Abuse

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs."

Isaiah 61:1-8

What is sexual abuse?

Abuse is a pervasive and wide-reaching phenomenon in our world today. Men and women in every country of the world, from urban and rural areas alike, raised in church-going and un-churched families, representing every economic status, have experienced abuse.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that a person does not consent to, including the following:

  • Inappropriate touching
  • Vaginal, anal, or oral penetration
  • Sexual intercourse that a person has said “no” to
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Child molestation

Sexual abuse can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Sexual abuse is not defined by the amount of times that it has happened or even by the severity (i.e. one encounter of inappropriate, unwanted touching can still qualify as sexual abuse).

What is God’s view of abuse?

There are several parts of Scripture that tell the stories of men and women abused by others (Genesis 19:23-25, 30-36; 2 Samuel 13 1-29). Furthermore, Scripture is not silent on what God’s opinion is of those who commit abuse against others (Matthew 18:6; Proverbs 10:11). God takes abuse of any kind, perpetrated by anyone, on anyone, as a serious matter.

Many men and women who suffer abuse have told themselves that the abuse “didn’t matter” or “wasn’t a big deal.” Some were told not to tell, others were punished when they did, and some, when they told, were met with disbelief or accusations from others. Such responses make it harder to talk about the abuse again or to seek help for it. More importantly, though, such responses do not reflect the heart of the Lord, who is grieved when any of His children suffer mistreatment of any kind at the hands of another.

Who perpetrates sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse can happen to people of all ages and the perpetrators can be varied. Relatives, peers, boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, family friends, pastors, teachers, coaches, and strangers can all be guilty of sexual abuse.

How common is sexual abuse?

Abuse is devastating in the lives of those who suffer it, and victims often experience many problems later in life. The effects of abuse are as varied as the men and women who experience it. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately 2/3 of assaults and acts of abuse are committed by someone known to the victim. Victims of abuse are

  • 73 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

What should I do if I have been a victim of sexual abuse?

Abuse almost always has a profound impact on one’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, even when it occurred years in the past. For this reason, it is often extremely difficult for a survivor of abuse to know how to deal with these effects. If the abused person is you, it is normal for you to feel very reluctant about addressing the painful wounds created by abuse. We encourage you to give yourselves grace if you have avoided dealing with these wounds for any length of time since you likely dealt with the abuse in the best way you knew how.

However, because we believe that shame and secrecy only compound the impact abuse can have in allowing our enemy to “steal and destroy” joy, peace, and intimacy with the Lord, we encourage you to break the silence of your secret by talking to your parents, friend, counselor, or other trusted person in your life. You have the option of confronting your abuser by reporting the abuse to the police and pursuing criminal prosecution. If you are not going to press criminal charges, you have the option of taking someone you trust to confront your abuser (if there is not concern of emotional or physical danger). Facing your abuser legally, in person, by phone, or by letter and telling them the abuse was wrong and how it hurt you can be a very powerful step in finding healing for yourself.

Whether you have been a victim of acts of sexual violence or any form of sexual molestation, you can seek professional counseling to manage the effects of the trauma. Counseling is a confidential way to address the pain the abuse has caused with a caring, trained professional.

If you are a Cedarville student, we encourage you to contact Cedarville University Campus Safety, whose role in responding to sexual assault can be outlined here. Their response may include their own investigation. Sanctions and disciplinary actions for sexual assault as well as harassment are outlined under Chapter 6 of the Student Handbook, entitled "Community and Accountability." They are also a valuable source of information and support.

Finally, you can also use the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. The online hotline provides a confidential, interactive, instant-message option for victims of assault. It is available 24 hours a day and is staffed with trained individuals who can help guide you through the steps to take in seeking support in the aftermath of sexual violence perpetrated against you. Even if the abuse happened years ago, the online hotline still extends help and support to survivors.

What should I do if a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse?

First of all, it is important to remember your limitations as a friend or loved one in supporting and helping a victim of abuse. You cannot do everything for that person. Help the loved one explore his or her options. For all of your best efforts, you cannot force loved ones to seek help or healing for themselves.

