Childhood Sexual Abuse; Prevalence & Impact in Christian Communities

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

“Sexual Abuse is when a younger or less powerful person is used by an older or more powerful child, youth or adult for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can be contact or non-contact” (Canadian Red Cross, 2016). The document goes on to define both contact and non-contact forms of sexual abuse, listing various acts in each category, including oral, anal and breast area touch, and visually exposing victims to pornographic material or nakedness.  Health Canada takes it further, stating, “Sexual abuse is inherently emotionally abusive and is often accompanied by other forms of mistreatment. It is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power over the child” (Health Canada Archives, 1997).

It is accurate to say that Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) is any act used for sexual gratification in any way by an older, larger or more powerful child or adult, and/or any act that disrupts or interferes with the sexual innocence of a child, whether through touch, visual exposure or in words.

While curiosity about sexuality, body parts and their function, is a normal part of child development, the way in which older children, teens and adults handle this curiosity has tremendous impact on each child’s sexual development. As with any learning, when a child receives age appropriate facts and positive information about his or her body, the child develops a healthy view of his or her sexuality, thereby building self-confidence and healthy self-esteem. In contrast, when the information is negative or abusive—whether taught in words or learned through abuse—the child suffers negative consequences.

Prevalence of the Childhood Sexual Abuse

Due to remaining largely unreported, it is difficult to determine just how extensive CSA is. Among many other issues contributing to the silence, victims often have a relationship with their offender, and fear imposing consequences on them. “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members […] About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.” (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).

In recent years CSA has become a more open conversation, thereby giving victims permission to find their voice, reclaim their power, and speak out to break the shame of silence. However, even in this changing culture, shame and the fear of not being heard remain a powerful force, preventing many victims from disclosing or reporting.

Within the context of religious culture, silence remains strong, making it virtually impossible to determine the extent of the problem, particularly in closed-culture communities, such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and other similar groups. However, glimpses inside the culture reveal a hidden problem. In a case involving a Conservative Mennonite group, in Bancroft Ontario, a school teacher molested a high percentage of her students, including having intercourse with at least one, and forcing others to watch sexual encounters. (T. Metzger, personal communication [interview], January 13, 2016). In another similar small private Christian school, in Southwestern Ontario, of twenty plus students, over a period of approximately seven years, at least fifteen disclosed being molested either at school or in the homes, by older siblings, other students or an adult. (T. Metzger, personal communication [self disclosure], January 10, 2016). So, while accurate statistics are difficult to determine in Christian settings, the cases that do come to light, indicate near epidemic levels in some communities.

Understanding the Impact of CSA (Long-term/Short-term)

CSA is unlike any other abuse, in that it has the potential to produce physical pleasure while inflicting emotional trauma. When an adult hits a child, the child’s emotional trauma matches the physical response; the body confirms a wrong was committed. However, sexual touch potentially awakens pleasurable sexual response, and the body, in essence, forms an alliance with the offender against the victim, leaving the victim helpless and even desiring more of the same.

Further complicating the victimization, is the sense of being ‘special’ and ‘chosen’ by the offender, or receiving treats such as candy or money; a bond that is compounded by the feeling of ‘this is our secret’. While the child’s emotions are confused, and shame casts a long shadow over the joy of the rewards, ultimately the rewards win out for some victims.  The result is mental and sexual confusion, self-loathing—because the victim’s body is against him/her, and they cannot resist the rewards—unhealthy obsession with sex, or an extreme repulsion of it, among many other negative impacts on the victim. The hypersexual victim acts out inappropriately, starting at a young age with re-enacting the abuse with other children, with dolls, or grabbing adults in sexual ways. When other children see or experience these behaviours, they tend to reject the offending child, further isolating the victim who already feels alone and different. In contrast, the child who responds with discomfort to all touch and becomes fearful of interacting with others, whether children or adults, is likely to behave in odd ways and also becomes isolated. Both become targets of bullying or being misunderstood, and apart from compassionate intervention, are likely to struggle for life.

In later life the consequences continue, as many victims suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to varying degrees. This plays into anything from the ability to hold a job due to relational issues or feelings of inadequacy, depression or mental distraction, and failed relationships, to name only a few consequences. In marriage, flashbacks and repulsion to sex interfere with sexual intimacy, making it difficult to form healthy marital bonds, and causing frustration for both partners. In parenting, the victim who has pushed down pain and buried confusion, also has deeply buried anger and functions with a short fuse, or emotional distance. The emotionally distant parent fails to bond well with his or her offspring, and draws comfort from the fact that he or she is not abusive, but in the process there is risk of extreme neglect; a reality that comes back to haunt in later years. Fits of unexplained rage leave the angry parent feeling frustrated, inadequate and hopeless; thus the cycle of abuse continues in the form of emotional abuse or physical violence in the next generation. And the parent who vacillates between anger and emotional distance, feels constantly torn, trying to perform well, while feeling ever on an emotional yoyo with the consequence and outcome of either response.

How Does CSA Impact Individuals in Religious Cultures?

