Addressing Child Sexual Abuse

by Melanie Howard

Child sexual abuse: Few topics are more uncomfortable or more difficult to discuss. Such abuse is one of the most extreme forms of human exploitation. To acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse is to believe the unbelievable, to recognize unthinkable evil, and to grapple with the terrible effects of the sin. This topic may even cause an individual to question his or her beliefs about God’s sovereignty and protection.

In the sexual abuse of a child, an adult (or bigger child) uses his or her dominant position to force or coerce a child into sexual activity for which the child is not developmentally prepared to give informed consent. Non-contact abuse includes having a child view pornographic materials, taking sexual photos of a child, asking a child inappropriate questions about the child’s sexual development, and exposing a child to adult sexuality. Contact abuse includes fondling a child, requiring a child to touch or kiss an adult inappropriately, and rape.

Suggestions for keeping your child safe:

• Spend time regularly with your child in enjoyable activities that promote closeness and intimacy. Children who are well connected with their parents are better able to talk to them about sexual concerns.

• Discuss healthy sexuality with your child. This is not a one-time “birds and bees” talk, but an ongoing dialogue that takes advantage of teachable moments.

• Don’t allow the subject of sexuality to be taboo in your home or church. If you are uncomfortable with the topic, it will be difficult for you to educate your child, and difficult for your child to approach you if she or he needs help.

• Minimize or reduce situations where your child is left alone with one adult. Parents should carefully choose babysitters. Churches should conduct background checks on all volunteers who work with children and youth.

If you learn that your child or a child in your church has been abused:

• Report the abuse to the authorities. Tell the child “we need to find other adults to help us.”

• Make sure the child is protected from further abuse.

• Keep the child’s daily schedule as predictable as possible.

• Limit the child’s contact with individuals who are not supportive or who do not believe the child.

• Talk with the child in a calm, matter-of-fact tone.

• Let the child know that you believe him or her.

• Tell the child that he or she is not at fault for what happened.

Sexual abuse frequently involves manipulating a victim into silence. It is common for victims of sexual abuse to blame themselves. In fact, this is one of the few crimes where the victim may feel more shame and guilt than the criminal.

The strongest predictor of resiliency in children who have been sexually abused is the response of the primary caregiver. Children who are able to confide in a trusted adult and who are protected from further abuse are least likely to suffer long-term trauma.

Important tips:

• Don’t think that sexual abuse doesn’t happen in “good families.”

• Don’t minimize the abuse or make excuses for the abuser.

• Don’t ask the child, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

• Don’t over-protect the child or treat the child as “damaged” or “different” from other children.

Healing from sexual abuse is frequently a long and difficult journey. Sexual abuse is damaging physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is hope and healing in Christ.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is.

—Isaiah 61:3 (NIrV)

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