This article was published in the Opinion section of Christian News Northwest, April 2015 edition.
“It would never happen in my family.” That’s what we would like to think when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. It’s much easier to assume that everything is ok.
The sad fact is that sexual abuse can happen in our families, our neighborhoods, our churches. We cannot afford to numb ourselves to the reality that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
It happened in my family. My mother married my stepdad when I was six. I felt in my gut there was something wrong about this man, and over the next several years, I discovered what that was. I was 11 when I told my 6th grade teacher that he had molested me. My teacher called Child Protective Services. CPS gave my mom an ultimatum – either my stepdad left the house or they would take me from her custody. She chose me.
In the following years, I made many sad choices, confused with an idea that love and sexuality were synonymous. I dabbled in drugs and alcohol, just long enough to see that I would end up like my alcoholic father if I continued.
When I was 15, friends in my high school French class invited me to youth group. I began to see a glimmer of hope and unconditional love from Christian youth and leaders. I was hungry to know who Jesus was and what His gospel meant for me. Months later, I attended the church’s high school camp, where I grasped the message of John 3:16 and received Christ as my Savior. From that moment on, I belonged to Him and would serve Him with my life.
Many things in my life changed in an instant, but the wounds of my past festered deep under the surface. Although I chose to abstain from sex until marriage, I struggled to have healthy friendships with guys and didn’t know the first thing about emotional or physical boundaries in dating.
While in college, I participated in a support group at my church. We read and went through the workbook, The Wounded Heart. I saw a counselor during that time as well. The Lord was beginning a work of healing in me that continues to this day.
Now, as a wife and mother, God has filled me with drive to prevent childhood sexual abuse and help victims to heal. In 2009, with the support of my husband, our women’s ministry director, and senior pastor, I launched a ministry called Innocence Found. We have helped facilitate two sexual abuse prevention trainings in our church, one with presenters from Salem-Keizer School District and Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and the other with a presenter from Liberty House. I am proud to be at a church where our pastoral staff are not ashamed to speak about sexual abuse from the stage and call people in our congregation to equip themselves to put an end to it.
If I could ask you, the reader, to do something about childhood sexual abuse, it would be these three things.
One – seek Jesus for healing of your wounds, whether they are from sexual abuse or another trauma, loss and grief, or some other pain deep inside of you. Every one of us has things in our past which have negatively shaped our beliefs and behaviors. The most important step you can take toward healing is to
pray about the past as honestly as you can. If you can, journal your thoughts, memories, feelings. Ask Jesus to heal your wounds and seek out a trusted mentor or counselor.
Two – seek knowledge, and in so doing, become empowered to make a difference. In Salem, Liberty House offers trainings from Darkness to Light, a national childhood sexual abuse prevention organization (libertyhousecenter.org, d2l.org). These trainings provide us with a basic knowledge of who molesters are, how they gain access/trust to families and children, and how we can protect children. Salem-Keizer School District offers similar trainings throughout the school year. If you live somewhere other than Salem, there is likely a Child Advocacy Center like Liberty House in your area (nationalchildrensalliance.org). Please, take a step to find out when some trainings are, sign up, and attend.
Three – build relationships and community where you and others are honest and intentional about healing and protecting children. It may feel uncomfortable or awkward at first, but start the conversation with your friends, family, church members. Find out what policies your church has in place to safeguard children. If you are a parent, ask other parents about how they keep their kids safe at sleepovers, visiting friend’s houses, etc. Encourage others them to attend a training, or consider hosting a training at your church. The more we can help other adults become aware of the prevalence of abuse and some practical steps we can take to prevent it, the more children we can help save from the nightmare of sexual abuse.