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Several years ago, I gave a talk on recognizing child abuse to the workers in the church I was attending at the time. I thought it might be a good idea to reach out to other churches in the area and give the same talk. Though I didn’t pursue this opportunity actively, I did speak to one pastor who didn’t show any interest. His response was something to the effect that his church members all “know each other”. In essence, he was saying that he didn’t have to worry about child abuse in his church because they all knew and trusted each other.
Unfortunately, the statistics tell us the opposite – most cases of child sexual abuse involve perpetrators that are known to the child.
Churches should be safe havens, but this is often not the case
According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 93% of perpetrators are known to their victims. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population. Victims of sexual abuse are at high risk of mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, not to mention unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Churches should be safe havens for people who have experienced abuse, but unfortunately, this is often not the case. All too often we hear about victims being blamed. Confronting a victim of sexual assault with questions like “What were you wearing”? “What did you do to tempt him?” suggests that perpetrator has no control over himself and blames the victim for just being who she is. (I realize than men can be victims, too, but most victims are female and perpetrators are mostly male, so I am writing from that perspective).
I listened with horror as a woman who had been molested by her stepfather starting from when she was only four, later gave a “testimony” in which she said she was able to look back and see her own wrong doing! There is absolutely nothing a four-year-old could ever do that would justify her being molested!
Even adult victims should not be blamed, much less a child! The idea that a girl is responsible to prevent men from assaulting her is ludicrous!
Unfortunately, some people seem to believe that men have no control over their sexual urges, so it’s up to women to avoid tempting them. There is no scientific or scriptural basis for this attitude and it only perpetrates abuse.
Toxic masculinity is harmful to men, too!
Toxic masculinity is harmful to the perpetrators, too. Rather than getting professional help for their problematic behaviors which may include sexual addictions, their deviant behaviors often worsen. By the time the legal system catches up with them so much damage has been done, some of which could potentially have been avoided.
To address the issue of toxic masculinity, let’s take a look at examples from the New Testament.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Matthew 23: 37 (NIV)
This was Jesus – comparing himself to a female! Imagine that! He applied female imagery to himself in the above verse, as did Paul in writing to the Thessalonians.
“Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7 (NIV)
The use of female imagery by Jesus Christ and Paul run contrary to the toxic masculinity that is so prevalent in today’s church. Christ and Paul were not concerned about protecting their male egos; they were secure in who they were. Using female imagery did not make them any less male, and being male did not mean they lacked self- control. Jesus interacted with women all the time, and he treated them with dignity and respect, despite their shortcomings.
Churches need to take a leading role in ending sexual abuse
Abuse is a very serious issue and it will not end overnight, but the church community needs to take a leading role in ending abuse. For this to happen, we need to raise awareness and adopt healthy attitudes.
- When it comes to children, it is not enough to teach the concept of “Stranger, Danger.” Children and teenagers must be empowered to set healthy boundaries and speak up when those boundaries are crossed.
- Victim – blaming needs to stop and perpetrators need to be held accountable.
- We need to address toxic masculinity and educate boys and men to let them know that self-control is an attainable goal. They are responsible for their thoughts and actions and should not blame them on anyone else.
If you are a victim of abuse, ask for help! A few resources are listed below. Please take good care of yourself and be safe!