its call to discipleship to truly love those who have been marginalized by abuse? How will those who have suffered abuse, and those who have perpetrated abuse, be brought to full fellowship and discipleship? Both are in our churches. How are we responding? How are we helping to bring healing?

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Community Builder

Thank you for sharing this beautifully written and transparent piece, Robin. It serves as a good challenge to all of us to be the Church God has called us to be, where reconciliation and restoration are the ultimate goal.

Participant

Thank you Robin, for your courage, openness, and honesty. May the Lord give us ears to hear.

Why don't university students report sex crimes to the police as "normal" victims do? 

Participant

This may not be a university student related issue. Most universities have extra support systems in place for students that could make it easier, rather than more difficult, for a student to report sexual assault. Research shows that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes of all. And on top of that, the conviction rate is also very low. There is a tendency for people to blame the one who has been victimized and there is a very real risk of being re-victimized throughout the criminal justice process. Unfortunately, in our culture, the most "normal" thing for someone who has been sexually assaulted to do is NOT report it to the police. Those who have survived abuse most often seek support apart from the criminal justice system. And this is an opportunity for the church to fill an important role in the life of people who have been hurt and who can benefit immensely from the love of our Savior.

Thank-you for writing this article.
So good to hear that Pastor Willis* changed his tone when you called him on it.

It is my experience that my close friends at church are supportive in my struggles with abuse issues and PTSD.

However my church in general could use more education about it. I think that most people care but they do not know what to do.   There is embarrassment because they are not sure what to say so they say nothing  or don't meet your eye or shun like Ryan said. Others believe that such topics should never be talked about.   
Most elders care but they have no idea what to say if my husband or I bring it up at visits. I was once told by an elder that if I had grown up in our church the abuse would not have happened! One elder did some research and got back to me with a book and he was willing to listen and learn. Two of our pastors have been very helpful.
Some people who hear me speak about it avoid me and I later discover that this is  because I have triggered their own pain.

When I first started looking for help to deal with the abuse issues I was re wounded many times by well meaning people who had no idea what help should look like. The best first response is "I am so sorry this was done to you".
A bad response is "You just have to forgive them and forget about it!"
I don't know any survivors who would not choose to forget if they could. We do not deliberately remember. We are haunted.
Thankfully I have received much healing from our precious Lord, and with the help of caring people and counselors and my splendid husband. I am thankful and grateful for this journey to wholeness.

I would like all our churches to make a choice to care about abuse survivors and perpetrators too, to read the books, listen to the teachings and become educated.
I am not ashamed anymore of what was done to me. It is not my shame. It is the abusers shame.
I had better get off my soapbox here.
I appreciate this opportunity to talk about a long neglected topic.

Community Builder

The stupidity of some council members, in the case of Ryan*, absolutely blows my mind.  Why did they expose the whole family of a man to shame, when it was the father who was guilty of looking at pornography? And even then indulging in pornography may be a sin, but addictions are considered a mental illness and listed in the DSM-IV.  I don't know about the DSM-V, I've never looked at a copy of the latest edition.  But this was a gratuitous humiliation of innocent people, and the Council should apologize to their victims and ask for forgiveness for the way they were treated.

As for criticizing a woman for having been assaulted by one of her professors, and implying she was at fault ; feminists call that blaming the victim.  Are there still people in our denomination stupid enough to blame children who have been molested for being victims of child sexual abuse? Why do we automatically assume that a female university student--or any other woman for that matter--tried to seduce her aggressor and got raped because of it?  Since when do we believe that men are poor innocent victims of sexual temptations who can't help but give in to them?  Adam in Gen.3, tried to blame both God and Eve for his disobedience, but God didn't buy it and cursed the ground because of what the man did.  We're supposed to show compassion to those who suffer, but I didn't see much of it in those cases.  What will it take for people who claim to be Christians to smarten up?

Participant

a quote from the following website dealing with abuse in the church:
http://globaltraumarecovery.org/
It is a sad fact that many organizations, when faced with the choice of protecting an abusive leader or victim, choose to protect the leader (and thus the organization) rather than the victims of that abuse. All too often, victims report that the failure of the system to respond well to their cries for help cause more harm than the original abuse.