Tonight I am going to be talking about violence against women. There is a tremendous amount of violence against women all over the world and in many countries it is much worse than it is in America. But today I am going to be focusing primarily violence in our culture, these United States of American.
This is a difficult topic to talk about. And before I start I want you to know that I come to you tonight not as research scientist–this is not my area of study–but as a Christian women who has a passion to see people touched by God and healed. I first became aware of the devastating affect of abuse while praying for people for healing. So many people, both men and women have been abused in some way and all of them, myself included, need the healing touch of God.
I am a big fan of traditional therapy, but over the years I have become convinced that therapy is limited in what it can do. It lets us know that we are not alone–that other people have had similar experiences–it give us a safe place to work through our pain, and it can help us see the connection between our destructive behavior and our wounds. But only God can heal our hearts. Only God can change us. People say that time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t. In my experience, when painful memories come back they do so with all the intensity of the original wounding. So I come to you tonight as a women who has listened the heartbreaking stories of hundreds of people who have been abuse or assaulted, and have prayed that God would heal their broken hearts.
Violence against women is a major problem in our culture, a problem that is often hidden and unspoken. Just this week a woman in her seventies told me that when she was little, men felt that they were entitle to do as they pleased with girls and women. And a woman had no recourse. I think that in many ways some things have improved. Now there are hotlines. There is Child Protective Services. Many teachers now watch for signs of abuse. Now if a man harasses you, you have some recourse and no one tries to tell you that you should be flattered if a man is harassing you.
But violence is still a major problem in our country–for both men and women. Boys and men experience violence, too, and I have heard many stories of little boys being raped and the devastating affect that has had on their lives, but statistically most victims of violence, particularly sexual assault are female.
The Department of Justice has estimated that three out of four victims of childhood sexual abuse are female. And that only covers what happens during childhood. It leaves out all ways that women are assaulted after the age of 18, all the ways that women are vulnerable because they are typically smaller then men and have been taught not to fight back. All the ways that men can demean women by treated them as if they are only a body to be used for their pleasure.
Let me start today by giving you a few statistics:
There are thousands of studies out there. From what we see we know that most victims are children or teenagers.
One study said that two-thirds of abuse victims were under the age of 18;
A third were under the age of 12; and 14% were under the tender age of 6.
In another study, half of the women who reported they had been raped during 1992 were under 18 years old, and 16 percent were younger than 12.
Sometimes the perpetrator is another child. Forty percent of those who abused children under the age of six, were children themselves. I still remember the pain of having to report a young girl, a third grader who abused another child in our neighborhood in California. Both girls–the perpetrator and the victim were members of my after-school Bible Club. I was trying to reach out to the perpetrator, this little third grader, but when victim told what had happened, I had to go to the police and report the abuse. The police took the perpetrator out of elementary school to interview her, and called me to report that they had learned that she was being molested by her grandfather. The police asked me if I want to be kept informed as this went to trial but I was so shaken, so distraught that I said, no. I really didn’t want to know.
Children who are abused sometimes abuse others.
I remember one woman telling me about how her uncle would tie her to the bed and rape her in the middle of the night. One night, she said, her aunt came in and when she saw what was going on, she blamed–not her husband–not the adult, but my friend, even though she was only twelve or thirteen at the time. She was accused of coming after her aunt’s “man.”
My friend swore that she would never hurt anyone the way she had been hurt, yet one day, she did. One day while she was babysitting a toddler, she was feeling depressed and thinking about her own abuse, and she inexplicably molested the toddler. She was so devastated by her behavior that she wanted to kill herself. It can be a viscous cycle.
Most children who are abused know their attacker: In two different studies, between 90 and 96 percent of the female rape victims younger than 12 years old knew their attackers, and of those twenty percent were victimized by their fathers
Among older victims–your age group–18 to 29 years old, two-thirds of the rape victims had a prior relationship with the rapist.
The abuse often takes place in a home. In one study 60 percent said they were raped or sexually assaulted in their home or at the home of a friend, relative or neighbor.
In 1988, the National Institute of Mental Health said that “The typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children, most of who do not report the offence.”
It is estimated that in 1993 there were 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today. Back then that was about 1 in 4. I am guessing, but I bet there are even more today simply because the population of America is greater today.
