Myths about Sexual Abuse
I remember the first time someone told me they had been sexually abused. I was working in the business world at the time, and having breakfast with a colleague. We were both participating in a weekend conference, enjoying the break from our usual stressful routines, a break from the city and beautiful mountain scenery.
That conversation happened about ten years ago. I sat in stunned silence as my friend relayed a situation that had occurred in her family many years ago. I didn’t really know how to respond, so I simply sat and listened. Later she told me it was the best thing I could of done.
Ten years later I am involved in a ministry where talking about the realties of sexual abuse is a daily occurrence. The Holy Spirit has taught me, directly and through the wisdom of others, many ways to help bring healing to lives of victims of childhood sexual abuse. However, it still remains true that listening to a person’s story and believing them is one of the key first steps in the healing process.
Unfortunately, many people still struggle to accept the horrific truth that sexual abuse does happen. Its occurrence is not limited to social, economic or educational status. It is not limited by gender. And, unfortunately it happens as often in the families of Christians as non-Christians.
Statistics vary, but I think it is a conservative estimate to say that one in three women and about the same number of men will be victims of sexual abuse involving touching by the time they are eighteen years of age. Childhood sexual abuse is not limited to intercourse or touching. “Sexual abuse happens when a defenseless person, usually a child or teenager, is used for the sexual excitement or pleasure of someone older, stronger or with more authority.”
In future articles, we will discuss some of the specific ways our souls are damaged through sexual abuse, and how healing can come in our lives. For now, since listening and believing is such a key starting point in the healing process I wish to address some of the myths surrounding sexual abuse.
Myths about Childhood or Adolescent Sexual Abuse
1. Sexual abuse happens more frequently in single parent families.
FALSE: Of all the adults we have counseled or been involved in our recovery groups, at least as many grew up in two parent homes. Often the inability of the non-offending parent(s) to intervene in the abuse, and remove the abuser from the home causes as much damage as the abuse itself.
2. More women than men have been victims of Sexual Abuse.
FALSE: Over the last three years we have been privileged to work with World Vision Canada, Aboriginal Programs on a national referral line for aboriginal victims of childhood sexual abuse. Callers to this confidential line have been 52% female and 48% male.
Until recently, men have been reluctant to talk about the abuse that happened in their childhood or adolescence. Keep in mind that the abuse happens to children; a three or eight year old boy is as powerless to the deception of an abuser as a girl of the same age. Even in adolescence, teens of both genders may not have the emotional strength to withstand the seductive manipulation of an abuser.
3. Many people who think they were sexual abuse are imagining it!
FALSE: Unlike the United States where there have been many large cash settlements to abuse survivors, in Canada, there is little to gain from falsely accusing someone of sexual abuse. While we have to be careful not to plant the idea of sexual abuse in a person’s thought, personally, I’ve only know of one person who made exaggerated claims of sexual abuse. Even so, in this situation it was apparent that the situation was far from healthy.
4. If I charge my abuser and go to court, it will significantly help my healing.
FALSE: While it is important to report all childhood or adolescent sexual abuse, court proceedings are often very traumatic. I’ve know of situations where children were discouraged from seeing a counselor until after the court proceedings were completed. While the intention is to ensure that the child’s testimony is not tainted, it may take a year or more for a case to come to court, leaving the child and family to process things on their own. If the case does come to trial, and the abuser is found guilty, no length of sentence will seem just. Ultimately, we must trust God to bring His justice to the situation.
5. Abuse doesn’t happen in the church or in Christian families.
FALSE: Unfortunate but true, it happens as often in the Christian world as in the lives of unbelievers.
6. It is impossible to be “healed” from sexual abuse.
FALSE: This side of heaven we will always deal with the effects of sin.
However, while healing takes lots of time and struggle, it is possible to have substantial recovery in our lives.
I encourage you to listen and believe in someone when they tell you they have been sexually abused.