What We Long for the Church to Know about Sexual Violence

Abuse can skew more than just a survivor’s relationship with the church.

Papers, crayons, vanilla wafers, and juice. Toys, toys, and more toys. Brightly-colored flannel-graph Adam and Eve figures hiding behind bushes. Banners hanging on the walls which read: “Scars of love: He bore your pain” and “Jesus loves the little children.” Musical crescendos, quiet prayers, stirring sermons, bread and wine, kneeling, reciting Scripture, raising hands.

These religious images and experiences convey comforting considerations for some, but for others they are haunting reminders of being sexually violated by individuals who represent God (Schultz & Estabrook, 2012).

As mental health clinicians, we have collectively listened to thousands of stories of sexual violence in the lives of women, men, adolescents, and children we have counseled. These violations include a wide array of nonconsensual sexual acts such as rape, child sexual abuse, incest, intimate partner sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual innuendos, unwanted sexual contact, and trafficking.

Moreover, many of these egregious forms of trauma have been carried out by every imaginable kind of trusted individual from inside and outside the church.

Journeying with individuals as they share these stories is a sacred privilege. Over the years, we have gleaned much wisdom from brave individuals who have dared to share their anguish with us.

First and foremost, we have witnessed that no two survivors of sexual violence are impacted in the same way, or to the same extent. Nor can individuals be reduced to the violations and evils that have been done to them.

Survivors of sexual violence have taught us that they have encountered wounds and express strength. They have suffered from posttraumatic stress and recount experiences of posttraumatic …

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