So this is a very prevalent, very common problem. If you have not been abused, you are very very fortunate.
How does this abuse affect people?
First of all, many people who are abused rarely talk about it. In one study, researches found that 42 percent of the women who had been assaulted said that they had never disclosed the experience to anyone.
Well, first of all, being abused impairs your ability to trust other people, making it hard to open up.
Children often fail to report abuse because of they fear that disclosure will bring consequences that are even worse than being victimized again. The victim may fear consequences from the family: “Mommy will blame me.” Or they are worried about what will happen to the perpetrator: “What will happen to my family if daddy is put in jail?” Or they may fear the perpetrator: “He said he would kill my mother if I told.”
This is becomes all the more twisted when the perpetrator is someone they know. If they tell mom my older brother is molesting me, it will break her heart. So they endure. One grown women told me her brother molested her repeatedly and in her late twenties, she still has not found the courage to tell her parents. What made this so tragic is that now the brother has a little girl. I tried to appeal to her once, “What if he goes after his daughter?” But she refused to say anything to anyone who had the power to help.
It is very hard to open up.
Another reason victims are reluctant to tell anyone what is happening to them is that they may be embarrassed. I was present once when a police detective interviewed a little girl of eight, a victim of abuse. She was so embarrassed that her cheeks were flaming red and the detective as gentle and kind as one could want, he was truly amazing in extracting the information from her, but I could tell that talking about it was excruciating for this little girl.
Victims often feel that “something is wrong with me,” and that the abuse is their fault, so they don’t want to talk about. The shame they feel can be overwhelming. So they bury it.
Abuse survivors often wrestle with fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility. They can feel betrayed and furious with parents and other family members, and wonder why didn’t they protect me? The walls of their soul have been broken down. Some become withdrawn while others engage in inappropriate sexual behavior with others and have a hard time setting limits. They may become sexually active at a very young age. They suffer from poor self-esteem, a tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships.
They also struggle with guilt. The guilt can be worse if they experienced sexual pleasure during the abuse.
In addition to “sexual guilt,” there are several other types of guilt associated with abuse, which include feeling different from their peers, harboring vengeful and angry feelings toward their parents, feeling responsible for the abuse, feeling guilty about reporting the abuse, and bringing disloyalty and disruption to the family . Any of these feelings of guilt make it harder for the victim to report what has happened, so the secret remains intact and undisclosed.
Being sexually abused interferes with healthy development. Abuse survivors have a hard time developing healthy attitudes toward themselves, their sexuality and relationships during the critical early years of development.
Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection.
Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood, than girls who are not sexually abused.
Indeed 95% of teenage prostitutes report that they were sexually abused as children.
People who were sexual or physical abuse are more likely to have eating disorders, such as bulimia.
People who were abused and neglected in childhood are more likely to become involved in criminal behavior, including violent crime, later in life.
Many women and men who have been subjected to severe physical or sexual abuse during childhood can suffer from long-term disturbances of the psyche. They may have nightmares and flashbacks — much like survivors of war — or, conversely, may freeze into benumbed calm in situations of extreme stress.
Two recent studies find that the brain of survivors of childhood abuse may have a smaller hippocampus in their brain relative to control subjects. Changes in the hippocampus–the part of the brain that deals with short-term memory and possibly the encoding and retrieval of long-term memory–could be wrought by hormones flooding the brain during and after a stressful episode.”
Survivors of abuse may dissociate, or separate from their body. People who dissociate usually learned to do so in childhood when they are faced with a traumatic situation from which they cannot escape. Since they cannot escape physically, they split off and escape with their mind. They let their mind wander so they can lose touch with what is happening to them.
For example, children who have been molested often describe the sensation of leaving their body and floating above it. From a “safe” distance they see someone molesting a child–they may even recognize that the child is them–but they are not connected to themselves. It is as if it they are watching it happen to someone else. Splitting off lets them endure a hopeless situation while keeping some part of themselves intact. In their mind, they have separated from the wounded part of themselves, which lets them function as if the trauma never occurred.
Dissociating is an extremely effective, highly skilled response to physical and emotional pain. The child’s feelings, thoughts, and desires split off, letting him separate psychologically from the rest of him. The feeling part of the child is locked away, out of consciousness, so it does not have to experience the trauma.
A child who has been repeatedly abused-physically, sexually, or emotionally–may develop patterns of dissociating. Over time, they become highly skilled at separating from their painful feelings and thoughts until it becomes automatic. As adults they may find themselves dissociating whenever they feel threatened or anxious–even if the situation is not traumatic. Most are not aware that they are splitting off from themselves.
Some estimate that Dissociative Disorder affects more than one percent of the population, but most people who have Dissociative Disorder are completely unaware that they are dissociating. They think it is normal. This is because they have lost touch with part of who they are. There is a complete range in dissociative behavior from very mild cases where one daydreams, watches movies, or gets lost in a book to escape an uncomfortable situation to extreme cases where the person has developed number of distinct personalities, or multiple personalities.
Dissociative disorder is often misdiagnosed, which is tragic because it is highly responsive to therapy. Although dissociating temporarily keeps pain at bay, we cannot realistically deal with the issues in our lives if we keep dissociating. This splitting off can be so strong that the person loses touch with what happened. They simply don’t remember.
I will never forget going back to California for a business trip and while I was there a friend asked if she could talk to me privately. When we were alone in this little room for crying babies at the back of the church, she shared that during a long healing prayer session the memory of being raped by her father had came back to her. She was devastated, in fact she told me that the pain was so intense that she wanted to die. She had completely blocked the memory. In fact, she said that one of the worst parts was that she had always thought she had had such a happy childhood. She wondered if she was crazy, so called her mother to ask if it was true and her mother was shocked to learn that my friend, Jessica, hadn’t remembers. She said to her, “That was why I divorced your, Father, because he raped you while I was in the hospital.”
Even if we do not totally split off we can split off parts of ourselves without knowing it. Just a little over a week ago, I was in an inner healing session where I saw myself under water, rising up to the surface and when I got to the surface. Jesus pulled me out of the water and held me tenderly. I was emaciated, skin and bones. It is hard to explain this, but in this picture in my mind there were two of me, the normal part and this very thin part that Jesus was holding. I realized that the part he was holding was the needy part of me, the part that wanted attention and love and nurture. I had split that part off when I was very young, because in my family it was not okay to have needs. I had shoved that part of myself underwater and had nearly starved it to death. The healing came for me came, when I pickup up this part of myself and pressing it into me, and welcomed it home. Everyone has needs, valid legitimate needs and when they aren’t met, it is so wounding. I kept this thing at bay behind a mask of anger for years.
For me it was easier to be angry than to feel vulnerable.
How can we help?
Well, first we need to know that cannot fix anyone. We cannot change anyone else, we can only change ourselves. So wipe from your mind that idea that you are going to ride in on a white horse and rescue someone. But that does not mean we cannot help. Most people, not just abuse survivors, but most people hide much of their inner turmoil deep inside because there is no safe place to share. This is what we want to do tonight is provide a safe place to share. All of us are careful about what we share with whom. When we are feeling vulnerable, we are careful about who we talk to, because all of us have had people judge us or treat us with disrespect by trying to fix us or solve our problems. We don’t like it when people do it to us and we don’t want to do those things to others. But we can be a calm listening presence in as storm for someone seeking help. This is an area where we can all grow. Try it some time with a friend. Just listen attentively without saying anything and see how much they open up. Just listen and nod and hmmm.
Listening to people’s painful stories can be painful. We want to separate ourselves from the pain. But we get into all kinds of trouble when we think we have to fix it. We have to trust that God is with the person and with us and that he will give the person insight. I feel so strongly about this that I now teach a weekend course in listening skills, teaching people how to help others by listening well. I tell people who take the class that they are changing their own life and the life of everyone they will meet for the rest of their life.
I think that because I know how to do this–and I don’t do it perfectly, just ask my kids–people often come to me with their problems. I must confess that at time I still find myself getting tense because the person has a very painful problem and I think that I have to be the answer expert and solve their problems. I have to remind myself that they are not asking me to solve their problems, God is with us. He will lead them. My job is to be willing to listen. If we can do that, provide a safe, non-judgmental place for people to be heard, then they can begin to process what has happened to them and work it through. This is crucial.
Victims of violence need a safe place to process what has happened to them. Studies show those who keep their abuse a secret suffer greater psychic distress than those who open up and receive assistance and support. The earlier the better. The younger they get help the better the outcome.
