If You were Abused
As I contemplate my own recovery from sexual abuse, I am still surprised by how little I felt the abuse had affected me. Even when my life and my relationships were in shambles, I couldn’t make the connection between my abuse and my deficiencies.
One of the hallmarks of sexual abuse is that we can not ignore it. We can not just push it away, put a lid on it and pretend it never happened. It will at some point demand to be resolved and attended to. Usually by coming out “sideways.”
Marilyn van Derbur, 1958′s Miss America, tells the story of her recovery from her father’s sexual violations in her book, Miss America by Day, Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love (missamericabyday.com) She says, Most people have no understanding of how complex the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse can be–especially if the violator was a family member, priest, coach…trusted friend. These pedophiles weave their way into our lives. Most are charming, talented, respected family and community members. They are not the bearded, stubble faced Charles Mansons. They don’t make us hate them, they make us hate ourselves. We don’t want them in prison. We live a lifetime in a kind of prison difficult to describe.
My Story: The pedophile, the child and me
The numbers are a bit staggering: One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused in their childhood years. But we seldom can bring ourselves to talk much about it. Maybe it is just too heinous, unthinkable, unless you are the pedophile. When knowledge of someone’s abuse is forced on us we shake our heads and mumble, “How awful,” and hope the conversation turns to more hopeful topics. The reality is, we all know at least four women and six men, and Las Vegas would be willing to bet you that one of each group has been molested. We don’t know what to say about it, and the victims don’t know what to do about it.
I feel I was much like that soldier in beginning of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Landing at Normandy, he is shown racing to get up the beach. A mortar round explodes, and our first expectation is that he has been killed. But he comes out of the explosion's smoke still trying to get up the beach. The only problem: He is missing an arm. He pauses to find his extremity, puts it under his other arm, grabs his rifle and continues his mission. He continues to try to live and fight and do his job. However, his realities are now very changed; he will struggle to shoot his rifle and must tie his shoes with one hand. Life will never be the same, and many of life’s simple chores will be very difficult.
Our world can become black and white, and we struggle with emotional shading and suffer wide mood swings. Our thinking becomes distorted, we adopt many thinking errors, and often fall into hopelessness and certainly lose the ability trust along the way. We may become hyper-vigilant and put up such an emotional wall that those who would help us can’t get through. Feelings all run together and we struggle to recognize what we are feeling, or are aware of just a general numbness where our heart should be. We struggle to feel alive and often participate in high-risk behaviors to compensate. We struggle with dissociation and being "present." Often we deny that anything really bad happened and use repression to keep the hurt at bay. Self medication seems like a good idea, and many fall into addictive practices.Other LDS Tailored Resources on Abuse
The Mormon Church and Child Sexual Abuse: An Introduction
Since we know that child abuse thrives in secret, and secret systems are its favorite breeding place, this tendency toward secrecy contributed to the prevalence and depth of the overall LDS child abuse problem.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, to its credit the LDS Church has, in the last decade or so, been much more responsible, at least in my experience, in responding to the problem of abuse than have many of the other institutions I regularly deal with. For one thing, the Church has a more sophisticated understanding of abuse, and, though there is still much room for improvement, the Church has created better training programs to prevent and recognize abuse.
the LDS Church has been doing a better job than many other churches and youth organizations at resolving claims fairly and expeditiously.
Church authorities have often worked in good faith to resolve legal claims. Indeed, other churches and institutions of trust that deal with abused children could learn some things from the LDS approach,
The Impact of Priest Sexual Abuse: Female Survivors' Narratives
Individually and collectively, the women said that, at first, they were not
able to recognize or name their experiences as sexual abuse/exploitation. It
was only over time and after a myriad of awakenings that they subjectively
discerned the significance of what had happened to them. For most of them,
the identifying moment came years later as a result of a social or reform
movement or as a result of therapy.
Sadly, the women said that being sexually abused/exploited by their
priests adversely affected their relationship with God. Several women
expressed confusion and ambivalence about the existence of God, while
others described God as cruel, hostile, angry, and filled with revenge.
Although two women felt the presence of God in their lives as they were
going through the trauma and one entered a convent, they were the exceptions.
Most of the women suffered spiritual damage. Not only had they
endured personal violation but also now found themselves without a
As the personal narratives of survivors of priest sexual abuse (male and
female) have revealed, the church’s silence in the aftermath of the abuse has
caused as much agony and distress as the initial incidents themselves.
Recognition of the truth about what happened, of the gravity of the wrong that
was done, of the fact that the victim/survivor was abused—violated—and
that it was not her fault are the first steps toward recovery for the survivor
and for the church.
The Relevance of Restorative Justice TechniquesThe principles of restorative justice, which are often contrasted with a focus
on retribution, are highly relevant to the needs of the perpetrators and survivors
of clergy sexual abuse (see van Wormer, 2001). Restorative justice is a
philosophy that is derived from traditional forms of justice associated with
indigenous peoples and is consistent with the religious teachings of
van Wormer, Berns
Mennonites (see van Wormer, 2001; Zehr, 1995). The restorative model is
victim, rather than offender, centered. Restorative justice views crime as
primarily a violation of people and relationships. Justice occurs through
offenders taking full responsibility for what they have done to the victims
and the community. Society must be accountable to the victims to help them
restore what was lost.
An Internet search of newspaper articles on the resolution of cases of
clergy abuse revealed one instance in which restorative principles were
used. This case, from the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, involved
lawsuits filed by 36 people who were sexually abused, in which such principles
were applied (Carroll, 2002). Final settlements were in various amounts
that were proportionate to the severity of the abuse. What is remarkable
about the case is that it was not resolved adversarily but through marathon
mediation sessions. Church representatives treated the survivors with
empathy; instead of attacking the victims’ stories, they showed compassion
and offered apologies. Consistent with the principles of restorative justice,
the emphasis was on helping the victims, church, and community heal from
the wrongs that had been done.
Geared to the needs of the victim/survivor and to her desire to express
the truth in her own voice and to have the truth validated by the offending
party, restorative justice aims for reconciliation. Unlike the adversarial criminal
justice process, with restorative justice, the offender is called on to
explain himself to the victim and community and often to begin to make
amends. The restorative process can take place either in addition to or
instead of the standard judicial process. A major advantage of this format is
the inclusion of family members, who, similar to the survivor, express to the
offender and, in this case, the church authorities, the extent of their sufferings.
Often apologies are forthcoming.
For the female survivor who, unlike the male survivor, is apt to be partially blamed
for the sexual involvement, this support by the church and
community are vital for her recovery. Additional advantages of this nonadversarial
approach are the restoration of a sense of control over one’s life,
the opportunity to confront the person or persons who have committed the
harm and to ask why, hearing a confession, and embarking on a journey
toward healing. For the offender, it is a chance to “come clean”; to offer restitution,
if applicable; and even to ask for forgiveness. Because restorative justice has its origins
in religious forms of resolving disputes, it is especially relevant within a church context
and consistent with Christian faith in the possibility of redemption.