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Friday, January 4, 2013

An Unspeakable Crime, A Crying Shame

danoah.com
 I attended a conference some years ago on childhood sexual abuse where one of the presenters, a seminary graduate who should have known better, stated with a straight face that the Bible has little to say about the value of children--about respecting their rights or protecting them from abuse, or about giving them much of a place in general.

I wanted to ask her what Bible she’d been reading, and whether she’d never read about Moses, the infant protected in the marshes of the Nile, watched over by God and jealously guarded by his sister and parents in defiance of Pharoah’s order. Or how about the Christmas story, in which we’ve almost overemphasized the infant Jesus in comparison to the attention most give the rest of his life? And how about the absolutely clear cases of Jesus making statements like, “Don’t ever dare offend or harm or abuse any child, or you will be judged and condemned by God Himself, who has each one under constant watch by special angel guards?”

To Jesus, the most disempowered, the least of these, the most defenseless, are his first priority. “Let the children come to me, before anything and everyone else,” he says. “And if any of you put a stumbling block in the way of one of these little ones, it would be better for that person if a great millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea.”  That is strong language indeed.

In my work as a counselor, I am often reminded of the long term effects childhood trauma can have. In several studies I’m aware of on sexual abuse in communities of faith, the abusers were less likely to be either strangers or parents or grandparents of children or teens, but reveal a disturbing number of cases of younger adolescents being abused by older teens or by other trusted church or family friends.

But no matter who the perpetrators are, it’s hard to overstate the damage this kind of abuse can inflict on victims, who may tend to blame themselves, live with a sense of profound shame over their experience, and have increased issues with trust and with self esteem. One middle age adult I worked with a number of years ago had extreme problems with displaced anger he frequently vented on everything and everyone around him, which he was later able to trace to his experience with an older man, a neighbor, who sexually abused him for years while he was of early elementary school age. For decades he had felt unable to tell anyone about what had happened.

It is also important to recognize that there are cases where parents and others have been falsely accused on the basis of so called “repressed memories”, so I have known victims on both sides of this issue, but my prayer is that we can create a climate in which children and teens, especially, are safe, and where any and all victims can feel free to share their abuse experiences with others who will stand by them and help them heal.
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