In religious communities, nothing really changes in so far as the basic responses and consequences of CSA. However, what does change is the added dynamic of religious teaching and beliefs, often for the negative, though sometimes for positive, not the least of which is faulty teachings on forgiveness. News stories where victims of crime, for example the murder of a family member, speak out and offer forgiveness, draw deep emotion from masses. Many are moved to tears at such undeserved grace, while others groan. Forgiveness, in its purest form, is a beautiful gift that sets the victim free; it releases the victim from the power the offender has over him or her. Tragically, in religious settings forgiveness is often partnered with forgetting, and presented in such a way that it ends up freeing the offender, requiring victims to ‘overlook’ the crime, push down negative feelings and interact with the offender within social context, thereby further victimizing them. This becomes a double-edged sword, particularly in sex-related crimes, first by desensitizing the community to the crime, thus creating an environment for sexual crimes to flourish, and secondly forcing the victim into silence and shame. If or when the victim acknowledges the crime and its impact, he or she is quickly rebuked, and told that to speak of it shows a lack of forgiveness. Biblical references are pulled out of context to support this kind of response, citing that God also forgives and forgets. In reality, the Bible says that God ‘remembers our sins against us no more’, which is a far cry from forgetting. Nonetheless, the approach effectively shuts down many victims, especially those in environments that discourage questioning what is taught.

Furthermore, religious people who commit sex crimes represent God by their claims to faith in Him, particularly when in a position of religious leadership or trust, such as pastor, parent, or Sunday School teacher, causing even deeper confusion. The victim cannot separate the offender and his or her faith, from the God whom he or she professes to serve, making God accessory to the crime. It is not unheard of for CSA victims, whose fathers or pastors have molested them, to close their eyes in prayer and see only their offender’s face, because that offender represents God. Consequently, victims who view God as someone who partners with child molesters, live in debilitating terror of this Cosmic Being to whom they must surrender, and who, in turn, commands them to obey the parents and leaders who would do such things.

High standards of ‘holiness’ and the need to portray a ‘perfect’ religious image, combined with a tenacious sense of loyalty within some Christian communities—particularly in more closed-culture groups—further suppress many victims. To speak out means facing rejection within church circles, family relationship, and the broader Christian community. The fear of isolation, and the inevitable emotional consequences of that isolation, holds victims hostage to pain, forcing them to suffer in silence. Those who have spoken out and faced that consequence, sometimes say in hindsight that the latter is worse than the former, and they regret speaking out.

In stark contrast, victims of CSA in a religious setting for whom the abuser and God remain completely separated, find solace in having Someone bigger than life to turn to; Someone who will, in His time, redeem the impact of the pain, horror and mental suffering. These victims find hope in a higher justice, and in believing that Someone has a redemption plan. Because of promises in the Bible, this victim believes that, while the crimes committed can never be good, indeed good things will one day come from the dark experiences of childhood. Reaching for the hand of God in comfort at night, trusting that His angels stand guard in the dark, and hearing gentle whispers of belonging and purpose, fill this child with resilient courage, even in the midst of fear and anxiety.

And the victim who comes forward in a Christian setting where support is offered, thrives like no other. Surrounded by people of faith, who also believe that God will heal and restore, and who encourage the victim to speak openly and honestly, while holding the offender accountable for the crimes, gives the victim a sense of community, safety and security. While the crime is always a tragic one, these victims stand a chance at full healing.

How Do We Positively Impact & Minimize Risk of Victimization?

This paper addresses many general issues and some unique to Christian settings, but it stands to reason that all cultures have unique dynamics. The secret in any culture, then, is to become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, and work with respect to both. By building relationships within the community, establishing trust and partnering together, we open doors. By focusing on the strengths of a community, while avoiding the pitfalls, and being respectful of and sensitive to cultural norms, we maximize impact. Finally, by inviting the culture into the solution, we eliminate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, and empower the community to contribute to their own, and change from within. Relationship-based solutions create sustainable impact and lasting change.

References

Canadian Red Cross. (2016). Definitions of Child Abuse & Neglect. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/violence–bullying-and-abuse-prevention/educators/child-abuse-and-neglect-prevention/definitions-of-child-abuse-and-neglect

Health Canada Archives. (1997). Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/H72-22-2-1997E.pdf

United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). National Sex Offender Public Website, Facts & Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from
https://www.nsopw.gov/en-CA/Education/FactsStatistics

Your Feelings Are Valid & Open the Door to Healing

Western culture, particularly stoic Christian culture, has robbed us of the gift of grieving, and the release of weeping. The wailing wall created opportunity for ‘realness’ in agony and pain that would land the average westerner in a mental institute, or at least labeled. Trapped emotions, suffocated feelings and buried pain contribute to emotional breakdowns, depression and anxiety. When we learn to feel, to weep, and to grieve, we begin to heal…

canstockphoto25207416 (2)

…and out of our healing, life flows to those around us, offering permission to feel, permission to grieve, and permission to heal.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

The Duggar Family; A Few Things… And a Secret of My Own…

What a wiggly can of worms I let loose Yesterday! My, my! And all I was doing is clearing my mind so I can sleep! Not twenty-four hours later, over forty thousand people ‘tuned in’ to my blog about Josh Duggar, and gave me lots to think about. And that’s a lot more people that I contemplated influencing with the unburdening of my heart; a thought that is quite sobering. Still, apart from some new insight into the bigger story, I stand by what I’ve written, 100%, at the core of my message.

