It’s surprising that in today’s society, with its ever-increasing attention given to sexual issues (albeit given in a rather narrow vision of sexual life, usually consisting of off-hand jokes or bikini-clad women dancing on the hoods of SUV’s), there is still an issue related to sex that is often avoided as a topic of discussion. Though, by conservative estimates, this issue affects one in three girls and one in five boys by the time they reach adulthood, the broader Church community has not truly been able to enter into a meaningful discussion about this topic that isn’t dismissive or reactionary. This criticism is not leveled solely against the Church, for society at large still avoids discussing why it happens, how it affects people and what the effect is of this topic in society. Apparently, the sexual abuse of children is a difficult reality for people to come to terms with, to be honest about and to talk about. But it is this very taboo attributed to sexual abuse that aids its prevalence.
Untold multitudes of vulnerable children have been sexually taken advantage of in a sickening variety of ways. Whether an adult violates a child through exposure, touching, intercourse, prostitution, incest, suggestive online chatting, picture-trading (and other forms of the growing world of online sexual luring), that adult is using the child as an object for his or her gratification, with no deep thought given to the effects of their actions on the child’s life. The abuser, as a general category, only occasionally abuses children out of a genuine sexual attraction to children; more often, the adult is acting upon children to regain some lost sense of personal power, control or acceptance. The question that society at large (perhaps led by the Church) needs to ask is: Why are there so many adults in our society who feel that they must attack children in their innocence and vulnerability to respond to their own sense of emotional inadequacy?
Meanwhile, the survivors of child sexual abuse often deal with a horrifically damaged sense of who they are and what life is really about. While some survivors curiously seem to show no traumatic responses to their abuse, the majority of survivors deal with issues such as depression, fear, trust issues, physical injury, anxiety, lack of self-worth, self-mutilation, drug abuse, poor mental health, suicidal thoughts and actions, sexualized behavior and more. Acknowledging that these responses to the terrifying experience of being so intimately violated is not only affirming for survivors whose lives may be in turmoil following the abuse, but also important for Christian child and youth workers to note while working with young people in their communities.
With such a prevalent social issue occurring daily in our communities (resulting in such devastating effects), it is imperative that Christians take a deliberate stance against sexual abuse. Yet, Christians often feel embarrassed to address sexual abuse, given the innumerable high-profile sex cases (both historical and current) attributed to our church and youth leaders. Indeed, child sexual abuse continues within the walls of churches and in the homes of the people who name Christ as their Lord and Savior.
However, Christians cannot let this shameful reality halt their concern and action on this issue. As Christians, we have the true narrative and account of how problems like this enter into the lives and hearts of people. We have an answer to the lost-ness felt by so many people in our communities.
This entry cannot cover all the bases, but to those willing to turn the tide of sexual abuse and reverse the Church’s image as an enabler of it, we’ll need to initiate discussion that tears down the taboo and shame that survivors experience. Are our Christian communities safe places for survivors to talk about the pain they feel? How do our churches respond to children telling their stories of abuse, and how do our churches treat both the abused and the abuser? Finally, how can we, as individual Christians, act in our own lives and conversations to see this terrible, silent, daily tragedy conclusively halted? I know this entry is woefully inadequate to suggest any “solutions” to such a complex and massive problem, but perhaps for this one entry, the taboo that shields sexual abuse from the Church’s careful attention is blown away. The main question, though, is, now that we’ve all been reminded of the sexual abuse occurring around (and among) us, HOW WILL WE REACT?