Yesterday I taught a class on sexual abuse awareness to a group of people who are amazing speakers, to say that was intimidating would be an understatement. I already have stage freight, and I definitely stumbled through words, and rushed through parts I had prepared more, my eye started twitching, and my legs were shaking, but God was with me, and got me through it. The information was shared and the the audience was gracious and kind.
When God called me to be a voice in this sexual assault movement, it was easy to think of all the reasons why someone else would be better at it then me, in fact most of the ways I’m using my voice are my biggest weaknesses instead of my strengths. So I’m counting on the Holy Spirt to work, and I’m trusting that God picked me, so all of my insecurities about it I can give to Him, and just follow His lead.
I say all of this because being vulnerable is hard, and so is using your voice. Survivor stories are powerful and can bring healing and hope to many. We are not all these amazing speakers but that doesn’t make our story less helpful.
I was reflecting on what has helped me the most with starting this journey, and it’s been the people that not only support me, but leaned in to be a part of it.
To all the people who have leaned in, I cherish your support more than you know.
I was listening to Pastor Ben Stuart preaching on Luke 7:36 Where a women with a bad reputation comes to a dinner party, risk’s the shame of what the people will think or say to her, to pour perfume on Jesus’s feet, thanking Him and worshiping Him for his forgiveness of her sins. I loved that the pastor described her as “risking shame”, it struck me as beautiful for a lot of reasons, but what felt personal to me in this story, is how every time I tell my survivor story I risk shame.
What is so hard about Sexual abuse and assault, is that even though NONE of it is the victims fault, you are left feeling the shame of it. I personally was in a prison of shame for many, many years and shame takes a toll on your soul and it’s a heavy weight to carry. What is so beautiful about the story above is that Jesus took her shame and He took mine, and as the pastor perfectly described “turned our ugly things into something beautiful.”
Because of Jesus graciously freeing me from the shame and silence of my abuse, I’m able to tell my story in the hopes that it brings other survivors out of their silence and encourages them that healing is possible.
Survivor, you are not alone, I know the shame you are risking every time you share your story and I know how incredibly brave and hard that is to do.
We care more about offending adults than protecting kids. I’ve wanted to write about this topic for awhile, but just like the sentence above, I was worried about offending adults.
The past six months that I’ve been researching for my blog, reading, talking with, and watching survivor stories, the one same theme in all of the stories is… most people would rather be wrong about a possible victim, than be wrong about a possible predator.
Here’s just a couple of stories ( but there is countless) that support predators over victims this year. A bus driver pleaded guilty to raping a 14 year-old-girl and he only got probation, because he had no prior arrests and there was only one victim according to the judge. The judge was more concerned for the rapists future, then the innocent child’s future. And to be clear, one victim is too many. Here’s a list of some of the challenges this girl may have to endure because of this horrendous sin and crime committed against her.
Feelings of guilt and shame
Feeling different or alone
Body Image issues
Self Injurious Behavior
Another story, Church hired pastor without checking criminal record-then said it didn’t matter. This pastor pleaded guilty to two crimes against children and served a year in prison and his church is defending him, meanwhile putting the children at the church at risk as well as showing no regards to how other adult survivors would feel with him in this position. Jesus can save anyone, even pedophiles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have consequences for their sins, and one of their consequences is they don’t get to be in a position of authority over children, and if they are truly repentant they wouldn’t even try to be.
Parents, caregivers, and adults in general please, ask the hard questions, be okay with offending someone and lean always on the side of protecting children over protecting an adults ego when it comes to who we allow to be around our children.
Think about your most embarrassing moment. It’s often when you were a kid , and your biggest concern was avoiding embarrassment at all cost. Or it could be at 30 years old like me, when I went a little heavy handed on the laxatives after surgery and pooped my bed! Everybody has a story, or a few, and the interesting thing about your most embarrassing moments are, they are only told to those you trust the most. It’s almost a seal of approval on new friendships or relationships. These stories are not a first date conversation or a getting to know you topic. They are reserved for those who have earned your trust.