As a result of the many comments and messages resulting from my previous blog, I spent my day responding to comments on FB, email messages, private messages etc. (I was going to clean my house! Too bad, eh? What a thing,  to be ‘stuck’ writing instead of cleaning. lol!) I’m responding to as many as possible, because this is an important topic and misunderstandings and incomplete information has the potential to do a lot of damage, on many levels. (Messages from readers, ranged from support, to rage, to hate… well, all I can say is when you swim upstream you have to watch for sharks.)

Covered in this post: 
• The  fact that Josh was a Juvenile
• The Duggar’s ‘reporting’ of the incident
• Was it the Victim’s Fault in any way?
• Mrs. Duggar’s statement regarding homosexuals and transgenders being pedophiles
• A Secret of My Own

There are a few things I learned throughout the day, yesterday, that are worthy of further exploring. Things that I want to ‘correct’ because of that new information. But first let me say this, in response to some of the ‘heavy pouncing’ as to why I would leave a blog up after I learned that I did not have full information. It’s this simple;

1.) I still feel the same way about the core of my message, that SOME victims  do not want to be made to feel like victims for life. SOME victims want to use the very thing that almost destroyed them, to bring hope and healing. SOME victims… and I am one. (Nothing of my post tone is all inclusive. To victims who read it that way, do as I did and ‘take YOUR voice’ to the streets. I will read it (if you send me a link) and I will not bash you. We all heal differently.) Just heal.

2.) The other ‘faulty’ information is still out in the media. so anyone who isn’t merely trolling and trying to poke the poop piles will know I’m not trying to be a moron. They’ll have heard the info, and since I was blogging about my feelings, that info can be corrected in this blog. In fact, it might help others get accurate information. I read enough I would have thought I’d have stumbled upon the truth at some point but I didn’t until people sent me links. So others will go through the same thing. I’d rather keep my original post up, and not retract the message, when new information does not change the core. I hope I can always be humble enough to take correction. I have not always been and it’s something God’s been teaching me in the past few years, so this is good practice.

3.) I wasn’t writing about the home dynamics. I wasn’t writing to document the events, or tell the world everything they did or did not do right. I was writing about how I FEEL as a victim when I see people speaking for ALL VICTIMS. I was using MY VOICE to express MY HEART. It is MY TESTIMONY of healing. And it’s just that: MINE. You  can love it, hate it, like it, share it, leave it, condemn it or curse it. It is MY JOURNEY and I WILL NOT BE MOVED by the masses. If I would look around and see a host of victims who are way more healed than I , then I’d say, Gosh, you know, maybe something is really screwed up about my healing journey. Maybe I’m missing something here… But,  alas, I don’t. I just don’t. There are others as healed, who healed very differently, and I bless them. But this is what works for me, so I will speak, write, and share my heart. You can do with it as you wish. I’m good here.

And now to the items I feel are worthy of addressing…

I had read that Josh Duggar and the victims received counseling and how dad went to a trooper, even if a year late. I took these things at face value, and based on these ‘facts’, I felt they had done all they could have done, at the time, even though they did it a year late. Now, with more information, I have found that information to not be fully accurate, and it raises questions. Did they handle things in a way as to keep a lid on it and keep family image in tact? Was there an agenda? Did they put themselves ahead of the well-being of their sons and daughters? What we know with certainty is that, at the very least there was mishandling of information by parents. church leaders, and the trooper. I am still not willing to throw rocks on how they should have done things, but I did want to correct this information. (To read the police report, visit InTouch. It is a bit insightful. And for Josh’s confession click HERE.)

Even so, attacking Josh on how it was handled is not right, because the handling of things does not fall on him; he was a juvenile. Questions I ask are: What more could he have done at that age? What more would he have known to do, to get help? And then, if we all agree that most 14-yr-olds would look to the adults for guidance, can we release him from the burden of the failure of adults in his life, and put that blame where it belongs? The crime he committed, is his burden, but what the adults did or didn’t do, is not. He can never get away from the reality of what he did to the victims; that is his to ‘own’.

Further to his age, and the anger regarding my statement about ‘fully understanding the consequences of his actions’. First of all, if you have a problem with it, read it again. I use the boy who molested me as an example. Secondly, I write about understanding ‘the consequences’ of his actions. But I will say again that an ‘over protected’ child who had not been taught much about sex, if anything, also will not understand the sexuality of it. They will feel that it is wrong, but not understand it. In my early teens I asked a friend if she wanted to ‘put our bodies together’, and she agreed, so we did. I had no idea that the encounter was a sexual thing. I knew boys shouldn’t touch girls, and girls shouldn’t touch boys, but even there I didn’t understand the ‘sex thing’ behind it. But no one taught me about sex, and certainly not about girls with girls. So, yes, I stand by the statement that it is very possible for a young teen to not understand. If you were not raised in a closed culture, or were withheld teaching on sex to the point of sheer ignorance, you have zero authority to tell me what it’s like inside those cultures. We who lived it, know. My sisters didn’t even get a warning about their periods. They just started bleeding one day and thought they were going to die. I read about it in an old Britannica encyclopedia. That doesn’t justify what Josh did to those children; he committed a crime. And it doesn’t make it any easier that my first ‘consensual’ sexual experience was with a girl. Because I instigated it, I went back to her soon after with a note that said I was so sorry, that I didn’t know what it meant but that I felt bad. Ignorance is a painful thing. (For the record, I believe in not hiding things. So I tell this in my book, and I’ve blogged about it before. I live my life an open book. Literally. )

