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February 2, 1996     The Message
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February 2, 1996

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however, display none of these characteristics, while others display only a few. Others may display many characteristics and never even contemplate abuse of children. 8 -One Scenario of Abuse The process of abuse is complex and varied. Typi- cally it unfolds over time. In pre-adolescent and younger children it often begins as a "special" game between the child and the abuser, something no one else is "privileged" to share. Most often the sex abuser is in a position of authority over the child, someone the child loves and trusts. At the outset, abusers may try to explain their ac- tions. They may tell a pre-adolescent youth curious about sex, "This is your sex education." When a child is upset, the abuser may say, "This will help you feel better." Children do not understand what is happen- ing and often go along willingly, especially at first. When fondling progresses to more intimate sexual encounters, abusers often tell the child, "This is our secret,just between you and me." Sometimes there is a threat of punishment or injury to others if the child tells anyone. Then, when feelings of shame and guilt surface, children are isolated. They are too terrified to seek help. Revealing a "family secret" to the outside world is unthinkable. Signs of Sexual Abuse Sexual abuse may be indicated by certain physical and behavioral signs as well as by indirect comments made by the child. There are several clues to look for when one suspects the possibility of child sexual abuse. Physical signs include irritation, pain or injury to the genital area, and genital or urinary infection. A child may withdraw or show a sudden, unexplained change in behavior. Other signs may be nervous, ag- gressive, hostile, or disruptive behavior toward adults, especially parents. A child may manifest eat- ing or sleep disturbances, including nightmares or in- somnia. One should also be alert to knowledge or ac- tions of a sexual nature that are not age-appropriate. One sign alone may not be a positive indication, since any of these signs can point to other conditions as well. However, if a number of signs are present, the possibility of sexual abuse should be considered and appropriate action taken, including seeking medical evaluation. Effects of Sexual Abuse on Children and Adults The degree of harm a child experiences as a result of sexual abuse depends upon various factors, includ- ing the nature of the act, the age of the child, and the child's general environment. 9 Sexual abuse may re- sult in physical harm such as cuts, disfigurement, and deformity. Mental harm may include a poor self- image; pervasive feelings of guilt; feelings of isolation that lead to social withdrawal; inability to trust or to maintain friendships; inappropriate sexual behavior; inability to relate sexually with spouses; and symp- toms of post-traumatic stress syndrome, such as flashbacks, addiction to alcohol or drugs, and depres- sion. As one expert notes, "While child sexual abuse may not always lead to permanent injury, one should assume that all sexual abuse experiences are poten- tially harmful. "I0 We know, too, that the cycle of abuse, unless broken, may continue in succeeding generations. Effects on Faith and Spirituality We are concerned about the effects of sexual abuse on the overall development of abused children and , i A walk in the light: A adult survivors; as pastors, we are particularly con- cerned about spiritual development and religious practice. Children, for instance, usually base their image of God -- who God is and how God acts -- on the adults they meet in their families and parishes. when the person who abuses them sexually is also their parent or another trusted adult, children may find it difficult to imagine, much less develop, a rela- tionship with a loving God. This difficulty may be in- tensified if the abuser is perceived as active in the Church. Children may feel angry at God and act with hostility toward those who are God's ministers. Some may be terrified of God, because of distorted images of God embedded in their early experiences. Many are unable to pray, and they reject their religious faith. Survivors of sexual abuse may find that feelings of rage, betrayal, and guilt make spiritual growth diffi- cult. Survivors may find themselves prone to self-hate and self-destructiveness. Since they do not love them- selves, they cannot believe that anyone else, including God, can love them. They may ask angrily: "Where was God in all this? why didn't God help me?" Healing, Forgiveness, and Repentance Scripture reminds us that Jesus extends his heal- ing power in the most desperate circumstances. Re- call, for example, the story of Jairus's daughter, whom Jesus restored to life (Lk 8:41-56). In that seemingly hopeless situation, Jesus reached out to the girl, enkindled that spark of life, and re- turned her to the community. His solicitude was very human. Give her something to eat, he told the onlook- ers, when she began to walk about the