HELPING THE CHILD
Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler in Josh McDowell's Handbook on
Counseling Youth offer an intentional approach to helping
those who've been through this type of traumatic experience.
1. Listen. Be slow to speak and quick to listen.
2. Empathize. Don't lecture, but rather be someone the
child can cry with, hurt with, and mourn with. Offer love
3. Affirm. Help the child understand that you believe him
or her, and affirm that the child is an individual with infinite
4. Direct. Point the child to God as the source of
healing and wholeness. Help the child turn the responsibility of
the abuse from him- or herself onto the perpetrator and to realize
this process of healing and recovery will take time.
5. Enlist. Allow the child to choose caring people who
can encourage and offer a fuller support system. In most states,
you must also enlist the involvement of law enforcement and social
services. Rather than fearing these people's involvement,
understand that they're trained professionals who, for the most
part, care deeply about children.
6. Refer. Bring a professional Christian counselor into
the situation. It's imperative to invite professionals into this
very sensitive situation.
MINISTRY TO THE FAMILY
Too often our response is simply to pretend sexual abuse doesn't
exist and to never deal with it, forcing those who are wounded by
abuse to continue to struggle on their own, and never finding the
hope Christ wants to offer them. Instead, your church can help the
children and families who've gone through such a traumatic
An abused child and his or her family need others to come
alongside them to provide support and encouragement as they begin
the difficult journey of dealing with the abuse and learning to
trust again. Abuse shatters trust. If the children who've been
abused and their families don't find help and hope in the church,
where will they find it?
In his book Caring for Sexually Abused Children, R. Timothy
Kearney identifies a number of struggles families and the church
must deal with.
• Communication-Church members' gossip about the situation
can be very painful for the family, so encourage the church to
interact with the family and faithfully pray for them while not
• Isolation-Some families isolate themselves because sometimes
those trying to help may have the tendency to overcompensate and
treat the family as special or different. The family needs to be
treated as normally as possible while receiving whatever attention
• Shame-Help the child and family deal with feelings of shame and
guilt by first identifying the difference between true guilt and
false guilt. A victim and his or her family have no reason to feel
guilty. The true guilt should be placed solely on the shoulders of
the perpetrator. Help the family to understand that the child did
• Love-It's critically important that children and families
affected by abuse have people who are willing to take the time to
listen intently to their story as they feel able to share it. These
families need to be believed without skepticism or judgment. They
need people who'll lovingly pursue them and initiate contact with
them, recognizing that simply offering to be available may not be
*Patience-The help offered will need to endure, just as the pain
and struggles do. Abuse has physical and emotional consequences
that can be tremendously devastating and traumatic for the child.
These can be lifelong and include things such as sexually
transmitted diseases, damage to the genitals, bladder control
problems, issues of guilt and shame, feelings of low self-esteem,
lack of ability to trust others, depression, anxiety, and anger.
Families need people who'll be patient as they work through the
physical and spiritual ramifications. Ultimately, they need the
church to be real and to become educated about how to properly
reach out and effectively care for them.
The horror of child sexual abuse is far too real for so many
children in our churches, but thankfully the reality of our God,
who loves and cares about us, gives the strength we need to face
the truth and provide real help and healing for those who've been
hurt. We must do all we can to make our ministries as safe as
possible, and be alert and ready to help those who've been wounded
-- they are in our midst.
Allie Hayes is a freelance writer and is involved in
children's ministries. Nate Wagner is a pastor of student
ministries at Sparta Baptist Church in Sparta, Michigan.