One of the biggest silencers for me on my sexual assault was embarrassment. It’s strange how much power things that embarrass can have over you. You often hear victims stay silent because of shame or fear but I never heard much about staying silent because of embarrassment, and for me that was probably my biggest reason.
The other interesting thing about embarrassment is, that once you have healed from that situation it has zero power over you. Those moments that once left you paralyzed, now become your story, and biggest weapon to help others, and create stronger bonds. I am so very thankful for those safe people through out my life that I was able to share my moments with, free from judgment.
For those who are struggling with embarrassment from abuse, none of the embarrassment falls on you, that belongs ONLY to the abuser. I pray for safe people in your life, and freedom in your healing.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the parents of abuse victims, and how hard it must be for them, and the lack of support they often have. Now that I’m a Mom it hits me even harder, even just the thought of this happening to my daughter breaks my heart into a million pieces. Im so thankful I had a Mom who believed me, fought for me, and supported me when I told, and continues to support me today. I want to publicly thank her and let her know what it meant to me, I hope this will also bring encouragement to other parents as well.
Thank you Mom,
For believing me immediately, and for fighting for me, even when it wasn’t the outcome we wanted. That helped me to know I was valued and worth fighting for.
Thank you for putting me in counseling and always encouraging me to continue to seek healing as an adult. That helped me to be hopeful, believe healing was possible, and that I wasn’t a lost cause or damaged beyond repair.
Thank you for allowing me to heal on my own terms and timeline. That helped me to be ok with not being ok, and that I was loved unconditionally.
Thank you for continuing to stand up and fight for me, even when you were being attacked and lied about by my abuser. This taught me to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s hard and scary, and people are against me. This made me brave.
Thank you for honoring my boundaries. This helped me to stick up for myself, and my boundaries without shame.
Thank you for being strong for me when I’m sure all you wanted to do was fall apart. This made my healing possible.
I can remember the exact day I realized that I was an incest victim, I was in 8th grade at the movies with a group of friends, it was part of the plot in the movie. My heart sank, I felt exposed and if you could die of embarrassment and shame, I would have dropped dead in my seat. I felt shattered in that moment and none of my friends had a single clue any of that was going on inside of me. Because my abuser was my biological father the layers and family dynamics have and still are so complicated. As I’m writing this as a 39 year old, my father is still trying to convince people that I am a liar, and made all this up, and that he is the actual victim. If you are a victim of incest, you are not alone, it’s not your fault and you didn’t deserve it. I understand the many more layers this adds to your healing and the never ending family drama this can cause when you refuse to be silent about it. You are not responsible for any of the mess this may bring to your family, ALL of the resposibilty belongs to the abuser.
Here is what I would have told my 8th grade self now.
You get through it. You are not alone, you are not the only one who has been through incest. None of the shame or embarrassment falls on you, all of that belongs to your dad. You don’t owe anyone, especially family, any proof or explanation for any of the the abuse you had to go through, the right and helpful ones will believe you automatically. healing comes, you are not dirty, used, unlovable or guilty for any of this. You will actually become incredibly strong and God uses you to help others who are hurting in some amazing ways. You will never get the apology you wanted so bad, but God frees you from needing that, and that is one of the best gifts you will ever receive. You become a wife and a mother and you feel so incredibly loved by Jesus. You don’t have to stay quiet just to keep the peace in the family, and even though it’s a hard thing for people to hear, you aren’t responsible for the drama is causes, you will be believed and supported by most. This is only a part of your story, and this doesn’t define who you are, or hold you back from fufilling the purpose God has for your life.
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” C.S. Lewis
Many survivors struggle with God ,and or church. Sexual assault is a horrendous sin and crime, and It’s completely normal and understandable to have this struggle. One of my counselors told me that sexual abuse is an attack on your soul, and that put words to something I felt so deeply. I personally never struggled with God, I felt like God was my only safe place, but I had a huge struggle with the church and pastors specifically.
The church for me, has been a place of pain and a place of comfort. I’m hoping my stories of both will help with supporting survivors better.
When I was at 6th grade church camp, I told my counselor I was being abused by my dad, she rightfully told the pastor who happened to also be my uncle. He did nothing about it, and told no one. At that point the Justice system had already failed me and now a Pastor and family member also did the same. That was when I finally stopped telling.
Another time I was hurt by the church was at another church camp, I was 17, they separated the boys and the girls and they had us sign a paper that we would stay virgins until we were married, and if we had already messed up we had to sign the secondary virgin paper. This was awful for many reasons, but especially for a young girl who was abused, this made my shame and guilt a million times worse. I loved Jesus deeply but both of these experiences drove me away from the church for a long time, I felt like pastors and christians just couldn’t be trusted and I wanted nothing to do with them.
Thankfully I also had incredibly helpful and loving christians in my life as well, that helped me along the way. My Mom who fought and did all that she could to help me, believed me and loved me. My Grandma who always pointed me to Jesus and talked to me endlesly about Him and all of the millions of questions I had about Him and the Bible. Beneta, my safe person and counselor who taught me that Jesus sees me as pure, beautiful and innocent and helped me properly see Gods grace and love for me. My Seattle church pastors and community who redeemed the hurt I felt by my previous experience and helped nurture my love of Gods people again, and a joy for serving the church. My current San Diego church and community who have been so incredibly supportive of me, and my blog, and who want to be better educated on this subject.
I’ve learned along the way to fight against the lies that we can believe with Gods truths. And the truth is, God loves you even if you don’t love him back. He grieves with you, seeks justice for you and wants healing for you. The most beautiful depiction of this is the cross. ” All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 3:23-25
Healing is a long journey, with many struggles along the way, but there is hope for your healing.
I attended this conference last week, and it was chalked full of insightful, helpful and life giving information. It left me feeling incredibly hopeful for the future in and out of the church. Here is my personal highlight reel on this two day conference. Here is the live stream
Powerful quotes from Valued
“ Your son has a much higher chance of being sexually assaulted than he does of being falsely accused of sexual assault. A much, much higher chance.”
“Justice is always done. It either falls on the abuser or, if he repents, it falls on the Redeemer. But Justice is always done because evil is real and it matters to God, and it should matter to us.”
“The grace of God is not proven by the foolishness of allowing perpetrators to serve in places where they can abuse again.”
“I have never had to tell a Christian abuse survivor ‘you need to start thinking about forgiveness.’ Why on earth would I cut down a wounded person like that?”
“You are not guilty for the sin and crime done to you.”
“I’m tired of abusive Christian leaders getting away with abuse for years because of the ‘great things they’ve done for God.’ Enough!
“Anger is not a sin. It’s actually a really good response to being sinned against…Justice and holiness is who God is…God is angrier than you are.”
“For more than a decade, with the exception of last year…the number one reason that churches are found liable in the federal court system is for sexual assault on church property.”
“It’s proper to use the word trauma for sexual abuse. Sexual abuse survivors are second only to war vets in suffering from PTSD.”
Things Parents and Caregivers can do to Protect Children.
1 in 5 children will be sexualy assaulted before 18.
Most children know their attacker.
34% are family members.
59% are acquaintances.
7% are strangers.
40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children.
9 helpful tips to teach children.
Explain to your child that God made their body. God made them and called them very good. Their body has integrity.
Teach proper names for private parts.
Inviting Communication on this subject
Teaching about touch. Inappropriate and appropriate.
Don’t ask a child to maintain emotions.
Throw out the word secret and replace it with surprise.
Clarify rules for playing doctor. Use stuffed animals or broken toys not people. Your body is not a game.
Churches should have policies and procedures that will protect children, along with providing child-protection training to all its members. At minimum, these policies should address such basic issues such as the following.
Background screenings for all church workers and volunteers; this must not be limited to simply a criminal background check.
Parameters related to adult-child on and off church property, including physical contact, in-person interactions, electronic communications, and privacy issues.
Similar type of parameters related to child-on-child contact.
Offer personal safety classes to children and youth. Such classes should
Teach younger children the parts of their body covered by a bathing suit are not to be touched by an adult.
Teach older youth ways to guard against becoming too “attached” to a non-parental adult, including, but not limited to, being alone with adults.
Educate older youth about how sexual offenders think and act.
Instruct children of all ages what to do if they are inappropriately touched or simply uncomfortable around a certain adult or peer.
Explain to all youth the difference between sinning and being the victim of sin.
Identify and make available qualified resources for youth who have been abused.
Responding with Excellence
Rejecting the culture of rebuke and silence.
Being prepared to respond. Develop a policy that provides a specific protocol for the way the institution will address abuse disclosures.
Make sure that the allegations have been reported to law enforcement.
Make sure that the child does not have contact with the alleged perpetrator while on church property or at church events.
“I’m continually blown away at the strength of survivors telling their stories. After years of abuse they know that telling their story will garner attacks by ignorant people, and they still tell. All the more reason we need to encourage and honor survivors. ” Jimmy Hinton
Survivor stories will play a huge role in decreasing the statistics on sexual assault. I’m thankful our culture is starting to listen and want to be educated on this epidemic. Here are a few ways Survivor stories will play a powerful role in that.
They will help us understand and identify all the different type predators and the methods they use to abuse.
A great example of two different ways predators operate have been shown recently in the two documentaries, Surviving R Kelly and Leaving Neverland. R Kelly used his fame and young girls wanting to make it in the music industry. Then once he got them isolated from their families he was controlling, cruel and used fear to abuse them. Micheal Jackson also used his fame to his advantage, but instead of using fear to control he convinced his victims that he was the victim, and needed them to help him not be lonely and to make up for his lost childhood. He used love and gifts to abuse them.
Survivors telling their stories also help other survivors begin their healing process. No matter what your story is, it’s important and helpful. I think often times people shy away from sharing their story because they think they didn’t have it as bad as someone else, and that is absolutely untrue. If you remember everything or if your memories are fuzzy both of your stories are important. If your abuse occurred over years or it was only once, both stories are valid and helpful. If you knew your abuser or it was a stranger, both stories need to be heard. If you told and turned your abuser in or you have never told a single soul, both stories will be relatable to someone. If you are healed or just starting the process both stories can help save lives. Both men and and women’s stories are equally as important and desperately need to be heard. All stories matter.
Survivors stories help us better educate and teach our children how to protect themselves, as well as making it harder for predators to operate.
I pray that our world will be a kinder and safer space for these stories to be told, and for those telling their stories now, I stand with you, and respect you pushing through the evil for the greater good.
One of the biggest narratives I would love to be a part of changing is that if you are a survivor of childhood sexual assault, then your future is doomed and you forever will be a mess. That simply is not true. I don’t want to downplay the trauma and the trials that do come along with being a survivor, but no one is ever hopeless because of any trauma they have gone through. I know many survivors who are incredibly successful, heathy, loving people, who went through hell and came through it with more compassion, strength and love for others than most. Let’s stop this lie and be a part of rooting people on for healing and hope. Here are some of my thoughts on how to start changing this narrative.
Encourage survivors to seek professional help. I have been in counseling most of my life off and on and it has been huge on helping me to be able to recover from my trauma and flourish in the way God intended my life to be. It is never too late to seek help and start the healing process.
Correct people when they make negative or hopeless comments. I know this one is kinda scary, but it’s something that I have been doing that last couple of years, and if you do it in a kind way I have found they appreciate the honesty and perspective.
Listen to survivors stories, they are incredibly powerful, insightful and bring so much truth on this subject and can really help change some people’s assumptions about survivors.
This world can be hard, and unfortunately no one gets out without some type of pain or hardship, but no one is ever too far gone or defined by it. Let’s help people find hope.