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.
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 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.
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)
The recovery process is painful and requires professional psychological intervention.
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.
Heitritter, L. & Vought, J.
Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse,
Bethany House Publishers, 1989.
Matthews, C. A.: Breaking Through,
Albatross Books, 1990.
CHRISTADELPHIAN SUPPORT SERVICE NSW