Extra Virgin :: The Unmentionables Part 3
On Extra Virgin this month I’ll be posting a series about The Unmentionables: things of a sexual nature that we find especially difficult to discuss. Because the subject matter is both sexual and sometimes explicit, I recommend this series for adult women only.
Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but ever since the fall, humanity has been breaking God’s gifts—all of Creation—as a result of sin and our own brokenness. One of the most painful and horrifying results of sin is the presence of sexual abuse in the world.
Rape and inappropriate touching are often what we think of when we speak of sexual abuse, but it also involves much more than that. Here’s a basic definition of sexual abuse:
“Sexual abuse involves any behavior, attitude, or verbal response that hinders normal sexual development, bringing distortion and inhibition to personal sexuality and married lovemaking.” (Dr. Rosenau, A Celebration of Sex)
Sadly, there are too many different kinds of abuse to even list here, but it’s important to remember that any unwanted sexual behavior forced on you is sexual abuse. This can mean anything from someone watching you undress, to someone exposing himself or herself in your presence, unwanted sex play with other children when you were younger, and rape or sexual touching. Any of this is abuse, whether it happens at the hand of a stranger, a friend, family member, boyfriend, or husband.
If this has ever happened to you, no matter the circumstances, it was not your fault. After a confusing and painful experience like this, you may feel a heavy burden of guilt, but a victim is never responsible for sexual abuse.
An experience of sexual assault is both traumatizing and complex, and most people are not able to move forward without help. Thankfully, there are many resources for receiving help, whether your abuse was in the past or is currently taking place. Here are the three ways to seek help and find healing ::
Counseling - While sharing your story with a trusted friend or family member will be a first step, in cases of abuse, a therapist will be an invaluable tool in processing what has happened and healthfully moving forward. Find a Christian counselor with specialized training in helping sexual abuse survivors. This will be an important relationship, so if you start meeting with the counselor and find that, after a couple of weeks, you don’t “click”, don’t be afraid to find someone else. Also, if the counselor ever suggests that the abuse was your fault, find another counselor.
Medical Care - If you have just been raped, you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention. Let the medical professionals know what has happened, so that they can provide you with the care you need and because they will be careful to find and preserve any evidence that will help with the conviction of the person who has hurt you. If your abuse was in the past, it would be wise to have an exam with a doctor who knows what has happened. The doctor will be able to check for any injuries or infections that may exist as a result.
Law Enforcement - If you have just been abused, immediately call 911. You are the victim of a heinous crime and the abuser needs to be stopped and to receive the consequences of his or her crime. This is important not only for justice to be served for the pain done to you, but also to prevent any future abuse done to you or someone else. When a sexual abuser is caught, on average he/she already has dozens, if not hundreds, of victims. Your courage to contact the legal authorities will most likely be saving someone else from a similar situation.
There is a conspiracy of silence surrounding sexual assault. It’s very difficult for a survivor of sexual abuse to speak about her experience. There are spoken and unspoken threats to remain quiet, as well as the shame and guilt she may feel, fear of what people may think of her, fear of bringing both punishment and societal exclusion upon the abuser, the chaos that will descend when the information becomes known to those in her circle or to friends and family of the abuser, or confusion regarding what actually took place to bring about the abuse.
There are many reasons that she may not want to tell anyone about what happened. These are natural feelings, but none of them need keep her from getting the help she needs and from the abuser receiving the consequences of his or her crime. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, please start by telling a trusted friend or family member. Those who love you will stand beside you as you decide how best to move forward.
And finally, even though you bear no guilt as a victim of sexual abuse, you may have had to shoulder the crushing weight of shame as a result of what’s happened to you. Merriam-Webster defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety”. However, in the case of sexual abuse, the victim has had an improper act forced upon her. So although she is not guilty, she may feel the shame of having been involved in such a humiliating and disgraceful act.
Amazingly, Jesus died on the cross to take away not only the guilt of sinners, but also…shame. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph. 5:25-27) Jesus sees no stain or wrinkle on you. You are not “damaged goods”, but have the purity and radiance of Jesus himself. Whatever has happened, however you are feeling, Jesus sees you as his beloved bride and has moved heaven and earth to keep you at his side.
(Top photo via Cuyana)