[TW: Abuse and Victim-Blaming]
In February of this year, author and abuse-survivor Mary DeMuth wrote a guest post for Sarah Bessey outlining 21 things that should never be said to an abuse survivor. (Hence the “more” in the title, because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, and the DeMuth piece is a must read.) But in the aftermath of the Leadership Journal debacle, I wanted to share a few more things I’ve been reminded of that should also never be said around or to an abuse survivor.
(Hint: You don’t always know if an abuse survivor is in the room with you. Or in your audience/congregation. Or about to drop a comment below yours after a blog post. Or standing behind you at the grocery store.)
1. “If so-and-so had touched me, I’d have told someone right away.” Sorry, friend. What you would or wouldn’t have done is not only completely irrelevant to someone else’s pain, it’s also impossible to know unless you actually faced the exact same abuser in the exact same situation. For the sake of victims you care about, it’s best to refrain from this speculative comment that only hurts.
2. “My parents raised me to stand up to people.” This is victim-blaming, disguised as a compliment to your parents. It implies that the victim’s personality or his/her parents’ parenting style is responsible for the abuse. While some “shy” kids may be targeted at times, many so-called confident kids are also abused. Consider also those who are attacked or drugged, where no mental intimidation and manipulation is even involved. Every case is unique and every victim is unique. Please don’t victim-blame.
3. “Aren’t we called to love rapists and pedophiles too?” This is an inappropriate thing to say to any victim, but it’s particularly inappropriate to say around or in front of people whose history you don’t know. Sure, we are called in Scripture to love everyone. But it must be weighed with justice (which can also be a form of love) and loving others is not your commandment to enforce, friend, when it comes to rapists and pedophiles. There may be places where you can say this and have a legitimate discussion of how the church can love such people. However, putting this on a single *individual* or throwing it out to all abuse survivors is very sketchy territory. If you believe in the Holy Spirit, give this one to the Spirit, let it go, and reserve your thoughts on this matter for appropriate venues where it can be discussed with great care.
4. “You’ll need to learn to talk about this if you want to help others.” No, actually abuse survivors don’t “need” to do anything except survive. Not every abuse survivor needs to be an advocate, and–if they chose to be one–not every battle needs to be theirs. Knowing when to step away, knowing when a conversation is only going to inflict more pain, is part of healing and setting better boundaries.
5. “But what about your abuser’s family? You’re hurting them by speaking up.” This is a tricky one. It’s never really the family’s fault, even if someone was a bit enabling (unless of course the family absolutely knew and did nothing to stop it). The bottom line is that it is the abuser who has hurt his or her family, not the victim. The victim should never carry the weight of protecting the abuser’s family from what their loved one has done. When the abuser’s deeds are brought into the light, the abuser’s family will survive in the truth, just as the victim has had to. The rest of us can work on not hurting the abuser’s family, don’t put this concern on the victim. (And if the abuser WAS the victim’s family, even more reason to keep your worry about hurting others to yourself. The victim is very aware and doesn’t need your reminder that truth can come at a price.)
I’m thankful that an unfortunate event has re-opened the conversation about sexual abuse. It’s an ugly topic, and few want to engage it. But it’s so important that we, the church, start getting this right and that good can come of what went on last week.
What about you? If you’re a victim, what’s something you wish hadn’t been said to you or in front of you?