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A Voice for the Sinned-Against, Part 2

Ministry to survivors of sexual abuse
A Voice for the Sinned-Against - Part 2

Childhood sexual abuse victims experience lifelong battles to gain understanding of what happened to them and why. Statistics show that 1 out of 20 boys are sexually abused as children, and the number is much higher for young girls: one out of five girls is sexually abused, 60 percent by someone they are familiar with and 30 percent by a family member. The abuse young girls endure will stay in their memories, tormenting them well into adulthood. If one out of five young girls is sexually abused, is it safe to assume a large number of women in church are living as adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse?

In her dissertation (Fuller Theological Seminary, 2001), Dr. Leah Coulter wrote, "A Christian woman sexually abused as a child feels like a theological exile in her relationship with God. The adult Christian victim finds it difficult to trust God because she believes the reason God did not stop her abuse is because she was bad. She feels helpless, trapped and angry. She may constrict her world and withdraw from church relationships in an attempt to feel safe—yet while she is alone, her isolation reinforces her belief that no one cares."

In The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Dr. Dan B. Allender helps us understand "the need in church to replace the model of simplistic sanctification with an understanding of the gospel that is both simple and penetrating, reaching with power into sinful damaged souls." More often an adult childhood sexual abuse victim is offered a "trust God" Scripture to "get over" their hurt; however, this approach ignites more anger and questions about Christianity and gives no hope for healing.

As a new Christian, I wanted connections with other women in the church, but everyone seemed perfect. The women in church seemed to have great relationships in their walk with Jesus. I had not experienced fulfilling earthly love, so my view of God was distorted and caused me to distance myself. I didn't want to be around women whom I perceived God loved more than me. A woman living daily with the memory of childhood sexual abuse has the same distorted view of God and will not thrive in church unless the church begins to understand how hard it is for victims to trust God. They need a loving hand to help them realize Jesus is here for them.

While I believe the church and women's ministries’ intentions are great, having an event every day that offers no opportunity for growth and healing becomes nothing more than a social gathering. After a victim of childhood sexual abuse attends each "social gathering," she goes home to more pain because she wants to feel the same love, have the same relationship with Jesus, and be happy like everyone else.

The Church Can Be a Place for Healing

In her book Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Diane Langberg, Ph.D, a strong advocate, agrees "the church must take heed to what is happening to young girls every day and to women who need healing. The church has an obligation to understand its purpose and how it must function. The church is a body of believers, and just as our physical bodies need all parts to work properly to function correctly, the church body needs all parts to work properly to function together for the common good. We may not understand or be comfortable with the level of pain someone else is experiencing, but that does not exempt us from educating ourselves on how we can offer healing."

It is not my intention to insinuate the church is not a loving, compassionate place to heal. Our family currently attends a wonderful church, and my growth is a testament to the outstanding leadership I am under. However, I challenge the church at large, especially leaders in women's ministry, to be cognizant of the tremendous needs within the body. We live in a high-speed culture and can become oblivious to the deep hurt around us. The church becomes more occupied with the number of attendants than with the number of people living victoriously with Jesus. There are many books and resources specifically directed to the church to educate on childhood sexual abuse.

A woman who has been sexually abused as a child needs women’s ministry. She needs love and care from other women. If she’s like the majority of victims, she was abused by a man, so she may not trust male authority for a while. She needs women in leadership to stop planning for a moment to get to know her. She needs to feel as if she belongs and has a family. Her church might be the only family she has. She needs to be pursued. It’s not enough to tell a victim to call when she needs something or simply expect her to attend functions. She needs to be lovingly pursued with phone calls and invitations to show her that someone cares. She needs resources to find a good reputable Christian counselor, someone she can trust. She needs time. Healing may take years, and she needs her church family to stand beside her as she heals and develops her relationship with Jesus. She needs someone willing to listen to her, cry with her, shake a fist in anger with her; someone who truly cares about what happened to her, who will walk beside her as she begins a new life—victory in progress!

Saleama A. Ruvalcaba is wife to Omar and a mother of five. Her book Breakthrough: Your Doorway to a New Destiny was recently released. She is a home educator, Bible student, vice-president of her homeschool group, and member of the board of trustees, alongside her husband, at Cathedral of Praise in Cordova, TN. She writes regularly on her blog: salruv7.com.

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