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You’re Having a Baby!

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Some of us can remember the day we received the news. “You’re going to have a baby!” The pure joy of this news was tempered slightly by the reality of how much your life was about to change. Many of us were comforted by the realization that we would have plenty of support from family and friends. It was easy to begin to imagine all that we would experience having a child: the first time the child would look into your eyes, the first day of school, and before you know it, the child is about to get married!

It was a day of joy with a hint of trepidation.

Imagine hearing those words, “You’re going to have a baby”– but instead of joy, you experience pure terror because you are only 14 years old.

Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine what that 14-year-old is thinking and feeling?

If that child is you, not only do you now know you are pregnant, but you also know that the father of your child is a 32-year-old man.

Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine how frightened you would be?

Not only do you know you are pregnant and that the father of your baby is a 32-year-old man, but this man has been telling you for the many years he has been having sex with you that you are worthless and ugly and that he is the only one in the world who could love you.

Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine how lost you would be?

Not only are you pregnant and have been told you are worthless, but the man who said he is the only one who could love you is going to prison for what he did to you. The one person you thought you might be able to count on will not be here for you.

Not only is this man the father of your baby. He is also your father! So he is both the father and grandfather of your child.

Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine how hopeless you would feel? Can you even fathom what is going through the mind of this 14-year-old girl?

At the age of 16, this girl was accompanied to court by the adoptive parents of her baby to testify against her father. Can you imagine what she felt when the verdict was “guilty on all charges,” sentencing him to “life plus 20 years?”

Can you imagine the day when we put an end to child sexual abuse? Pause and let that sink in.

Can you imagine the day when all 14-year-old girls have adults in their lives who will do all they can to let these girls be teenager rather than moms?

What can YOU do to prevent child sexual abuse? Can you imagine?

The Duggar Story Discourse

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Few news stories have generated the level of dialogue as has the story of the Duggar family’s history of sexual abuse. There seems to be no lack of opinion on their situation.

A public discourse of a family in trauma is fraught with danger and quick judgments don’t help. I know I had some opinions and reactions to various posts, only to learn a little more of the story that caused me to be disappointed in myself, that I had been so quick to judge, yet thankful I held my tongue and didn’t share my opinions too quickly. When I thought I had enough information to give an answer to someone who emailed me about a blog they had started that deteriorated quickly, it only took about 15 minutes for me to learn something new that changed how I viewed the story and what I said in the email.

The conclusion I drew from this is that it isn’t very helpful to be critical of any family in trauma, even if the family made a decision to make their life together a TV show.  There are things that happen when a family deals with trauma that must be dealt with in private. We need to allow these families a safe place to work to keep their family together or to heal.

One of the most often repeated criticisms of the Duggars is that they didn’t report it immediately. I have been counseling a family who didn’t report abuse immediately. Their 21-year-old daughter revealed to them that she had been abused at their church when she was 15 years old. The adult daughter was just beginning counseling sessions to deal with the trauma and insisted the parents not bring the church into it until she was strong enough to endure the interrogations and interviews of the church leadership (all male, I might add) and possible reactions of the congregation (if the church leadership didn’t decide to keep it a secret—which they did—another story altogether). The parents and the young woman struggled with the realization that their silence could mean that other children could still be at risk. They had to make impossible choices. This young woman was at a critical stage in her life, ready to graduate from college. She was in the midst of seeing how her experience of abuse was interfering with a current romantic relationship. It took her 2 years to be emotionally healthy enough to reveal her history to the church. So now I ask: Who would be critical of the parents who made choices that gave their daughter the best opportunity to heal?

Another criticism that has been the focus of attention is that “the police didn’t do anything.”  But do we know all the facts? I live in an area where law enforcement and the judicial system does all it can to work with families in crisis and to find solutions that provide the greatest hope for healing, while at the same time meeting the demands of the law. Is that possibly what happened with the Duggars?

