This post is written to tie in with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week in the UK, which is 5th-11th February.
The tagline says “It’s not ok.”
Surely we all know that.
In some ways it seems surprising that an awareness week is necessary. It seems that reports of sexual abuse and sexual violence have never been out of the news over the last year. Surely we’re all aware…
And yet I think many people are still living in denial, thinking this is something that affects other people, but not them or their community. It’s not something they want to talk about or think about. I’ve been surprised at the reaction when I have tried to raise the topic recently in a couple of different contexts with people involved in working with teenagers: a reluctance to discuss it, and in some cases a failure even to see the need for such a discussion.
It’s not ok.
It’s not ok if we are not discussing something that affects so many people. (Studies estimate between 1 in 5 and 1 in 20 people: really it’s impossible to say because so much abuse is never reported, but either way it is a lot of people.)
It’s not ok if survivors are still left feeling ashamed of their stories and fearing the reaction if they speak up.
It’s not ok if we are not doing everything possible to protect our children and to care for those who have suffered.
As I was considering this post I wasn’t sure what to say. Honestly, it’s not really what I want to write about today. I’d prefer to write something more positive and uplifting, but I felt it was a topic I had to tackle and that saying nothing was not ok, so here are a few reflections:
God says, “It’s not ok”
- In Genesis 34, we find the story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah being raped by a man called Shechem. Throughout most of Genesis, events are related without any form of commentary or judgement about whether the actions were good or bad, but here there is a clear verdict: “Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob’s family, something that should never be done.” (Genesis 34:7 NLT)
- While Jesus doesn’t talk specifically about sexual abuse, he does talk about the value of children and the importance of treating them well. Calling a little child to him, he warns the crowd, “Whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me–it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!” (Matthew 18:6 HCSB)
- In 1 Thessalonians, Paul urges the church to avoid sexual sin and impresses upon them that it is something God takes seriously: “the Lord is the avenger in all these things.” (1 Thessalonians 4:6 NASB)
We should say, “It’s not ok,” with our words AND our actions.
When we do, it is powerful.
About five years ago, there was a situation in a youth organisation I was involved in where an employee was convicted of possessing pornographic images of children.
It was horrible to think about, but I was so proud of how the organisation dealt with it and, as I considered the facts, I realised that they had done absolutely everything possible to protect children at their events and their policies meant that the chances of anything happening there were almost zero. (There was no suggestion that anything did happen there, but obviously it was a concern.)
From police checks for all employees and volunteers, to excellent levels of supervision and a clear child protection policy which was reinforced regularly, everything possible was in place to minimise the risk to children.
What’s more, the fact that it had been the organisation that reported this man to the police, as soon as the images were discovered, gave me great confidence in them. The message came across loud and clear that child protection was something they took seriously. Even their critics could find no fault in their response because they dealt with it so well and the feared media backlash against the organisation never happened.
Forgiveness is important, but it doesn’t mean it’s ok.
I’m sure many of you have been following news reports about the trial of USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was convicted on several counts of sexual abuse, and about Rachael Denhollander’s impact statement in which she forgave him and pointed him to Christ. If you haven’t, I encourage you to read her statement here.
I also encourage you to read this interview in Christianity Today where she shares more about how forgiveness and justice are both parts of the Gospel and they both go hand in hand- that forgiveness is not excusing what happened or saying it’s ok. She also reflects more on the church’s response to situations of abuse.
“One of the areas where Christians don’t do well is in acknowledging the devastation of the wound. We can tend to gloss over the devastation of any kind of suffering, but especially sexual assault, with Christian platitudes, like God works all things together for good, or God is sovereign. Those are very good and glorious biblical truths, but when they are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.”
The darkness is dark, but God’s light is stronger. The pain is great, but God’s power to heal is even greater. It’s not ok, but there is hope.
If you or someone you love have been affected by sexual abuse, I encourage you to check out Crystal Sutherland’s book “Journey To Heal”- details at Crystal’s website.
You may also like the series 30 Days of Truth by Michelle Viscuse in which she shares 30 biblical truths and how they helped in her healing from sexual abuse.