As for the victims, they are not and were not at fault, in any way, and the fact that it was put on them, is not okay. I’ve seen that too many times. (That’s the most disturbing piece here, how victims can be blamed. And spare me the ‘if the victim didn’t scream’ line. Seriously! That’s a twisted abuse of scripture. And, furthermore, “then ya’ll shoulda taught ’em to scream, thank you very much!” Which, BTW, would mean actually talking about sex, and protecting your children. But if you don’t do your part, don’t bother with other lines from scripture to justify abuse and abusers. It’s wicked.) It also troubles me, after discovering that Josh’s crimes were only told to a trooper-friend, and he never had counseling, the in his confession he boldly states it having been taken to the law, and that he had counseling. If that was an attempt to ‘cover’, and make it look as legitimately ‘cleaned up as possible’ or not, I cannot tell. Or maybe he sincerely believed it… That’s his to carry.

Many readers have shared details of what has been described as cult-like’ environment in the Duggar home, and their adherence to the Pearl’s (Train Up A Child) methods of parenting. I cannot prove or disprove their claims, but will say that whole parenting method about make me ill. I can’t read that stuff, and for many reasons not the least of which is the abuse we suffered and witnessed at home, in childhood, with beatings and whippings and sometimes having to strip to the skin. My mind can hardly handle reading such vile and abusive parenting advice. There is nothing of our Heavenly Father’s compassion and love that is reflected in the harshness of it. If you want to know more, go looking. I don’t intend to do a lot of digging into this, but simply say this much to firmly declare I do not support any form of violence or abuse. Beating children into submission is not right. Period. All discipline should be relationship driven, and relationship building. More on that another day… maybe. But for now, I don’t support it. But it still has nothing to do with the message of yesterday’s blog. I never voiced support for them. I don’t know enough to hang them or hail them.

I also commented that I had never seen, until this Duggar case, a dad turning in his own son. And I still can’t think of any. But several of you sent private messages detailing just such accounts and how that worked out for you. I applaud your courage, even though it didn’t always end well for you. And I recognize that following proper protocol is no guarantee that victims or offenders get the help they need. It’s possible the Duggars would still be in this mess and nothing would have turned out differently, other than the media would have had a lot less clout. But those of you who had to fight against the system to get help for your children, when the system wanted to ‘turn a blind eye’, hats off to you.

Many also pointed out “hypocritical comments” made by Mrs. Duggar that equated homosexual and transgender people to sex offenders and pedophiles, and that men will pretend to be trans as a means to to access women and children in bathrooms etc. Again, my blog wasn’t about that but since so many said something, there is clearly a lot of pain out there about her words. I have worked with many clients in these areas, and won’t get into details but want to at least acknowledge that the identity struggle (and bear with me if you find that offensive, there are no right words to express everyone’s heart here) is very real. I write in my memoir about wanting to be a little boy, about thinking God messed me up and I don’t fit. That started as a toddler. So a statement like Mrs. Duggar’s is a very painful way to judge quickly something that goes deep inside. I am sorry your pain/struggle has been so casually brushed aside and turned into something it is not; I have never come across any documentation–scientific, biblical or otherwise, that would support her statement creating a link between homosexuality/transgender with pedophilia. When it comes to some pretending with agenda, are there exceptions, and some who do pretend? Maybe, I don’t know. But for those of you who struggle with that deep ‘lostness’ of wondering ‘who am I’, this is a painful statement, and I’m sorry.

Lastly, before I share a ‘secret’ of my own… there is one correction I need to make regarding a comment I made about ‘the duty to report’ in Ontario, and that the father would not have been required to report. In a case where I was involved ‘on the fringes’ back in 2013, we did some research on the duty to report and what it means to acquire information ‘in the line of duty’. I found my information on the Government of Canada website and understood it to say all are required to report, and that is what I told my client. But my client also found a clause that indicated the ‘duty to report’ was only if discovered ‘in the line of duty’. Furthermore, my client being a medical professional investigated through work, and sent me the same clause, indicating that the obligation, from a legal perspective, is only for professionals who discover ‘in the line of duty’. If you visit the Government link I shared, you will find that the ‘in a line of duty’ clause is no longer to be found, and it now says the following:

“Professionals and officials have the same duty as the rest of the public to report their suspicion that a child is or may be in need of protection. However, the Act recognizes that people working closely with children have a special awareness of the signs of child abuse and neglect, and a particular responsibility to report their suspicions. Any professional or official who fails to report a suspicion is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $1,000, if they obtained the information in the course of their professional or official duties. [CFSA s.72 (4), (6.2)]”

I felt it prudent to correct that, for the sake of those who read my comment and possibly shared it. I am relieved that someone is doing something to demand accountability. One day, I am hopeful, it will be a chargeable crime to keep molestation hidden. I do pray that we continue to work closely with our youth, and ‘retrain’ their brains to not commit such crimes. And, yes, I believe they can be retrained in the same way that violence and trauma ‘retrain’ for ‘damage’, I believe that the brains can be retrained for good, and healing can come. If it works for other things, like joy and positive thinking, why would it not work for this?

