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Reflections

An Appeal to Act from Adult Survivors of Abuse

Darkness and light in Lent pairs Easter with Child Abuse Awareness Month in April. Standing with the Survivors Council appointed by KY Attorney General Andy Beshear (http://ag.ky.gov/family/victims/survivorscouncil/Pages/default.aspx) has only strengthened my resolve to raise awareness in faith communities. So I add my voice.

Credible statistics report that 702,000 children are abused in this country every year. That would pack more than 10 modern football stadiums. Globally and in US, child sexual abuse is a hidden epidemic. Unlike racism, gun control, evironmental issues and gender identity, its seldom spoken of. Still, its a justice issue of epic proportion.

Though we tend to lump all kinds of abuse under one rubric, its important to tease it apart. There’s 4 kinds: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. For more click:

Since the scope of this article is sexual abuse, here’s a clear definition:
 Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other. Forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyerism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet. A crime punishable by law. (D2L, 9).

Studies show that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Townsend, 2013). Ninety percent know their abuser (Finkelhor, 2012). That needs to sink it. It debunks the idea of stranger-danger. Add to that the shame factor, fear, or family loyalty and we see why victims seldom say anything. Neither do adults. Organizations don’t recognize the signs, refuse to report to authorities and become complicit to cover up scandal. The silence is so systemic that legal scholars are beginning to call child sexual abuse “a crime against humanity” (Groome, 2011).

Heres some little known facts about child sexual abuse:
  • 60% of abusers are non-relatives like family friends, babysitters and neighbors
  • 30% of abusers are family members like parents, siblings, uncles and aunts
  • 10% (only) of abusers are strangers
  • Men are more likely to abuse children, but women (14%) do it too

(Whealin, 2007.05.22).

Sadly child sexual abuse has life altering effects. Child victims who don't receive treatment grow up to become adult survivors. Since few professionals make meaningful linkages, focus becomes bifurcated targeting only prevention or treatment. Layering yet another lens on an already complex trauma, child sexual  abuse is a crime involving legal authorities, not only advocates and clinicians. Telling stories over and again and not being believed only retraumatizes people.

Since trauma is held in the body more than the mind, there can be multiple health issues. For instance, did you know that Ischemic heart disease (IHD), Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease and other health-related quality of life issues are tied to child abuse (Brown, 2009)? Sexually abused children are also more likely to experience the following: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Kilpatrick, et al, 2003), anxiety and depression (Dube, et al, 2005); Rohde, et al, 2008), Substance abuse (Simpson & Miller, 2002), Sexual promiscuity (Noll, et al, 2003) and Suicide (Waldrop, et al, 2007).

If you're a faith leader as I once was, its important to realize that churches aren't immune. Though I worked with abuse in the Middlesex County Court during the 80’s and again with the Governor’s Round Table in the 90’s (both in MA), I was unprepared to encounter child sexual abuse in the church. The Catholic Crisis in 2002, was a wake up call for most clergy despite denomination or faith affiliation. 

In fact, credible statistics suggest that child sexual abuse cuts across evey race, religion and socioeconomic class. Some research suggests that faith communities are even more vulnerable than the secular arena. One study shows that 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as "religious" (http://www.cmrpi.org/pdfs/study.pdf) and tend to have more victims. The words of a convicted child molester in an interview with Dr. Ana Salter suggests why this is so: “I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”

If you feel naive about child sexual abuse you’re not alone. It’s a complex problem with multiple layers. Few are experts. That said, It’s highly likely that someone you know or care for, has or is experiencing child sexual abuse. If you’re a faith leader who works with children, It’s going to happen whether you are prepared to deal with it or not. Because you are a front line responder.

Beyond boundary training and safe church policies it’s critical for faith leaders to learn the facts, minimize the opportunity, see the signs and act restoratively. None of us wants to stand by and watch another person victimize a child. Nobody should be victimized while we stand by and watch. When a child discloses, when we discover abuse or have reason to suspect it, we must act. This is less about litigation and a legal duty to report. More, its a moral imperative to stand up for children. When we call ourselves sanctuaries we assume a posture of public trust. When we open our doors we put our integrity on the line to safeguard children.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. As a facilitator of the nationally renowned (evidence informed) Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children, I’m standing with adult survivors and asking you to commit to hosting or attending a Stewards of Children, 2.5 hour training to empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse. You'll hear from survivors, experts and people like yourself. You will also receive an interactive work book to make a personal plan or begin a policy for your church, organization or seminary Click for a quick preview: http://www.d2l.org/education/stewards-of-children/. See my website at www.beverlyweinhold.org or call me at 502.690.5733. Let's talk about it.

“Collector of Fragments, we are broken now. Fragmented are simple expectations. Fragmented are life-giving hopes. Fragmented are ligaments of faith. How good are you at finding, cleaning, mending pieces of our lives? The dismembered, disoriented and dislocated need to know. Please mend well what others have shattered. Please forgive through us where our strength has run out. But, in Your mending and healing work, leave some cracks for memorial: Of where we came from. Of how You gathered us. Of how You cradle the majestically broken. We pray in the name of Your Majestic Broken One,” Amen. ~ by Andrew J. Schmutzer


Thank you, 
Dr. Rev. Beverly Weinhold 



Resources

Brown, et. al, (2009). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of premature mortality. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 37 (5).

Child Maltreatment, (2014). Retrieved from: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2014.pdf.

Darkness to Light, (2013). Interactive Workbook. Stewards of Children, 9.
Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles. Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center.

Groome, D. (2011). The church abuse scandal: Were crimes against humanity committed?
Chicago Journal of International Law: 11: 2, 20.

Noll, J.G., et al. (2003). A prospective investigation of the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the development of sexuality. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 575-586.

Kilpatrick, D.G., et al. (2003). Violence and risk of PTSD, major depression, substance abuse/dependence, and comorbidity: Results from the Nat’l Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 692-700.

Rhode,P., et al. (2008). Associations of child sexual abuse with obesity and depression in middle-aged women: A national survey. Child Maltreatment, 4, 187-200.

Salter, A., (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders : Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.

Simpson, T.L. & Miller, W.R. (2002). Concomitance between childhood sexual and physical abuse and substance use problems. A review. Clinical Psychology Review, 22, 27-77.

Waldrop, A.E., et al. (2007). Risk factors for suicidal behavior among a national sample of adolescents: Implications for prevention. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 869-879.


Whealin, J. (2007.5.22). Child sexual abuse. National Center for PTSD, US Dept of VA.
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