the Hope of Survivors

Simply Empathy by Tiffany Smith*

There are topics that are simply flagrant to bring up in a typical conversation, such as asking a person’s weight and age, criticism, bathroom habits, negativity, and very personal topics, such as sexual abuse.

There it is, that noisome term: sexual abuse. To me, this phrase is sufficient; but, its connotations reflect in one’s mind as a violent event that happens to an innocent woman or child in a dilapidated trailer park, an occurrence that only happens to those who are addicted to drugs, co-dependant, unrefined, non-religious, poorest of the poor in society. What do you imagine when you think of a sexual abuser? I think of a tall, skinny, white male who has long, dark, greasy hair, with an evil, contorted expression on his face. But this is not the only description of an abuser. Every social class has abusers and those who are abused.

Even though my image of an abuser is of a tall, thin, unkempt male, my experiences with an abuser are very quite on contrary.

There are many things that people do not know about me. This fact would top the list. I suppose I seem like the type of girl who has grown up in the perfect Adventist household. In fact, I have had people tell me the equivalent. I consider myself to have had my perfect childhood, in other words I hold no resentment, nor anger, toward anyone about how I grew up and how I was sexually abused at a young age. I have had the childhood that cultivated an attitude of empathy, respect, compassion, self-control, and generosity at an age earlier than most teens even begin to consider acne treatment methods.

As a young child, I was taught to give adults respect and to obey their requests, even when what they are asking or telling me seem unreasonable and hard to understand. Perhaps this is why I was such an easy, six-year-old target.

The first memory I have of an inappropriate physical contact between this older church member and me is when I was six years old. At the time, I didn’t know that it was wrong, simply an older man’s tight hug of affection with a lower body slip up. This was simply the beginning. In hindsight, I can remember bits and pieces of the gradual increase of physical contact. There are some memories that must not be dwelt upon for too long. To me, sexual abuse is one of them. If you are the abused, that is. Thinking about such events makes one’s mind impure and fogged, so much so, that it inhibits the energy to flow in a more positive direction, such as outreach and thinking of others.

My thoughts concerning the reputation of the abuser are contradicting. He was not a deacon of the church because he was not at his house during the week, but he was highly respected within the church. He also went on numerous mission trips. I remember him showing me tons of pictures of little ‘girl’ friends he had made overseas. I remember most of the girls were in pajamas—which he told me were because he would night-sit for the parents, such a similar memory of mine, too. I can just imagine his ulterior motives…

An abuser, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, does not make the Adventist Church an abuser. People are members of the church, which has established doctrines, principles, and guidelines. The church members do not always follow those doctrines, principles, and guidelines. That not only makes them look bad, but also puts the church under a dark shadow. This is the problem I see with telling people of my experiences with sexual misconduct. Yes, I was abused in the church, by a church member, but the church didn’t make an announcement and say, “Okay men, go select any six year old and condition them to give you sexual favors.” If any Seventh-day Adventist Church—or any church for that matter—were to do so, I can guarantee that most members would request to withdraw their membership!

It is sad to think I was so ignorant not to have known what was happening to me—was wrong. The abuse went on for years, and ended when we relocated to another area.

This began my removal of abusive memories. My realization of how wrong it was began to settle in when I read a testimony of a lady who had been a child victim.

When we moved, my abuser actually made frequent visits to our new house and said that he missed my family and, “especially me.” But, after a few months, he stopped coming to visit. He must have found someone else.

Certain events led me to a child advocacy center. I also was given a unique opportunity by the police officers that were handling my case.

Since several years had passed since my last occurrence with my abuser, examinations could not prove that this man actually committed a crime. So the police had to be creative.

The police scheduled a time when I would give my abuser a telephone call. This was to appear like a regular conversation but I was given a list of catch phrases to practice before the telephone call. His responses to those phrases would prove he was guilty of sexual abuse of a minor in several counties as well as other charges. The police would be able to use this phone call as evidence against him in court, because they were using special telephone equipment to tap my conversation. I learned that not just anyone is able tap a telephone. In fact, the tech expert who was on my case had to obtain a grant from the judge to use such a device. I thought this was neat because I was actually being sneaky and fooling him (my abuser) for once.

When my parents first learned of the abuse incidents they weren’t sure what proper legal avenue to pursue. They decided to speak with our pastor, who helped them take proper action. In fact my parents didn’t even go to court, the State took over the prosecution. The pastor also told my parents about The Hope of Survivors (THOS). Throughout the legal proceedings and for a bit of time afterward, I met with Samantha Nelson, Vice President & CEO of THOS, Board Certified Biblical Counselor and Certified Belief Therapist, who was not only a friendly and caring counselor, but also became a close friend and advocate. Samantha counseled with women for a long time before I had met her, but I was a new case because I was her first child to work with. As I remember our long meetings, I appreciate her patience with my lack of generosity with my personal feelings. I found it difficult to speak to her about the previous events that happened between me and my violator. I would talk about gymnastics, events at school, activities with my friends and books I was reading. At the time I found it easier to tell the police what had happened, than to tell Samantha, because I knew that the police had an objective. But I now understand that expressing my feelings to Samantha would help me emotionally work through it. The language of abuse is very difficult to articulate, but even more difficult to understand.

I have known people who let their crisis determine their worldview. It works at them, eats away at their thoughts, and eventually consumes them—so much so that it prevents them from working through the incidents. Without my experience with abuse, I feel as though I would not have sufficient empathy toward those who have been sexually mishandled. Sadly, I actually don’t know many women who have not been abused in some manner.

I recently graduated from high school with honors and received several notable scholarships. I enjoy writing and journalism. I just finished a summer devotional book and anticipate writing more books in the future.

I understand that the healing comes from your attitude. Kahlil Gibran sums up my thoughts, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” To me, this quote means that, through a process of positive thoughts and encouragement, you can work through trying and traumatic experiences. It means that joy is possible; you can obtain joy through God.

* a pseudonym

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If you are a survivor of pastoral abuse, we would love to hear your story and possibly make it available on this web site for others to read and renew their hope. You can use a pseudonym if you choose and rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.

Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the survivor’s stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18