Child sexual abuse topics
What faith groups can do to
be a place for healing of abuse
A personal testimony by Jackie Shaw:
Ms Shaw, a recent seminary graduate, delivered a sermon titled "Toward
Healing: A struggle to survive sexual abuse and hope for a better future"
during 2009-JAN. One in Three Women?, a global campaign to raise awareness about
violence against women, published her story. 1,2
She had been molested by her father from about the age of nine. She felt that
the sexual abuse was her fault. She prayed daily to God asking for help to stop
sinning. She thought that she was being punished with her father's abuse because
of her sins.
She revealed the abuse to her mother, to a woman who gave a talk on abuse at
her Girl Scout troop, and to her minister. The minister counseled Jackie's
parents, but did not deal directly with the pedophilia. Eventually, the minister
took action. She called the police and the father was removed from the home.
She entered seminary in 2005 and graduated in 2003-MAY. She described a
vision of what faith groups and individual congregations can do to become a
place of healing for victims of abuse:
"I don?t believe the church?s response to abuse has to be what it has
always been. I also believe that there is more fullness of life available
to victims, survivors and thrivers."
"The church has often failed victims, survivors and people in general.
Abuse does not have to happen. The church can and should have education
programs in place to help people learn to value themselves and be aware
when they are in a dangerous situation. It could be argued that the church
is not the place for this, but the Psalmist wrote, 'I am fearfully and
wonderfully made.' What better place to teach each person how wonderful
they are in the eyes of God?"
"A dear friend of mine in seminary told me, "Don?t let anything take
away who you are and are called to be by God." The church could teach
people this lesson. It could preach and live the vision that all people
actually matter and have a place in the church and the world. Each person
could truly have value and not be just another discard of society."
"The church can also learn to be different and can be a source of
strength for victims and survivors and a source healing for all those
"Imagine if people suffering from abuse could really find solace in the
church. For each person who can gather the strength to break the deafening
silence, the possibility of healing becomes real. With healing, comes the
possibility that abuse can be stopped. When one woman is able to say,
?This chain of violence stops with me,? God?s presence is harkened back
into our hurting world."
"The church can be such a place of healing, or it can be a place where
people are further silenced. The church can refuse to continue being
complacent and silent in the face of abuse. ..."
"The church could lend space and resources to the healing of abused
women, children and men. A first step would be to train pastors about what
to do and who to contact when someone reveals that they are being abused
right at that time. It isn?t in the past, but a very real and present
danger. The pastor should know the local legal and counseling resources
"As a part of being a place of healing, they could offer space where
people could be heard, in private and in public. The church could hear
victims into speech. Victims and survivors could be encouraged to voice
their pain through rituals and worship in the church. The victims and
survivors should always be given the option to write their own material,
but they sometimes need a place to start and pastors sometimes need
resources to offer their parishioners. There are some resources for this
and I?m working to write more. I hope to collaborate with survivors in
order to meet their own needs. "
"Many survivors want the opportunity to speak. Many are dying
(sometimes literally) to speak about the horrors they have suffered and
the church could be a place that hears both male and female survivors
instead of being a place of silence."
"Abuse is the unspeakable silence that must be spoken about if we ever
hope to end its horror. The church has many things to offer the world and
to survivors. This is certainly one more way the church can be a vehicle
to bring God?s peace and love into the world."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
The home page of "One In Three Women?" is at:
Jackie Shaw, "Toward Healing: A struggle to survive sexual abuse and hope
for a better future," 2009-JAN at:
Initial posting: 2009-JAN-28
Latest update: 2009-JAN-28