Lesson 08: Childhood Sexual Assault – Guidance for Clergy

Index

  • Objectives
  • Introduction
  • How to Minister to Victims
  • What to Avoid

Objectives

  • To understand the role of clergy in dealing with survivors of childhood sexual assault (CSA)
  • To understand how to assist victims/survivors of CSA
  • To learn what to avoid in dealing with those who have survived this type of assault

Introduction

Child Sexual Assault (CSA) is a topic that can be very uncomfortable for clergy. It is even more difficult when it becomes a known fact that it is happening within one’s own congregation or that there are adult survivors sitting in the pews. Unfortunately, CSA knows no boundaries and can be found in both Christian and non-Christian homes and environments. Until we begin to be intentional about breaking the silence on this terrible tragedy the assault will continue and wreak havoc in individuals, their relationships and their families.

Although CSA can be one of the most difficult traumas to overcome as an adult, there is hope and healing for each survivor. It is true that sexual assault can be repressed but never forgotten, healed but never reversed or erased, but it can become less powerful with help, time and support.

When someone finds the courage to break silence, they may seek out counsel from spiritual advisors, particularly those in ministry. Encouraging and affirming the survivor is vital for their recovery.

How to Minister to Victims

Listen
  • Hear them out and believe their story
  • Don’t judge them
  • Allow them to grieve or express anger
Endure the journey with them
  • Remember that healing takes time
  • They may need to re-tell their story many times
What They Need to Know
  • They are not at fault.
  • They are not alone.
  • They had a bad experience but they are not bad.
  • They are beautiful in God’s eyes.
  • They are loved and worthy of love.
  • They can be healed, whole and free.
  • Getting well is a journey with God that takes work, faith, truth, time and support.
  • God can redeem all life experiences for his glory.
Enlist the Help of Others
  • Refer them to additional helpful resources
    National Sexual Hotline
    Phone: 800.656-HOPE
    Whom they help: Children and adults needing local information or resources about sexual abuse
    National Domestic Violence Hotline
    Phone: 800.799.SAFE (800.799.7233)
    Whom they help: Children, parents, friends, offenders
    National Center for Victims of Crime
    Phone: 800.FYI.CALL (800.394.2255)
    Whom they help: All victims of crime
What They Can Do
  • Break the silence
  • Get help, including professional counseling
  • Stop hiding their secret
  • Seek justice
  • Begin to heal
  • Refer them for therapy when they are ready.
  • Consult with colleagues in the wider community who may have expertise and be able to assist you in your response.
  • Protect their confidentiality to the extent possible under the law.
  • Evaluate the need to file a mandated report to the appropriate agency for children.

What to Avoid

Secondary wounding
  • Being dismissive
  • Denial and disbelief
  • Minimizing the effects of the trauma
  • Discounting their story
  • Lack of knowledge about the topic and issues
  • Remember that your position of authority impacts how you are viewed; therefore, it is imperative that you maintain good boundaries, but don’t withdraw from them.
Withdrawal from the wounded

Given the depth of wounding caused by CSA, withdrawal from a victim can cause:

  • Secondary stress or trauma
  • Fear of provocative behavior (They fear they may have done something that seemed inappropriate)
  • Confusion
  • Burnout
Be aware of your limitations and surrender the responsibility for the survivor’s healing to God.

Resources

1. Carolyn Holderread Heggen. Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006.
2. Parkinson, Patrick. Childhood Sexual Abuse and Churches: Understanding the Issues. Aquila Press, 2003.

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