The short answer is: NO! Read on to learn why.
I cannot overstate how important were the recent proceedings regarding Larry Nassar. As an habitual manipulator, abuser, and pedophile, it was vital that his crimes be publicly denounced. Regardless of our personal opinions on the ways Judge Aquilina handed down her sentence, we must resoundingly support the decision to see justice meted out in cases like these.
In all cases like these.
Rachael Denhollander gave an interview with Christianity Today where she provided in-depth and convicting context to her testimony against Larry Nassar. She spoke openly about the abhorrent ways the church is currently addressing sexual abuse from within.
Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.
So what do we do to make church a safe haven for victims? Again, Rachael addressed ways we ought not to behave.
One of the areas where Christians don’t do well is in acknowledging the devastation of the wound. We can tend to gloss over the devastation of any kind of suffering but especially sexual assault, with Christian platitudes like God works all things together for good or God is sovereign. Those are very good and glorious biblical truths, but when they are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.
And I found the following insight to be particularly important.
We are very happy to use sexual assault as a convenient whipping block when it’s outside our community. When the Penn State scandal broke, prominent evangelical leaders were very, very quick to call for accountability, to call for change. But when it was within our own community, the immediate response was to vilify the victims…
We must renounce this deplorable habit of shielding those within our communities from facing justice for their sexual assault crimes. Hiding perpetrators by asserting that the church is the proper place to see God’s demand for justice met is ludicrous. It is a gross misapplication of the beauty of true forgiveness in the face of a holy God.
But what happens when the sex offender is a juvenile?
First, may it never be said of me that I endorsed or condone the use of secret-keeping as a means of handling juvenile sexual offense (JSO). Just like any other sexual assault situation, JSO must be brought to light and given to the proper civil authorities. It can be a temptation to leave it only in the hands of church leadership but this does no one any favors. In the end, it can cause untold harm to the healing process of both the victim and perpetrator.*
Second, it is essential for the church (and society as a whole) to learn and understand the distinctions between different types of sexual assault. Just like we have degrees for murder, we have significant variances in sexual assault. The following list is a sample of the different types of sexual offense. I chose my own naming scheme to give some clarification.
- Adult, serial rapist1
– preys most often upon adult females
– generally does not know the victim
– sometimes includes murder
– sociopathic disorder/psychopathic disorder in DSM-5
- Adult, sexual abuser2
– preys upon adult males or adult females
– generally knows and is in a relationship with the victim
– often includes classic, cyclical behaviors of verbal/emotional abuse
– possible group B personality disorders in DSM-5/may be able to stop causing others pain through deep therapy to heal personal wounds
- Adult, pedophile3
– preys on both prepubescent males and females (victim is younger than 13 when abuse begins but may last for some time after onset of puberty)
– generally knows the victim
– often includes an ongoing relationship with the victim to allow for further abuse
– pedophilic disorder in DSM-5
- Juvenile, sexual abuser4
– preys upon males or females within a few years of their own age
– generally knows the victim/is related to the victim
– maintains a relationship with the victim to allow for further abuse
– shows the lowest recidivism rate of all delinquent behaviors in both juveniles and adults
- Juvenile, pedophile5
– preys upon males and females, 13 and younger
– must be at least 16 and 5 years older than victim
– about 8% of JSOs
– carries their attraction to children into adulthood
– pedophilic disorder in DSM-5
I want to say the next few words with perfect clarity:
I do not believe there should be any distinction when it comes to reporting sexual abuse/assault/offense to the authorities. Every one of the abovementioned forms of assault must be brought to the attention of appropriate civil and church leaders so that those more experienced, trained, and less impassioned by proximity to the situation can weigh in on an appropriate response.
However, I also want to say the following with precision:
The appropriate response is not the same for each of these forms. And we do a horrible disservice to the possible rehabilitation of some, and necessary incarceration of others, when we lump them all into a single box.
Juvenile SOs are actually the best group of all deviants, juvenile and adult, to show remarkable change and rehabilitation under SO specific treatment. The recidivism rate is as low as 3% for these rehabilitated youths where non-sexual juvenile criminals can be clocked at a whopping reoffense rate of 50%.6
But if you’re honest with yourself, whom would you steer your child clear of in the park?
Listen, I get it. I really do. My family is living out the terror and reality of sexual abuse in our home. My sweet children, Asher included, will forever be marked by a painful childhood that should have brought them nothing but security, peace, and love. It rips me up to think about what was stolen from them. It still nearly takes my breath away when I think of the pain inflicted by my very own son. But isn’t it time we stopped living in fear? And isn’t it time we began reaching out and helping these young men (and women) build bridges that will allow them to create futures where sexual abuse, secrecy, toxic shame, and fear no longer own their lives?
Please trust me when I tell you that no one wants to see a predatory juvenile on the streets of America less than me. But what I equally don’t want is the ongoing assumption that all juvenile sexual offenders are marked for life with an irrevocable stain and deserve nothing but our disgust.
Yes, I am glad that Larry Nassar is out of the reach of more unsuspecting children for the rest of his life.
No, my son is not the same.
1How Serial Rapists Target Their Victims
2Abuse in Intimate Relationships
3Profile of a Pedophile
4Understanding Juvenile Sex Offenders
5A Profile of Pedophilia
6Zimring, F.E. (2004). An American travesty: Legal responses to adolescent sexual offending, Appendix C. University of Chicago.
*If you are in a JSO situation and do not know how to handle it within a biblical world-view, I highly recommend G.R.A.C.E. and their team of professional, godly men and women who can walk you through the necessary steps for handling the situation with civil and biblical integrity.