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'This Can Really Cause a Faith Crisis': Why Churches Need to Face the Reality of Sex Abuse


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The US Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year.

Dr. Lisa Compton of Regent University has served as a Certified Trauma Treatment Specialist for more than 20 years. She says the problem is prevalent in both the US and globally.

"This occurs across socio-economic levels, ages, marital status, sexual orientation," Dr. Compton said during an interview on CBN's Prayer Link show. "It affects both, the majority of victims are women, but it also affects men as well."

She pointed out that most victims of domestic violence are reluctant to speak about their abuse.
"The main reason is that they're usually not believed when they do come forward. We tend to base credibility on whether someone files a police report immediately. And the reasons why they don't usually are very complex. It can involve threats to future harm, protecting their children, financial deprivation and really minimizing the severity of their own abuse. And unfortunately, this even includes some religious pressures - focusing on saving the marriage or submission of women to men. And all of this can impact and inhibit victims from coming forward."

In light of the #MeToo movement, the growing issue of sexual abuse has been continuously in the spotlight.

According to a recent study sponsored by IMA World Health and Sojourners, LifeWay Research found that 85 percent of Protestant pastors have heard of the #MeToo movement.

Among clergy who have heard about it, 58 percent say their congregation is now more aware of how common domestic and sexual violence is. Sixty-two percent said their congregation now has more empathy toward those experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research said, "Church leaders now face a choice on how we respond to #MeToo. We can say 'Enough!' and become callous to all the stories. Or, we can say 'Enough!' and seek to prevent this behavior in the future and to care for victims now."

"There are sexual abuse victims within all of the pews and we haven't paid enough attention to how to keep people safe, explained Dr. Compton.  "We have silenced victims. We have not believed them. We have told them to forgive because we quote, 'all sin.'"

She added, "The power dynamics in sexual abuse are very similar to domestic violence. It's the misuse of power and control and a breach of trust and hiding sin. And you can see how this can really cause a faith crisis for so many victims."

She suggested several ways the church can aid in healing victims of both sexual abuse and domestic violence.

"First we need to recognize how serious of a problem this is and acknowledge the truth that this does exist even within our church.  And then the church needs to focus on being a safe place. And this involves listening compassionately to victim's stories. It involves avoiding retraumatizing victims and providing all abuse survivors and women in general a place in church policy and procedure making so that we can integrate the knowledge that we have about trauma and hopefully prevent future abuse."

Meanwhile, Dr. Compton goes on to say that healing from abuse is both necessary and attainable. 

"Trauma is not destiny," she said. "Healing from trauma is 100% possible. I've worked with many men and women that have experienced both sexual and physical trauma and I've been able to see God's miraculous power, so we need to know that while this problem is severe, there is also hope and healing. Another takeaway I want is that survivors won't suffer alone, that silence and isolation has been part of abuse, but love and connection is the key to healing."                        


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