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Every year, 237,868 people in the United States are sexually assaulted. Six in ten will never report the violation to the police. 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. I don’t write this to lull or shock you with statistics. I share this to say we are a culture of sexually injured people. We exist within the church, but often the church gets it wrong.
The Conference Held in Church
Over a decade ago I sat in the audience of a sexy Christian wife conference while my heart recoiled. Failure hollered so loudly I wondered if others could hear it. Women laughed, turned red-faced, then giggled as they wrote sexy lists.
The speaker talked about being a hottie for your spouse, of enlivening the marriage bed. “God made sex to be amazing, fulfilling,” she said. It was our duty to lavish husbands with our overt sexuality. Maybe he could eat berries from our bellies, or we could sneak hot notes in his pocket. We could be sex kittens, all by God’s strength.
I looked around the crowded auditorium, wondering if I were the only person unable to perform these acts. I felt like a scrawny person sitting in on a sumo-wrestling seminar, incapable of carrying out the tips and tricks offered.
I knew a large swath of these laughing women had been sexually assaulted at one point in their lives (as had some of their husbands). If I’d had the gumption, I would’ve stood up in the middle of that crowded sanctuary and said this: “Could you address those of us who find this impossible? Don’t place another burden upon us. We’re trying to work through the past, barely able to understand sex as beautiful. To so many of us, sex feels dirty, serving as a constant reminder that we were violated.”
Sexually Abused at Five
Neighborhood bullies molested five-year-old me. They drug me into wooded parks and raped me. (There’s really no pretty way to put this.) They eventually invited their friends to participate. Though they threatened to kill my parents if I told, I finally grabbed enough courage to tell my babysitter. She said she’d tell my mom (but never did), and the boys continued to rape me, which led me to believe that not one adult on earth would protect me. Providentially, we moved at the end of that year, far enough away from those boys that I didn’t have to endure their violence.
But those boys stayed with me, haunting my dreams, obscuring my view of sex, making me believe my sole purpose in life was to be used and violated. They marked me—as if they’d carved an indelible tattoo into my skin letting every sexual perpetrator in the world know that I was an easy target.
All Better in Marriage?
Once engaged, I didn’t anticipate my wedding night with joy or expectation. Terror refrained inside me. I shared those fears with my husband, and we made it through. Today I enjoy sex—by God’s grace and healing through a hard-won journey.
It’s taken several years over the past twenty-three to find healing. I still disconnect. I don’t always engage my emotions or my whole self. If I enjoy sex, I feel like I’m legitimizing the abuse. I may never be the sexy wife who is a hottie for her husband. My growth has been tremendous, but I still have scars, and I sometimes battle my fallback: revulsion.
Even so, even though I’m not fully free and completely healed (don’t we all have scars?), I felt it important to share my story of healing—to give hope to others who feel like they’re completely alone. The result is my latest book: Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse (Uncaged Publishing, 2014). It’s my gift I give to any who have suffered sexual abuse, and because my husband shared his part of my healing journey, it’s a gift to those who simply want to come alongside a sexual abuse victim in a beautiful way.
The Church and Sexual Abuse
Of late (and throughout church history) we’ve seen sexual abuse perpetrated by church leaders, or covered up once officials discover the abuse. This is a silent, dark issue, and it’s perverse that we don’t often listen to or dignify victims. Sexual abuse is Satan’s greatest weapon against humanity. The shame associated with it keeps the sin hidden in the darkness to fester and grow. And if or when victims dare to come forward, they sometimes face further victimization by the very institution that should protect and usher in healing. In some instances, victims are commanded to quickly forgive a violator in a cheap grace exchange, preferring the feelings of the perpetrator to the ruined life of the victim.
The belief that we should expeditiously get over our pasts also harms sexual abuse victims. So many have heard this insulting admonition, “That was so long ago, why can’t you just get over it?” Because of the poor track record of the church and glib questions like this, it’s no wonder we’re not seeing widespread healing for the sexually abused.
A Way Forward
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There is hope. A growing number of victims are discovering their voices. Ministries like G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) wrote “A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church” which many Christian leaders signed, including myself. Kanakuk Camps lead the way in preventing sexual abuse in churches and Christian organizations. Lawyers like Boz Tchividijian advocate for the sexually exploited. We are having open discussions about sexual abuse and its effects.
Whether you’re a sexual abuse victim, or you love one, or you want your church to better deal with sexual abuse’s aftermath, or you minister to sex-trafficked victims, Not Marked will succinctly help you understand the issue, give you needed empathy, and provide a pathway toward healing that doesn’t demean, re-victimize, or heap further burdens on the sexually violated.
Mary DeMuth is a speaker and author who loves to help people live uncaged, freedom infused lives. She’s written over a dozen books, including Not Marked and The Wall Around Your Heart. Her family planted a church in Southern France, and now they live in the Dallas area. Find out more at marydemuth.com.