Discipling People Who Have Been Sexually Abused

These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.


In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life

WHAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE?

Being sexually abused is one of the most devastating experiences a person can go through. In children, it is the act of forcing someone under the age of 18 to engage in sexual activity to which they cannot give their informed consent. This might involve forcing them (or manipulating them) to watch pornography, to stimulate an adult or to have full intercourse.  In adults, sexual crime can range from sexual assault (where a perpetrator touches someone inappropriately) through to rape (full intercourse against the will of the victim). Rape can be committed by a stranger, a friend or even a spouse. While girls and women are usually the victims of sexual crimes, men too experience this horrendous pain.

HOW DOES SEXUAL ABUSE AFFECT A PERSON?

Someone who has been sexually abused has been violated. Survivors can often feel the world is out of control, that they are worthless and unlovable and that the abuse must have been their fault (this is false guilt). They may feel dirty and assume they can never be clean. They may think other people cannot be trusted – especially people in authority.

Those who have been abused will often struggle with anxiety, depression, addictions or self-harm. A few will experience “flashbacks” where they relive the traumatic events. Many struggle with sex and relationships later in life: some may become promiscuous because they feel worthless, others will avoid sex because it has been painful in the past, a few may begin to question their sexual preferences because they never again want to sleep with someone of the same gender as their abuser.

They may also struggle to relate to God. If their abuser was their dad, they might struggle to call God, “Father”. They might find it hard to accept that God loves them or could see them as acceptable. They may find it hard to understand what love is. They may struggle with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty because they don’t want anyone to have control over their life. They might be angry with God because he didn’t step in and stop the abuse.

HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED?

Listen to their story – help them know they don’t have to keep the past a secret

Say that you believe them and that God knows their past too (Psalm 139)

Ask if they want to report the abuse (it is essential to report ongoing child abuse)

Help them understand that God is angered by abuse (Amos 2)

Help them to know that they can run to God safely when life feels hard (Psalm 46)

Help them to trust God and to know it’s good to live under his authority (Proverbs 3)

Help them to see themselves as God sees them (Ephesians 1)

Help them see that their relationship with God is secure (Ephesians 2)

Gently help them to begin to forgive their abuser (in the power of the Spirit), acknowledging this may take many years and emphasising forgiveness does not mean allowing their abuser to hurt them again

Help them to live in light of the future rather than the past (1 Thessalonians 5)

Help them to remember life will be perfect one day and justice done (Revelation 21)

Ask if they would like to meet with a biblical counsellor who can help

FURTHER READING

Recovering from Child Abuse by David Powlison (New Growth Press)

More about the author :

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne