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People associated with sexual abuse are similar. They have experienced sexual violence, had a family or friend violated this way, or had experience caring for those who have suffered this devastating sin-crime. In most cases, awareness and concern for sexual abuse are forced on our radars rather than something we voluntarily place in our sightlines. How many of you have intentionally said,
I’m going to learn about the plight of those who have been victims of sexual crimes.
I suspect the number is few. My point here is not to guilt you into giving mental space to sexual abuse. Sin is pandemic, and the manifestations of it are more than any person can give their time. I’m not sure that I would have been involved with the sexually abused if I did not do soul care as a vocation. Before I was involved in the thick of people’s problems, the “cares of my personal life” preoccupied my mind. The “cries of the silent” did not reach my ears.
My purpose here is not to manipulate you into getting on my plan, but to merely give voice to a large, growing, and hidden demographic who do not have enough care providers in the Christian church. The reason is because of the effect of their abuse on them and the tone-deafness of the church. The victims of sexual abuse cry in the dark, and rarely have an advocate who will “go to bat” for them. Because of this, their suffering takes on more contours of darkness as the years pass by them. If nobody helps these victims, the complications of their victimization set them up for a lifetime of misery.
If I were to talk about the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, whose names come to your mind? For most people, the top two names are Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. Remember them? It’s been a few years now, but if you remember anyone from that dark season in sports history, it’s the perps, not the victims.
I suspect few people know the names of the victims. I don’t. I’m aware that victims do not typically give their names, which speaks to the complicatedness of what has happened to them. Though they did nothing wrong, there is an expected and self-imposed requirement for them to keep quiet.
Paterno has since passed away, and Sandusky is serving prison time. Their names are a blight on Penn State football, but for the most part, their participation in the crimes of the victims is nothing more than a byline in history. They are yesterday’s news. But the ongoing nightmare for the sexually abused is that a verdict in a court of law does not remove their pain and suffering. Their plight is more profound and far more complicated than a gavel slamming down on a piece of wood.
In an acute and practical sense, their abusers are always in continual captivity, even after their abusers pass away. It is a kind of residual captivation forced upon them against their will. It’s a battle for their minds that they have to live with all their lives. Though the criminals left the scene of the crime years ago, the imprint left on the abused mind is a recurring reminder. I genuinely feel the burdens of those who have been victimized by sexual sin.
I’ve sat across from moms who hopelessly persevered as their daughters writhed in unimaginable emotional upheavals because of what happened to them. I’ve come alongside young women who were abused by the authority figures in their lives, including church leaders. The inability for them to trust again is a bridge too far. The shadow of fear darts in and out of their lives for no explicable reason. The shame they carry and the blame they cast upon themselves can drive them to utter despair. It’s this same shame that keeps the victims from saying anything to anyone.
They dare not let anyone know what is churning inside of them. Their hurt and shame tend to turn into shades of bitterness, anger, and irrational behavior. The perps ensnare the victims entirely by the crime committed. What they need more than anything else is for the Christian community to come alongside them to help them think biblically about this nightmare of their souls.
The primary help that you want to bring to the victim is the gospel of hope. More than anything else, the victim needs to hear about the love of God, as seen in our sympathizing Savior (Hebrews 4:15-16). “Christ is the answer” is more than bumper sticker theology, though it could ring flat to someone experiencing sexual abuse. What they have experienced is about as far as a person can be from the gospel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
The good news of Jesus is about reconciliation, hope, love, peace, unity, and grace. These concepts are not within the frame of reference of the abused because they are under the control of another language. Abused individuals call you to a compassionate and patient challenge as you bring care to their torment. They are wrestling with erratic thoughts. Many of them lose hope and choose to give their bodies up to a life of sexual activity. They resign themselves to the perp’s lie.
You are not worthy of any other kind of life.
When hope is gone, there is a resignation that can open the door to all kinds of behaviors. The careful friend is not shocked or controlled by what they observe from the victims. Your gaze goes beyond what you see while dialing into who they are, a person made in God’s image.
