Dawn Scott Jones, author of When a Woman You Love Was Abused, explains how she found emotional healing from childhood sexual abuse and how a husband can come alongside his wife who's experienced similar trauma to offer her love and support. (Part 2 of 2)
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Dawn Scott Jones: My dad was my hero and my villain and that's the confusing part. I would never have turned my dad in, never.
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John Fuller: Well, such an apparently contradictory statement, but so common for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. And we have a survivor of that very thing with us today, Dawn Scott Jones. She shared that comment on the last "Focus on the Family" broadcast and is back with us again today, talking about overcoming childhood sexual abuse and how that can impact a marriage relationship.
Jim, we mentioned last time, this is a very serious conversation, not something appropriate younger listeners. It could raise a lot of questions. So, get those children out of ear shot, but do lean in to today's broadcast, because there is some hope here, particularly if you feel like you're damaged goods or you're conflicted about the past that has been so hard.
Jim Daly: John, we set it up last time. We recognized that research, albeit not perfect research because of reporting errors, but something like 1 in 3 women are sexually abused as girls or teenagers. And it's prevalent. That's 33 percent. That is a big number. And we want to talk about this, because the enemy of our soul has robbed the culture, robbed us as human beings of God's great gift of sexuality in that context of marriage. That's how God intended it and it's just like the enemy to gnarl it and to twist it and to steal and to rob from us what God intended for good.
And for that reason, I know it's sensitive and I know that many of you will hear it and say, "Whoa. Why are you talking about this?" Because we need to open up this area of conversation to bring healing to those that maybe have never thought about it in the context of feeling damaged, feeling unworthy, feeling the shame that Dawn talked about last time and I would encourage you, if you did not hear it, get the download, get the CD. Do what you need to do to hear this, especially if you think you have lived through something like this, as well.
John: Yeah and the number to call if you'd like details about those resources or the book that our guest has written called, When a Woman You Love Was Abused: A Husband's Guide to Helping Her Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation, call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
Jim: Dawn, let me welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."
Dawn: Thank you. Good to be back with you guys.
Jim: Um … we have new people listening today, so let me just quickly recap. From about 12 to 17, as best as your memory can provide, your father sexually abused you. At 19, you married Terry.
Jim: And we left off last time just talking about your courtship, the fact that you discussed this issue with Terry, who was 22 at the time and that his sense was, you're doing well. You see healthy and although he was concerned, he seemed to digest it reasonably well and to say, let's keep moving forward and you got married.
Jim: We left off right there and I want to pick the story up, because a victim of this kind of abuse that you so transparently and vulnerably shared with us last time, does have a lot to deal with. We call it "baggage." I don't know that I even like that word--
Jim: --but you're coming in with a lot of bruises, a lot of scars.
Jim: Pick up the story where you and Terry began to go, "Uh-oh; this is far deeper than what we imagined."
Dawn: Right. Well, you know, every married couple will experience some adjustment once they get into marriage.
Jim: Sure, that's called "marriage."
Dawn: That's called marriage. So, many of us 16 minutes after our marriage decide we don't want to be in this, let alone this huge monster that was dwelling in our home called the aftermath of sexual abuse. I did not know that, that aftermath could include and did for me, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, fears and phobias, sleepless nights, triggers that I had no idea that when I saw saggy white socks, that would trigger me.
Jim: Reminding you of your dad.
Dawn: Reminding me of my dad or the smell of certain cologne or toothpaste would remind me. And there would just be an aversion and I wouldn't understand why, but everything inside of me would be screaming.
Now I'm gonna be vulnerable and I'm gonna share, because I want to help people, but you know, many men are nocturnal and I can remember sleeping and in the middle of the night waking up and there would just be this presence. My husband, breathing, hands on me, he was just there. And I couldn't get grounded fast enough, because that's how I was abused.
I would be a young girl in my own room in my bed and I never knew which night the door would open and all of a sudden, somebody would be slipping into my bed. So, now I have a husband that's doing the same thing and all I could think of was, "Stop it!" I found my voice finally, but I was married. So, I'm screaming at him, "Don't touch me. What do you think you're doing? You don't … you don't have a right to touch me like that."
