According to MedicalDaily, 500,000 babies born in the United States this year will be sexually abused before they become of legal age. That’s 8 to 20 percent of children and it is estimated that two thirds of sexual abuse incidents are not reported. Kids who have been sexually abused also have a 1000 percent increased risk of being abused again. I was talking with a friend recently about sexual abuse and she mentioned that it’s highly likely that if a perpetrator knows that a child has already been abused by someone else, it makes it easier to abuse that child again. She said it’s as if that adult feels the child is “used goods” and “grown up” and, therefore, permitted to abuse the child.
Can you imagine what it’s like being that child? She grows up and hears as an adult that she was abused a second time because she was viewed as “used goods” and “grown up” at 7 or 8 or 9 years old. How can she process that or make sense of it?
“Recovery—learning not to live based on the fear—must also occur in the context of relationship. It cannot occur in isolation. It is important to understand that you cannot figure out relationships by yourself. We learn about relationships in relationships.”-Diane Langberg
Sexual abuse devastates the ability to cope and understand the world. Relationships were broken, very broken and distorted. Roles were confused and sexually abused children may grown up in ways that just by the very nature and natural repercussions of the abuse, isolate them. It’s as if the victim is expected to grow and mature in a world she can’t possible understand on her own, not without much support over a long period of time.
Most of her relational skills were learned in the context of abuse. Speaking up, learning to say no, handling conflict, not assuming everyone thinks about her the way her abuser did, asking questions, and learning how to recognize ‘safe’ people are all skills the survivor will have to learn.-Diane Langberg
Last summer, as I was sitting at a beach house with a friend, we discussed the process of learning. Learning takes time. It takes endurance. Mostly, it takes practice and patience on the side of the one learning and the one teaching. Adults who were abused as children have to relearn relational skills from a whole new place, a place of healing. Often they are learning such basic tasks and relational skills that 2 or 3 or 4 year olds are learning. They are learning the ability to use their own voice. Making a choice of activities can be an intense and loaded emotional process. Asking questions and handling conflict are not skills that are adequately developed, if developed at all.
Adults who were abused as children feel an intense pressure to always say what’s “expected” of them to say, to know what to do before they are asked to do something, to make a choice or decision based on what they perceive the other person would prefer they choose. It’s a lot of work. It’s exhausting. There’s very few thoughts that there could be life or freedom beyond this. To an abuse survivor, this is all she knows. The idea of saying “no” to someone rarely, if ever, crosses her mind. It’s an ingrained and learned response that she has “little value”, is “used goods”, is not worth fighting for, and should receive only what she is given, that she deserves what she has been given. Her body is not her own. Therefore her life is not her own.
Isolation was a core component of the abuse. Connection or relationship is a core component of recovery-Diane Langberg
The mental burden placed on the child from the shear act(s) of sexual abuse is too much for her to understand and make sense of. Add on the manipulation and fear that she is told from the perpetrator(s) about what could happen to her/family/stability, etc. and the added weight of names she may have been referred as during the abuse time and factors such as the type of relationship she had with the perpetrator would overwhelm an adult, let alone a child who has been isolated physically and also emotionally and mentally. She just can not contain such devastation in her mind. This is a leading factor in why adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse may carry depression and other mental health challenges into their adult life.
Connection, intimate connection with others who are willing to wait for them and help them, is a crucial component of restoration. Adults who were abused as children had their dignity destroyed. As an adult, she may feel distant from others, not able to keep up with such relational ease as non abused children and adults can. Making decisions is hard. It takes time and often abuse survivors need help to process small decisions first until they can begin making bigger decisions with some ease. The process of learning is both longer as an adult and also socially not welcomed. We destroy the dignity of others when we refuse to wait for them. We bestow honor on another when we consider him or her worth waiting for. But waiting is hard.
Just yesterday I was sitting with a friend at an ice cream shop. We had just received some devastating but could be wonderful news about a child. I felt all mixed up. I told her I can’t believe in the same form of sovereignty of God that some of my friends do. I told her I want more from God. I want to know, have to know that just because abuse happens doesn’t mean that God willed, or even allowed it. There has to be more stake in the human choice component than the calvinistic approach I’ve always leaned into.
I just can not make sense of a God who allows abuse (and I can’t believe God would will it). I have to believe that humans, we, have the capacity of choice. I can not agree that just because we make choices and intricate pieces in our future work out or don’t work out how we’d like, that they are a part or out of “god’s sovereign plan”. This mode of thought can be devastating to abuse survivors. Abuse wasn’t God’s sovereign plan.
I want more from God. I don’t want to live on a fishing expedition of looking for ways to prove that “this or that” was God’s “sovereign plan or will”. I don’t know how to connect sovereignty with God and with abuse. Just because a child victim of abuse grows into adulthood and is mostly normal by external circumstances and has made huge steps in recovering from abuse, and just because what was used to destroy her are now the very same nourishment she gives to feed hope into others, doesn’t mean God willed or planned this life for her. Just because something works out doesn’t mean it was sovereign.
Sovereignty is a hard issue when it comes to abuse. I can barely grapple with it, especially with child victims of any abuse. But I know I want more from God. I want justice from God. I want a God who rescues and redeems abuse. I want a God who heard the cries of a little girl, who weeps over the devastation and fights for her as she’s fighting to learn and learning she’s worth fighting for and worth waiting for. I want a God who’s waiting with her on the hard days and breathing hope and solidarity into her lungs. That’s the kind of God I can and do love.
To read more about counseling & sexual abuse, check out Diane Langbergs books: