How to Stop Pretending and Start Helping

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).saam-2

In the post for April 7, we looked at what sexual assault is, how it affects its victims and how to prevent it. We admitted that we don’t like to talk about such an uncomfortable topic.

Yet we agreed that we needed to get the topic on the table and stop pretending it doesn’t happen to women we know. If we don’t, we can’t help those who have been victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault, incest, rape, molestation, trafficking or pornography.

But understanding sexual assault isn’t enough. We can help survivors of abuse and offer them support and hope. Below are some practical ways to help:

  • Listen to her.  Support her. Let her tell you her story over and over. Every time she tells her story she processes it in some small way.
  • Never blame, judge, or condemn her. She is probably already doing that herself. So are other people. It is NEVER the fault of the victim. And remember she will be reading your body language. Even if you never say a word, but still judge her, your non-verbal ques will convey your judgment.
  • Don’t try to fix her or make her be okay with what happened. Though it is sometimes helpful for her to focus on fun activities, don’t try to make her get active in hopes she’ll “forget” what happened. It won’t work and will cause further harm to her.
  • At times she may be overwhelmed with memories and become overly depressed or anxious. During those really low times she could use your practical help: childcare, meals, errands, etc. These may not be long-term helps, but at times they may be just what she needs.
  • Refer her to a professional counselor who is experienced in trauma. She needs you to be her friend, mentor, or spouse. But she also needs a counselor. She is not likely to tell you the whole story. She may not want to “burden you” and to be honest, she may be too ashamed to tell you the details.

Though she may be afraid to seek professional help, you can encourage her to find a counselor who understands. GateWay of Hope can help. Give her our number – 913.393.GATE (4283).

Maybe you are a pastor, elder or women’s ministry leader. You don’t think this affects the women in your church. Please remember that 1 in 3-4 girls will suffer sexual abuse before the age of 18. And 1 in 6 women will face sexual assault or attempted assault as a teenager or as an adult.

Now picture the women in your church. Do the math. How many have been abused in your church alone?

As leaders, you have tremendous influence in your congregations. You may already understand sexual assault, but you can also offer hope to survivors. Here are some concrete ways to help:

  • Pastors and church leaders can address this delicate topic from the pulpit. Let your congregation know the statistics. Educate them. Let them know help is available. When preaching on topics such as forgiveness, be especially sensitive. Give her time to process the abuse and then begin the forgiveness process.
  • If you are a male pastor, know it will often be difficult for a woman to tell you details about her abuse or rape. She may need a woman to talk with, but not just any woman. Please refer her to a female professional counselor who understands sexual trauma.
  • Conduct background checks on all staff and volunteers, particularly those who work with children. Educate your church staff and key leaders – both paid and volunteers. Your church leadership may not know how to “diagnose” abuse, but it is imperative that they be aware of any abusive behaviors.
  • Finances can deter some women from seeking counseling. Consider establishing a scholarship fund for women who otherwise could not afford counseling. This is a big commitment, but it can go a long way toward a woman’s healing. Knowing that her church values her enough to help can be life-saving for an abused woman.This is especially true for women who experienced spiritual abuse along with their sexual abuse. Scriptures were twisted to make the abuse not only okay, but “God’s will.” That seems impossible, but we know it happens. When the church provides financial assistance for counseling to sexual abuse/assault survivors, it will help them on their spiritual journey.
  • Most importantly, be a safe church. If your church commits to all of the above, it will be well on its way to being a safe place. Most importantly, think of how Jesus would behave toward these women and follow His example.

Some of you already know the above suggestions and you’re already doing them. But for others, this information is new and your heads are spinning. We recommend two books by Christian counselors: “On the Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg and “Door of Hope” by Jan Frank.

If you would like to learn more about sexual assault or invite GateWay staff to come and educate your church or organization, please give us a call at 913.393.GATE (4283). We would love to talk with you.

Women who have experienced sexual assault need both their church and the professional counselors at GateWay of Hope. Together we can offer hope and encouragement to survivors of sexual abuse/assault.

©2016 Deborah Simon – Director of Counseling

GateWay of Hope