And this poor young guy, who's got this wonderful sexual drive, is looking at his beautiful bride going, "What did I do to you?" And I didn't know and I felt devastated for him, but all I knew was, I have to get out. Fight and flight was so strong, I had to fight. I had to scream. I had to get out. I had to run. I couldn't be there.
Jim: Now spiritually speaking, I mean, you talked about last time, coming from a Christian home, that you dad was a worship leader--
Jim: --and I mean, that broke my heart to hear that and you know, again, the reality is, sin is everywhere--
Jim: --and we are sinners, yes, in the church, too. And so, Terry's a fairly new believer you said when you guys met and married, Christian parents on Terry's side. Where was God in all this? Were you talking in a spiritual context, not just, you know, a human context? But were either of you saying, let's seek the Lord? Let's get help. Let's get counseling.
Dawn: Yes, we did both. I had a dichotomy going on. I loved God as far as I knew, but I hated Him, too. I was very angry with God.
Jim: Can I ask you in that context, because so often we hear, particularly from women who were abused as girls, that it's hard for them to think of God as Father--
Jim: --especially given what you went through with your earthly father—
Jim: --that it messes up that normal connection that would be good—
Dawn: It does.
Jim: --and holy and loving. What did that barricade look like?
Dawn: So, just, you know, you must be abusive, too. You must be harsh, too. You're a God that's supposed to be a champion and You could've intervened and You could've saved me and You didn't. And my dad, who's supposed to protect me, he didn't. I knew I was supposed to be loved and championed, but I didn't have that and so, if my father didn't do it, why would God do it?
Jim: Well, that's a very brutally honest question. I like that. I think the Lord appreciates that heart.
Jim: That's like the heart of David. I mean, it's brutally honest.
Jim: Have you been able to reconcile that?
Dawn: Oh, yeah.
Jim: I mean, God could have prevented it. Why didn't He?
Dawn: And this was such a huge theological question, of course and I help women with this all the time and there's no answer that soothes that question. God, I believe through His Holy Spirit, gives each person their own answer.
I love how God gives us the power of choice and the freedom of will. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to choose Him and so, I know God doesn't violate the human will. He allows us to do it. And I know that God, looking back, I know God was with me. He strengthened me. He pulled me through, but evil is in this world. We live in a fallen world.
If God intervened and stopped every evil thing that happened, I guess that'd be called "heaven" and that's for a time yet ahead of us. But the Lord was brokenhearted for me and you know, many people say, He was at the same place where He was when His Son died on the cross and bled and died for us. He was there holding me and weeping for me and with me.
But I love God and I love God as my Father. You know, in the Bible how Esau cried out, "Bless me, too, father. Bless me, too." There's just a longing in our heart to have a father and I was not willing to give up my earthly father. I wanted a dad. I wanted a dad. And I did get that, but I'm not willing to give up my heavenly Father. He is my Father. I will never give up that title. He is my Father.
Jim: Let me ask you to speak to that woman who still struggles with that. She hasn't found the answer to that question, that deep theological question. She still has mistrust for God, because her dad or her uncle or her family member abused her. And God, where were You in the darkness when I needed You? And the tears are runnin' down her cheek right now--
Jim: --because she felt no one was there to—
Jim: --protect her. What do you say to her?
Dawn: Well, my sister, I would say to you that God is not like a human father. He is perfect and righteous and just in all of His ways and God would never harm; He will never hurt. And when He reaches to embrace us and I used to struggle with the word "touch," let God love you; let God touch your heart; those were trigger words for me.
But when I forgave God and it doesn't mean that He did anything wrong, it means that I held bitterness against God, when I forgave God and I said, it is well with my soul. You are true and righteous and I ran into those arms, I found a love that was deep as the ocean and a grace that washed me. And I would encourage any woman who struggles with a Father-God, to release Him from her expectation of God being like a human and allow God to reveal Himself--
Jim: Ah, that--
Dawn: --for Who He truly is.
Jim: --that's good advice and I hope if you're in that spot, you can do that today. And we're here for you. And John, you can give those details in just a moment. Dawn, let me ask you, where was Terry? Where are you at in your marriage, when God is beginning to heal you? And you're coming up to the realization that I've got some deep wounds. I'm not gonna hide them. I'm not gonna walk in the fog, like you talked last time. When did that happen and how many years had you been married?
Dawn: Well, we were married 28 years and that was probably due to Terry. He was a fighter. He was tenacious. Now on the downside, like many men, he thought he could fix it and with a hammer and duct tape I can fix anything.
Dawn: And so, his thing was, "Hey, it happened. It's over. Get over it. Put it behind you. Make a choice. Choose God." He became a very strong believer in the Lord and wanted to serve God and we kept praying, "Jesus, be the center, Christ be the center of this marriage." We knew we humanly were a bad match, through the abuse and just other things. It was gonna have to be God for us and we did experience that miracle.
The Lord through the exchanged life, recognizing that I've been crucified with Christ and He's resurrected us to be new, we were able to live and raise our kids in a friendship kind of way. We never did conquer the sexual intimacy. It was a struggle our whole marriage. So we started experiencing the erosion, because he needed intimacy. He needed sexuality and so, there were affairs. There were struggles there that happened.
Jim: And this whole time, you did go to counseling. I don't know if that was on and off, but you did go to counseling.
Dawn: We did. We went to counseling, but it was not for my abuse and that was the core issue. That was the root. We went to counseling to, you know, make sure the toilet paper's on the role right or be nice to each other, some of those things that marriages do, but neither one of us were still willing to look at or connect the dots, that what we're experiencing is the fallout from sexual abuse. It's my trust issues. It's intimacy issues. It's depression and anxiety. It's baggage, as you mentioned a moment ago or it's ghosts in the closet and I have to take the journey.
Dawn: I have to heal.
John: Well, perhaps you've experienced some level of counseling as our guest, Dawn Scott Jones has, but it was not really touching on the serious matters that were or are contributing to your difficulties. We have caring, Christian counselors here. Let me encourage you to call and talk to one of them. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. You can also use our Find a Counselor referral tool and get details about Dawn's book, When a Woman You Love Was Abused, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Let's now move to those practical examples, where husbands, which is the reason you wrote the book, When a Woman You Love Was Abused: A Husband's Guide to Helping Her Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation. Let's get to some practical examples and I want to end with the story of your dad.
Jim: So, speak to us as husbands right now. Let's say we have a wife who had that kind of experience. What are things that you learned that were not so helpful and those things that perhaps if Terry would have done them differently or anyone else had done them differently, would've been more helpful to you in terms of your healing?
Dawn: Yes, well, I discovered that Terry was very ill-equipped and fairly so. Why would he know anything about helping a wife? And so, the first thing that a husband needs to do is understand that you have a special-needs wife, so to speak on your hands when you have a woman who's a survivor.
And so, getting an education, which is why I wrote the book. I wanted to equip them with some tools to say, you have to understand her history to know how to help her in the present. She may not fully tell you the story, but if you can get the conversation going, let your wife know you want to be an ally. Let your wife know you're not trying to get the story because you want the nitty gritty. She's embarrassed. She's ashamed, but if she can trust you and see you as a friend, if you can pray for your wife, if you can let her hear her name on your lips before God, that is a very healing thing.
Dawn: If you can listen and be safe and not try to fix her and don't "If you would've" or "Why didn't you?" My husband accidentally made that mistake. "Why didn't you tell someone? Why didn't you stop it?" Why didn't I stop it? I had lost my voice when I was 8- or 9-years-old. I didn't know how to stop it. This was my dad, my hero. I just fell asleep. I pretended. If I'm sleeping, it'll all be over and when I wake up, I can pretend that I don't remember anything about it and that is how we lived.
If a husband can show that he's non-judgmental by saying things such as, "No matter what you've been through, I love you. I'll never reject you. I want to walk with you through this. You can trust me with the information or you can take your time and share it when you're ready."
Don't force forgiveness, 'cause that's not the magic bullet. Forgiveness, when I forgave too soon, that told me I didn't have a right to think about it or process it again and I lost another six years. We can't rush in with forgiveness.