Additionally, when listening to a traumatic story and feeling the pain of someone you care about, it is not uncommon to have emotional struggles of your own. These struggles may include but are not limited to: fear for your own safety, feeling overly responsible for the safety of others, feeling alone, ignoring your own needs because you feel responsible to take care of others emotionally, and feelings of sadness/grief about the event. You will need to remember to take care of yourself; for example, give yourself space from the loved one for your own emotional health as needed. However, we encourage you to explain your reasons for the distance so the loved one understands he or she did nothing wrong in sharing. It’s possible you might need to talk to a counselor yourself if you cannot manage any symptoms of anxiety or depression that may surface. You cannot be the counselor for your loved one and you cannot be the only source of support for him or her. Refer your loved one to counseling and other resources such as informative, supportive books and websites.

If someone who has been sexually assaulted asks you for help, it is important to support and comfort him or her while doing what you can to ensure the appropriate steps are taken. Encourage him or her to seek medical aid and call the police to file a report. Offer to make those calls for your loved one to initiate those processes if he or she is in agreement. Accompany your loved one as appropriate through the completion of all medical and law enforcement procedures. Focus on the victim instead of expressing your own feelings of helplessness, anger, or fear. Avoid questions that are judgmental and promote shame such as:

“Why would you go there alone with him?”

“What were you thinking?”

“Why didn’t you tell?”

“Why didn’t you scream or fight back?”

Finally, allow your loved one to share at his or her own pace without pressing for details. Be sensitive to his or her reactions to your attempts to comfort. The loved one may or may not be open to physical support such as holding hands or giving hugs. Recognize a traumatized person may act in a variety of ways, such as extremely calm, numb, agitated, angry, or many others.

What are the effects of sexual abuse?

Other effects that typically stem from any form of abuse include relational difficulties, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disturbance, and various physical ailments.

Perhaps the most devastating effects that abuse has in the lives of those who endure it are ones that go unseen and unnoticed. Abuse destroys one’s ability to trust. It creates walls that prevent healthy relationships from forming. It produces deep-seated shame in its victims. It often prevents victims from believing anyone, including God, could value or love them. Most victims of abuse will live for many years assuming the blame for what they suffered. However, this is one of the cruelest effects of abuse since it is never the victim’s fault.

Many false beliefs are created by abuse, including the following:

  • The abuse was my fault.
  • I deserve to be punished.
  • I am not good enough.
  • Trusting people is dangerous.
  • I must be perfect.
  • Feelings are bad.
  • If I am sexually unappealing, I won’t be abused.
  • My body is disgusting.
  • People hurt you.
  • I am all alone.

(from “Beyond the Darkness,” Rapha Publications)

What can CU Counseling Services offer me?

CU Counseling Services offers individual, confidential counseling to help you on your journey toward healing and wholeness from any form of abuse. Additionally, a support group for women who suffered childhood sexual abuse is offered every year, typically in the spring semester.

If you are a victim of abuse, it is our hope that you will seek help in replacing these lies with the Truth that you are loved, valued, and accepted by a Father who desires that you embrace the inherent dignity and worth He created you with. We recognize the importance of having a safe environment in which to talk with someone who you can trust, and we want to communicate God’s deep love for you as you begin to work through the wounds from your past. We want you to know that there is a way for you to find freedom from the shame and secrecy that you have likely lived with for too long.

What help is there for those who have perpetrated abuse?

For those that have abused someone else, we want them to know that they, too, can be helped. We want to come alongside them as well in order to help them repent of those sins and live in ways that glorify God and honor the worth and value of other men and women. The steps for healing and change look different for those who have perpetrated abuse, but it is our goal to communicate that those on both sides of this issue – victims are abusers – are in need of God’s grace, Truth, and help.

What else should I know?

Turning to residence life staff such as your RA and RD can provide important support and resources for recovery. Be aware that if a student's life is in danger or if a student poses serious risk of harm to others, the person you tell will not be able to maintain confidentiality as residence hall staff has an obligation to ensure student safety.

Additionally, when the sexual abuse of a minor is reported, anyone on faculty or staff at Cedarville University and any mental health or medical care professionals have a duty to report that information to Children’s Services.