Can we handle the next high profile story differently? Perhaps the questions we need to raise are not around the issues of what the family did wrong, but rather, what do we need to learn so that we can prevent abuse and create a safe place for those who are abused? Though these questions may seem a lot alike, there is one primary difference. When we contemplate what the Duggars did wrong, the focus is on that family’s crisis. It becomes easy to judge. And perhaps it even brings some of us to a place of self-righteousness if we conclude that this could never happen to us or, if it did, we would handle the situation better.

When we ask ourselves what we need to learn so that we can prevent abuse and create a safe place for those who are abused, the focus is on prevention and empowerment. Let’s take the passions that the story of abuse in the past brings out and use it to energize us to protect children today and help heal broken families now.

Ask any family who has experienced the trauma of sexual abuse, especially sibling abuse, and they will tell you that they have felt the judgment toward the Duggars as their own. One mother I know who is dealing with a son who abused his sister wrote to me and said, “I’m done with seeing bits about the Duggars on my Facebook feed–maybe I need to disappear from Facebook for awhile.” She felt judged. Her own guilt as a parent resurfaced and she felt the pain that comes with all her family has and is going through. The pain was caused by people she knows and loves, but who were either not aware of her family’s story or didn’t stop to think how their words would be received by what I call ‘the silent audience of abuse survivors and victims.’

In my work with churches, one of the biggest challenges I face is to help the church understand that with any discussion and response to child sexual abuse, there is, of course, the family in crisis. But there is also another audience, one we don’t see. We don’t know who makes up that audience because it  is made up of victims who have their own history of abuse, either personally or in their family, and who are not able to talk about it. They don’t talk about it for many reasons, not the least of which is that they don’t feel safe letting anyone know. They fear being judged or looked down upon. Many believe others won’t know what to do with their story and fear the loss of what connection they have with friends, as much of a connection as one can have when so much of their lives is still unknown.

Believe me when I say that this silent audience exists and that it is much larger than you would imagine. Consider this: Do you know a cancer survivor? Most likely close to 100% of the people who are reading this blog will answer yes. In fact, you probably know more than one survivor of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are approximately 18 million survivors of cancer in the U.S. Did you know that experts estimate that there are over 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.? And some put that figure closer to 60 million. But are you able to name even one survivor in your sphere of influence? For every one person you know who is a survivor of cancer, there are most likely two, three, four or more survivors of child sexual abuse in your world. You just don’t know who they are.

Another survivor I am friends with shared with me that she watches and listens to how the church (and we can include general public) responds to an incident of child abuse. “We” (meaning survivors) watch and we can tell who gets it, who doesn’t get it but wants to, and those whose only concern is to just “get with the program” and move on or get over it.

We must reprogram our response to child abuse and remember that how we respond to the trauma of child sexual abuse must be such that we are offering hope for those still trapped in the silence of their shame, guilt and pain. I wonder how many victims in this silent audience have been further silenced by what they have read regarding the Duggars? I would encourage all of us to ask the question of ourselves, “Has my response to this story created a safe place for victims and families in crisis to tell their story?” 

Perhaps there is a role for a few to cry against the wind and address the issues of justice and judgment. But I would offer that what is needed most is a careful, compassionate and caring adult community who will be seen as beacons of hope and safe harbors for those hurting and in need of healing from abuse. A place where the silent can speak and be heard and loved.

On a perhaps more practical level and to the point of what can we learn that will help us prevent another “family in trauma” story, is the issue of helping our children understand physical boundaries and keeping themselves safe from sexual abuse. I wonder if the Duggar parents ever had such conversations with their children. I don’t think many parents have these conversations with their children. It is too scary and uncomfortable.

Here is another question for you who are parents to ponder: If your son or daughter was being touched inappropriately (being abused), would they know what to do and would they come tell you what was happening to them? Would the answer to that question be different if it was a stranger who was hurting them or a trusted friend or a sibling? If you don’t know with certainty that your child would come talk to you or another adult, then you have some work to do.

One of the most important responsibilities parents and caregivers have in this sexually charged world of ours is to teach our children about physical boundaries: what parts of their bodies people can and cannot touch, how to say “no” to unwanted touch, and who they can talk to when their boundaries are crossed.