The ‘Secret of My Own’ is something only a small handful of people know, until this moment. And it is regarding the devastating impact of sexual abuse. I understand the desire for ‘justice at any cost’ because the psychological impact of molestation goes far beyond that moment in time.

When I was in my mid-teens, I  started to loath my own body at a whole new level. (I write in my book, Between 2 Gods, how as a young preschooler I tried to put a stick inside of my body, and how I wanted to be a boy. So the ‘self hate’ started very young.). By my mid teens, because of how I had been used and abused, sexually, I hated my body so much I wanted to have surgery to remove parts of my genitalia. I was sure it had grown ‘all wrong’ because of it. When I broached the subject with my doctor, he told me there is nothing wrong with me, that my body is ‘normal’. But I didn’t believe him. So I went to his son, also a General Practitioner. He told me that my body was normal, and there was no need to remove anything. I was still not convinced. My mind was so obsessed with there being something desperately wrong with me, that I refused to give up. In hindsight, and having worked with many different victims, I finally understand what was going on, but all I knew then is that ‘there is something wrong with me, and I want it corrected’.

It is odd, really, as I think of it now, that I didn’t trust the word of two doctors who delivered many babies and saw many women’s parts. Other than childhood molestation, I had never seen the genitalia of any other adult female. They had a frame of reference, I did not, but still I didn’t accept their word for it. I went to yet another doctor, and he finally referred me to a specialist, a gynecologist who later became a plastic surgeon; a detail that only matters because I was actually asking for plastic surgery, and didn’t realize it… And the rest is history.

There are drastic consequences for sexual abuse and what it does to the mind and body. Yes, I made my own decision to have that surgery, but my mind was messed up by all the trauma, and as a result I didn’t comprehend what I was doing. The impact of abuse is long-lasting. So I am certainly not trying to defend a crime in any way. (And yes, it is a crime.)

I would wish for the victims, who bear the greater scars and consequences, to have some say in what happens next, rather than to see them further stripped publicly. I’m okay with crimes being made public-except for the little detail of ‘the identity of juvenile offenders being protected’ being violated in this case–because at least now it’s not lurking in the dark. Hopefully the victims now get all the help they needed a long time ago, and are given permission to grieve, to face the loss and to work through the aftermath without the angst of it all. Hopefully the burden can now be lifted from their backs, so they know they are not to blame, in any way.

And hopefully other victims will use their own voices, and speak for themselves, like I did. We all need healing, and however that healing comes best for each one of us, is our own personal journey.

Thank you all for your feedback–whether supportive or challenging–and a special thank you to those who vehemently disagreed, and yet spoke with at least an element of kindness. It would seem to me that is a sign of your healing. And to those who attacked quite viciously, I have no hard feelings or animosity. Some of you are angry people looking for punching bags. But many are sincerely distressed and desperate to be heard and have your pain acknowledged, and my blog yesterday made you feel again unacknowledged. That is the only thing for which I am sorry in all of it. Because victims are always my first priority.

Today I acknowledge your pain. I am so sorry for the things you suffered. I am sorry that guilt was imposed on you, for what others did against you. I am sorry that your body bears the scars, as mine does, for crimes carelessly committed and often carelessly swept under the carpet. I pray that you find hope and healing and that someone will walk through the dark with you, so you can walk in freedom on the other side. If I can offer you the tiniest glimpse of the love or our Heavenly Father, I thank God for it. I really do care. And God really does love us; He loves you.

Love,
~ T ~

July 9 – 12  Pennsylvania:
I plan to be in Lancaster Pennsylvania, July 9 – 12. To receive updates on where I will be speaking, join our email list by sending your name and email address via my “Contact Trudy” page. I would love to meet you if you’re in the area!

© Trudy Metzger

BETWEEN 2 Gods: a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community:
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Introduction to the Letters

The next several blog posts will be difficult for some, if not many, victims of abuse to read. I know this because in conversation with victims, if ever I express some of what I am going to write here, it creates a struggle almost every time. And it will also be hard for some who were not abused, but have someone close to them who was victimized.

It is a battle I, too, have fought countless time and only now do I feel I can write it. If it enrages you, I understand. I felt the same rage for many years. But I cannot teach partial truth out of my own desire for comfort, or for anyone else’s comfort. I am far more interested in freedom, than comfort or a sense of personal justice.

So, if you are not ready to hear of forgiveness for perpetrators, or preachers/pastors who turn a blind eye, then I recommend you don’t read the next two posts.

I have heard many people utter harsh judgements that included the death sentence for perpetrators, and I understand them. It is not that I am so holy, so righteous and so saintly that I have never struggled with those judgements. I know the aftermath of sexual abuse. I know the hell my soul fought because of it. And I know the hell people closest to me fought because of it. I understand the evil.

But I also understand Jesus and what He came to do. I understand that He ‘gets’ my struggle and doesn’t ask me to pull myself up by my boot straps and present an image of being ‘untouched’ by sin and its impact. I understand that He cares for the soul of every human being. So, if I am truly lost in Him, if my identity is truly found in His love, then I want to extend His love and His grace to everyone. Even the perpetrators of the pain I suffered.

