What’s the Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse?

What’s the saddest story in the Bible?

Different people all have their own opinions, but for me it’s the story of Tamar.

2 Samuel tells her sad tale. She’s Absalom’s sister, and the half-sister of Amnon.

Amnon, under the advice of his cousin, tricked Tamar into cooking food for him at his house. When they were alone, he raped her.

If that weren’t enough, he had his servant toss her out of his house and bolt the door. In that culture, she was finished—no longer a virgin, she would never marry or have a family. Never have a respectable profession. In her shame, still wearing the ornate robe fit for a young virgin princess, Tamar put ashes on her head and wept.

Tamar

That’s only the beginning of this tragedy. When Absalom discovered what Amnon had done, he told his sister, “Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart” (Sam. 13:20).

David, the king, was “furious,” but did nothing about it, either. These events become the catalyst for a civil war, but we’re never given any indication that Tamar experienced healing.

All we know from the Bible’s account is that Tamar lived out her days in Absalom’s house with nothing more than a pat on the back and, “Shhh! Keep this under wraps and don’t feel bad.” This is the last we hear of her.

 / 123RF Stock Photo
/ 123RF Stock Photo

We can chalk it up to culture, sure. Women were seen as little more than property in ancient Israel. But not much about the way some victims are treated has changed since David sat on the throne in Israel.

I know from experience that being forced to keep a shameful secret chips away at a victim’s sense of worth and value in God’s eyes.

The abuse itself strips victims of self-worth and often sets them in a path of self-destruction, including promiscuity, eating disorders, self-harm, and misuse of drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed in the news this week, Christians, especially church leaders, need to be far more educated on how to respond to sexual assault/abuse.

First and foremost, sexual abuse and assault are crimes. As difficult as it is, crimes must be reported and prosecuted, if we as a society are to make any progress to end sexual abuse. Secrecy and shame are a pedophile’s best friend. Church leaders have a  moral obligation to report any known cases to a police officer (and oftentimes a legal obligation as well). Not a good ‘ol boy system chat—an actual, documented police report that the DA will see. No doubt lots of churches do report it, but too many known cases never come to light.

 

Hands

When counseling victims, three things must be communicated:

  • It’s not your fault. In no way should we communicate that it was. Questions about how the victim dressed, what the victim was drinking, or if they’re sure it wasn’t consensual sends a message that the victim is at least partially to blame for the crime. When talking through what happened, help them see that the shame belongs to the perpetrator alone and not to them.
  • We’re here to support and love you. Healing and the spiritual care of the victim must come way before the church’s (or the family’s) reputation. Advising them to “just get over it” doesn’t show the victim love. Now, more than ever, they need to know we’re on their side.
  • Healing and forgiveness isn’t a linear process. Church leaders and parents who try to hurry this process often disregard the victim’s needs and actually stifle healing. Immediately pointing out that feelings of anger or sadness (both natural responses to such violations) lead to bitterness often puts pressure on the victim to stuff those feelings and say they forgive, because it’s the “Christian” thing to do. We allow true healing to come when the victim has freedom to go through a grieving process, much like for a death.

If even one person recognizes the worth of a victim and helps them see the three things I listed here, how much would his/her life be impacted for good?

Please join the discussion! What other ways can we minister to those who need healing from sexual abuse? What other sorts of things do we as Christians need to know about how to help prevent tragedies like Tamar’s silence?

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6 comments

  1. Very well written and well said.
    Sexual abuse of any sort is just deplorable, but especially to the young and from those in a position of guidance or authority makes it even worse (if such a thing is possible)

    A good friend of mine, who was sexually abused as a child, put it best to me by saying something of the sort “not only do we need to punish the criminal, we need to speak openly about the event and then, as a community, come together to help the victim heal”. Too often these matters are never discussed or, even worse, when discussed are only spoken of in private. Which, for the victim, Just intensifies the feeling of shame and embarrassment.

    Thank you for discussing such a sensitive topic in our society. Hopefully, through your sharing, awareness, discussion, and, ultimately, healing and peace can be achieved.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. You’re so right–we do need to keep talking about it and not heap more shame and embarrassment on the victim by making it a “dirty little secret.” I appreciate you sharing your friend’s perspective. God bless!

      1. This world we living in and this day and time I have held on for so long,shame,self destruction,suicidal thoughts at time,depressed because of what’s happened to me,threats if I told,and who knows who in high places has caused me and my kids to suffer.I have learned that it’s ok to stand alone in Faith as I have struggled to survive on the otherside of normal.I have been delayed,denied,identity theft,deprived me an my children,two placed for adoption cause of rape,family full of negativity,shame,and guilt,retaliation an so on,I am who I am and I’m a better me,despite slander and gossip,it’s just like being raped repeatedly when your stripped of everything and no one cares are even notice you,God says I qualify,he will never forsake me,as he lends my heart again,health an strength for my children I love so,I will die beforeI let you win,see you at the finish-line as I ROAR like a lion the within me alms with her head held high like a Boss she will be,in control that’s me,the three c’s in my life,change,choice and Chance…..Oh HEAVENLY Father I Honor U!*****

        1. Ms. Laketta,

          I’m inspired by your story and how you keep faith in God, even when it’s hard. May you be extra blessed, and I pray for continued healing from our Heavenly Father, Jehovah Jireh.

  2. Lyneta, thank you for this important post! So glad that you “went there.” I couldn’t agree more. Bringing light to the darkness is what Jesus does again and again in the New Testament . We, as His body, need to do the same. I’m always amazed when this topic comes up in a group of women how many have been personally affected. As a church, we need to acknowledge and provide resources to bring to light and expose what the enemy would like to keep hidden. I pray your book will be a catalyst to do this and bring healing for victims of sexual abuse.

    1. Maresa,
      I know the statistics (1 out of 4) and I’m amazed too! In any group I encounter where the topic comes up, there’s always at least one more. I’m so blessed by your support and prayers. Thank you, dear friend!

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