What resources can I read to learn more about dealing with sexual abuse?

Please note: While we find each of the following resources valuable in helping survivors of abuse find healing, we cannot necessarily endorse every aspect of all of these resources. Thus, we encourage you to explore these books and websites, and if you encounter anything that you question, to dialog with a trusted mentor, a parent, a friend, a professor, a pastor, or your counselor.

Books

Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships after Childhood Sexual Abuse (2009)

Breathe is to Hush as fulfillment is to a promise. Nicole uses her story of abuse to help other survivors walk the road of recovery that leads to fulfilling, healthy relationships again. She uses Biblical insight and real-life examples from the lives of survivors to encourage survivors to press on toward the redeemed relationships the Lord has for His children. Nicole has been a featured speaker at Cedarville University.

The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (1988)

This comprehensive guide, co-written by a counselor and a survivor of sexual abuse, offers common questions that survivors struggle through. It includes poems and writings from survivors and includes chapters that help women through the changing patterns in their lives, the aspects of the healing process, and resources for healing.  Ellen Bass and Laura Davis show the reader how to come to terms with their past while moving powerfully into the future.

Hush, Nicole Braddock Bromley (2007)

Author Nicole Braddock Bromley encourages victims of sexual abuse to tell someone whom they can trust, empowering them to “find their voice.”  She include stories and testimonies of those who have done so and have thus been able to experience healing from the trauma and suffering of their past. Also, Nicole shares how to cultivate healthy relationships and overcome barriers to love through the healing power of our heavenly Father. She has been a featured speaker during the Cedarville chapel services.

Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey A. Holcomb (2011)

Combining theology and research, the authors of this book deal in honest, Biblical truth as they help survivors walk the road of healing after abuse. It is a useful resource for those who are walking alongside victims of abuse as well. Before its close, the book offers clear, resounding hope of the grace the Lord offers those who have been scarred by abuse and tells of His commitment to turn the disgraced into the restored.

On the Threshold of Hope, Diane Mandt Langberg, Ph.D. (1999)

Written by a licensed psychologist in private practice for over twenty-five years, Dr. Langberg includes detailed accounts that are shared by survivors of sexual abuse. She maps out the healing process, giving new hope and trust in the God of all Comfort as the primary agent to facilitate a new and abundant life that offers freedom from the stronghold that can linger as a result of sexual abuse.

The Wounded Heart, Dr. Dan B. Allender (1990)

This book reaches beyond the general issues and solutions discussed in other books.  It delves “deep into the wounded heart, exploring the secret lament of the soul damaged by sexual abuse – and laying hold of the hope buried there by the One” who is most capable of bringing ultimate healing.

Websites

Healing Sisters

Healing Sisters is “a resource for victims of sexual abuse.” This resource features blog posts from survivors of abuse that cover a wide array of topics relevant for survivors, including managing emotions, the steps of healing, signs of abuse, the benefits of having support along one’s journey, and more.

G.R.A.C.E.

G.R.A.C.E. stands for Godly Response to Abuse within the Christian Environment. The Mission of GRACE is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize and respond to the sin of child abuse. The ministry focuses on prevention, education, and empowerment of the church to be active advocates for victims of sexual abuse.

The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

This is “a free, confidential, secure service that provides live help over the RAINN website.” The hotline provides service for victims of sexual assault (whether recent or past) and support for friends of victims. This website will allow you to instant message online with experienced, supervised volunteers who provide advice, support, and resources.

OneVoice Enterprises

This is the official site of Nicole Braddock Bromley, the author of the books Hush (2007) and Breathe (2009). She has been a featured speaker at Cedarville University. The focus of OneVOICE is for “…educating & raising awareness of sexual abuse, rape, trafficking & other related issues, creating an international platform for sexual abuse prevention, providing real life speakers with real life stories, carrying a message of hope & healing, breaking the ice for dialogue & discussion on sensitive topics, pointing students toward healthy lifestyle & relationship choices, and offering support resources to individuals, schools, universities, churches & other organizations.”