It can happen to anyone by Deborah Tensley-Jones

Judy considered herself to be a pretty smart lady and felt she had her stuff together.  She held a MBA and ran a successful business of her own.  She was in her late forties and a divorcee.  She hadn’t dated in over five years after her divorce and felt confident with herself that she was ready to get back in the game.  She felt it would be safer to use an accredited dating site where the candidates went through a screening and she didn’t want to feel like she was meat shopping.  Through the online site Judy had met Craig.  Craig was about the same age, well-educated and a successful businessman.  The chatted online and on the phone for weeks before she finally agreed to meet him for coffee.   Being a first meeting Judy decided to be safe and they met at the local coffee house and engaged in great conversation and shared some laughs.  She was so comfortable with Craig that she agreed to have a “real date” so they made arrangements to meet for dinner a week later.  After dinner Craig drove Judy home and she invited him in for coffee.  Long story short Craig raped Judy.  “How could I let this happen?” she asked.  In truth it was not her fault at all.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month when we can all use our voices to change the culture to prevent sexual violence.   Prevention means addressing the root causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist. Sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of victimizations that can include completed or attempted attacks when a person is forced, coerced and / or manipulated into unwanted sexual activity.  Sexual assault is part of a range of behaviors that offenders use to take power from their victims.  Anyone can be a victim and everyone is affected either directly or indirectly.  Every 98 seconds an individual experiences sexual assault, which means everyday hundreds are affected. There are many organizations that can assist.

RESOURCES FOR YOU:

Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence in Topeka, Kansas

http://www.nsvrc.org/organizations/197

MOCSA -Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault

website: http://mocsa.org/info-resources

MOCSA Crisis Line: (816) 531-0233 or (913) 642-0233

Both organizations provide information, training and expertise to program victims, family and friends and anyone whose lives have been affected by sexual assault.

RAINN – www.rainn.org or 800-656-HOPE – Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.  RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE, www.rainn.org/ ) in partnership with over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country.

There is prevention and training on how to reduce the risk of being sexually assaulted:  www.sexualassault.army.mil/prev_reduce_victim.cfm

In most incidents the victim is somehow acquainted with their attacker and many people are afraid or don’t know how to seek help when involved in such an assault situation.  Usually the victim will not see red flags because they may know or trust the person.  Let’s be more aware and informed about sexual assault because it can happen to anyone. 

How to Care for Yourself After Sexual Assault

saam - women 3By now you probably know that GateWay of Hope is honoring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). In our first blog post this month we looked at who is affected and how it affects them. (Click here to read the previous post.) We also examined how to help prevent sexual assault/abuse. In our second post, we explored how both individuals and churches can offer support to survivors.

Before we consider today’s topic – caring for yourself – I want to add three more suggestions for walking beside a survivor of sexual trauma:

  • Acknowledge your own inadequacies – to yourself AND your friend. You don’t have to have the answers or solutions. You are not called to make everything okay. You are simply called to be there and offer love. It’s okay to feel weak and not know what to do. Now you know how your friend often feels.
  • Be willing to witness intense pain, multi-layered anger, and unanswerable questions. The kind of evil your friend has faced will be hard for you to hear and look at. You may be uncomfortable at times. You may also be triggered if you have your own unresolved pain. If that happens don’t ignore it, but take care of yourself. Know this will be hard for you as well as her.
  • Pray. Pray. Pray. This woman is in a battle for her life. She needs your prayers. But always ask her permission before you pray in her presence. She may be angry at God and not want to have anything to do with Him at this time. Don’t force God on her, but keep praying for her anyway.

Today’s blog post is for the woman who has survived the tragedy of sexual abuse or assault. If you don’t happen to be one of those women, thank God…but please keep reading. You too can learn something.

In our first blog post we learned sexual abuse affects our entire lives: bodies, emotions, relationships, thinking and spirits. In today’s post, I want to encourage you to take care of yourself in all of those areas! I know this will be hard because some of you may not think you are even worth taking care of. But that just isn’t true. You are valuable. You have worth. It’s time to take care of you.

