Secular Sunday: Sexual Abuse & Victim Blaming in Religious Communities
TW for Sexual Abuse + Victim Blaming.
I am absolutely disgusted with the hiding of sexual abuse within religious organizations and institutions, and the victim blaming. I’ll be focusing on Evangelical Christianity in this post, because that is the cases that have come up for me lately, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in other religions (e.g., Catholicism, other variants of Christianity, Islam, etc.).
- Christianity Today Publishes a Rapist’s Story + That’s Not Good Enough, Christianity Today
- The Other Stories
- When Evangelicalism Make Things Easy for Sexual Offenders – and Hard for Their Victims
- Business as Usual for IBLP
- Evangelical Narratives, Sexual Predators, and Safe Places
Sexual abuse happens everywhere, and we need to take every step possible to prevent it from happening and to empower victims to speak up about the abuse. What makes me extra mad about these cases though, is the amount of victim blaming that is happening. No one is taking actual responsibility for the abuse that happens. Frequently the abuser quickly “repents” and is welcomed back with open arms – while the victim of the abuse, or the abuser’s family are left being blamed for not forgiving quickly enough or told that they need to repent for “their part” of the “sin”. How sick is it to blame a minor for the sexual abuse committed against them by an adult, someone whom they were taught to look up to and respect? Here are the words of a woman who was married to an abuser:
Through this whole process, I learned that much is required of those victimized, while little is asked of sex offenders. When my husband began to spin his story, it was received with affirmations of how courageous he was. He was even placed on the worship team within a few months of his confessions.
In contrast, I was expected to never be angry, bitter, or wrestle with forgiveness. I needed to heal quickly and quietly. And, of course, I couldn’t ever question his “recovery.” His was a wondrous redemption story, and to question his trustworthiness was to question God’s work in his life.
Sexual abusers are not owed forgiveness and certainly not from their victim. Victims of abuse have a right to be angry, they have a right to be mad and confused and to not want to forgive. Especially when perpetrators frequently get off with almost no consequences – and are frequently celebrated for being so “brave” and for “repenting”, while the victim is still struggling with the aftermath of the abuse.
Victims of abuse need to be supported, not shamed or pressured into forgiving their abusers. They need to be given the tools and the support from professionals to deal with the abuse – not be asked what their “part” in the sin was. Sexual abuse needs to be called just that. Abuse. Rape. Sexual Assault. Not “adultery”, which can only take place among consenting adults.
There are Evangelical organizations, such as GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) out there who fight against child sexual abuse, but frequently they are ignored and kept out. Which just goes to show how little most evangelical churches care about actually fighting sexual abuse. Much better to close your eyes and pretend nothing is happening while preaching forgiveness and “all sin is equal”.
To reiterate, I am well aware that sexual abuse happens within all religions and ideologies (including Atheism). What I find so troubling about these events is the use of Christianity and the Bible to protect the abusers and hurt the victims of the abuse. I hope other Christians can see how troubling this is, and will help take steps to prevent abuse and to support the victims rather than the abuser.
While I definitely find this type of Christianity despicable and disgusting, and I would feel the same way about a god who endorsed such behaviour, that is not why I am an Atheist. I’m not an Atheist because I am “angry” at a(ny) god(s) over evils in the world, but because I don’t believe in the existence of god(s).
This is what victims of sexual abuse really need, according to one child victim:
Save all of us victims of child abuse the “all sins are the same” or “he needs love and compassion and grace.”
All sins do not have the same damn repercussions as others.
All sins do not leave young youth with bitter views of church and its congregations.
All sins do not leave the sinner in jail and the victim in therapy, and sometimes hospitals because of suicidal tendencies.
All sins do not leave young girls with a fear of authority figures.
While you stand on your boat of misguided love, compassion and grace for the child molester, the child is fighting the tidal waves of guilt and shame out alone in the ocean.
You extend love and grace to the abuser by praying for his soul while he sits where he belongs — in jail, not ministry or out roaming free, looking for his next prey.
You extend love to the first inheritors of the kingdom by speech, support, belief, and protection. You extend love to the victims of child sex abuse by the simple words, “I believe you, and I am so sorry. You did not deserve what was done to you, and you are not guilty in this.”
Lest you be another to hang a millstone on a child’s neck.