How do I help my husband with the sexual abuse he endured?

My husband was sexually abused by his uncle (10 years older) when he was a small child. He believed he told his parents in an off hand way and the abuse stopped. No one ever spoke to him about the abuse. He feels like he worked through the abuse on his mission and was able to turn it over to God and forgive his uncle. They are on good speaking terms (he feels comfortable talking with him at family events, etc.). Fast forward to 3 years ago…this uncle was called as a bishop. This led to a faith crisis and my husband telling me about the abuse a year ago. I was the first person he has ever told about the abuse other than the remarks he made as a child that stopped the abuse. We decide to tell our current bishop and Stake President. Now they want to remove his uncle as Bishop. My husband has mixed emotions. Because removing him as Bishop will do NOTHING to help my husband with where he is at. However because of the church’s current policies, this man is meeting individually with youth. My husband also feels bad for his uncle as this could potentially destroy his life and reputation in his small community. He is basically being forced to be the one who makes the decision of how far this goes. My husband mentioned to the Stake President that he wondered if maybe it would be best that he speak with the Uncle rather than have him called in and confronted by his Stake President – again, because he feels bad for him.

I want to support my husband through what I am so afraid will be a re-victimization of him. Does this sound like a good idea to you? Maybe it could be a chance for healing and closure?? Should he go alone? How should he go about the conversation? So many questions!! Do you have any recommendations of information or podcasts about confronting ones’ abuser? Or have you done any blog posts about this. I have searched but haven’t found anything. I know he respects you and your work and I would really just appreciate any suggestions or info you may be able to offer. I just want to protect my husband from any further damage or hurt as much as I can. Thank you so much for all you do!!

What a difficult situation. And unfortunately very typical. The reality is that most people who are abused are abused by someone they love and trusted… someone within the family/friendship circle. And so there are a lot of contradicting feelings that deal with wanting to forgive… wanting to protect others… wanting to protect the perpetrator from public shame… anger… grief… love…confusion.

Just a few quick thoughts…

  1. It does seem like a lot of the energy at this point is on focusing on the uncle’s feelings & situation… which is very typical for those who’ve been abused by family members or friends who love them as I mention above…
  2. It must have been very courageous for your husband to talk to you about this… and to talk to the bishop/stake leader…. please remind him of this often.
  3. It’s sooo normal to be experiencing anxiety around this because…. how can there not be. Getting support for anxiety and coping with this from a professional would be deserved and advised.
  4. I would want your husband to know that it is not his job to take care of his uncle at this point… And even though he may love him and be concerned about him… it’s okay for people to have to manage the consequences of their actions… even when it seems extremely difficult to do so and years after the fact.
  5. It is absolutely appropriate for the church leaders to be making decisions in regards to releasing this man from this calling. I would also be asking them directly to contact the church hotline in regards to dealing with situations where there has been sexual abuse. There are legal and reporting implications the bishop should be aware of depending on which state and even country you reside. Not all bishops take this step of using the hotline since it’s not “mandatory.”
  6. Many abuse victims are not comfortable or willing to go to the police or other protective/reporting agencies to state what happened. This is their right and personal decision to make. At the same time, as a spouse and as church leaders… you all want to be very aware of the reporting laws that may now apply to you. And the church leaders in particular should make sure they are doing everything possible to make sure investigative procedures can go forth to address potential other victims. Church leaders are not investigators or formal authorities on these matters. And why it’s so important to make sure the correct authorities are involved.
  7. Your husband may feel guilt about these consequences the uncle now faces… which is inappropriate… but normal.
  8. He can choose to talk to him and he can choose to confront him… or not… either way is okay… there is no one right way to go about this.
  9. Regardless of his decision… I would want him to be centered on how that decision is about his own healing and his own experience… instead of it being about helping or protecting the uncle.
  10. And that the decision to confront or not confront has nothing to do with being “loving” or “forgiving.” It’s so important to separate and sift through these words that can carry a lot of baggage.

As far as this comment of yours: “My biggest question is do you think he would be best to go alone? (I feel like he has already done sooooo much alone)”

  1. If it’s from an ownership perspective… that can be empowering…
  2. I would want him to be centered in regards to what his goals for such a meeting would be… and be prepared for if it doesn’t go well.. or how he would hope it would go.
  3. Offer your willingness to go with him. Let him know you would like to support him in this type of meeting if he would be comfortable including you. As far as alone or with you… again… no right choice… what would feel most empowering and supportive for him?

Another comment you wrote me: “He also has no idea of how to begin the conversation? …”I didn’t forget what you did to me and how are you okay with being a bishop?”

How about this as a potential script to work from: “I know we’ve never spoken directly about this issue. But it’s important for me that you know that I remember the abuse I experienced through your actions. And you becoming a bishop has been concerning to me in regards to our history. And I want you to know directly from me… that I have spoken to leaders about these concerns. they may be in contact with you about it.”

And how you do gently support him getting help for processing through this disclosure… it’s fairly typical that victims can start feeling symptoms that they’ve shelfed for years… again… professional help would be a strong recommendation from me.

Lots of positive thoughts and energy from me to the two of you as you manage this experience together.

Abuse and the Forgiveness Dilemma

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.

 

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