I am both sickened and saddened any time I hear about someone being sexually abused. That feeling obviously gets multiplied by a billion when children are involved. In the news we are now getting word that even the Duggar family has dealt with this horrific sin. Now if you are waiting for me to bash and destroy the Duggars, then your bloodlust won’t be satisfied here. I try to put myself in everyone’s shoes and think, “but by the grace of God go I.” In different circumstances I could have been sexually abused. Perhaps even in different circumstances I could be an abuser. I cannot imagine what kind of scenario would lead me down such a dark path, but I am sure there is a specific set of events that might have allowed me to commit such horrors. I also try to put myself in the shoes of the Duggar parents. Did they do everything right? I don’t think so. Did they do everything wrong? I don’t think so. Would I have made a better choice in their shoes? I hope so, but I don’t know. “But by the grace of God go I.”
The point of this article is to try to establish some sort of basic, bare-minimum of what we should do to help stop sexual abuse. I can only speak to my context. I am a husband, a father, a Christian, and a pastor. So what can I do?
Talk about Sexual Abuse
There is no doubt a deafening hush over the Christian community when it comes to talking about sexual abuse. The statistics are absolutely horrific. The most famous study claims that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually molested before the age of 18. Now, there are lots of critics of those statistics. The methodology, the sample size, and the definitions have all been scrutinized, but the fact remains when we start actually talking to people about sexual abuse you will find a staggering number of people in your life that have been wronged.
We MUST start talking more to our kids. Even the conservative Focus on the Family recommends the “sex talk” around age 8. EVERY Christian parent I know thinks that’s way too young. They are wrong. Questions need to be posed to parents not other kids, and curiosities should not be discovered on another person’s body, but in the controlled, safe environment of parental discussion. In fact, the more naïve your child is to what sex is and the less they know of what is right and what is wrong in regards to sexuality, the more susceptible they are to be sexually abused. They won’t even know what to tell you or how to explain it. They will be more easily manipulated and less communicative about it. They can know something is wrong, but a child’s only connection to that feeling is when they are in trouble. My daughter already doesn’t want to tell me when she didn’t get a sticker for the day in preschool. She’s either embarrassed or disappointed or afraid to get punished. I don’t know exactly. But I know she will not know how to deal with the impossibly complex feelings of when you are inappropriately touched or worse. In a few years, her mom and I will have an open dialogue of what she should tell her teacher and us if someone touches her in certain places or asks her to do certain things. The conversation will be started and can then be more easily continued every few months. My kids will then have an age appropriate context in which to communicate. The problem is, because most aren’t dealing with this at about 8 years old, the complications only multiply later in life. There are 50-year old moms who still feel guilty about what a family member did to them 40 years ago. They don’t have an outlet. They’ve just bottled it up. They wonder if that family member hurt anyone else, and is it their fault that they didn’t tell anyone? Could they have stopped them if they really wanted to? Could they have fought harder or run faster or screamed louder? They probably could have, so it must be their fault. IT IS NEVER YOUR FAULT! There are 25-year old men who feel emasculated and insecure because they were sexually abused as kids. They wonder what it implies about them that a man wanted them sexually. Or they wonder why they don’t feel good about having an older woman desire them sexually. We have to get these problems in the open. Let people know they are not alone. Let people know there are professionals to help them. Let people know that they might not just “get over it.” We, as the church, have to equip people to have these conversations with their kids, and let people know there is no shame in getting help if you are one of the millions here in American that have been sexually abused.