(c) Can Stock Photo

I will be writing several letters. The first one is to the perpetrator. The second to the preacher. The third to the victim. In no way is my intent to downplay the pain of victims by offering hope to the perpetrators. I was a victim. I was hurt that way. I understand the suffering you have gone through. But part of my healing has been in having compassion for the offenders. All offenders. And that compassion has set me free from the grip of the past in a whole new way.

The fourth and final letter is to our Saviour. He is impartial. All who come…. All…. that word that is best defined by itself. All who seek with a true heart… All who knock… All who ask. All who believe on Jesus, repent of their sins–regardless what those sins are–and call on the name of the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, God in the flesh, will be saved.

All…

For that message I am truly grateful. If all were not welcome, if all could not repent, then Jesus would not be who He is. And that is the message in my letters to the perpetrator and the preacher. That Jesus loves them, and offers His grace and forgiveness, and I offer mine.

The letters are not necessarily all written based on my experience because I really don’t recall a time when I was innocent of sexual confusion in childhood. I write the letter to the perpetrator from the perspective of an innocent little girl, whose dreams are sweet until she is robbed of that innocence. That was not my story, but because of the impact of victimization in my early teens, and how much I lost then, I can imagine.

I pray that these letters will bring hope and healing to each of the people groups represented in them.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

It’s Not Your Fault: False Guilt in Male Victims

Much of what I wrote in my previous blog, What if My Husband Was Abused? is not unique to abused men, though parts are. Other men face some of the same struggles, but for different reasons. Sexual abuse changes the dynamics of struggles familiar to others, giving them more power, and making the victim feel more helpless and vulnerable. False guilt has a way of doing that.

My prayer is that with time, I will find a team of men who are willing to share their stories, whether anonymously, or as named guest bloggers. There are dynamics that I cannot speak to or express well, simply because I am a female and we process things differently.

(Gentlemen, if you have a story of overcoming abuse, and you are willing to work with me on it, please visit the ‘Contact Us’  page, and send me a message. If you’re not a great writer, don’t let that stop you. I would be happy to work with you.)

I think it would be beneficial, not only to other men struggling with the aftermath of abuse–whether through low self-esteem, sexual addictions, or depression, to name only a few things–but it would also help women to better understand men who have been abused.

While I cannot speak to many aspects of male victimization, there are some practical things I want to share, based on what my male friends, who have been victimized, have shared with me. Because one of the struggles, as I mentioned yesterday, is feeling somehow at fault, that is the first thing I want to talk about.

When Is The Victim Responsible for the Victimization?

“Well… that’s a dumb question… isn’t it?” you say. And I agree.

And, yet, what I see and hear, tells me that some people believe it is valid, not as a question, but as a statement. Some say that there are times when it is the victim’s fault.

For you who were victims of childhood abuse, the most important thing for you to know, is that it is not your fault. You did not ask for it. You did nothing to deserve it. You were innocent. The fact that you are male, and strong, does not make you responsible. To illustrate how foolish it is for people to blame the victim, I will share what I encounter, when meeting with victims in Christian settings.

I have had victims tell me that their church asked them to go back and ask perpetrators for forgiveness. Just heard it again this week. A victim does not ever need to say, “I am sorry, ” to the perpetrator, or to anyone else. It is ignorant beyond words, at best, and corrupt to the core, at worst, to ask such a thing.

It’s like tracking down a burglar and apologizing that he committed the crime and robbed you. Who would ask that of anyone? How much less appropriate, when the very heart of a child is destroyed? Much more is stolen in childhood sexual abuse than any burglary.

I have also spoken to several individuals, who attended private school, and when the perpetrator was caught violating them, the victims was also whipped, along with the instigator. The reality is that neither one should have been whipped. They should have been taught.

Someone should have been there, and explored why the older child did it in the first place, and the younger child should have been comforted. But religion is harsh. And it is yet more harsh when the person in charge has hidden sin.

It is easy to see, in these extreme examples, that there is no justice in blaming the victim. This tells me that we know it in our heads, and yet the most common thing I work through with victims, is accepting that they are not at fault. This is true for men and women, but much stronger in men. What I write applies to women, but for today, I’m writing predominantly to men.

If you were seduced, manipulated, forced or coerced into sexual relationship by an older child, it is not your fault. And if that relationship continued for years, and you struggle with believing it became mutual consent, and therefore the perpetrator is not really in the wrong, let the guilt go. It is not your fault. In cases of ongoing abuse it is the hardest for victims to say, “It’s not my fault.”

If a father rapes a son or daughter, starting at age 4, and if that abuse continues to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…. twenty-one… At no point does the victim truly become ‘guilty’? Never.

Ignorance, power and fear often keep children victimized to their parents for years. The same is true with victims outside of the home. The brainwashing, and sometimes threats, prevent the victim from understanding that this is not normal, and they have the right to speak up. This is especially true if there is no healthy ‘sex-ed’ in private schools or home-schooled children, where parents are not teaching healthy, biblical sexuality.

One victim tells of going off to college, after being home-schooled all the way from kindergarten through high school, and having been very secluded those years, with parents controlling all books and information. Only then, far from home, and being taught the truth, did the lights go on that it is not normal for parents to ‘teach’ their children about sex through ‘hands on’ learning. The victim saw to it that all younger siblings were immediately removed from their home. It horrifies me that this took place in a conservative Christian environment, in my lifetime, minutes from my home.

