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How to Engage Your Church on Difficult Subjects Like Child Sexual Abuse

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a little girl sits on the shoulders of a man while making her hands into binoculars
Helping parents recognize and address issues like sexual abuse can be a difficult thing to do. Coming alongside families and teaching them how to have fruitful conversations can create an impact that will last a lifetime.

The statistics concerning child sexual abuse are staggering. One in five children is sexually abused by their 18th birthday. Including both children and adults who have been abused, that’s the equivalent of the entire population of those living in both Mountain and Pacific Time zones combined.Infographic for God Made All of Me (http://justinholcomb.com/2015/08/17/infographic-for-god-made-all-of-me/)

A study done by the Department of Justice brings the data a little closer to home:

“Except for victims under age 6, most sexual assault offenders were not family members but were otherwise known to the victim. Law enforcement classified sixty percent of all sexual assault offenders as acquaintances of the victim. Just 14% of offenders were strangers to their victims. Report: Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf)

What this means is the abuse is not just happening “out there” but could be happening in the very families you minister to every week. The prevalence of child sexual abuse is overwhelming, but the trauma this type of abuse causes is more than statistics and numbers. It carries unspeakable pain and causes devastation wherever it is present. What can the church do to confront the evils of abuse and protect families from further damage? 

Help parents understand what abuse looks like

Parents are often reluctant to address this subject with their children. One reason why parents may not have these conversations is that they don’t feel equipped. These conversations are awkward, painful, and cumbersome. 

The church can have an immense impact if leaders are willing to step in. Speaking about the issue of sexual abuse from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, and small groups can give parents a solid foundation of knowledge and confidence to sit down with their children and begin to have fruitful conversations.

Making families aware of what is acceptable behavior and what is not, even from other family members, can be helpful. In any number of “safe” situations there is potential for abuse to occur. Give families clear guidelines to take home and digest. We suggest an article written by Justin Holcomb on the subject titled “9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse.”

If you need help gathering more comprehensive resources or need to speak to one of our counselors regarding this topic, we’d love to come alongside you however we can. Feel free to call our confidential pastoral care line at 1-844-4PASTOR .

Invite an expert to speak on the subject 

Focus on the Family recently aired a radio broadcast featuring Justin and his wife Lindsey. Justin shared a little of his own story facing sexual abuse as a child. As a couple committed to the topic, they wrote a helpful book for families. God Made All of Me is filled with practical tips on how to have conversations addressing misconceptions that fuel confusion, embarrassment, and secrecy, which often prevent children from recognizing or reporting sexual abuse. 

The beautifully illustrated story is designed to help parents teach their children about protecting their bodies. Including being written from a biblical worldview, this vital resource contains:

  • A simple, relatable story for two-to-eight year-old children, designed to help them protect their bodies. 
  • Colorful, age-appropriate illustrations.
  • A clear message that God made every part of that human body and that every part is, therefore, good. 
  • A helpful onramp to open up conversations about sexual abuse.
  • A guide that facilitates open conversations about appropriate and inappropriate touches.

Inviting speakers, like Justin, to speak in your church can be an important step toward educating and protecting families in your congregation. In addition to getting a solid foundation under their feet, inviting a speaker can also serve as a forum for parents to feel safe asking questions they wouldn’t ask anywhere else. Having someone who knows the material and has had experiences that shaped them, much like Justin has, creates an atmosphere that could facilitate a more robust engagement from families in your church.

Sexual abuse is a national epidemic, with horrific and life-long consequences. We urge you to help prepare the families in your congregations to protect their children from sexual predators, and also equip yourself to help minister to those who have already been abused. 

Additional Resources:

Caring for Sexually Abused Children: A Handbook for Churches and Families (book)

Lydia Discipleship Ministries

Deeper Walk International

My Friend Is Struggling With Past Sexual Abuse (book)

When a Man You Love Was Abused (book)

When a Woman You Loved Was Abused (book)

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