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November 25, 2020

The Phases an Abuse Survivor Faces

By New Churches Team

  1. The Experience of Abuse

There are two key factors that are almost always present when someone is abused by someone that they know. First, the abuser was someone that they should have been able to trust. And secondly, there were power differentials in the relationship that were exploited. Now, as ministry leaders, we have to realize two things about ourselves: we are someone this person should be able to trust, which may no longer be a relational asset, and our position as a ministry leader creates a power differential in this relationship. This should help you understand why talking about their experience of abuse is more than just uncomfortable, it’s scary. Even if we are a safe person, the experience of talking to us is likely not to feel safe for the survivor.

  1. A Time Period of Silence

There is a period of abuse, and then there is some period of time when nothing is happening, nothing is being said, and there are several factors that contribute to this silence.

  • There’s the silencing of the abuser. Abusers know the implications of their actions and use a variety of “If you tell…” threats. Here’s where we have to realize that abuse doesn’t stop when the violence ends. When abuse happens in a church context the Bible and theological language get twisted as a part of the grooming and threatening process. This is why it can be wise and caring to even ask permission, “Is it OK if I pray with you?” because prayer may be something that was manipulated in the post-abuse experience.
  • There’s the silencing from the survivor’s own sense of shame, which is different from guilt. Survivors face their own sense of shame that compels them not to speak: “This happened, do I really want to talk about this?” Shame makes us feel separate from at the very time when recovering from abuse means we need to be cared for.
  • A third thing that adds to the silence is intimidation from media discussions. Every public discussion of abuse is in affect a social experiment. The survivor is wondering, “How would people respond if they knew my story?” The intensity of discussion from almost every direction makes it feel like the survivor couldn’t handle their experience being known in this climate.
  1. The Moment of Disclosure

This moment is terrifying. Great hope is placed on it. There is the potential to finally be known and cared for that almost seems too good to be true. There’s the possibility of being known and disbelieved that’s almost too painful to be risked. All of this emotion is swirling, and yet the survivor must try to speak clearly enough to be taken seriously. It’s almost like if you remember being a child playing the game of dizzy bat, where you spin around the bat several times and then try to run a straight line. This much emotion and trying to speak clearly enough to be heard can feel that way. But as soon as the ministry leader realizes what’s about to be disclosed, it is common for us as the ministry leader to begin to feel fear as well. The ministry leader realizes the weighty decisions that will be made in these moments that involve law enforcement, and liability, and social fall out. Now there are two scared people in the room. We must make sure that our fear does not reduce the hurting person to a liability to be managed instead of a person to be heard. But if we are unprepared that is often what our discomfort communicates.

  1. The Immediate Action Plan

The first concern is safety. Everything in your immediate action plan is about connecting this person with the right resources to ensure safety. This can be the most volatile and dangerous part of the journey for a survivor as they disclose their abuse. The survivor may be unclear and inconsistent of what he or she wants. You need to understand the legal requirements that exist when an adult is being abused as compared to when a minor is being abused. The state will intervene on behalf of a minor, while an adult must press charges for legal action to be taken. Some forms of abuse are not illegal, meaning no legal action can be taken. You as the ministry leader and your friend will want experienced guidance during the time that you are weighing these things.

To read the remainder of this article, and to listen to the entire video training with Brad Hambrick, click here for the full videos and post.

These videos are part of Plus Membership. To get full access to them, and much more, I encourage you to become a Plus Member. Click here to see all the benefits of becoming a Plus Member.


New Churches Team

NewChurches.com wants to help you build a strong foundation by connecting you with top experts in the field of church planting and multisite ministry, and by regularly providing you with the resources, information, and community you need to thrive as you multiply the mission of Matthew 28.


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