Further Q&A from The Courage Conference (Part 1)
I have been told that one of the best parts about The Courage Conference was the Q&A session. In fact, so many people turned in questions that we didn’t have time to address them all. As promised, we want to answer all of the questions that came in, so below is part 1 of the responses we were unable to give during the event.
The most frequent topic asked about was repressed memories. I will attempt to condense the answers to all of these concerns into one response.
1. How valid are repressed memories? My child recalled a memory from a long time ago, can/should we still go to the police about it? How do you handle people not believing you about previously repressed memories?
Repressed memories are very common for survivors of abuse. When the brain experiences trauma, it uses a variety of methods to attempt to protect itself. This can include burying a memory of the painful experience so that one can function without becoming overwhelmed. Repressed memories are very common and should be taken seriously.
I recommend that you read and share this article (and video at the bottom in that post) with sceptical friends, family members, law enforcement, and attorneys. It is a great way to educate the doubters. In it, Rachel Williams-Jordan (Sexual Assault Response Program or S.A.R.P. advocate) says,
“It is not uncommon for family, friends, law enforcement, etc. to disbelieve a victim because their story has discrepancies or changes over time. It may appear to them that the victim is lying or merely seeking attention and cannot keep their story straight. In reality, to be simplistic, the brain is working to retrieve data that was potentially temporarily “lost” or suppressed during the trauma, and in the process of remembering and healing, that information will not be clear or linear. Inconsistencies are not lies but evidence that a traumatic experience has occurred.”
Yes, you should still contact the police and consult a lawyer for abuse memories that were previously repressed. I recommend contacting SARP and asking them to help you find an advocate in your area; he or she can assist you in reporting the abuse and educating the officers on the science behind repressed memories.
2. What is the percentage of false reports of sexual abuse?
False reports are very uncommon. Studies show that only 2%-10% of sexual assault accusations are unfounded. Unfounded does not mean untrue, just unable to be confirmed. Sources: Uniform Crime Report, United States Department of Justice, and Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance
3. Is there a danger in having a mentality of “guilty as soon as accused” vs. “innocent until proven guilty”?
Under the law, a person is seen as innocent until proven guilty. However, that does not mean we should hesitate to take a victim’s story seriously before it is proven in court to be true. Even when cases go to court, a perpetrator can be found “not guilty” while still having committed the crime. A “not guilty” verdict only means that there was not enough evidence available to prosecute them.
As mentioned, abuse reports are rarely found to be untrue. On top of that, according to RAIN, only 6 out of 1,000 rape perpetrators are ever caught and jailed. It is far safer to believe the victim than to allow a likely perpetrator to continue to attack others.
4. Do child victims ever fully forget abuse that happened to them? Should I tell my son/daughter that they were abused, should I tell their therapist? My child is currently experiencing high anxiety and depression.
I cannot speak for all victims for all time, but I will say that the body keeps score. Even if the mind represses the memories, the body will still respond to the trauma that occurred. Anxiety and depression are common responses to the trauma of abuse. I would say yes, tell the therapist and come up with a plan together as to how to discuss this with your child. They deserve to have answers to explain the physical/mental symptoms they are experiencing. This will be hard, and I recommend partnering with the therapist when deciding how and when to bring it up, but ultimately it may allow the child to get to the root of their symptoms and experience more healing.
5. For someone coming out of an abusive relationship, whose children have witnessed much of the abuse, what are some practical steps I can take to help us heal when going to our church leaders is not an option?
Counseling by a licensed therapist would be the best initial course of action for you and your children. Your children may have experienced secondary victimization, and counseling (even at a young age) will help to jump-start their healing. If you do not feel safe talking to your church leaders about the abuse you experienced, I also recommend looking for a safer church to attend. You need to have people around you that will support and encourage you to gain healing. You could ask your counselor and local victim advocacy for names of safe churches in your area.
6. I am being sexually assaulted/harassed by a powerful leader in my congregation. What action should I take? If it’s not my work place, is it still worth reporting to the police? Should I go directly to a civil attorney?
Yes! Please go to the police. Sexual harassment and assault is illegal all the time. Even if you are not in Lynchburg, I would recommend getting in touch with SARP. They can further advise you about your reporting and legal options and direct you to a domestic violence center near you. Many times, advocates will even accompany you as you report to the police. They will be able to direct you to additional services as well, such as counseling, support groups, and other resources available to you.
7. I am a survivor of clergy abuse. When I asked for help, the church repeatedly said “I’m unqualified to help you,” but they were scared to death to encourage me to seek help from a secular therapist, which they thought was “humanistic.” How can we educate our young clergy to be equipped or to make helpful referrals?
The church often expresses the misconception that therapy is dangerous or counter to the Bible, but in the same breath they would encourage someone who is sick to go and see a medical doctor. A professional psychotherapist is a doctor for the mind, and many of their techniques are in line with Scriptural practices. For instance, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a scientific way of “renewing your mind,” just like the Bible encourages us to do. I recommend having clergy get in contact with GRACE, SARP and Stand Up Speak Out. Ask these organizations to train them about abuse in general, and to explain the benefits of victims meeting with trained, licensed counselors.
Thank you for sending in these GREAT questions! I will be posting part 2 in the near future.
Did you miss The Courage Conference? For a limited time we are still offering online viewing tickets. Find out more here!