Over the years of our ministry with sexual abuse victims, there are a host of questions that have been asked by numerous people trying to understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the way in which we handle meetings where a victim addresses his/her abuser. And the questions that have come to us are good ones; the answers to which are worthy of mention.
The Parachute Approach
The first question I will address is in regards to ‘springing surprises’ on the alleged offender when we go to confront. To some, it seems harsh to ‘parachute in’ out of the blue, so to speak, into the life of the alleged offender–typically accompanied by the victim–to address past molestation. To others it seems dangerous. Others are just curious as to our thought process or motivations.
The main reason we simply ‘show up’ and start talking, in most cases, is because of lies and deception we come up against. I don’t feel at all compelled to give the devil time to organize himself with that darkness. By going in, we get spontaneous responses, and when I compare with times we’ve given ‘a heads up’, the meetings are far more effective. Besides the lies and deception, there is this desperate need for abusers to try to overpower the mind of their victims, rather than take ownership. Giving them time to prepare attacks is entirely counterproductive.
First things first, I typically ask the person being confronted if they know what I do, and if not, I explain. I follow this up with asking if they know why we are there, given the work I do. Sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. And, sometimes when they know why, they make excuses before we ever get into the confrontation.
(Details shared by permission) In an effort to declare innocence, one man immediately said he knew why we had come, then followed this up with, “…but it wasn’t sexual.”
Hmmm… Such a quick defense, before any allegations were ever made.
“Yes, it was sexual,” I said.
“No, it wasn’t,” he repeated. We continued with this little ‘yes/no’ routine about three times, at which point I tired of it and an idea popped in my head… There were several gentlemen present, including my husband, a ‘witness’ from the offender’s church, and the husband of the victim.
“Well” I said, “then I suppose you wouldn’t mind if these men did to your wife what you did to that young girl?”
“Okay… okay… it was sexual…” he said.
With that settled, we moved forward. Almost immediately he broke down weeping and before long started asking for forgiveness, asking the husband of the victim to relay his apology to his wife. That would have been a convincing repentance, had it not been undone a few weeks or months later, when the church leaders asked the victim to not shop in the town where the offender shops, because it makes it too hard for the offender when he has to see her.
I. See. …!
That’s one outcome.
More often the alleged offenders have no idea why we are there, and claim to have no memories, which (for the most part) I believe. They have forced those memories so deep, and blocked any sense of ownership, that they really don’t ‘remember’. In these situations I start with telling some of the scenes in graphic and horrific details, with the victim’s permission, and in the victim’s presence. When the ‘telling’ gets too painful, memories suddenly start coming back.
In one of the very earliest confrontations, some years ago, as the memories started returning, the individual started with, “but it was mutual”. To this I pointed out the age gap–also something I’ve had to do more than once–and made it clear that ownership doesn’t fall on the victim. At once the ‘repentance’ started, and asking for forgiveness, followed immediately by challenging the victim with what would have happened to her soul, if she had died knowing this sin and not having followed Matthew 18…
That was interrupted quite abruptly by yours truly, putting an end to such nonsense and re-victimization.
Responses are as different as the individuals being confronted, and there are no cookie cutter confrontations or responses. But always it is intended as an opportunity for the offender to come clean, and admit to the crimes committed, and take ownership.
Reclaiming Victim’s Voice
One of the things we hope to accomplish in that painful moment when a victim stands before their abuser, is for the victim to reclaim his/her voice. When a child is molested, the offender overpowers the victim physically, sexually and mentally. (And that doesn’t even touch the spiritual impact that takes place when the offender professes faith in Christ… that’s another power altogether, though intertwined with the former.) Furthermore, victims are often told to not speak of it, and some are even threatened should they choose to defy the abuser. In that overpowering, the victim’s voice is either ignored or never heard, and that disrespect and violation follows them through life. Until…
When the victim stands before the offender and says what is on his/her heart, it breaks something of that power. Granted, there is often a high price to pay if that offender is a family member and the family gets protective, or if the church rises up in defense of the offender, and attacks the victim and us. A price I warn the victim of before going in, but a price I am very willing to walk them through. In every case I’ve worked with so far, the victims have not regretted going that route.
As part of that ‘reclaiming the victim’s voice’, we give little voice to the offender, in that initial confrontation. And, going by the previous examples, it is not hard to see that if given liberty to speak without challenge, offenders still try to overpower the victims in that moment of confrontation, given half an opportunity. It is imperative that the victim is not subjected to such a thing.
Why We don’t Give Offenders Opportunity to Say, “Forgive me”
In evangelical settings this boundary is particularly offensive, when we don’t give that opportunity. In the case above, where the guilty party was given opportunity to offer an apology, and immediately launched into an attack, the ‘unsorry’ spirit landed before us with a bold ‘thud’. It was still about taking power. And that is only one of the reasons we stopped with giving that opportunity in an initial meeting. It certainly isn’t because we think the offender shouldn’t be sorry!
There is an intriguing reality in how offenders block memories. Whether it is the same way in which victims block, I am uncertain, but I have come to the conclusion that it is (at least sometimes if not often) real. They genuinely cannot access the memories because they have spent such a long time burying and blocking… lying to themselves or downplaying the severity. Whatever the reason or method, it is what I see playing out. I have not studied the psychology behind it, but it’s consistency tells me a lot about the human mind, and human nature.
With these blocked memories (or blatant denial, as the case may be), to move to a quick, “If I did those things, I’m sorry…” or “I’m sorry for anything I might have done…” is to rush a necessary step in this process: facing reality. A rushed ‘I’m sorry’ with no memories of wrong doing can leave the victim feeling further victimized, and allows the offender to quickly soothe the conscience, and keep things blocked. Then, if those memories come back, it is easy to say, “I’ve taken care of it”, and never acknowledge those wrongs. By not allowing that rushed apology, and by letting the offender mull it over and struggle against his/her conscience, those memories are far more likely to return, at which time taking ownership validates the victim’s suffering, and makes it far more meaningful.
(To be continued… )
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger