Eugene Cho

the painful stories of sexual abuse

One of the most painful things I have encountered in my 18 years thus far as a pastor are the stories of sexual abuse amongst the people I love and am learning to love and serve.

As a pastor, I am to listen, learn, shepherd, teach, protect, empower, and [insert other words here].  But the stories of sexual abuse – most often in the hands of people that were supposed to love, nurture, and protect them – anger me beyond words. Honestly, there are times, I can’t contain that anger…

I really wish that there were only a handful of stories but the sad truth is that there have been numerous – including a few that were sexually abused at the hands of their pastors or spiritual leaders.  And these are just the folks that have felt comfortable sharing their pain. I suspect that there are many more. In fact,

Numerous sources cite that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood.

Absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.

As much as I read, learn, and ask others in order to be a more empathetic and spiritually/emotionally/psychologically informed pastor/counselor – I can’t even remotely understand the pain and anger of some that have shared their stories of sexual violation with me. All this to say…it’s not that simple.

This past Sunday, I shared “publicly” my one “small” story of sexual violation. It isn’t anything “serious” but I shared it to convey to people how this one act of violation (that lasted at most 2 seconds) is still vividly lodged in my memory and psyche and how sin (including sexual brokenness) can have consequences…

Here’s my brief story:

I was 12 years old. I was at a large department/market in Southern California. I was shopping for a toy for my younger cousin’s birthday and out of nowhere, an adult man comes directly at me and grabbed my private parts. In shock, I quickly brushed aside his arm and scurried off.

What shocks me the most – even to this day – is how vividly I remember this story.

It lasted all but 2 seconds but I still remember this man’s face, what he wore, the market I was at, the day and time, and even the exact aisle I was at.

This is my minor story. Others have major stories and circumstances. Encouraging people to forgive and move on just isn’t sufficient because there are some things our bodies and minds simply don’t allow us to forget…

Mercy.

Your thoughts?
Your stories?
Good resources you’d like to share with others?

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18 Responses

  1. Don Bryant says:

    This stuff is major, major, major. It never stops coming up in church. And the way this changes how people work on the inside is incredible. I am not an alarmist kind of guy but this phenomenon is huge. Interesting enough in the recovery men’s groups I lead and participate in the large number of stories of older brothers violating younger siblings is a large theme. Stunning.

  2. Kacie says:

    Don, you bring up a good point. I too have heard the older brother stories. I’m not a parent yet but I wonder – how does a parent guard against this? What kind of household boundaries are appropriate without being… well… alarmist?

  3. Michelle says:

    Sin is a sickening force. We all have our stories of grace. Here’s some of mine if you’re interested. God is so good! (Don’t know how to link from here, but my blog address should post.)

  4. Powerful post Eugene. It seems our whole society is complicit with this dark strain woven into our culture when so many are directly affected. One of powers keeping the disease in the bloodstream has got to be secrecy, shame and cover up.

    Awful subject that needs to be stay in all of our conscious.

  5. Lisa says:

    There are no words to express the outrage I feel on this topic as I was a vicitm of a very violent sexual assault as a very young child. I have spent a lot of time asking God why does he allow this to happen to innocent children, and even more specifically me. Two of my four sons were sexually abused at the age of about 2 1/2. The images and events are still like your story, very vivid in their memory. They are adults now and still have not dealt with it enough to heal. The effect it has had on their life is quite alarming to me.I am now in the process of healing. After being enraged at God for quite some time, I was nearly destroyed because I would not forgive him. It took time, but I have finally quit demanding answers of why. Because the truth is, if God did tell me, I probably would’nt like his answer anyway. I still have trouble trusting God, in fear that he may allow the same thing to happen to my grandchildren. But I am finally to the place where I am ready to heal, and only God can heal this terrible, terrible pain and fear. Nonetheless, I stll think it’s unfair and probably will until my dying day.

  6. t-hype says:

    What I’ve noticed (in my limited sample size among friends) is that there sometimes seems to be a pattern of victimization in families as was the case in my own family. I know I’m at least the 3rd generation to be sexually abused…that’s just CRAZY! I haven’t even had kids yet and I’m already praying against the enemy’s plans for future generations! It’s absolutely a curse.