All of us would agree, I hope, that this victim was not at fault. And yet, there are times we judge quickly the person who is victimized by someone several years older, or even a peer, who then remains trapped in that relationship for years. There are many things that keep victims trapped in the abusive relationship, not the least of which are fear and shame, and to judge the victim  is not helpful.

Even if you were victimized by someone younger than you, and this does happen, though I’ve only run into it a few times, know that it is not your fault. The younger person who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, or more influential, has the potential to use that against someone older. Though younger, they are responsible for the abuse.

Where victims become perpetrators, and begin to victimize others, they need to take ownership. But never does the victim become responsible for the ongoing abuse imposed on him.

We, as humans, were created for pure and unbroken relationship with God. We can’t handle guilt. It destroys us, makes us physically sick. Guilt and shame, when it’s the result of our choices, make us run and hide, just as Adam and Eve did. But there is freedom in taking ownership.

But with false guilt, there is no freedom as long as we hold on to it and accept that blame. We cannot repent, we did not sin. We cannot mend our ways and correct it, we were overpowered. All the while the false guilt sucks the life and hope out of our spirits, condemning our minds, haunting us… over… and over… and over again.

Release the child within you, from that dreadful burden of guilt and shame. He does not need the burden any more. He was not strong enough to prevent victimization, and he is not strong enough to carry the false sense of guilt and shame. Set that child free, and let God hold and comfort him.

Let the little boy grieve, possibly for the first time, how much was stolen from him, from his confidence, his manhood. And invite Jesus to heal and restore the broken places. He can. He will. If you let Him.

If I, as the mother of three young boys, am a good enough parent to know that my sons would not be at fault if this happened to them, how much more is God that kind of Father? He is a better Papa, than I will ever be as a mother. He loves you. He understands your struggle.

Jesus hung on a cross–God in the flesh–not as we portray Him in our modest culture-friendly art, with at least a bit of dignity. In reality, He was stripped of everything. Naked. Exposed. Violated. Abused. Shamed. Mocked. And He died that way, in the public eye, a spectacle for all to see. His body, and it’s natural responses through death, was there for the world to watch. I’ve worked with the dying. I know what happens. Jesus understood abuse. He was strong enough to pull himself from that cross, but He stayed.

Was Jesus still a victim, even though He was strong enough to leave the cross? Again the answer is easy.

Jesus understands your pain. Lay that burden down, my friend. You are free. Say it until you know it, and believe it with your innermost part. And when the voices of shame haunt, say it again, “I am free. It was not my fault.” And never stop saying it, for the rest of your life.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

Childhood Sexual Curiosity… .

Is it innocent exploring and ‘child’s play’, or a set up for devastating behaviour patterns and a life of guilt and shame for one or both parties?

Depending on your life experience, your answer may be different than mine. Each story is unique, each journey personal. But, in any case, silence does not bring hope to others, so, for this reason, we’ll dive right in to yet another taboo ‘talk’.

***

As the injustice of abuse impacted our Mennonite community in negative ways, back in the early 1980’s, a keen sense of right and wrong developed in me. Not right and wrong in the ‘religious’ sense, based on cultural beliefs and norms, but based on hearing God speak in personal ways, on topics that parents, and the Christian culture in general, failed to speak. God began to teach me through that deep inner sense that warns me the enemy is trying to bring destruction, and the gentle nudging that God has a better plan…

One of the curses of being sexually abused as children is that it frequently results in exploring and experimenting sexually. At a very young age it can trigger behaviours that go way beyond natural curiosity, to re-enacting abuse experiences. This is particularly likely when healthy sexuality is not taught, and the only frame of reference, for what is normal or appropriate, is their own abuse.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book for this ‘exploring’ and curiosity…. “It’s just our fallen, sinful nature… It’s natural curiosity… It’s generational”… and so on.  While some of these reasons are true, some of the time, all of them are not true all the time. If we take the easy way out and chalk everything up to this, without looking deeper, we could leave our children vulnerable and struggling through life, hiding memories they don’t know what to do with.

On the other extreme, some adults react in anger, rather than casually writing it off as innocent child’s play. I’ve had many broken adults describe the beatings and anger they experienced when their parents or some adult caught them. This is the most damaging response I have seen to date, causing life-long devastation to the child. It destroys parent-child relationships, as trust in adults and authority figures is broken, and creates a warped sense of sexuality. These kids grow up to believe sex is dreadfully evil. And, for some, suffering violence for something done in innocence with no appropriate teaching or awareness, causes extreme sexual confusion.

We need the balance of recognizing the children are innocent, but acknowledging that they need to be taught and guided, rather than punished, shamed or ignored.

When certain sexual behaviours seem normal, because of life experience, it’s easy for kids to spontaneously get into mischief and instigate exploring, to no fault of their own. Shame and punishment further silence them.

Twice, when I was the instigator as a young child, the Holy Spirit gently let me know, through a quiet ‘sense’ that it made God sad, that it wasn’t good. The first time I was six. I didn’t fully understand it until many years later, in my twenties, when the memory returned.

