In my last post, I wrote about Jesus being the answer to the horrific abuse that goes on in our Anabaptist communities. While I firmly believe that, I also believe that there is much ignorance and silence about it. This is not helping the situation. In fact, I would say that the secrecy, silence, and ignorance is only compounding sexual abuse in conservative communities.
If we are going to stand up and fight for our children, we are going to have to ditch some misconceptions about sexual abuse that are widely believed in our culture. Here are a few of them:
- “Sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our community.”
I’ll admit that when I hear this one, I usually chalk that community up as being infested with sexual abuse. Some Anabaptist communities don’t have as many cases, but it’s safe to say that those communities are in the minority. When people refuse to talk about abuse, (its effects, the symptoms, etc.), it thrives.
- “I was abused as a girl, but it didn’t affect me.”
My heart drops to the floor when someone tells me this or something similar. It is the equivalent of saying “I was run over by a train, but it didn’t hurt me.” The person who makes this statement is in a lot of pain, but doesn’t know it or doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It is hard to say, “I was abused and it hurt.” But we really won’t find healing until we choose to acknowledge the pain.
- “My children will tell me if something like that ever happens to them.”
Really? I hope so. I really do. It’s just that it doesn’t often happen right after the incident. Sometimes it takes years until the incident is disclosed. There are many reasons for this. Often, a perpetrator will use threats to get a child to be silent. (“If you tell anybody about this, I’ll hurt your mom.” Or “It’ll be worse for you next time if you tell anybody what happened.”) Sometimes the child simply blocks the memory. This is especially true in young children but does happen to adults too. If you have a bad car accident, you may not remember it at all for years. It’s the same way with abuse. That is why it is so important for parents, school teachers, ministers, etc., to know the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse.
- “But that was just curiosity.”
Children are curious. They explore themselves. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about performing sexual acts on themselves or with dolls, playmates, etc. Children imitate what they’ve seen or experienced. They do not come up with sexual acts on their own.
- “My children are safe because they don’t have contact with registered sex offenders or kidnappers.”
Teaching your children about “stranger danger” is good. But the problem is that 90% of children who’ve been abused know and at one time trusted their abusers. Only 10% were kidnapped or did not know their perpetrator previous to the abuse.
- “Children lose their innocence when they learn about their bodies and reproduction.”
May I be blunt? Ignorance is not innocence. Ignorant children are a perpetrator’s dream. “Innocence” has more to with how the child finds out what they know about the “facts of life” than with what they know. Parents, if you don’t teach your children about their bodies when they are young, they will find out in other ways. Knowing appropriate names for their body parts at two years old is not too young. Teach them what to do in a bad situation. Simply saying “Keep your dress down,” does no good when the girl is forced to. Do you want to be in charge of your child’s sex education or would you rather hand that responsibility to an older cousin?
- “I want to protect my girls.”
Dear mama, I admire you for this. But please don’t protect only your girls. Many, many little boys are being used and abused in horrible ways. Watch and protect them too, please.
- “But…women and children don’t abuse children, do they?”
I wish I could say, “No.” The truth is, not only men/boys abuse children. Anyone who has been abused has the potential to become a perpetrator. This is true for men and women of all ages. Children who’ve been abused themselves will often abuse other children without realizing what they are doing. Hurt people hurt other people. And so the abuse cycle continues to wreck lives.
- “Children lie about sexual abuse sometimes.”
No. Don’t go there. Children do not have the sexual knowledge needed to fabricate a false story involving sexual abuse. They may not get all the details right (place, person, etc.) due to mind blocks or disassociation when they disclose an experience. But that does not mean that their story isn’t true or shouldn’t be believed.
- “She/He says they liked it. So it wasn’t abuse.”
Wrong. God made our bodies to respond sexually. A child’s is no exception. Just because a child “liked” it doesn’t mean it wasn’t abuse. ANYTHING that is done to a minor or person who cannot/does not consent for the sake of another’s sexual pleasure is considered abuse. This includes much more than “just” rape. Touching over and under clothes, exposing a child’s body, exposing a child to porn or adult nakedness, forcing a child to perform sexual acts such as oral sex, making sexual comments to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration all falls under sexual abuse.
In conclusion, if we as Conservative Anabaptists want to make a dent in the horrific epidemic of sexual abuse that plagues our communities, we are going to have to dig our heads out of the sand. We are going to have to talk about hard things with our children. The silence and ignorance only cultivates a culture of secrets. We are going to have to do things differently than they’ve been done previously.
Let’s start by dispelling these myths that are engrained in our culture. Not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren. May God help us.