The staggering statistics on childhood sexual abuse
Part 1 of an interview with Andrew J. Schmutzer
Co-Author of Naming Our Abuse:
God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors
From Penn State to the Catholic Church scandal, stories of sexual abuse are covered in the national media, but news reports do not reveal all the facts of how prevalent abuse is among males. “The standard statistic is that one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18 (1in6.org). However, Male Survivor recently reported one in four men has been sexually abused,” Andrew J. Schmutzer, co-author of Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel Publications), explains. “One thing to understand about these statistics is that they are largely based on self-reporting, so they have been historically hard to come by. As specialists know, men don’t readily talk about their abuse.”
Given the staggering statistics, why then does the church seem to be averse to addressing the issue? This was the question asked by Schmutzer and his co-authors, Daniel A. Gorski and David Carlson, as they began their own journey toward recovery from childhood sexual abuse in their church support group. They also found most of the books on bookstore shelves were written for women. In response, they joined together to tell their stories in Naming Our Abuse.
Q: What brought the three of you together to write Naming Our Abuse?
We had all been part of a standard support group at our church, and while the work within the group had been helpful, it had run its course; we needed something more. We needed to dig into our stories. Beyond “12-step” programs, we needed to slow down and take time to investigate “the wreck,” as we called it. We wanted an open-ended time to sit in our personal stories — come what may — and face the “muck” of it all, without time constraints and well-intentioned platitudes.
Q: It seems we hear more about sexual abuse among girls and women than we do boys and men. Could you share some of the statistics regarding male sexual abuse?
It’s not that it just “seems.” Media and the culture, in general, don’t explore male sexual abuse. The standard statistic is that one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18 (1in6.org). However, Male Survivor recently reported one in four men has been sexually abused. One thing to understand about these statistics is that they are largely based on self-reporting, so they have been historically hard to come by. As specialists know, men don’t readily talk about their abuse.
Delayed admission is also far greater among men than women, meaning they report much longer after the abuse (about 10 – 15 years later). A younger generation of male survivors is starting to talk earlier than my generation (age 50) did. Male sexual abuse tends to be more gruesome. Men may seek counseling for symptoms (e.g., depression, anger) but not even recognize that sexual abuse is the underlying cause.
Q: What are some of the stereotypes Christian men are often judged by that can make it difficult for them to be honest about their abuse?
Some of the most common misconceptions include:
- All sexual encounters are exciting.
- All pain is going to be used by God.
- Patriarchy only affects women.
- Men have healed if they don’t victimize others.
- If the abuser was female, it wasn’t abuse.
- Victory, leadership and tearless faith are signs of strength and honor.
- Weakness is both unmanly and unspiritual.
- Men only cause suffering; they can’t be raped and victimized.
Q: Sometimes when a family member is named as the abuser, the rest of the family’s first instinct is to defend the abuser rather than protect the abused. What should a family do when they learn abuse has occurred?
Seek immediate help for the victim. Make sure the victim is safe. Get help for the abuser. For Christians, this means going outside to the police, then inside for professional therapy and care for the entire family. Abuse always has a context that has directly or indirectly sanctioned the actions of the abuser. Much like the alcoholic family, the entire abusing family also needs help. It’s rarely just sexual abuse; typically emotional, spiritual or physical abuse also occurs in the same home. There’s always a power shake-up in such a home!
Q: What are some of the warning signs families should be aware of if abuse is happening within the home, at school or anywhere else?
This is not a complete list, but some of the most obvious signs would be:
- A child is afraid to visit the babysitter or other key places.
- A child is receiving gifts from the person he is afraid of.
- A child’s grades suddenly drop or an activity is sharply avoided.
- An older child starts bedwetting.
- A child evidences adult-level awareness of sex and anatomy (e.g., drawings).
- A child is suddenly shown attention by “that person.”
- A child plays violently or erotically with toys or objects.
- A child shows obsession or avoidance of sexuality and his body.
- A child engages in self-harming (e.g., cutting or burning himself).
Q: How can churches be more supportive of victims and aid in the recovery process?
There are actually many things a church can do for their abused members:
- Offer support groups for both male and female survivors.
- Have a complete policy on sexual abuse and interaction with abusers.
- Talk about abuse in sermons, not just abortion, trafficking or pornography.
- Develop a library that has books on sexual abuse for youth and adults.
- Support professional counselling for abused people.
- Offer well-designed corporate services for the abused—silence is not an option any more.
- Teach people how to lament, such as reading psalms and written prayers.
- Let survivors give their testimonies and talk about their struggles.
- Bring some mature survivors into leadership as “wounded healers” that others can follow.
- Put small cards in bathrooms where survivors can privately find further information about support groups.
- Bring in trained speakers who can instruct and guide the laity about abuse.
Q: Why is forgiveness not the same as reconciliation? Do victims of CSA need to reconcile with their abusers?
Reconciliation may not even be safe or in some cases possible, if the abuser has passed away. Forgiveness needs the fruit of trust before reconciliation can occur. Forgiveness chooses to release negative will against the offender, but that does not mean the forgiver will not struggle to live out that “legal” decision they’ve made. Reconciliation, on the other hand, does require both parties to move toward each other. Reconciliation does not happen 99% of the time because the trauma does not permit it. Sexually abusing a child destroys the foundation of that person. Because of the abuse, the deep structure of their relationship has been damaged.
For example, if two adults in a marriage may not be able to heal and recover from an affair, think about a child. A child abused during their developmental years can have too much pain and damage to overcome in order to reconcile that relationship. Abusing a child is like taking a knife to a CD – scars will remain.
Learn more about Naming Our Abuse at www.kregel.com.