As a woman growing up in a Christian community, I was often given conflicting messages about our view on sexual abuse survivors.
I’ve heard victims told it was not their fault but in the same breath being asked what they were wearing––as if to imply they played a role in their own abuse. I’ve heard of stories of women reporting sexual abuse to a leader at church, only to later hear how dramatic this particular woman is known to be. I’ve also been previewed to a woman being told she must forgive her perpetrator because that’s what Jesus calls her to do.
I fear my glimpses of how Christians care for sexual abuse survivors is not rare. It’s the norm. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, this seems to be confirmed as victims boldly share their stories regarding the coverup of sexual abuse in Christian organizations, churches, and denominations.
One author recently described the Christian response to sexual abuse allegations as salting the wound we have been called to bind. The body of Christ should be a place where the broken, tattered, and neglected can safely come for healing and life.
I fear many Christians have lost sight of what our role should be for those who are brokenhearted, abused, and shackled. Instead of shining the light and love of Jesus, we think our role is to be the detective to determine the validity of the situation. There’s a place for this process, but that is not often one for the untrained church member to take on. And it is certainly not the starting point.
As Christians we must do better. We must be known by the way we love and care for people. And if we can’t do that for those who’ve been abused at the hands of another person, I worry there are many others we are not caring for as well.
This is not only a call for those leading churches and Christian organizations, this is a call for all followers of Jesus.
Here are 3 things Christians can––and must––do for any sexual abuse survivor we come into contact with.
1. Lead with compassion rather than judgment.
If you know about someone being sexually abused, it’s because the abused had the courage to tell someone. Even if you aren’t the person they shared their story with, if you’re aware of it, it’s because the survivor boldly spoke up.
This was a terrifying and difficult decision for a survivor to make.
Every sexual abuse survivor implicitly understands that some won’t believe them, some will blame them, and the perpetrator can still get away with it. For many, it’s so much easier to remain silent and do their best to tend to the wound themselves.
One of the most damaging responses we can have as Christians is to judge the survivor. Even if you have doubts or are shocked, that should never stop you from leading with compassion instead of judgment.
I understand it might be difficult for you to process the allegation, but I can guarantee you that the difficulty you’re enduring is nothing in comparison to the pain and drama the survivor has endured.
Compassion isn’t only to consider the perspective and feelings of another person, but for that consideration to lead to a desire to help.
Jesus’ spend much of his earthly ministry teaching to large crowds and healing many people. It’s easy to think he did this merely out of duty and obligation to his purpose. While I know there is an element of that, the bible actually describes Jesus as having compassion on the crowds. In Matthew’s account it says, “[Jesus] had compassion because they were harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus was moved with compassion for the people he was ministering to. The people who were following him around day and night, not allowing him to rest. I’m sure there were many areas of their lives he could judge. But his response was compassion.
Christians should be compassionate people, regardless of the situation. But this is all the more important when it comes to the way we respond and converse with a sexual abuse survivor.
It shouldn’t matter what’s in their lives that you could possibly judge or even how you feel about the person they’re accusing. I know sexual abuse stories are very complicated and painful when someone you love is accused of victimizing another person. But we can’t allow the complexities of the situation to move us away from compassion and into judgement. This will never lead to anywhere good and it does far more harm to the victim than you can imagine.
Compassion doesn’t only look like a lack of judgment. It’s being sensitive to the survivor in every step of the process. It looks like not asking them to sit in the same room as their abuser to “clear the air” or “hear both sides.”
Truly being compassionate towards a sexual abuse survivor has in mind their trauma, perspective, and health at all times. We can unknowingly add salt to the wound when we don’t keep compassion for the survivor at the forefront of our minds.Compassion isn't only to consider the perspective and feelings of another person, but for that consideration to lead to a desire to help. Click To Tweet
2. Pursue justice for the survivor.
In the United States, we have laws in place that are meant to provide justice for sexual abuse survivors. We should highly value these laws not only as citizens, but as Christians. We are to be people of justice.
We should care about survivors enough to desire justice for them.
This means reporting the situation to the authorities if it hasn’t already been done. You should never expect or even suggest to a survivor that they consider not reporting their abuse to the authorities. It doesn’t matter if the reputation of someone or an institution is on the line. It is our responsibility to care about people more than we care about reputations.
This is what we learn in the Proverbs.
“Whoever says to the guilty, ‘You are innocent,’ will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come on them.” (Proverbs 24:24-25)
We simply can’t be people who are comfortable calling the guilty innocent.
When we even suggest anything less than justice for a sexual abuse survivor, we send them the message that we don’t care about them. We care about someone or something else more than them in this specific situation. Though we aren’t the ones to carry out justice, we can and must go through the appropriate systems put in place to fight for justice on behalf of the abused.We simply can't be people who are comfortable calling the guilty innocent. Click To Tweet
3. Value the survivor as an individual created in God’s image.
There are many responses Christians can have in sexual abuse cases that would imply the survivor is not valued. The types of questions we ask, the way we ask them, and flat out not believing them are ways we can show that we don’t truly value them. Part of valuing a survivor is to convey that in our words and actions.
Further, we can’t use them as tools to leverage our own ideological values. We must see and treat a sexual abuse survivor as an individual. Part of truly valuing a survivor is desiring healing in their life. It’s about reminding them this does not define them or leave them broken beyond repair.
We must value sexual abuse survivors in the way Jesus does.We must value sexual abuse survivors in the way Jesus does. Click To Tweet