One of the things we do in the class is teach people what not to say. We mean well, but we say things that add to the hurt. Don’t say things like, I understand just how you feel. You probably don’t understand.
Resist saying platitudes, such as “God makes all things work together for good.” That may be true but in the midst of their pain, they don’t want to hear it.
Just be quiet and listen.
I feel so strongly about this. I love teaching these classes because people who have taken the class come back with amazing stories of how people open up to them and they see lives being changed. So the first things we need to do is be willing to listen.
Secondly, pray. God is all powerful, all knowing. Pray for your friend. Ask God to touch and heal them. Ask God to make them feel safe enough to begin to explore what has happened to them.
Thirdly, once you have a trusting relationship with them, encourage them to get help. I hurt over the women who have told me their stories of abuse then refused to get help. One woman insisted that being abused as a child had not affected her, but I saw it in the way she treated her own toddlers, in the way she struggled with depression.
Lastly I want to address an issue of where is God in all this? Why does he allow this? This is not easy to answer and I certainty cannot do it justice in five minutes. But the Bible is clear that God loves us and he is always with us. God has not abandoned you. God was even with you at the moment of your abuse. Why didn’t he stop it? I believe that ultimately God has given each and every one of us free will and as C.S. Lewis writes, that means that when a man goes to hit another man in the head with a baseball bat, it does not magically turn into a piece of foam at the moment of impact. We are allowed to do the most devastating things to each other. This is not what God wants or what he intended, in fact I think that it makes him angry. He is angry with us. But he is not willing to take away our free will. So every day humans do terrible things to each other.
But I also want to say that God is no stranger to pain and suffering, as the movie the Passion of the Christ has made more real, more vivid for all of us. He is the one person who knows what we have endured. He was there. He as willing to be tortured so we could have free will, he paid the price, so we can go to him with our anger and our hurt and our sense of betrayal. There is nothing we need to hide from God. In fact, being real with him is the beginning. We can’t start on a faith journey until we are willing to be real.
Having said this, I will say, God can bring you through anything. He can heal and restore you. As recently as just a few years ago I did not believe this. I thought that people would not completely recover because the trauma had been too great, but I have seen people recover from the most devastating wounds. It takes effort, you have to go after help and find safe places to process your wounds. Holding the pain in will not work and the old adage that time heals all wounds is rubbish. Deep wounds have a way of rising up with all the intensity of the original event.
So if you have been subjected to violence, put yourself in a place where you have the help and support you will need to face the pain and be healed. You will have to face it to heal. Ask God to show you what to do and go after it. It will take great courage, but God will never leave you for forsake you, he will bring you out of the darkness and into the light.
Tonight, I want to encourage you all to go to Take Back the Night on Tuesday. Listen respectfully. Some of the women will be angry. I would be, too. Reach out to them by listening, by praying, and once you’ve earned the right to speak, by encouraging them to get help.
And what if you were the one who was abused. What can you do? I’ve painted a pretty grim picture abuse and how it affects us, but I felt a need to do this because I have heard reports of perpetrators saying that it is not a big deal. I have heard of perpetrators saying, She’s only three or five. She won’t even remember this, but it shatters our lives and we never forget.
So where is the hope? We were violated when we were young and innocent. What can we do? I am going to share with you some of the things that we, at The Healing Center, have found helpful. Much of this is from Dr. Beth Cuj�, a psychotherapist who is a member of our board and from Theophostic ministry
First of all we have learned that it is crucial to stay aware of your body and your emotions.
Often the physical tension in our bodies is holding in stuff that we need to deal with but don’t want to face. If that tension is there, under the surface, it can get triggered and when it gets triggered we derail and cope poorly. We make poor decision. We act out in unhealthy ways. This stuff can drive your life. When I am talking about this, I like to ask the audience to do a little exercise with me. Are you up for this?