The best resource for learning how to talk with your children can be found at Darkness to Light (www.D2L.org). They have great training for parents on how to talk with children about safety from sexual abuse. Check it out.

If you are interested in discussing more about how your family or church can prevent, recognize or react responsibly to child sexual abuse, please contact us at: adultsprotectingchildren@gmail.com

Ebola Panic and Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: A contrast in values

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A big topic in the news is, of course, the Ebola virus. It was in the news when thousands of people in Africa were sick and dying. Our hearts go out to those who live in countries with little resources to treat this virus, especially those suffering with the virus and the loss of a loved one. I know that this is a major health crisis that must be contained and stopped.

I also noticed that the seriousness of this virus was significantly elevated once two people in the US were diagnosed with Ebola. Now that it is in our backyard, there is a united undertaking to do all that is possible to keep a third and fourth person from contracting the virus.  Though there is no mass panic at this point, there is a lot of fear about this virus spreading and impacting many more lives. The protocols in place to treat these two individuals and to track down and monitor those who might have been in contact with them are not only enormous but quite impressive. This shows how communities and even a country can and will pull together all the resources available and generate a cooperative effort that can put an end to something that is so dangerous. As a country, we have the ability to cure and stop the spread of Ebola. And there certainly is the determination to put in place any and all steps necessary to protect others.  I wish these two people good health and that no one else contracts the virus.

But consider this. The two people who are diagnosed with the virus have garnered the attention and an impressive coordinated effort of our nation.

 When we want to stop a killer, we do it.

Compare this to our response to child sexual abuse. Which one has already reached epidemic proportions? Which one is the greater threat to the general population?

Here is some information taken from the CDC. You do the comparison.

  • Number of people who have the Ebola virus in the US: 2

  • Number of reports of child abuse this year in the US: over 3,000,000

Let those numbers sink in for a few seconds. We are way beyond the third and fourth child. Some estimate the count is closer to 60,000,000 survivors in the US today.

  • Ebola is transmitted only through contact with an infected person’s body fluids.

  • The transmission of child sexual abuse may include body fluids, but it also is transmitted through a person who is completely healthy, physically, just touching a child. It is transmitted through the eyes of a child when they see pornography, are forced to watch adult sex acts in person or see the face of their abuser. It is transmitted through the ears when they are called “bitch” or “whore” as a way to dehumanize and silence them.

Child sexual abuse is, in the minds of many, the largest health epidemic we face. Yet, in many circumstances there is more cooperation to cover it up or dismiss it than to stop it and protect other children.

  • In the US Ebola is easily treated and often the survivor of Ebola gains the benefit of a stronger immune system that could protect them from other viruses.

  • Child sexual abuse is lodged in the brain. It resides there forever and can be triggered any day or time simply by a certain smell or image or memory.

The impact of child sexual abuse lasts a lifetime. And for some, living with a history of child abuse is a fate worse than death. The survivor faces the consequences and costs of their abuse every day of their lives. And so do the people who love them, are friends with them or work with them. It has an economic impact on the community. The victims of child sexual abuse who do not reveal or are not believed often turn to drugs and alcohol, drop out of school or turn to crime. There is an increase in teen pregnancy and a continuous pipeline of children drawn into the sex trafficking industry.

What does it say about our society and culture when a nation comes together and puts forth such effort to keep that third and fourth person from a virus, but the potential of 3 million children being abused each year does not incite anywhere near the same determination and cooperation?

 When we want to stop a killer, we do it. So why aren’t we stopping the sexual abuse of children?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, even after seeing all the evils of the Nazi regime and the extermination of millions of innocent people, made this statement:

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

Given the historical context, how profound is this statement? And how revealing is this statement of what we, in this country, value more?

We can and must do better. What will you do today and tomorrow to eliminate the affliction of child abuse and make ours a safer place for children?

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Please use the links below to pass this along to others.

Go to D2L to join the movement to stop the sexual abuse of children

The Doubled-Minded Church

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The Church has not responded well to child sexual abuse. The list is long. The Catholic Church, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Bob Jones University, The Bill Gothard Institute and First Denominational Church, Main St. Our town.

I don’t believe every church that responds to child sexual abuse (CSA) intentionally sets out to protect the abuser and harm the victim. I think many churches want to help both. But this is one place where the church can’t be double-minded. By double-minded, I mean that they want to step forward, but with 2 opposing actions: help the abuser and his/her family and also the victim and his/her family. Why is this being double-minded? Because the two options don’t carry equal weight. Where in Scripture would you find any reason not to tend to the needs of the suffering and wounded first?

For too many churches, they have not prepared for the issue of CSA in advance. And when you wait until an incident happens, your first step sets the course for what follows. Many churches may want to help both abuser and victim, but just one of them receives first attention. The one that receives first attention is almost always the abuser, in part, because the leadership of the church sees the reputation of the church in the community being more tied to the abuser, than in its response to the victim.

We want to see the Church learn to be single-minded. To place its first priority on protecting and believing the victim. You can care for the abuser if you care for the victim first. It won’t work the other way around. Just ask a survivor.

The following is a letter from a missionary to pastors and church leaders. The mother is telling the story of how her daughter, who was born and raised on the mission field, was sexually abused by a former team member and close family friend. The two families had worked together overseas, been friends for many years and call the same U.S. church their home church.

The daughter had come to the States for her senior year of high school so that she would have time to assimilate to the U.S. culture before beginning college in the States. She was invited to live with this family who had returned to the U.S. The father in the host family was employed by the church’s private school. This is when the abuse occurred.

Her letter gives us a look into the impact the church’s choices had on them.

A letter to Pastors from a missionary

Dear Brothers in Christ,
Almost 25 years ago, my husband and I were starting out as church-planting missionaries with a denominational mission agency. Looking back now, I think we could be described as naïve and overly trusting. Perhaps we thought our ministry and family were safe from any taint of sexual abuse, assuming that the stories of that kind of heartbreak only happened to ‘other people’. Honestly, I think there was much less understanding back then about the prevalence of sexual abuse, and we just never thought of it as something that would touch us. But it has.

Our first shock came when a parent in the school we founded came and confided that her daughter had been sexually molested for years by one of the teachers we had employed. This sickening, heartbreaking news rocked our world, and introduced us to the reality that even in Christian circles, evil exists, sin is rampant, and wicked men prey upon innocent children. In working through this tragic situation—dismissing and deporting the teacher, counseling the young girl and her family, and working with the school to further investigate, identify, and help other victims—we saw that we were woefully unprepared to both prevent and deal with this kind of situation.

It was at that point I took the Stewards of Children training. It was the first time I had ever really considered my role in creating an environment that protects and nurtures our children. I realized that with more awareness and proactive effort on our part, we probably could have protected this young girl from the abuse she experienced. We grieved over this for a long time.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of our personal experience with sexual abuse. Almost two years ago, we discovered that our own daughter had been abused during a year in high school that she lived with a former missionary colleague and his family in the States while we were still on the field. We have cried many tears, struggled with anger and bitterness, and continue to work through the pain and hurt that we have felt. We entrusted our daughter to this man, and he betrayed that trust and violated her, leading to a long road of working through the issues she carries as a result. Once again, with more awareness and information, I believe we could have taken steps that would have perhaps prevented this from happening, or at least would have allowed our daughter to be better prepared to recognize abuse and to seek help in the situation.

Just to be clear, please understand that I do believe that these experiences, painful as they are, have been part of God’s calling for us. I believe that what happened to my daughter is part of the story he is weaving of her life. In his mercy, she began seeking counsel several years ago and is experiencing the beauty of God redeeming the pain and suffering for his glory and her good. I fully expect that this process will continue for her whole life, and that he will use her story in various ways in his kingdom building.

But that confidence doesn’t take away my wish that we had known more, had been better prepared, and had been able to create an environment and situation that protected these two girls. I believe that we missionaries have lifestyles and callings that make our children particularly vulnerable and in need of open-eyed, wise, cautious parenting. But as church leaders, we are also responsible for protecting the children entrusted to us in our churches, schools and other institutions. I want to encourage you to really embrace the opportunity you have to think concretely about this responsibility, and how to fulfill it. Please realize that training has the potential to protect both people in your ministry as well as your own family from the long-lasting, deeply rooted pain of childhood sexual abuse. I think it’s just as important as any other training you have received.

I also want to encourage you as church leaders to realize the power you have to play a role in either the healing or the further wounding of victims of sexual abuse within the church. By far the most painful thing about this path for us has been the church’s response. Our daughter’s abuser was on staff at both the church and in the church-run school. When he was confronted, he quit his job, and the church embarked on a path of cover-up and hiding the truth. He remains in the community, sometimes even in leadership positions, and there has never been any attempt on the part of the church to seek out other possible victims and to minister to them. Though we live far away on the mission field, and are therefore perhaps easily forgotten, it has been a continual hurt to me that nobody from the pastoral staff or other leadership who do know about what happened to our family have contacted us or attempted to make sure that we are being helped and counseled. All the energy has evidently been on trying to help the abuser and his wife restore their marriage and move on. To us it comes across as self-protection and does not feel like we are being loved or cared for at all. This also has effectively severed our relationships within the church, as we don’t feel free to be honest about the pain our family has experienced with our church family and friends there, since the church has chosen to cover it up. We have basically withdrawn from those relationships and are ‘licking our wounds’ alone. This has been devastating to us.

In cases of abuse, the church does have a mighty challenge in how to love both the abuser and the victim well. I don’t want to overlook what a complicated balance this is for church leadership. But on behalf of the victims of childhood sexual abuse who may be (and probably are) sitting in your pews, I beg you to extend the compassion of Christ to them—the isolation they (we) feel is real, and they need to be loved back into the community of believers with mercy and gentleness.

Your sister in Christ,

A missionary friend serving overseas

What 15 minutes didn’t save.

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We’ve all heard the commercial: “Fifteen minutes can save you 15% on car insurance.” Fifteen minutes may be enough to save on car insurance, but it isn’t enough to save the lives of children.

This was made clear to me with an odd mix of events in my life last week. The events involved a 4-year-old child, a trash can, an email, and dinner at McDonald’s. The conclusion from all of these events left me with a deep sense of sorrow.

To start, I listened intently as a woman t me the story of a recent conversation she had on the topic of child abuse. During her conversation the other person became verbally abusive, using vulgar expletives and actually removing his belt and attempting to hit her with it! The woman telling the story is a forensic interviewer. The person she was talking to? A 4-year-old child!

Prevention is Working. New Prevalence Statistics

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Those of us who work to protect children from or who deal with the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse, are familiar with the following statistics:

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before the age of 18.

These figures have been used since the early 1990s. These statistics have provided compelling motivation for adults and organizations to step up to the challenges of protecting children. Using decades old research begs the question though, what difference, if any are we making?

                                           In other words: Is it working?

Are you assuming…or asking?

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When it comes to the safety of your kids, do you assume or ask? Let’s say you’re deciding which activities your children will participate in this summer (swim team, baseball league, VBS, summer camp etc.). Do you assume it is a safe place for your children, or do you ask?

Talk. Someone may be listening . . .

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When you talk openly about preventing child sexual abuse, you could very well be, without knowing it, giving courage to a mother (or anyone) who knows abuse is taking place, but who is too scared to act or doesn’t know what to do.

It could be like extending your hand and saying, “I will walk this path with you.” When we talk to other adults, we can be the dispensers of courage, the dealers of hope.

Step three in the 7 Steps to Protecting Children is TALK ABOUT IT. Yes, we need to talk to children. But we also need to talk to other adults. When we talk openly and often about protecting children, we may find that someone is listening who knows abuse is happening, but doesn’t know what to do or have the courage to do the right thing.

There is power in talking about prevention and protection of children. Who knows who might be listening?