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You've Been Sexually Abused: Fighting the Shame

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You belong to a club you never wanted to join. You never asked for any of these things to happen to you. Being in the club of those who have been sexually abused and assaulted can be exclusive in a way you never wanted to be.

It leads to the “If only’s…”

“If only…” Those are the two words my friend kept saying to me. If only I could have done something to stop it. If only I had been bigger. If only people understood what it’s like to be sexually abused and assaulted. For many of us, again and again.

I knew what she meant. What she feels. “If only…” Many people don’t want to acknowledge sexual abuse and assault happens, but it does. Based on reports, before the age of 18, one in four girls, and one in six boys will be sexually abused, but 85% of sexual abuse victims (like me) never report their abuse. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you are not alone. Many have yet to let anyone know. If you are reading this, I congratulate you on a step toward healing.

Yet there’s still “If only…”. “If only” it never happened my life would be different. Except it did happen. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to wish it away, but we can’t. It happened, and it’s not our fault. We couldn’t stop it. We’re not to blame. We were the victim. We are now survivors.

God can take the most painful times in our lives and use them for His good. He has plans beyond what we can ever ask or imagine. He tells us “…in all things He works for the good of those who love Him...” ( NIV) Even though we cannot see it now, or even tomorrow, He will see us through the darkness.

He loves you. He cares for you. When no one else understands, God understands. He understands the “If only…” and He says, “So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ( NIV)

Yet, there is a condemnation we feel. A shame. One which is not ours to bear. Shame. It’s a powerful word and feeling. Being sexually abused and assaulted brings shame.

After years of secrecy, I finally let people know I had been sexually assaulted. The response was shameful. I had a couple people support me publically, but no one else. People don’t want to associate themselves with the terms sexual assault or sexual abuse.

I feel similar shame when people say to me “I’m sorry that happened, but God helps us forgive.”  Leaving me to feel more shame and dismissed. Many Christians say this out of what they feel is God’s love. However, they need to be educated about the shame it brings sexual abuse and assault survivors.

Forgiveness is a final step in our very long journey of recovery. It is not expected to come soon. For many, the sexual abuse happened so young, trust was lost at a very early age. This has led to a lack of bonding with men and with God, who for many represents a manly figure, a fatherly figure.

It is confusing and frustrating as a Christian. We want to trust God, and we try, yet we have this wall from our abuse. This wall needs to be broken down brick-by-brick before it is completely gone. Forgiveness for our abusers and even for God is a real struggle — one we should not be ashamed to admit to. God understands. He does not condemn us. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (NIV)

Yes, forgiveness will need to happen in our lives if we are to completely heal. To be honest, I’m not there yet. My wall is still coming down. Forgiveness takes time and God’s help — time to work through the trauma of what happened to us. It also requires support from others and prayer.

God does not want us to stop going to church, or to condemn those who mistakenly tell us to forgive and forget, but to educate. “We” have nothing to be ashamed of. The people who sexually abused and assaulted us do. It is not our fault we are in the situation or life circumstances we are in, but we can follow God and fight shame. It is a nasty thing. It does not define us. We are precious children of God. If we were the only ones on earth Jesus would have died for us.

Believe me, I know shame is hard to fight. I am still there with you. Just because you haven’t forgiven God does not mean you cannot follow Him, lean on Him, and ask Him to help you. God is on our side. We don’t have to live in shame and ask the “If only’s”.

We can live treasured by God, and one day, when our journey of recovery is complete, the wall will crumble, and forgiveness will come. God already knows the time and place, and He will walk with us as we journey toward it.

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Copyright © Susan M. Clabaugh 2017. Used by permission.

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About The Author

Susan M.

Susan M. Clabaugh lives in Missouri. She is a childhood sexual abuse and assault survivor who is still on her recovery journey. She writes a blog called “Restoring the Soul: Meditations for Survivors of Sexual Assault”, to encourage others on their journey in healing from sexual abuse and assault. She loves to write, read, sew dresses for girls in Liberia, work in her church's food pantry, and tutor reading students. Susan taught elementary school for 11 years and has her Master’s degree in teaching. She won third place for her children’s story at the Heart of America Christian Writer’s