Close your eyes and check your body now. Are you tense anyway. Tense neck, tight stomach? I imagine all of us feel a bit tense now from just listening to those horrific statistics on abuse. Okay, I want you to breathe slowly and deeply and relax your body. Start at the top, relax you scalp, jaw, neck, drop your shoulders, relax your chest. Breathe deeply. Check yourself, what are you feeling? Now picture any negative emotions you are feeling and breathe. Not all of you will want to do this, but for me it helps me if I make my negative emotion concrete by picturing it-for me again it usually looks like a black tarry snake and I picture it coming out of me and giving it to God. I know that not everyone here believes in a God, but give it to your higher power. Get it out of you. For me, the image of Christ on the cross, suffering, dying is very powerful and I often picture my pain flowing into his wounds. You don’t have to be a Christian to do that. Many religious traditions acknowledge that Christ’s death on the cross.
The idea is to get it out of you. When we hold that physical and emotional tension in for long periods of time, it often leads to chronic physical problems.
This should take the edge off so you can face things more easily. Often if you relax your body, any buried negative emotions will surface. Then you have to deal with them. There are basically two kinds of negative emotions: appropriate and lie based. Sadness and anger are appropriate. It is appropriate to feel sad and angry. I know I feel that way when I hear what has happened to people. I believe that God is sad and angry, too. But we don’t want to get stuck in grief and anger so ever though we have to do through that, there comes a point when we need to releases them.
In my experience, other negative emotions-such as shame or fear–are often based in lies. Quiet your body by breathing deeply and try to try to see if you can identify any lies. We do this during inner healing. These are some of the lies I have heard people who have been abused say: I am all-alone. I am helpless. No one will help me. No one really cares about me (this was mine). It is my fault. Try to find the laws at the root of your pain and then tell yourself the truth. Let the truth come in. I find asking God to show me what is true very helpful.
What is true? You are not alone. Perhaps you were at one time, but you are not today. You are not helpless. We care about you. And it was not your fault.
Before I leave the topic of emotions I want to touch on the subject of anger. When I first entered therapy in my early twenties, I was so angry at my father that I used to have fantasizes of pushing people off cliffs. I wish I was making this up, but I am not.
For many years, I thought the anger was good because it made me feel stronger and more protected, but when I had children of my own that I found shocked to find that my anger spilled over into my parenting. There were times when I treated them the same way my father had treated me. I do not think anger is wrong in and of it self, but when we hold on to it and refuse to let it go it can become a bitterness, a hardness of heart that is very destructive. So get in touch with your anger, process what happened to you. Feel it, but don’t get stuck there. I would encourage you to go deeper, to look at what is behind it. For me it was a very vulnerable part of my self that I didn’t want to own. What’s weird is when I let it back inside and integrated, I did not feel more vulnerable and exposed as I thought I would, I only felt more whole.
Don’t go it alone. If you were abused, especially as a child, it can be hard to trust others, or sometimes, as in my case, we go to the opposite extreme and we trust people who are not trustworhty, we trust without discernment. Studies show those who keep their abuse a secret suffer greater psychic distress than those who open up and receive assistance and support. The earlier the better. The younger they get help the better the outcome.
Find safe people, people who will listen to your story with respect and without trying to fix you. Find a supportive community that will help you process what has happened. It often comes off as layers. If you feel comfortable with the idea, ask God to guide you in the healing process.
Don’t give up. You were meant for more than this. You were made for freedom. When we are unhealed we either try to avoid or control. We try to anesthetize our pain: by escaping through addictions, by venting at other, by helplessly submitting to abuse, or by stuffing the pain down inside.
For me I did a bit of all of those. I escaped by performing, trying to be perfect, trying to achieve instead of letting myself be. I would dump on those close to me, letting off physical and emotional tensions by venting at those around me. I would submit to unhealthy relationship and see myself as the virtuous one and lastly I held some of it in because I was unwilling to look at it. It was toxic.
I hurt over the women who have told me their stories of abuse then refused to get help. One woman insisted that being abused as a child had not affected her, but I saw it in the way she treated her young children, in the way she struggled with depression.
One really good way to get at what is underneath is to resist doing whatever it is you do to anesthetize your pain. Don’t do what you normally do to make yourself feel better. Don’t eat that brownie or don’t rush off into business and see what comes up when you don’t quiet your demons. Let it come up. Don’t be afraid of it. Keep pushing toward the truth. Know that you are precious. You are loved. Don’t settle for less than all you were meant to be.
This is a conglomeration of talks given to student group at James Madison University in 2004 and 2005 including Intervarsity and Take Back the Night.