Dawn: But to let your wife know that you're safe. And men don't like to hear this, but there may be a season where you'll have to say, "I'm going to just be safe for you right now and we're gonna put sexual intimacy on the shelf for about three months and then we'll revisit. I just want to be a safe place. Can we just touch? Can I just hold you? What can I do that would feel safe and let you know I'm an ally?"
Because so often he has the face of the enemy. She knows he's not. Your wife knows you're not the enemy. She loves you. She needs you, but her reactions to you and the way she speaks to you, she treats you like you're the one who abused her. And maybe she and that may mean just being willing to not be a man who looks like all you want is sex--
Dawn: --and help her understand your need, because I think it's fair to say, men need sexual intimacy more than we do as women. But it isn't just sex, although that's the physical reality. But there's a sense of togetherness and belonging and glue that we know God gives and just feel like you're one with your partner. Your husband doesn't just want a sister; he wants a lover. So, there's lots of things in the book that help guide people through this.
Jim: Dawn, some people might be feeling hopeless. Paint a picture of hope, what God can do if they follow a biblical pattern for healing and restoration.
Dawn: There is so much hope. I mean, we all know that we serve the God of miracles and I'm often taken by how, when Jesus was healing or even in the Old Testament, when you know, people were being healed of leprosy, there were certain strategic things that God would have 'em do.
Was it Naaman who said, "Man, I thought you were gonna come out here and wave your hand over me and it was all gonna go away, but I gotta go dip in this dirty water seven times?" The reality is, if we can submit to a strategic plan, that God would lay out a pattern of healing which would involve counseling, perhaps involve breaking of strongholds, some prayer and practice doing some things together.
I wrote on helium balloons. You might say, this is the stupidest thing. But you know what? Be willing, because God will work through all those things, but there's incredible hope. There is incredible opportunity. God is absolutely willing, able to heal her emotions. I'm healed, you guys. You know, I have to tell you, do I still trigger? Maybe now and then, but I tell you, I promise you before God, the Lord has renewed me. He's restored me. I love Jesus. I serve Jesus. I'm in the ministry full-time. I have a wonderful marriage. God has restored.
And all I can tell you, I don't know how it looks for you. I know what my journey was like. It's not instant. It's not overnight, but there is healing. There is hope and it is worth fighting for and going after. Do not settle for this chaos. Don't settle for cold war. Don't settle for secret life.
Jim: Dawn, kind of the amazing part of your story is the fact that you and your dad reconciled--
Jim: --which people just drop their jaw thinking why? How could you? Why would you? Talk about that experience, that process and how did that come about?
Dawn: When I started my healing journey, my father and I, we had no relationship at all. My children didn't really know who he was and he had left my mom and they had finally divorced and he ran off. And I always had that hole. I always wanted my dad. I wanted a dad. I didn't understand girls that had these relationships with their dad.
And one day out of the blue, I got a phone call. It was my father and he said, "Can I come over?" And my dad, I mean, he was still my hero, like if he called, I'd drop everything. And I said, "Yeah, do you know where I live?" And he said, "I'll find you."
And pretty soon, here came my dad and he came in the house and he said, "Can we talk?" We sat down on the couch. My heart was pounding and my dad asked for forgiveness. He confessed everything. He said he had gone to a spiritual retreat and he needed to make it right.
And he said, "I look around and I see I have the most creative, talented, beautiful daughter and grandchildren and I don't know you. And I don't want to die a lonely old man. I want you back in my life." I forgave my dad and he said, "I can't give you an answer. I can't tell you why I did what I did. I was wrong. Is there any hope for us to have a relationship?"
And my dad and I wept bitter tears that day and I forgave him and we started the slow process of building a relationship. And shortly thereafter, my dad contracted melanoma. He got melanoma on his eyeball, which metastasized directly to his liver and within a year, my dad died at 62-years-old with cancer.
Dawn: We took care of my dad. All three of us were there. My mom even came back to say good-bye. I was putting lotion on the hands of the one who abused me. I was singing songs to the one who had hurt me, hymns and praying for him. My dad, when he took his last breath, I looked around the room and we were all there and I promise you, my dad did not die a lonely old man. He had been restored and he said before he left, "I know I'm forgiven and I'll see you again at the throne of God."