First, and Foremost, Help the Victim of Sexual Abuse
Here is the clear order of importance – help the victim. If you have any thought that someone, especially a child, is being sexually abused, you MUST share that information with the police or child abuse agency. You ALWAYS protect victims first. But what if you are wrong? What if they harass a family unnecessarily? I’m sure there are horror stories out there, but there are qualified, trained victim advocates who are wonderful at speaking to young kids all the way up through adults. They specialize in getting to the truth and helping those who have been hurt, even when the scars aren’t physical. Unless I had proof, I would never call the police and say I think Mr. Thatguy is abusing his kids. But I would call the police and say I have concerns that Little Soandso is showing some signs of abuse and a professional needs to find out immediately. You always help the victim first. NOTHING else matters. The victim has to know that what was done to them was wrong, that it was not their fault, that they are safe now, and that EVERYTHING is being done for this to never happen again. Once this is completed, and the abused is in your care as a parent or pastor, I guarantee further counseling will be needed. I would hop on AACC.net and find a certified Christian counselor in my area and get an appointment immediately. The average person and even pastor is just not qualified to help in this complex situation. Go to a pastor for spiritual care, not psychological care. If a kid is pushed down to the ground and breaks his or her arm, you go to the hospital for help. You get a cast on the arm, and then once it’s off, you begin rehab to get the arm as back to normal as possible. You can’t just hope the arm will get back to normal once it’s broken. It needs some work first. If a kid is pushed to the ground and sexually assaulted, you go to get help! The hospital/police/child abuse counselor will deal with any immediate damage, then they can begin the rehabilitation process to get as back to normal as possible. It takes work.
Second, and Lastly, Help the Perpetrator of Sexual Abuse
What happens way too often is that we have sympathy for the perpetrator or the abuser. You never think you will until you know and love the accused. When you are dealing with the bad guys from the movie Taken that’s easy. You call Liam Neeson and he kills everyone for you. When “the bad guy” is your son, or your husband, or your sister-in-law, who do you call? This is why first and foremost you always help the victim. Close your mind to all other things, because I guarantee the situation will be more complicated than you were anticipating. Here are the thoughts you will have if you know and love the abuser.
Maybe it wasn’t that bad.
Maybe it will only happen once.
Maybe I can help the victim and the abuser at the same time.
Maybe it’s best for this to just stay quiet so no one is hurt more by this.
Maybe it’s my fault too for not seeing things more clearly.
Here’s the point, none of these thoughts matter. You help the victim. If anything sexually inappropriate happened, it’s bad. It hasn’t only happened once, and it won’t only happen once. You CANNOT help both the victim and the abuser. You can only help one of them. You must choose to help the victim. Covering it up is the worst thing for EVERYONE involved. The consequences of that will last a lifetime. And finally, who cares if it’s your fault or not. There are at least two other people that need to be dealt with before you, so get in line. The most selfish thing you could possibly do is put your welfare (or ministry) or anything before the needs of the victim. As a society we have no idea what to do with sex offenders. A 15-year old texting a nude pic to their boyfriend or girlfriend can result in the same label as a person who physically molests an 8 year old. I know you will look at the person you love and think to yourself that they do not deserve to be labeled as a sex offender the rest of their life because of “one” mistake. Whether or not our judicial system needs reforms in this area (it does), we must always remember that sin has consequences. Yes, there may be lifelong consequences because of a single action. This does not change the love you have for someone. This does not change the love that God has for them. Even if the world has labeled someone a sinner. Jesus can still label them a saint. God can work all things together for good, to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose. God’s plans are never ruined because of our sin, otherwise, God would never have plans for any human. Don’t confuse the issue by thinking 30 years down the road. Help those who need help right now. Those same counselors, psychologist, and psychiatrists certified through the American Association of Christian Counselors will be needed if the abuser ever truly hopes to change. There are some deep, complicated issues at play that honestly just a youth pastor, or life-coach, or parent will not be able to address. Seek real help.
Sexual abuse will continually come out after the fact unless we start talking about it before hand. I do not want the Duggars to be demonized over this process, I want the conversation to be, “if it can happen to the Duggars, it can happen to my family.” Sexual abuse will keep happening if we do not truly help those who have been wronged, and it will continue to happen if we do not deal with those who have committed this sin properly and officially. Feel free to leave comments or questions. I am no expert but I’m in a line of work where I have to deal with such things more often than I ever wanted to. I can almost tell you now what my advice will be. Go call the police or other authority right now. You are not equipped, trained, or capable of handling this on your own.