The more practically you exegete, measure, and discern their hearts, the more you’ll perceive the pain they carry, which motivates their actions. I’ve counseled dozens of women caught in the trap of sexual abuse. Some of them gave themselves over to vileness because that is all they knew to do. It became their habit; it was something that they could control. Submitting their lives over to the “management of another,” even if it was God, was out of the question. Being in control, rather than ceding power to someone else, was the “safest” life for the abused to live.
Other victims pursued other things while always operating within their strengths–their ability to be in control at all times. What they did–whether right or wrong–was not the issue. Being “out of control” was the challenge they defied. Doing anything well was their way of feeling better about themselves as well as protecting themselves from more hurt.
Still, others could not find anything they could do well, so they gave up on life. There was no “form of encouragement” in their world, which is why the gospel becomes essential to these victims. They need to find hope outside of themselves and outside of what has happened to them. They need an introduction (or a re-introduction) to the Lord. They need to experience the free expressions of the Father’s love through the unconditionality of a relationship not based on personal merit.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If someone has sexually abused you, you must know that God loves you. Period. His love does not require anything from you except faith. You do not have to earn His love, which releases you from the fear of ever ruining your relationship with the Lord. What has happened to you does not alter or diffuse His love for you. God’s “accepting favor” is not about what you have done or what someone has done to you. His grace has broad borders, which encompasses the abuse. Yes, there is grace to help you overcome the violence of others. God has a plan for redemption and restoration.
God’s love is different from anything you have ever experienced. There is a place for you within the family of God. He came for the hurting, the afflicted, and the alienated. You may feel disconnected from the body of Christ, but please understand that nothing can detach you from the love of God.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:31-34).
God wants to restore your dignity that He initially gave to humanity before sin entered the world (Hebrews 2:7). He can accomplish this in your life. You’re experiencing brokenness now, but the gospel of hope is your peace. He will restore you to a new experience—free from the darkness and pain of your soul.
For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).
After He restores His love entirely in your heart, you will be able to live in authentic freedom. It’s a freedom that releases you from the control of the former perpetrators in your life. Though they may never come to you and ask for transactional forgiveness, you will be okay. Being rightly connected with God is the perfect plan to be disconnected from the mental and emotional control of others who have exerted their violent way over you.
Basking while enjoying the pleasure of God’s love is what awaits you. This new lifestyle is the way Jesus lived His life on earth. He entirely rested and rejoiced in the Father’s pleasure (Mark 1:11). His experience with His Father was the reason He could pray on the cross for the (attitudinal) forgiveness of those who persecuted Him (Luke 23:34). As you continue to move toward this kind of relationship with your heavenly Father, there will come a time when you will be able to release those who have sinned against you.
Your freedom does not mean they will ever be forgiven or free. Criminals can only find forgiveness when they genuinely seek it from God and you. But their lack of repentance does not stop you from forgiving them as the Savior did. I’m talking about “attitudinal forgiveness” that releases you from them and their sin. You see this kind of “attitude of the heart” in Joseph (Genesis 50:20). He had already “forgiven” (attitudinally) his brothers in his heart before they ever came to him. Joseph was a free man in prison in Egypt. God is calling you to freedom.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
I remember when I first began to counsel others. It was a weird world for me, and I was working well beyond my pay grade. I was in over my head and had no clue how to counsel anyone about anything. This challenge is why I don’t uncharitably judge people who do not know how to think biblically about the victims of abuse. Who wants to go there? I certainly didn’t. I understand. But for reasons that I’m not entirely aware of, the Lord placed me there, and I’m grateful He did.
My appeal to you is to give some thought to how you can help those who have been victimized by others. Our ministry offers a safe place for victims of sin as well as a place for those who want training to help these victims. Mercifully, there are times when these victims become the equippers for the fame of God. My most urgent appeal is to anyone who knows about the abuse of someone. Do not be silent. Be Christ to these victims. You may not know how to help them, but you have to say something; you must let others know. You cannot allow their cries go unheard or unseen.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).