Jim: Wow! I mean, Dawn, that is amazing and hard to process, 'cause I can see the emotion in you. It's in me, just feeling what that moment must have been like. That's hard stuff, but that is the work of our heavenly Father. That is how He restores what the enemy has eaten.
Dawn: Right and nobody was excusing it. My dad never excused it. It's not right. It was wrong. It was horrifically wrong. It stole from all of us.
Jim: You know, that's an amazing, amazing place to end and once again, we have said it, if you're living any part of this story that Dawn has shared over the last couple of days, contact us here at Focus on the Family. Let us put this book in your hands. Let us be a part of helping you start to mend and heal in a way that God will be glorified. Dawn, it's been so very good to have you with us here.
Dawn: Thank you.
John: And Jim, as we wrap things up here, this is the kind of program that brings out so many emotions and we have folks here at Focus on the Family who will listen to you if you're in need of unpacking and discussing some of these really painful points in your life. Our counseling team is a remarkable resource.
Jim: They are, John. They do great, great work and they're here for you and if you're in that spot where you need someone to talk with, please call us. I mean, you don't have to feel ashamed or embarrassed. This is the gnarled experience of humanity and we are all in this together and let us provide a biblical perspective to help you get out of that dark place that you're in.
And we've said it throughout this program, past trauma has a lasting impact on your relationships, especially your marriage. We heard that in Dawn's story and particularly in her marriage to Terry and how that failed.
We can offer some hope though. Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage [NIM] is doing some incredible things when it comes to healing broken relationships and it is Christian based. It's biblically based and we bring that kind of Holy Spirit healing into broken relationships. It's an intensive counseling retreat in Branson, Missouri. That means you go for two, four, even seven days to work through those issues and it is changing lives. They have an 80, almost 85 percent success rate. One couple said this: "We came as two broken, wounded, lonely hearts on life support. With new hearts transplanted we leave with a new consecrated life together as one." That is hope--
Jim: --and it's a miracle. There is hope for your marriage and let us be there for you today.
John: And we hear from so many who are struggling, who are in a difficult spot. Jim, we also hear from many couples who say Focus on the Family has helped. We're doin' well. Thank you for all that you've done through the broadcast and the websites and the various resources. And all of this ministry takes place because we have faithful friends who pray for and give to Focus.
Jim: Ah, John, very true and you know, it's a gift of $29 that will help one struggling family and help them to come back together, again to help patch up their relationships, keep that family together. Obviously, $58 helps two families. The reality is, any amount will go a long way to helping these families get through the struggles.
Let me say it this way. We talk about fighting poverty, which is a great Christian tradition. Do you know the No. 1 predictor of poverty? It's divorce. Women and children move from about 8 percent poverty rate in marriage and then after divorce, it goes to 38 percent for women and children. You want to do the No. 1 thing to help poverty? Let's keep families together in the name of Christ.
And if you donate today, a gift of any amount, we'll send you a copy of Dawn Scott Jones's book, When a Woman You Love was Abused as our way of expressing our thanks to you.
John: Yeah and we're so grateful for those who support us and make this kind of ministry possible and I'm thinking that book might be a really good resource for your church library or to pass along to a friend that you know is struggling. So, please call today. Donate generously and we'll send that book to you. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you'll find details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, hoping you'll join us tomorrow. We'll be speaking with well-known apologist and author, Os Guinness. He'll share an inspiring vision for Christians to engage the world courageously. That's tomorrow, as we once again, have encouragement to help your family thrive in Christ.
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Dawn Scott JonesView Bio
Dawn Scott Jones is author of the book When a Woman You Love Was Abused, and is currently working on the follow-up titled When the Woman Abused Was Me. She is also a popular conference speaker, an ordained minister and a singer/songwriter. Dawn also writes a blog and hosts a radio program called Freedom Girl Sisterhood for women who have experienced trauma. She and her husband, Paul, have three married children and nine grandchildren. Learn more about Dawn by visiting her website.