(from the Spring 2017 Issue of TLC)
For the last 17 years, I have been blessed to work with young women, and one of the most important things I've learned during that time is that every young woman can teach me something. I've also found that first impressions aren't always reliable and that behavior (good or bad) doesn't exist in a vacuum. There are always reasons for the way we act and interact. We all have a story, and some of those stories are painful, some are shocking, and some are hard to hear.
According to the
, one in four girls
will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Did you read that closely? That means that in a Sunday School class of
twenty girls, it is likely that at least five of them have been sexually abused. And before you say, "Surely that can't
be true among our church children!", let me tell you that according to
some research, the faith community may be even more vulnerable to abuse.
Another reason this rings true?
I've talked to the victims. I have cried with them, prayed with them, and supported
them through years of therapy. I have
held them as they wept, sat beside them as they huddled in the corner, listened
to them cry out in rage and pain, spent hours with them in psych wards, walked
with them through horror. Trust me. It happens.
The problem is real, and it's right under our noses, sitting in our
church pews, visiting in our homes. All
around us are women who are carrying the heavy, crippling load of abuse, and
often they carry it in silence. National Sexual
So what do we do? Can we make a difference? Oh, yes! A thousand times yes! One of the most powerful avenues of healing that God uses to mend the broken is the community of believers, the body of Christ. We are chosen to be His hands and feet, His listening ear, His loving heart. And as such, He can and will empower us to be agents of His grace to those in need. If you wish to be part of His healing work, below are a few practical tips (by no means an exhaustive list):
· Cultivate the art of being a "safe" person. What does it mean to be safe? Keep confidences (unless there is a threat to safety). Be trustworthy. Actively listen without judgment. Practice these skills with everyone! If you become known as this kind of person, the opportunities to share love and a listening ear will appear at your doorstep. Trust me.
· Understand that trauma is very real and has deep, life-shattering effects. The individual's ability to handle and process trauma will be affected by things like the length and duration of the abuse, who the abuser was (was it someone who should have been "safe" like a parent or close relative?), the response of those who found out about it (was the victim believed and were steps taken to stop the abuse?), whether or not professional help was received or available, and many other factors. Their behavior may be confusing at times and maybe even inappropriate. You will reap what others have sown into their life. I've heard heartbreaking stories of girls who were told that "boys will be boys" and of children who reported the abuse but nothing was done. Remember that trauma goes deep, and healing is slow.
· Allow them to be open and honest - even when it gets messy. Some things will be very hard to hear, and some may even be hard to believe. Many trauma victims may engage in self-harm behaviors (like cutting) to help them deal with the pain. Don't panic or overreact! Understand that they are using it to cope. Help them to find healthier ways to do so. (Professional help may be necessary.) Also understand that sexual abuse may open areas of sexual temptation and struggle for victims. Don't further stigmatize or guilt them. Lovingly guide them toward purity but do so with understanding and grace. Listen with an open heart and mind. Don't shut them down or dismiss them. Listen. Listen with love. Listen to understand...not just to answer.
· It's OK not to have easy answers. In fact, knee jerk, spiritual platitudes, clichés and/or reasons "why" are usually very unhelpful and can be extremely damaging. They cut off communication. You won't have all the answers. Make peace with that! Knowing this brings freedom and a deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit.
· Love them. Love them unconditionally - even when it's hard. And it may be. Love doesn't mean allowing them to take advantage of you. Set reasonable boundaries and hold to them, but keep loving. Victims of abuse need to see consistent, unconditional love. They need people who will believe in them, encourage them, pray for and with them, and hold them accountable. Love is powerful! Practice it!
· Be ready to engage professional help when necessary. Sometimes we in the church shy away from professional counseling. However, we are quick to rush our children to the hospital if they have a broken limb or a cancerous growth. Why not trust professionals in the area of mental health as well? Do your homework before recommending a counselor, but there are many licensed Christian counselors who are trained to walk abuse survivors through the healing process.
In conclusion, I hope we can see both the need that exists and the fact that we can do something! However, in order to make a difference, we first must have a vital relationship with Jesus. Without His Spirit, we will not have the discernment and wisdom necessary to do eternal work! But when we cooperate with Him, we will have a beautiful opportunity to offer His grace to those in need. May I issue a challenge? You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines in a world of hurting people. Give them a voice, an ear, a heart. Give them yourself. Give them Jesus.