Vickie Hodges, Pearland, TX – The steps to take in helping and ministering to sexual assault victims include providing a safe environment − physically, socially and emotionally; asking the victims what they hope to achieve from the help they receive; praying for them; being an active listener; and assessing if the victims have entered the journey of emotional healing and the stage/cycle of their journey.
Victims aren’t comfortable with going through emotional, uncharted territory until they understand the stages/cycles and feel relaxed, safe and trusting. Some challenges they experience may include anger toward God and the perpetrator, unforgiveness, lack of trust, shame, guilt and feeling unworthy.
I usually recommend Christian or faith-based counseling because true recovery and healing begins from the inside out. There is a need for more trained people to help victims like these.
Resource recommendations are Healing for Damaged Emotions by David Seamands and Neuroplasticity by Timothy Keller.
Ryan Bundren, Waynesboro, TN – Maintain confidentiality unless you’re required by law to report it. Sexual assault is defined as unwelcome physical, verbal or emotional advances by a perpetrator toward a victim. Be empathetic, but don’t try to fix them. Affirm them as a child made in the image of God. Confront the idea of the shamed self. Victims often blame themselves and believe they are damaged goods. Unwelcome sexual activity is caused by the perpetrator. A physical, sexual response to assault in the victim does not determine consent.
Encourage moving from a victim mentality to a survivor mentality. Abuse and assault have defined their identity. When a perpetrator is of the opposite sex, the victim can resent the opposite sex and direct their sexual orientation toward homosexual relationships. They may seek to hide any attractive traits they feel made them a target.
Justice provided by the criminal justice system doesn’t heal the victim. Programs like Celebrate Recovery, counseling and support groups are good. I recommend these resources: The Wounded Heart and Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender, The Quick Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling by Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins, and Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse: A Sensitive Biblical Guide for Counselors, Victims and Families by Lynn Heitritter and Jeanette Vought.
Laura E. Aranda, Orange, TX – The topic of healing and ministering to the spiritual wounds of sexually abused survivors is vital in our churches across America. Being willing to talk about this crisis is encouraging, because these things have been swept under the rug for so long. The church must be a safe, patient place for survivors to trust enough to open up and begin the healing process. And we must educate our youth and singles adequately.
Unique spiritual challenges are breathtakingly profound for victims, especially if sexual abuse happened while they were part of a church or the abuse was inflicted by a church authority leader. Abuse shatters their identity. How can they worship and love a God they don’t know or trust? And prostitution, psychological disorders and suicidal tendencies are common problems among adults who were sexually abused as a child. These victims often struggle with low self- esteem and self-worth, regardless of age. Many find it difficult to feel the influence of God’s healing touch and a nurturing church family. We must address these issues with compassion and wisdom. Teach them that prayer is the outlet for their emotions and share psalms for when words are not enough.
I do recommend professional counseling. These victims have experienced much loss. Crisis intervention needs to take place. There has been a loss of innocence, trust, safety and of control over their body. A resource I recommend is God and the Victim: Theological Reflections on Evil, Victimization, Justice and Forgiveness by Lisa Barnes Lampman.
Sheri Burkett, Fort Worth, TX – When a sexually assaulted person comes to me, I make sure my presence is a safe environment for them. I validate them, accept what they are feeling, try to understand them and nurture them. Sexual abuse victims struggle with feeling loved unconditionally, because they feel unworthy.
As a victim myself, I tried professional counseling. It didn’t make a difference until one of my caretakers told me my perpetrator tried to take his life. I felt responsible. When I told the counselor, he really scolded my caretaker. For the first time, I felt like someone was fighting for me. Traumatic events invoke strong emotions, and those emotions grow tentacles that touch many areas of the victims’ lives. Getting them to believe that beauty can come from their life is the first obstacle. Jesus gives beauty for ashes.
I recommend The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero, Understanding Sexual Abuse by Tim Hein and Debra Hirsch, and The Transformation of the Inner Man by John and Paula Sandford.
Jessica Wardwell, Carmel, IN – When someone tells me they are struggling spiritually because of sexual abuse, I try not to address the struggle before acknowledging their pain. Show them you hurt for them and encourage them to share their story. Reassure them there was nothing they did to deserve being violated. This lays the groundwork for everything else.
Learning to navigate through the emotions that come with abuse is vital. Professional counseling is only successful when a counselor won’t contradict Biblical principles but implements them during therapy sessions.
Sexual abuse is challenging because it’s a very intimate subject. There are many barriers to break through, and the need to grieve is necessary to heal. Through encouragement and prayer, they will heal and become a testimony of the restorative power of God.
Lynda Doty, Fresno, CA – Prayer is a first in helping and ministering to sexual assault victims. The shame they carry can lead them to be ashamed before God, and that opens up other issues. As an Apostolic counselor with a track record of success, I do not recommend professional counselors. I don’t find this more challenging than any other problem, because the Word of God contains all the answers to every problem. It’s more than just saying a prayer and reading Bible verses. It takes digging into the Word, allowing it to bathe our souls with wholeness. His Word heals (Psalm 107:20.)