On Wednesday, July 25, I posted a blog called, What Is Sexual Abuse? I opened that post with an email I had received from one of my readers, expressing a strong dislike for the word ‘perpetrator’, and asking what qualifies as sexual abuse.
The reader sent me a follow-up email, wanting to clear any misunderstanding, lest it sounded as though the word ‘perpetrator’ is not appropriate. I asked for permission to post the second email, and was given the go ahead to do so.
“I was just reading comments on your blog and I am much too “shy” to add my own comment. But I wanted to be sure at least you understood. When I said I hate the word “perpetrator” it had absolutely nothing to do with thinking the word shouldn’t be used, or it’s too harsh a word or doesn’t apply or anything like that. You’re right, when talking bout a perpetrator that’s the word to use. The *only* reason I hated it was because every single time I read the word “perpetrator” my heart got stabbed and I felt an incredible amount of guilt and it felt as tho a million fingers were pointing at me. ….”
This is the guilt and shame I repeatedly encounter, whether in email, via phone, or sitting across the table from those with similar stories. What is most saddening to me is that most of these individuals, living with this deep guilt and shame, are typically children at the time of the offence. The older ones were maybe thirteen or fourteen, with no education, no understanding of the depth of the damage until years later.
As the reality settles in, the now-adult often struggles with fear, anxiety, anger and shame. Commonly their fear is, “what if the victim doesn’t even remember, and I traumatize them again by speaking up to apologize?” There is worry over what consequences the victim has lived with, because of their actions, among other fears and concerns.
And then there is the horror and shame at realizing what it is they did. When that innocence of not understanding sexuality is gone, these individuals who ‘perpetrated’ in childhood–here I cringe to use that word–would give anything to undo the past, but they cannot.
It is not possible to generalize and speak effectively into every situation with one broad sweep. Every situation is unique with dynamics that must be considered and emotions that need to be worked through. On a practical level, to ‘make things right’ with victims, it needs to be done with deep sensitivity to the victim’s needs.
However, for personal freedom a few things will help move all perpetrators toward freedom. The first step is taking ownership and acknowledging that what we did was wrong, in spite of the innocence and lack of understanding at the time of the offence.
Making peace with God over it is another step. On the heels of acknowledging our wrong, and our ownership of the abuse, we need to give it to God. We are not created to carry the weight of these things. Our minds are not made for it. We need to give it to God and accept His forgiveness.
Another part of freedom is forgiving our parents and leaders for not teaching us. When silence has first victimized us, and then played a role in causing us to victimize other children, we need to forgive our parents for not teaching us. (Adult perpetrators also need to forgive for the lack of teaching, however, no responsibility can be placed on parents of an adult, in spite of that lack of teaching. Each adult must take personal ownership.)
Did they do the best they could, given their experience? Probably. But their best left us vulnerable, hurting and broken. And that broken-ness set us up to pass on the abuse that we did not understand in childhood. Healing from that loss requires forgiveness, where those in leadership failed.
Choosing well, going, forward is critical. Learning the truth about sexuality, and God’s amazing plan, inviting Him into our struggle, and giving Him our past, releases us from that shame.
We were not created for this guilt, shame and sin. We were created for the Garden of Eden, for perfect relationship with God, with no separation from Him, and sin separates us from him. As we repent and get to know Him again, intimately, and understand what it is we were created for, that freedom returns. We find the weight of sin and shame lift from us, and we are again made whole. In Him we are accepted. Complete. Regardless of the past.
That’s who Jesus is, and what He came to do, restoring all things and reconciling us to Himself.
© Trudy Metzger
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