Shortly after I turned twelve, I recalled an incident where I was the instigator. I wrote a note to the other child saying I didn’t understand why it was wrong, or what it meant,  and how sorry I was. I asked for forgiveness, knowing it was my fault, and then it was history.

Before sharing this story I asked permission from my friend, now an adult, to make sure it would not create unnecessary trauma. We remain friends, knowing that God’s grace is bigger than any sin, let alone things that happen in the innocence of childhood. I received more than permission yesterday. When we spoke I was strongly encouraged to share, if it would give hope to other adults who carry similar childhood stories of guilt that haunts, if hidden. I hear confessions frequently from adults struggling now with guilt over what happened in early childhood. It is time to set the children free.

I cannot help but wonder what would have happened, had I ignored that still small voice in those preteen years. Would I have become a perpetrator? Would I be ‘Dan’ in yesterday’s story? I don’t know the answers, but I thank God for His grace.

When I sit across the table from an adult who tells me that they victimized children or instigated inappropriate experimenting as children, I remember that grace. It could have been any one of us.

Children experimenting with children may be innocent, but it still creates struggles for both parties. I hear the stories often, and I know from personal experience the damage it does. The ‘victim’ is prematurely introduced to sexual awareness and some instigators carry intense guilt and shame, knowing it was wrong, but not fully grasping why. Years later, with awareness and understanding, this guilt and shame threatens to destroy lives, ministry and purpose.

However, I don’t feel the other children ‘victimized’ me. How could they? They didn’t know what they were doing any more than I knew what I was doing. Their intent was innocent, having no understanding of sexuality. My intent, as a child, was not to wound my friend, because I was completely innocent of any sexual understanding, but it scarred us both. Because of our innocence, and me taking ownership, our friendship was not destroyed.

When an adult wounds a child, the dynamics change. Adult perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse must face the consequences of knowingly harming the innocent. It has to be that way. But when I sit across from the perpetrator, my first thought is not judgement, it is, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

When I remember the exploring of early childhood, I feel sad that, when it was prevalent, no one guided us and taught healthy sexuality. I wonder, would my life story be different if someone had empowered us, taught us the right to say ‘no’? Would it have been different if we had known the truth about our bodies, about sexuality (at age appropriate levels) and if we had been told that it is important to respect other people’s bodies? I think it so.

I ask those questions not to live in regret, but to encourage you to positively impact the children in your lives. Parents, teach your children well. Adults, protect all children in your care. They need to be safe with you.

God is a Redeemer. I don’t regret my story. All of those things shaped me and taught me. Much of life’s wisdom comes from inviting God into our experience and finding His truth in the tragedies of life. It is a never-ending learning experience. It is to this that I attribute my healing. When He spoke, even in childhood, I took ownership for my sins.

And, somewhere in that trauma of childhood, the ‘truth warrior’ developed in me, and that has served me well.

Having taken ownership for my wrongs, I was able to take a strong stand, several years later at age fourteen, in the face of violence in the school room…. But, that will be tomorrow’s post…

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series

Church Leaders Convicted & Sentenced in Sexual Abuse Cover Up

What if church leaders, who cover up for sexual abuse, rape and molestation, could be charged and sentenced to prison? Apparently they can.On July 24, 2012, the highest ranking Catholic Church cleric was charged and convicted of child endangerment, for the cover up of child molestation and rape. (Read article here, at www.cnn.com)

Covering a crime is inexcusable. Always. Covering for a crime against a child is beyond inexcusable. And Christians covering up for crimes against innocent children, when Jesus clearly stated what should happen to people who offend little children (Matthew 18:6), is the most despicable of all cover ups.

It has long concerned me that leaders who hide victimization of children in the church, are (seemingly) not held to accountability. At least not in this life.

In recent news, including this case of the church leader, as well as the Sandusky cover up involving Joe Paterno at Penn State–a case that may or may not be accurately represented–it is obvious that leaders turning a blind eye is punishable by law. Granted, there is always the risk that the facts will be wrong, that things will not be as they appear, and innocent people will get caught, accused, and sentenced. That reality is unfortunate. But not as unfortunate as little children being raped and abused while adults look the other way.

This kind of situation can be argued both ways. People sympathize with the leaders who felt trapped and didn’t know what to do, maybe not certain if the facts were accurate. At the same time there’s the horrific crime against the innocent that leaves everyone feeling sorry for the victims, wondering if more could not have been done with what was known.

I get that there’s two sides. But standing idly by is inexcusable and allows criminal activity. If men and women are called to leadership, then this is a test of that leadership, and they need to rise up and face their fears, risking whatever it takes to do what is right. That’s what leaders do. And if they don’t, they’re not leaders.

I’m going to take it one step further. Whether we are leaders with a title or not, we have a duty to protect children and do what is right. If we are Christians, we are leaders, by virtue of doing the right thing, whether it’s popular or not. If we know that crimes are being committed, particularly against the innocent and helpless, we have a moral obligation to report that criminal activity. It’s not popular. I’ve done it. But it’s still the right thing to do.

Micah 6:8

New King James Version (NKJV)

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Who knows… If leaders are asked to take ownership, if they are at risk of ‘taking the fall’ when they knowingly neglect to protect the innocent, maybe it will help break the silence in abuse cases…

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series