I saw a hashtag on Twitter this week about why people who have been sexually abused might choose not to report it. What I read burdened me, and so I wrote this note. Tragically, there are too many who will read this and be able to relate to it.
I have to admit: This has hit me like a hard slap in the face.
I read the tweet from Beth Moore, the one that included #whyIDidntReport. It was a simple tweet. One sentence, actually: “Because he lived in my house.”
And when I read it, the hard slap was quickly followed by profound sadness.
You and I both know what prompted the new hashtag. It was the charges against a nominee for the Supreme Court. Charges that when he was 17 years old he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old at a party. But politics aside, the tens of thousands of victims of sexual assault, just like you, who used the hashtag this week shared candidly why they never spoke up about their abuse. And each tweet was heart wrenching.
“I thought… that it was my fault. I was embarrassed and ashamed of being stupid enough to trust him.” #whyIdidntreport
“I was molested at 8 by a school janitor, frightened to silence, gang raped at 18 by 2 boys at a party, I… blamed myself, I felt shame. My parents never knew. I told my daughters 5 years ago, when I was 60. It took courage to tell even then.” #whyIdidntreport
“They would tell me it was my fault.
I was ashamed and embarrassed.
I should have known better.
I am too smart to end up in that situation. They wouldn’t believe me.
It would make me look bad.” #whyIdidntreport
“It’s been over 30 yrs. Still not ready to talk about it.” #whyIdidntreport
The stream of tweets kept coming. And I kept thinking about how each of them was written by a person just like you, someone created in the image of God who had experienced a horrible wrong done against them.
I’ve often heard Dennis Rainey say that sexual abuse is one of the hardest stones the devil can throw at a human being. He’s right. Because our sexuality is sacred and defining.
When you experienced your sexual abuse, it left a scar on your soul. It had to.
I know you’ve grown up in a culture that has tried for years to make sex common. To cheapen and devalue it. You’ve been told that casual sex is a pleasure to enjoy with no lasting consequences. And you may have even had people suggest to you that sexual assault is something you should just shake off.
But with your hashtag, you and thousands of women are bearing witness to the reality that by God’s design, your sexuality is in fact a holy and profound part of who you are. Who each one of us is.
I talked over the weekend with a friend who experienced sexual abuse twice, once as a child and again as a teenager. The first time it happened, her abuser was a neighbor. The second time, it was a family friend. For decades, my friend never talked to anyone about the abuse, except for her husband. I asked her why she had kept silent for so long.
“I never even thought about telling anyone,” she told me.
“Not even your mother?”
“We really didn’t have that kind of a relationship,” she said. “We didn’t talk about those kinds of things.”
I hope your hashtag is reminding moms and dads how important it is for them to have “that kind of relationship” with their daughters and their sons. To open the doors of communication wide, so that conversations about sex and abuse can happen. I hope parents will start early teaching their children about God’s wonderful gift of sex and His design for it to one day bless their marital union.
I thought back this weekend on a conversation I had long ago with author Dr. Dan Allender. I asked him what percentage of adults in our culture have experienced childhood sexual abuse. As you know, because abuse often goes unreported, the statistics are hard to document. But he told me that depending on how you define it, the number who have experienced abuse is somewhere between 30 percent and 70 percent.
You are one of those abuse victims. And I am saddened by that.
I’ll think about this the next time I’m in church. The conservative estimate is that roughly one in three women sitting around me has a scar on her soul just like yours. And it’s quite possible that she, like you, has never felt safe enough to share her story with anyone. I hope this cultural moment will give her courage to open up about her pain.
Where was God?
I’m sure your experience of abuse has left you wondering about the reality of God’s providential care for His children. It’s natural to have questions or doubts about God’s goodness when we face the age-old question about how a good and loving God—who we are told is our Shield, our Fortress, and our Defender—would allow any of His children to experience this kind of violation. Abuse like you’ve experienced can easily cause someone to question God’s very existence.
It’s one thing to wrestle with these kinds of questions as a theological construct. It’s another thing altogether to find yourself wondering where the God who declares that His steadfast love endures forever was when you were being assaulted.
I will not try to placate you with bumper-sticker answers. When Job pressed God for answers in the face of his own grief, God did not explain Himself. After Job had vented and cried out, God took a deep breath and answered him out of the whirlwind, not with an answer, but with a question of His own: “Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?”
At the core, the issue you have to come to grips with is whether the profound abuse you experienced is so powerful that it overrules anything else you have ever read or experienced or believed is true about God. Is your pain so great that it invalidates all the rest of what you have ever known or believed?
I don’t think it’s by accident that God has arranged our Bibles so that the book of Psalms follows the book of Job. Job never got answers to the questions he had for God about despair and grief.
But God has given you and me language to use for expressing our pain and fears and doubts as an act of reverence and worship for Him. He invites us to cry out to Him with our pain.
The sorrow can last for a long night, but God’s promise is that a day of joy is ahead. As you bring your grief to God, the afflictions you have experienced will produce in you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
My hope is that you will not allow the pain you’ve endured for years to turn into bitterness or despair or hopelessness. The same evil that was behind the abuse you experienced is now at work to pick at your scars and infect them with anger and rage that could ultimately destroy you. Resist him. Shield yourself with faith.
I am deeply sorry for the pain you have carried in your soul for so many years. We live in a sin-sick world where people have increasingly turned away from their Creator and chosen to go their own way. The bitter fruit that has set your teeth on edge came from seeds that were planted long ago.
Jesus is deeply sorry for your pain as well. It’s true He could have stopped it, and He didn’t. I can’t tell you why He didn’t. No one can.
But I can tell you that He gave His life to fix it. He died so that all the wrongs of this life will be made right. He died so your tears will one day be dried and your darkness will end forever.
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