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Childhood Sexual Abuse

* ‘Cynthia’, a university student wrote: ‘When I was sexually abused
as a child and raped as a young girl, I felt numb. Feeling was just too
much. After the first sharp jolt, I realized that this was just too much
for me to bear, and I left my body. I felt scared and confused and
ashamed. I couldn’t trust anyone, but was terrified of being alone. Most
of all, I felt worthless. I hope for change. I work on healing myself
and other women. I try to protect myself. If I feel safe, I will tell
other people about my experience, with the hope that they will
understand. With the hope that if they understand, they will not allow
this horror to continue.’

* Between the ages of five and nine Jane (not her real name) was
looked after by an uncle when her parents were sometimes away, working
on a distant farming property. This man used to bath her, play with her
sexually, and sometimes have full sexual intercourse with her. He would
rationalize what he was doing (‘lots of people enjoy tickling each other
like this’) but he would threaten her with dire consequences if she told
anyone (‘this is our little secret’). She became very fearful, but
couldn’t scream when it was happening. The parents were so preoccupied
with their work they didn’t take any action when their daughter became
depressed (‘she’ll grow out of it’). Now, aged thirty eight, she has
terrible nightmares, every night, with dark monsters coming at her with
knives and other fearful objects. She ‘puts up with’ the sexual side of
their marriage, but uses all kinds of excuses to avoid sex if possible.
She has been hospitalized regularly for severe depression. And she feels
‘cheap and nasty’, and very angry with the uncle who abused her. Except
for a high school girlfriend, she had never told anyone else about these
events, until her GP referred her to me. She remembered everything, she
thinks, but it took three or four sessions before she could talk with
some freedom about what happened… On one occasion I suggested she
pretend her uncle was sitting in a chair across the room and tell him
precisely how she felt. She spoke to a large cushion we have, and after
ten minutes of pouring out her pain and anger she turned to where I was
seated and, even more angrily cried out ‘And where were you God when
this little girl was being raped? Did you care?’ (How would you have

Recently I received a letter from her. Here are some excerpts: ‘For
the past few weeks I have been praying that God will bring to the
surface all the painful things that happened to me as a child. I have
suppressed so much of my past. I want everything to come out because I
know that if it doesn’t it will destroy me and I will never be free to
leave the past where it belongs. The nightmares won’t go until I bring
everything out… [As I talk] more things are coming out about the
sexual abuse. I have held so much in out of fear and guilt. I feel so
unclean and hate myself for what has happened. I know my anger should be
released and redirected towards the one who did it all to me but I find
it so hard to do. It seems easier to punish myself. I can’t scream
because I’m still afraid. I feel choked and nothing comes out. Yet I
long to scream to let everything out… This past week all I seem to
have done is cry and have panic attacks. The memories are so painful. I
keep on getting hurt. My uncle hurt me so badly… There are no excuses
for my uncle sexually abusing me. He should have been there to protect
me. Sorry for rambling on. I can’t even write this letter without
stopping and crying. Thanks again for listening…’

What can we say to Cynthia and Jane, and to many others like them?

# You are not dirty, cheap, ‘damaged’ or to blame if you were abused
as a young child. The abuser was to blame; you did not deserve it.

# Small children feel they’re responsible for what was done to them:
that is what the abuser tells them. The child is afraid, because they
are usually threatened with dire consequences if they tell anyone. You
were also fearful because you were weak and helpless through the

# Victims of abuse tend to have low self-esteem: so you are not
unusual there either. Periods of your childhood may be totally
forgotten. Abused children are very angry, but generally direct their
anger inward. They get depressed, experience severe mood swings, and
suffer from one or more phobias. They usually have severe sleep
disturbances and often have terrible nightmares. They have an inability
to trust others, and have problems figuring out their various roles.
Addictions (eating, drugs, alcohol, spending) are common.

# Until they are healed, sex is unpleasant, to choose the softest
word. They have problems becoming aroused, and find some forms of sexual
activity repugnant, or emotionally and even physically painful. Adults
who were abused as children may become promiscuous, or addicted to
pornography or other forms of aberrant sexual behaviour.

# Every victim of child abuse I have counseled has been suicidal, or
at least prone to self-destructive behaviours.

# How then are these sinned-against people healed? First, by
affirming they were not to blame. Then, face what happened squarely.
Talk it out with a counselor. Write letters to the one you are angry
with – even if you do not post them. When and if you are ready, face the
abuser with another person. The abuser will generally deny everything,
but the benefit in this process is for you not the abuser. At some stage
(for many it takes years) you might go through a process of forgiving
the one who violated you, and about the same time pursue a ‘ritual of
release and healing’ where you say good-bye to every aspect of the hurt
and trauma. Perhaps you can imagine Jesus accompanying you on a journey
through the events of your past, cleansing you of guilt and healing you
of pain. Then prepare for a new identity. Shed the old self. Prepare for
more negative and destructive thoughts and behaviour, and have a plan
for dealing with these. Write down half a dozen encouraging Scripture
passages and say them aloud to yourself when you are tempted to ‘cave
in’ to feeling sorry for yourself (eg. Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 33:3,
Jeremiah 29:11 etc.). Live a day at a time, and perhaps before you
retire tell yourself how you went that day – emphasizing particularly
the positive aspects.

# Why do people do this to defenceless little children? Put simply,
incest is a destructive example of love gone wrong. The adult is
emotionally immature, unable to develop a mature love and closeness with
other family members without genitalizing that loving. As one
psychologist put it, ‘Sexually abusive persons do in the family what
millions of persons do outside the family; they “use” someone for the
“act” of love in a misdirected and desperate search for a sense of true
loving and for safety from their fear of true intimacy.’ The person
wants to connect and share with another, but doesn’t know to do it
responsibly. The most frequent form of incest is between brother and
sister, then between father and daughter or male family members and
younger girls and women. The least frequent form of incest is between an
older female and a female child… Because male-initiated incest is more
common, this means that sexism, power and control are behind these
corrupt interactions.

# ‘Where was God when I needed him?’ is a common question. There is
no simple answer; but he suffered too. The abuser did it, not God.
That’s the kind of evil world we live in.

# ‘But that person messed up my life.’ True and false. Certainly
your childhood was spoiled, but you can be healed.

# How long does it take to be healed? Usually two or three years of
solid work. But weigh that against the alternative: what will you still
be like in a few years if you don’t work on the problem?

# Write down something like this and repeat it to yourself every
day: ‘I was sexually/emotionally abused, but I was not to blame. I will
therefore not carry the responsibility for this violation of my
personhood. The abuser will have to answer to God and their conscience
for this atrocity. Although I was the victim, I am not going to let
those events cause me to live in the ‘victim-mode’ now. I will not allow
the past to govern how I feel in the present or the future. I am going
to get on with my life, and with the help of God become a whole person.’

Rowland Croucher (from my book ‘The Family’, HarperCollins, p. 248


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