room. Survivors of sexual abuse call out for healing. They long to be free from the heavy burden carried within them. Abusers, too, seek healing, after they come to acknowledge and grieve the terrible pain they have inflicted. Healing for Those Who Have Been Abused Today, Jesus continues to restore the human spirit through the prayer and sacramental life of the Church. The Eucharist, a sign of God's love for us, is a celebration of ongoing healing and reconciliation. Many people have received peace and strength from healing services or from praying with a group for "healing of memories." In addition, the sacrament of reconciliation provides an opportunity to turn people and past events over to God, realizing that his love can bring good out of evil. As the Letter to the Ro- mans assures us, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God" (8:28). As part of the healing process, we realize that for- giveness is one of the biggest issues that survivors struggle with. Forgiveness is rarely easy, but for sur- vivors of sexual abuse it can seem impossible. Forgiveness is both a gift and a process -- a gift from God and a process that involves the work of human minds and hearts. The process, often a long one, begins with a survivor acknowledging the abuse, dealing with feelings that may have been long sup- pressed, and developing a positive self-identity. We caution against rushing the process. We cannot push the survivor to forgive just because we, the Christian community, feel uncomfortable dealing with the issue. Rather, we need to stand with the survivor, to show the same gentle, loving, patient concern that Jesus showed to those who were hurting. Forgiveness is not forgetting, nor does forgiveness consist in excusing the abuse or in absolving the abuser, which only God can do. We again stress that the abuse is not the survivor's fault, but we realize that some survivors struggle with having done things MILLER & MILLER "A family name you can trust" 424-9274 i Main Street Pharmacy 217 E. Main St.. Downtown WSshington Phone: 254-5141 Fresh Flowers Silk Arrangements Gift Items 207 N.E. 5th Street Washington, Indiana 47501 (812) 254-7200 Thomas A. Ruder i i i'.,];ll'['Jl[l]ll];ll[lll,,11"" - - a - THOMAS A. RUDER Timely Information For Tri-State Investors Since 1976 STOCKS * RETIREMENT PLANS IRA'S TAX FREE BONDS MUTUAL FUNDS INSURED CD's MONEY MARKET FUNDS 3000 E. Morgan Ave. J PycJ /3tOOl TOLL FREE 1-800-62-RUDER ,o-vz,, . Edward D. Jones & Cod i i that were perhaps painful and were a means of coping with the survivors to be gentle with themselves inappropriate self-blame for ......... For the Abuser In regard to abusers, we must tice plays a role in the forgiveness Christ, the Christian community abuser while clearly holding him or Some in the Christian community in releasing the abuser from his or her are being charitable and healed, however, the abuser done. We emphasize that the the family, needs to call the We need to say: "Abusive behavior is hold you accountable for it. We will you suffer the consequences of expect you to acknowledge the harm for forgiveness." PART lU: RES In the Gospels we see that ways. He offered physical spiritual healing. His words, love, also brought healing, even listeners uncomfortable. He sought healing for themselves, as interceded for others. Like Jesus, the Church reaches outtZ and reconciliation to people who hope. Desiring to restore victims/survivors of sexual abuse lies, and wanting to break the cycle to: Offer physical safety and help victims/survivors; Bring about spiritual and giveness and reconciliation for their families, recognizing that it is ble to keep the family together; Raise awareness about the and teaching; Offer help and support for them accountable for their actions; Promote the education of workers about the issue and e vide appropriate assistance. We do not minimize the ual abuse or the task involved in vention, and support of people the past. We believe, however that a crucial role in this process sacraments, education, and and knowledgeable pari this, writing that she found God gies of her parish community. She sayS: "As I walked the dirt roads of that Jesus, like me, experienced pain I was experiencing. I knew this elevated during the Eucharist was Jesus . . . and in the midst of the enced his healing and What Can We Do Together? As a community of Christians we to shatter the walls of lonelinesS, that isolate those who are sexually who have survived abuse. to hear their stories of pain, We also need to let abusers know v, ): The Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Evansville is accepting applications and inquiries for the Director, Catholic Campus Ministry at Vincennes successful candidate-will be an active and professed Rorn,n and will have a demonstrated aptitude of personal, professional ministerial and pastoral abilities. A candidate ter's Degree in Catholic Theology (or related area) is prefer dates with a Bachelor's Degree in Catholic Theology and a demic and/or experiential be considered. background in Catholic Campus Direct inquiries to: Campus Minister Search Committee ' Office of Youth and Young Adult Mini P.O. Box 4169 Evansville, IN 47724-0169