  • Physically – Be kind and sensitive to your body. It has been through a lot and needs your care. But first you will need to acknowledge your body. For many of you who have faced sexual abuse/assault, you have disconnected yourself from your body to such an extent you hardly know it’s yours. Or if you do know, you may hate it. Some of you may be rolling your eyes or shaking your heads, but please hear me out. You know the basics such as: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, but I want to go beyond this to include your attitude toward your body. Reconnect to and appreciate your body. Embrace yourself.
  • Emotionally – Acknowledge how and what you feel: rage, grief, fear, numbness, helplessness, discouragement. These emotions are normal. You don’t need to act on them; just accept them. Many survivors are adept at pushing emotions down, trying to bury them, deny or ignore them. It doesn’t work…at least not long term. Until you acknowledge how you feel, you can’t do anything about it. Try journaling or talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Do some artwork that expresses your feelings. Here’s an exercise for you – identify what you are feeling and then assign a color that represents that emotion.
  • Relationally – So many survivors of sexual trauma find it difficult to trust – men, women, God, anyone. They also find it hard to say “No.” They want to be in relationship, but to do so feels unsafe. They must take a risk to be in relationships. So it is very important to learn how to know whom to trust. Take small, very small, steps. Not everyone is trustworthy and safe; but neither is everyone unsafe. Consider reading “Safe People” and “Boundaries” by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Or sign up for a Boundaries class at GateWay.
  • Cognitively – Lies, lies, lies. So many lies develop when you face trauma. Healing comes when you replace the lies with truth.

        In her book “On the Threshold of Hope” Diane Langberg writes, “All of our thinking has been shaped by the experiences and people in our lives.”  

Sexual assault impacts the way you think. Find a friend, pastor or counselor who can help you sort out the lies and then replace them with truth. Here at GateWay, we are ready to help you. And don’t forget to ask God to speak truth into your heart so you can displace the lies that are controlling you.

  • Spiritually – When scripture is twisted to sanction abuse, it keeps us from trusting God. Or when your father (or father figure) sexually abused you it seems impossible to trust God as your “Father.” But know that your heavenly Father is so very patient and, unlike your earthly father, God NEVER forces Himself on you. He will wait until you are ready. Be honest with Him because He can take your anger. Write out your prayers and questions to Him. He’d much rather have you be angry and honest than pretending to love and worship Him when you really just want to shake your fist and scream. I promise you, He loves you, even if you don’t love yourself. Please allow Him to comfort you in your fear, grief and pain.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, take care of yourself. At GateWay of Hope we are available to help you in any way. Please call 913.393.GATE (4283) or email (deborahs@gwhope.org). We are here for you.

©2016 Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling – GateWay of Hope Deborah Simon

 

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

Easter vs Christmas Reflections

We spend so much time, energy and stress celebrating Christmas when the major Christian holiday is Easter.Cross at sunset

True, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus and what a momentous event that was! But we also max out our credit cards, deal with the dynamics of family get-togethers and go to office parties that we don’t care about.

We worry about buying the best gifts – “Will she really like this?” and try to figure out how to graciously accept the gifts we don’t want.

We spend hours in lines either buying or returning gifts, then add to our landfills when we throw away wrappings, ribbons and boxes.

We dutifully attend Christmas programs and take videos of our kids in their cute Christmas outfits, all the while hoping we can somehow manage to eat the Christmas goodies without gaining weight.

Somewhere during the pre-Thanksgiving through post-Christmas season, we remember the squalid manger, a scared teenaged mother and a bunch of smelly animals. So we sing “Silent Night” and say a quickie prayer of thanks for that baby born under the Bethlehem sky.

But Easter is another matter. Sure, we still get caught up in the dyeing of eggs, the filling of baskets and the baking of the ham.

But for the most part, Easter is less stressful and more of a contemplative holiday. Plus, we only have one week to consider what it’s all about.

One week to remember the horrific destruction of a young man’s body – how flogging and crucifixion induced painful inflammation, tetanus and infection.

One week to think about the disciples who fled in fear, then wonder if we wouldn’t have done the same thing.

One week to marvel at the miracle of resurrection and how awesome it must have been to see the risen Lord.

One week to take communion and truly remember Jesus.

One week to read each of the Gospel renditions and compare the lyrical version of John’s story to the logic of Matthew’s.

One week. Maybe this Easter week will represent a 360 in our busy schedules.

Maybe we will realize our need for a Savior and truly understand what Jesus did for us on that old rugged cross.

Maybe this Easter, we will decide to fill our Easter baskets with a gratitude that reaches beyond the April holiday and flows all the way to next December.

Maybe this year, Easter and Christmas will erupt with personal revivals around the globe. Now that would be a reason to celebrate.

©2015 GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women