I am not someone who stays abreast of the latest tea in the world of social media. I don’t enjoy reading tabloids. I don’t subscribe to any human-interest magazines. We don’t have cable/broadcast TV and I don’t watch reality television. Kardashian and Hilton (other than a hotel) were not names I recognized for years.
However, I do enjoy watching a few YouTube makeup artists* and while I don’t subscribe to them or watch them religiously, it is one of the ways I enjoy destressing.
I happened to catch a video answering questions from subscribers on assumptions they hold about the artist. It is a trend making the rounds and apparently many YouTubers are confirming or denying their followers’ assumptions. I laughed at several of the more benign comments. I was saddened to see some of the ways people can be so crass. And it made me think of me and my life… because there are a ton of assumptions about sexual abuse and the family affected by it. So, I thought I might share some of the assumptions I have heard as well as held myself before I became a reluctant expert on intrafamilial abuse.
1 Sexual Offenders Are Always Themselves Victims
False. The reasons for perpetrating sexual offense on another person are as varied as the reasons any of us take our aggression or pain out on someone. It is true that an inordinate number of offenders were abused as children but it is not universal. Recognizing this will help in dealing with the shame of sexual abuse. It can be very difficult for parents whose child offended on another but is not a victim. It’s almost as if being the victim first excuses the behavior or makes it less horrific. All it does is add more layers of brokenness and remove the guesswork for where the child learned the behavior.
At the beginning of our journey, I felt a strange and unhealthy sense of relief that Asher was also a victim. It somehow seemed to absolve him from some of the responsibility. As though he just couldn’t help himself. The fact of the matter is that millions of children are the victims of sexual abuse and never go on to offend against someone else. Is Asher’s own victimization part of the cocktail that brought him to a place of such perversion? Yes. But that does nothing to mitigate the consequences he must face as a person solely responsible for hurting others.
2 Sexual Offenders Are Children Of Neglect
False. We all hear the statistics and know the disadvantages children face when they grow up in a home where neglect, marital abuse, physical abuse, divorce or absenteeism, systemic poverty, or drug abuse are present. And these are real numbers that should sober us to understand that God’s intention for the family is no joke. But often what we do is see these numbers and use them as a cover-up for man’s depravity.
Listen. I get it. We all want to distance ourselves from the ugly that we know is out there – somewhere. We want the neat checkbox that allows us to rest easy at night knowing that we are doing it “right.” But the only thing that protects us against sin and its painful consequences is finally resting with Jesus in heaven. That’s it. As long as we draw breath in this life, we will be affected by humanity’s depravity. Some of the effects are mild – an inconsiderate shopper is more interested in detailing her argument with her boyfriend over her speakerphone than recognizing her disrespect for the public venue. Some of the effects are terrifying – you learn your son is sexually abusing your other child. But both carry the common denominator that we are born bent towards sin and with a propensity, even after salvation, to fight against the perfection of God’s righteousness.
3 Sexual Offenders Are Pedophiles
False. Only 8% of juveniles who commit sexual offense are diagnosable as pedophiles per the DSM-V guidelines. The high statistical correlation of juvenile offense against minors is significantly more comnected to the offender’s own age than the mental illness of pedophilia.
4 Victims Of Sexual Abuse Will Always Be Angry With Their Offender
False. But I want to make it clear that any effective form of therapy for a victim must allow the victim a time of anger. Especially within the more conservative Christian churches, there is a strong desire to use the call of Jesus to forgive your enemy as a weapon to force victims to reconcile with their “repentant” offenders without any expression of anger. This is unhealthy in several ways not the least of which is the absurd misuse of God’s word to lambast an already hurting person.
When given the chance to process through big emotions, victims of all forms of abuse are capable of moving forward in a positive way. There are so many testimonies of survivors learning to forgive their abuser, which is not the same thing as reconciling. These brave people often found the strongest hope in Christ and His perfect justice. But even the nonreligious can work through the steps of therapy with a trained professional to learn measures to take their life back from the overwhelming terror of PTSD and bitterness.
5 Not Allowing Sleepovers Will Protect Children From Abuse
False. 30% of juvenile offenders abuse family members and most of those are siblings so the sleepover is a moot point for these situations. Additionally, only 2% of all offenses take place between 12am and 6am. If you include all twelve hours from after dinner until morning – a typical time included in a sleepover that is not included in a playdate – that percentage is still less than 25%. To put an even finer point on it, nearly 50% of all juvenile sexual offense takes place between noon and 6pm.
Many parents mistakenly believe that sexual offense requires the cover of darkness and a sleeping house. It simply isn’t true. Asher never spent more than an hour of unsupervised time with Drake at any given time and it never included a sleepover. Yet Drake was able to manipulate Asher into situations where he was abused in his own room while I was home, in bushes at a local park while his sisters were feet away playing, and in Drakes’s backyard while Drake’s mom was doing yard work.
Offenders often thrive on placing their victims in situations with the possibility of discovery to heighten their sexual arousal and compound their victim’s sense of helplessness. How many times were Drake’s threats that no one could stop him apparently proven by the very presence of adults in the next room who weren’t intervening?
6 Dwelling On The Abuse Only Makes Healing More Difficult
True/False. This one is tricky. When I read that statement, I immediately bristle because I hear it in a tone that says, “You’re making too big of a deal out of this, Teeli.” Of course, that’s what was said to me when I disclosed my own abuse. It was never addressed, never validated, never handled. And when I did confront my mother as an adult, I was told that children don’t remember well the events of their pasts and I shouldn’t put too much weight on such ideas. So, my tendency is to scream FALSE at this assumption. Had I been allowed, and even encouraged to address the pain of my abuse, I am certain several significant events in my life would have unfolded differently.
However, one of the best pieces of advice we received from one of our children’s counselors, and literature written by some of the brightest minds in the business of PTSD and trauma-informed care will concur, is reliving the events of abuse is not, in and of itself, conducive to healing. Spending significant amounts of time trying to remember all the details or replaying a specific episode over and over is actually counterproductive to healing. You want to address the memories you have and any that may filter to the top of your mind during therapy (or at any point). But you want to face them so you can recognize them and then move forward.
7 Sexual Abuse Is The Worst Thing That Can Happen To A Family
False. The pain of sexual abuse is sometimes unspeakable. In my weakest moments, I would willingly sacrifice anything to go back and keep this from our family. But this is not the worst thing. My children are all alive. And as long as that is true, there is hope. Satan may have won many battles in our home, but he will not have the final victory.
We live with the fear and stigma of sexual abuse in a culture that celebrates sexual perversions. Many of us are afraid that our children will be tainted in irredeemable ways through sexual sin. And for those of us who are survivors ourselves, we never want our own children to face the horrors that we did.
But that’s just it. We survived. I am here to testify to the goodness of God and that is not diminished because I have sexual abuse in my past. God’s ability to save is not hindered by any vice. His mercy and grace are sufficient to cover all our wounds and make us whole – whether we are the victim or the perpetrator.