Four Ways to Support a Child Survivor of Abuse
1. Address the survivors’ and all other children’s physical and body safety first. Children, youth, and adults should practice consent in all areas of their lives. Consent is an active, voluntary verbal agreement. It means asking before giving a hug. It means listening to a “no.” It means respecting children’s boundaries and finding ways to connect with them that do not necessarily involve physical interaction. (Dove’s Nest offers a variety of different trainings on healthy boundaries and consent.)
2. Provide positive connections and leadership opportunities for child survivors in Sunday school, VBS, youth group, church services, etc. This builds confidence in children and is a significant protective factor. Carrying on with normal childhood activities and having healthy relationships with peers and adults help a child recover from trauma and abuse. Church provides many wonderful opportunities to encourage this.
3. Be careful when you talk about forgiveness or make comments that minimize abuse. As much as we wish it were otherwise, there aren’t quick fixes for the pain of abuse—for the damage that offenders have caused. Prioritize and recognize the needs of children over the needs of protecting the reputation or confidentiality of the offender or the positions of people who don’t believe the abuse happened. Provide a safe context for each child survivor to heal at their own pace and in their own way.
4. Continue to focus on prevention for this child and all others. Provide books for children about body safety in your church library or other resources about behaviors to expect from children who are victims of different kinds of abuse and how to respond. Connect the child survivor with a licensed therapist who is trained in working with victims of child sexual abuse. In Sunday school, children and youth can use Circle of Grace, a Christian safe environment curriculum. It is available for free with a modest administrative fee from Dove’s Nest: dovesnest.net/circleofgrace.
In Matthew 18, Jesus welcomed children and he held up their faith. He understood their humility and trust, but he also knew how easily that trust could be taken advantage of and how important protection is for children. Jesus was from a lineage that included victims and survivors. According to the genealogy in the book of Matthew, he is a descendant of three victims of sexual exploitation—Tamar, Bathsheba, and Rahab. God’s kingdom includes the oppressed and the marginalized, and it has room for each of us. Let’s extend that love to all children in our churches and communities.
This was published in the November 2019 edition of The Beacon, a monthly publication of CMC. Jeanette Harder, board member, speaker, and cofounder of Dove’s Nest, and Anna Groff, executive director of Dove’s Nest. Harder is also a professor of social work at University of Nebraska at Omaha.