Help heal the wounds of sexual abuse

“Another one of my little girls!” God said when a little girl was born. “She is fearfully and wonderfully made. My plans are to prosper her and not to harm her, to give her a future and a hope!”

But, during her young life so many things went wrong. Her parents got divorced and her mother met another man with severe drinking and psychological problems. Most of the time he was without work. While her mother was at work, the children were left with him. When she was only four years old the man started to abuse her sexually.

He always waited until late at night, when everyone was sleeping. He made her swear to secrecy, threatening and manipulating her. Sometimes, when her mommy was working, he would chase the other children away so that he could sexually abuse her. She became hard and unemotional. The once innocent, sweet little girl built up a huge amount of hatred and bitterness.

During her final year of school she decided to go live with her biological father. During this time she accepted the Lord Jesus as her personal Savior. Slowly she realised that she needs no longer be in bondage due to all the bad things that happened in her life. She started talking to someone she could trust, sharing her pain and bitterness. But most importantly, she started talking to God, pouring out her heart to him. God restored all the lost years and set her free from bitterness, guilt, rebellion, fear, hate or anger.

She now lives a normal life with her husband and children. Her life is testimony of the amazing healing power of Jesus Christ – our only Hope, our Healer, the only One who can heal us.

This story, but for a few changes, is sadly the story of so many women (and even men) in our society. They foster this dark secret of sexual abuse. Over the years it starts to drain their joy in life. People are often too ashamed or scared to talk about being abused. They try to hide their pain and shame from their loved ones and this can be a very heavy burden for one person to carry.

The sad reality is that sexual abuse won’t just disappear from society.

Sexual abuse occurs in the most humble of homesteads, but also happens to those living in more upmarket neighbourhoods. It happens in places where you least expect it to happen, in the privacy of the homes of “good people”, in schools where children are abused by their educators, in the workplace where bosses take advantage of their positions of authority, and yes, sadly it also happens in parliament and in churches. It happens mostly in the intimate circle of family, relatives or closely related friends and acquaintances. It is as if nobody has real answers as to how to stop this life-destroying act.

What does sexual abuse actually mean?

Sexual abuse is:

when a child, or any other vulnerable person, is exposed to sexual deeds, images or words that can cause emotional or physical damage to the victim.

when sexual deeds are forced onto someone. This includes any deed where the sexual organs or other sensitive parts are penetrated or touched, but also includes acts of sexual exposure, stalking, exposure to pornographic material and even just making sexual gestures or comments.

sexual deeds where the victim is caught up in the abuser’s web of power and deceit.

It most often happens in secret where the victim is imprisoned by feelings of shame, guilt, lies and denial. The sad thing is that other adults often know about the abuse, but are so caught up in their relationship with the abuser that they are too afraid to take charge and do something about it. Although vulnerable adults – eg. a female employee or dependent woman – can be sexually abused, it is mostly children of all ages that are victims of sexual abuse. There is prove that children of all ages, even babies, are sexually abused.

God never intended for young children to be exposed to “adult” sexual activities. If children are exposed to sexual activities at a young age, it creates inner conflict, tension, feelings of guilt and fear that could hamper their development.

These negative feelings manifest itself in the child’s feelings about his/her body image, their acceptance of themselves, their inability to feel safe or to deal with conflict and aggression. They often find it difficult to trust people and build long-term relationships.

Adults that were abused as children often battle to deal with the effects of their abuse for many years. They often experience feelings of guilt, as if they were responsible for their abuse. People who were abused as teenagers are the ones who mostly suffer feelings of guilt. As the teenage years are marked by sexual awakening and the yearning for acceptance, they often feel as if they might have accepted the abuse and even enjoyed it.

Adult abusers have to take sole responsibility for their sexual deeds and the abuse of their power to overstep the sexual boundary between adult and child.

If someone who was abused as a child doesn’t deal with the effects of the abuse and experience inner healing, he/she could become an abuser in adult life. This is luckily not always the case. Abuse can not only be measured by the type of deed committed, but also has to be measured by the impact of the effects of the deed.

The good news is that healing is possible for all victims of sexual abuse. But they have to talk about it in a safe environment where they can be guided and assisted to deal with the pain and shame of their abuse. There are various professional organisations and people who can help victims of sexual abuse. We should also rely on the healing power of our Lord Jesus, to whom we can turn and ask for strength through the Holy Spirit to deal with pain in our lives. God can use this painful event in our lives as a stepping stone for our emotional and spiritual growth . (Romans 8:28)

How can victims of abuse be healed?

To describe the process of healing is not easy. There is no easy fix. Healing can be a complex process because it affects the physical, emotional, spiritual and social aspects of being human. It is a process that takes time, sometimes a long time. The most important steps in the process of healing could perhaps best be described as the opening up of the “wound”, the cleansing of the wound itself and allowing God’s healing hand to heal the pain.

Opening up…

Just as a scab forms on a physical wound, we tend to hide our emotional pain under protective layers. We sometimes do this consciously or often unintentionally. These protective layers may consist of denial, “memory loss”, or actions of bitterness, accusations, secrecy and withdrawal. These protective layers can help us to cope for a while, but cannot help the wound to completely heal itself. Therefore we need assistance to open up the wound. This is an act of bravery and it is painful. The bad memories of our abuse will haunt us as we relive the events of the abuse. If you choose to speak to a professional whom you can trust and who will pay attention to your story, you will be able to reveal your dark secret and learn to deal with it.

You need to bring this injustice and pain to the Lord – He can see deep into your heart. He knows. He understands. He accepts. He forgives. Read Psalm 139.

Cleansing

The wound is cleansed when you are able to see the bad memories in context, when you are able to express your feelings and your emotions. You need to cry and talk about it. Talk to a friend you can trust. Consult a counsellor who has experience in dealing with victims of abuse. It is important to remember to talk to God about all the painful memories and emotions that are part of the events surrounding you being abused. He is the one that takes our pain and suffering upon Him and instead gives us peace and healing. Read Joshua 53.

Healing

The healing of the opened-up, cleansed wound takes time. You need to go through a period of mourning. A period of uncovering all that is buried, when you allow the memories of pain to indulge you, a time where you lay it before God over and over. It is also important that you surround yourself with other believers so that they can pray for you and comfort you with love. The bad memories will not just disappear in the healing process – God does not erase our past – but the negative, destructive emotions that accompany our bad memories will be taken away. You will be able to experience joy again, be yourself, have a positive outlook on life, trust people again and accept yourself as the unique individual you are intended to be. You will be able to explore and enjoy your own sexuality as God intended it. You will be able to forgive yourself and the person who abused you. Remember that the path to complete healing is not an easy one and you might find yourself back in the well of pain and distress. It is important to admit that you are battling to deal with the healing process and therefore have to ask other people to help you. Remember that you are never alone. At the cross of Jesus Christ we are reminded that we are all pardoned sinners whose sins God has forgiven and therefore we should forgive others. (Colossians 3:12-13)

You can now turn these negative events into something positive in your life and the lives of other people. You can perhaps volunteer to help others who experienced the same trauma as you or help communities deal with the trauma of abuse. You can overcome and triumph over the painful wounds caused by abuse and in its place you will be able to experience joy and peace again. This is possible because:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:4-13)

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