I could write a lot more on boundaries–don’t even get me started about church leaders and school teachers texting their students! But I decided that today I would write to the countless people who have either failed to set proper boundaries, or their boundaries were still violated and their children were sexually abused. There are over 40 million survivors of child sex abuse in the U.S. alone. Obviously there has been a major breakdown somewhere. My wife and my biggest fear is that boundaries we have set will be overridden by a predator and our child will be molested. Without instilling fear into my readers, the reality is that it happens every day, thousands of times a day.
Should boundaries be crossed to the point of your child being abused, I offer some guidelines to help you through the trauma (and it is very traumatic).
#1 Never be Arrogant or Naïve Enough to Believe That Your Child Cannot be Sexually Abused
James 4:7 (ESV) says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I just read an excellent article titled What Should You Do if You’re Threatened by a Mass Murderer?. It spells out places mass murderers inevitably target: places that offer little or no resistance. These places are specifically targeted by murderers for a reason–they can easily gain access, they can easily kill (young children are statistically the most targeted because they cannot physically defend themselves), and they can sometimes easily escape. Places that offer resistance (i.e. places with armed guards or armed permit-holding citizens) are rarely targeted. Why? Because they are actively resisting evil. It’s tough for a coward to get through armed guards in order to kill, so most likely he won’t.
Also be aware that over 60% of sexual molesters live under the same roof as their victims. This is most likely because there is easy, unhindered access to victims. We must be vigilant even in our own homes and be open to the possibility that spouses or children my suffer with pedophilic attraction to young children.
I’ve said before that sexual predators, like water, find the path of least resistance. It’s time we all stand together and be guards who are armed with knowledge and boldness. Resist. Make it tough for someone to gain access to your child. At the same time, we have to be open to the possibility that our children, even with safeguards in place, could still be victimized, which leads me to:
#2 Talk Openly With Your Children About Their Bodies and Always Listen
Our daughter is 3. Their brains can only comprehend so much. Talk with your children, at their level, about privacy with their bodies. And ALWAYS let your children know that they can talk to you about ANYTHING, and that they will not be in trouble for telling you. Just last night, my precious wife had a mother-to-daughter talk and told our daughter, Eden, “You know that nobody is ever allowed to touch you down there, right? But if anyone ever does, you need to tell mommy or daddy right away. You won’t ever be in trouble for telling us.”
This is extremely important. Eden knows that (1)her body is private and is off limits for anyone to touch in certain places and (2)if anyone ever does (God forbid!), she can tell mommy or daddy without getting in trouble. Victims are most often groomed and framed by perpetrators to believe that the abuse was the child’s fault. Why is this important? Because it guarantees silence! Children will often be told something like this: “You came on to me. I didn’t want this but you turned me on. If you ever tell I’ll let everyone know that you initiated it.” Children believe this because they are highly susceptible to suggestion, gullible and, by nature, are trusting of every adult. A child who believes that the abuse is his or her fault needs, needs, needs reinforcement by their parents that, should abuse happen, it is never their fault and they will not be in trouble for telling.
Strangely, we don’t hesitate to teach children fire drills, tornado drills, gymnasium safety, etc., but when it comes to teaching them sexual abuse safety, we clam up. And predators know it!
Furthermore, a child needs a stable, peaceful home in order to tell. It takes extreme courage and heroism for a child to tell an adult about abuse. If a child lives in a home where mom and dad are constantly shouting, blaming, and accusing one another or their children, a child will likely never tell their parents if abuse has happened. This is because they associate telling with yelling, screaming, and finger pointing. A child who’s been told by a perpetrator that the abuse is her fault will only be afraid of further rejection if they believe a parent will agree, which leads me to:
#3 The Three Most Important Words a Child Who Discloses Abuse Can Hear Is: “I Believe You”
It was the day before my dad’s sentencing in 2012. I was asked by a friend to do a training for his staff on child abuse. After my presentation, several young ladies came to talk to me. One young woman came to me in tears and told me that she, as a child, had told her mom about her dad sexually abusing her. Her mom didn’t believe her and actually yelled at her for “lying.” How, pray tell, will children ever trust anyone to protect them if their own mothers accuse them of lying?
I’m tired of reading accounts where children who are repeatedly abused by the same perpetrator, say to themselves, “I’ll just initiate this (sex) and get it over with.” No child should have to feel that he should endure abuse because nobody will believe him if he tells. If a child discloses abuse, don’t probe, don’t blow up, don’t tell them you’ll kill their abuser, and don’t tell them that they must be mistaken. Do, for the sake of your child, be calm. Do tell them that you believe them. Do tell them that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. And do report it to the police for investigation.
#4 Churches Should be a Place of Peace and Refuge
I was at a training workshop on abuse and heard stories of children who, after disclosing abuse, were forced to stand before their abuser and forgive him “because the Bible says if you don’t you won’t be forgiven.” Forgiven for what? That very statement suggests that the child did something wrong. And who in their right mind would force a child to stare their abuser in the eye and utter the words, “I forgive you.” I’ll tell you who–the person who has never been abused and has no idea, and doesn’t care to know what it is like, to be sexually humiliated as a child.
It’s troubling to hear all the stories of children who are forced to be put on the stand and relive their abuse to a group of strangers. It’s humiliating. Devastating. What’s worse is hearing all the stories of prosecutors who lament that, more often than not, it is the perpetrators, not the victims, who have teams of people in the courtrooms to support them. Churches are not exempt. What in God’s name do you think it does to young children’s souls when they see people who show up to support their abuser? I beg you to watch this 6 minute clip and listen to the voice of a victim’s mother who just went through this. A Rose City, MI teacher who raped a male student had 6 colleagues write letters of leniency to the judge because “it did no harm to the child.”
As a minister, I loudly and publicly tell my congregation that abuse will not be tolerated whatsoever. Our church will be a place of refuge, not turmoil for children. I want children who may have been abused, or who may one day be, know that we will stand beside them. They can trust us. They can tell us. They will never have to face their abuser and they will never be shamed by their church family because of abuse that happened to them. And finally:
#5 Don’t Get Trapped in the Past
When I found out how many victims my dad had, what their ages were, and some of the details of what he did to them, there are no words to describe the sense of guilt I carried. How did I not see it? What could I have done differently? Why did I fail? How could I be so naïve? I felt a huge burden for what had happened, and I understand that many parents whose boundaries have failed never can move beyond the guilt. How did I let this happen to my baby? How can God forgive me? What if I had been more bold? What if I knew more about abuse? How could I be so trusting?
The devil will gain a huge foothold over your life if you live in the past. The best thing you can do for your child who has been abused is to first forgive yourself and then to focus on protecting and healing your child. Children who see a parent who feels constant remorse and guilt will sometimes feel guilty for ever having told. They do not need to carry that added burden.