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Abuse - a Christadelphian Response

We would like to believe that the growing incidence of reported abuse in the general community has no relevance to the Christadelphian community. However, the fact that ,the incidence of reported abuse within our community is increasing tells us differently.

Abuse is happening, has happened in the Ecclesias.

The instances reported are not always recent. People now are finding the courage to acknowledge the wrongs done to them in the past. Allowing this to happen not only supports the healing process of those who have been damaged, but also increases our awareness and provides an opportunity to address the matter.

For too long, we have believed the myth that the ecclesia is a safe place, removed from the evil that is in the world. In many instances, our misplaced trust has not protected our families from great suffering, our children from exploitation. It is time to become aware so that we can help our brothers and sisters in need and prevent the continuance of wrongdoing.

What Is "abuse"?

Abuse is any act or attitude that hurts another individual by denigrating that person's self-worth. Abuse is about control.

The five most common forms of abuse are: physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and spiritual.

We understand that damage, both physical and psychological, is caused by repeated physical abuse. However, we may not be aware that we can all be guilty of abusing others at times. Name-calling, put-downs and sarcasm are all aimed at belittling the person who is the object of verbal abuse.

Psychological and spiritual abuse come from continued lack of respect and prevent the person from realising his/her full potential. Even our failure to nurture our young people and our loved ones, when we are in a position to do so, constitutes a form of abuse. When we do not appreciate the contributions of our brothers and sisters, and instead belittle their efforts, when our rudeness or our neglect implies that they are not equal in worth to us, then that is abuse. There is currently a strong focus on sexual abuse because individuals can now speak up about this subject.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse happens to children and adults, to males and females, within and outside marriage. It involves any behaviour directed at the sexual arousal of one or both parties, which is imposed on one of the parties, ie, their wishes are not respected.

The unwilling party feels betrayed, invaded and violated. Often the offender sees that guilt and shame are instilled in the victim to ensure secrecy. Physical damage may, of course, result. The emotional damage is profound because of the sense of violation of one's personal being. Spiritual damage often occurs, especially if the victim feels abandoned by God at a time of need.

Sexual abuse, especially of children, is a very destructive act of controlling and invasive behaviour.

The Emotional Impact of Sexual Abuse.

Shock and confusion. Sexual abuse is particularly confusing for a child who lacks the emotional and intellectual ability to cope with a premature introduction to sexuality forced on him/her by an adolescent or adult. Often it is someone they love who is hurting them and this is extremely perplexing. They realise they are no longer safe.

Guilt. The victim almost always feels at least partial] responsible for, and therefore guilty about, the abuse. Sometimes special rewards or favours are received as part of the abusive relationship. Sometimes they believe that in some way they deserve the abuse.

Fear of physical damage, of being found out, of the family breaking up, of rejection by parents or friends if knowledge of the abuse gets around, are all possible reactions.

Anger with the perpetrator, with others who did not protect them, with God who did not protect them, and with themselves for being powerless to stop the abuse.

Loss of trust in others. in authority figures and in God. This is one of the most devastating effects of parental incest. One's parents are the first adults children learn to trust, and when the betrayal of that trust occurs, it leads to distrust of others. When the abuse comes from outside the family, trust in the parents as protectors may be damaged. Often child victims assume that the parents know. Sadly, they are sometimes right.

Recovery from the effects of abuse

Since the damage abuse causes can rob the victim of a personal sense of worth and leave only self-hatred, fear, depression and anger, the road to recovery is long and requires commitment and courage.

Some of the steps in the healing process for victims are set out in Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse, by Lynn Heitritter & Jeanette Vought (Bethany House. 1989)

  • Dealing with shame and guilt, and learning to believe that God loves them just as they are.
  • Facing and letting go of the feelings of anger, grief and fear.
  • Honestly coming to grips with current life issues such as depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviours, inappropriate sexual behaviour, etc.
  • Learning to forgive themselves. This is not about forgetting or excusing, but rather about choosing to be free from the control of past events.
  • Learning to make mature relationships based on honesty and respect.
  • Dealing with issues of sexuality.
  • Looking to God as their source of help and healing.
  • Helping others who are hurting.

The recovery process is painful and requires professional psychological intervention.

What do victims of sexual abuse need?

  • To be believed and treated with dignity, respect, sensitivity and understanding.
  • To be protected and to have privacy and confidentiality.
  • To be given information about professional resources that can help them.
  • To gain control over their lives. No more the victim.

How can ecclesial members offer support to abuse victims?

Understand that this is a sensitive, private matter that requires confidentiality.

Allow the person to choose when and if he/she wants to talk about it. Listen non-judg mentally and do not show surprise or shock.

Refrain from offering advice. Find out about professional resources that are available and refer the person to them. Encourage them to persevere.

Allow the victim to express painful negative feelings that will surface from time to time and be patient with the emotional ups and downs that accompany the recovery process.

Let the person know of your love for them and remind them also of God's love and His willingness to heal.

Pray with them.

What are appropriate ecclesial responses to abuse?

  • The ecclesia must affirm and respect the dignity and worth of each human being, according to the teaching of Scripture. Matt. 10:29 - 31; 1 John 3:1
  • The ecclesia needs to see abusive behaviours for what they really are - destructive and unacceptable in the church of God. Eph. 5:11; Col. 3:5
  • Abusers must be held accountable for their actions, and victims must be protected.
  • The ecclesia needs to break the code of silence and secrecy and create a nurturing open atmosphere, in which all kinds of issues can be discussed. The self worth of individuals needs to be a priority as well as the encouragement of open, positive relationships between members and within families.
  • It is important to understand that professional services are essential to assist abuse victims and their families, and that referral to such agencies is the only responsible course of action. The ecclesia may then need to support victims in accessing these services with practical assistance such as transport, child-care etc.
  • It is also important to understand that forgiveness can be real and effective only after lengthy treatment and so should not be hurried. The survivor must remain in control of his/her recovery
  • The spiritual problems of abused persons need careful handling. Issues such as feeling abandoned by God, and feelings of shame and unworthiness sometimes require the intervention of caring brothers and sisters who have skill in listening and encouraging.
  • There needs to be recognition that we are all the children of God, alike in our need of Him. "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." 1 John 4:10-12.

References:

Heitritter, L. & Vought, J.
Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse,
Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

Matthews, C. A.: Breaking Through,
Albatross Books, 1990.

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