    With siblings abusing each other, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it has something to do with the spiritual climate of the family. Deal with all the skeletons in your closet. Have a holistic theology of sexuality. As parents, you are the spiritual authority for your children. Whatever we try to hide within ourselves often comes out in our kids…

    Last thing, thank you Pastor Eugene for bringing up such a difficult topic and being so candid as to share a personal story. The church needs to be WAY more proactive on addressing sexual abuse because its SO prevalent.

    [Side note: This is just another reason why cheesy youth group speeches on “saving yourself” fall short on so many individuals. I’ve been a ton of them and not a single one addressed sexual abuse. Someone ought to do something about that! Having someone not force themselves on you is a step up for some folks, never mind NOT having sex… *sigh*]

    • eliseanne says:

      i think you hit on a key issue, of healing from your own abuse before having children. it makes the climate of the home so much healthier. because kids soak up more than words or actions, they soak up what they can sense in the home or family members, too.

      your words are powerful and i have witnessed them: Whatever we try to hide within ourselves often comes out in our kids…

  7. thyquill says:

    I have counseled online with a young Christian girl who was gang raped, starved and brutally beaten for 13 days. I’ve listened for months to her tell her story bit by bit because she blocked out most of the ordeal. Every night afterward she would have horrendously unavoidable nightmares and not be able to sleep. I could immediately tell when she was off her anti-anxiety meds because it was behaviorally like the difference between night and day.

    Several months later she is now with a safe parent and has learned to walk all over again.
    If there is one thing that I’ve learned through this is that these true victims need to be listened to, especially at first because in addition to the tremendous physical and emotional damage, they often have no friends that will listen to them. The story is too outrageous to believe.

    And many times she would lash out at me which I recognized as a release of pain so I didn’t take it personally. I’m so glad that I was able to befriend her and give her the love, support and understanding that she needed.
    If no one is there for these poor innocents then the problem tends to perpetuate itself.

    Hurt people hurt people.

    God bless,
    Paul

  8. Powerful post. I know people who have been violated and the thing that gets to my heart the most is the shame they feel in opening up. My heart goes out to these people. Thanks for sharing your testimony.

  9. your friend says:

    How can you help someone who has been sexually abused within the family and then being spiritually abused ever since (believing the otherness of spirituality being the norm)?

  10. Rhett Smith says:

    Eugene,

    Thanks for sharing this story. The one thing that I have discovered in my work as a pastor, and now as a therapist, is that people feel alone in this circumstance…and so when someone shares their story, such as you have…it brings hope, it brings a sense of comfort knowing that they aren’t alone. That others have experienced abuse, etc.

    When I first became a therapist I was told that 1 in 3 girls was/will be abused. And I was shocked. I didn’t think that was right. But now that I have been practicing as a therapist the last few years, I know from experience that that stat now seems right. And these are only the people who are actually coming for help. Imagine all those who are suffering in silence. Who have no one to talk to.

    Thanks for sharing this….

    Rhett Smith

    • thyquill says:

      Rhett,
      I agree. In the case of extreme boundary violation, the person needs the very help they are now instinctively avoiding. Nothing is solved in isolation but the first inclination is to withdraw.
      In the case of the young lady I was counseling (above), I gently urged her to, as soon as possible, to reach out to others, knowing that inside her that was the last thing that she FELT like doing. I had to repeat: “Feelings follow actions.”
      As you know, this all takes so much time.
      by the way, the last stat I heard was:
      1 in 4 girls have been abused and the ratio for boys was 1 in 6, equally as surprising to me.
      Paul

  11. Rain says:

    1 in 4, or even 1 in 3, seems like a very low estimate to me. Maybe it’s the crowd I run with, but out of my dozen closest friends, I would say that two or three at most were NOT sexually abused. So in my world, it’s very close to one out of one . . .😦

    • thyquill says:

      I think what you’re witnessing Rain, is the dynamic of small group or one on one responses in comparison to what what people are willing to admit to in larger groups. There is sometimes a great deal of shame with this, even trauma, and I think the 1 to 4 or 1 to 3 ratio are only the ones that are willing to
      A. admit to it or
      B. are even able to recall it (sometimes it is repressed or even blocked)
      Paul

  12. Lilada says:

    Eugene,

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the only father I ever knew–my mother’s husband. It started at age six and went on for five devastating years, until I had the courage to tell. I recount my storty in my book entitled: “I Can’t Live Like This Anymore!”. I now dedicated my life to serving in this area via prevent, intervention for children and healing support for adult women (and the men who love them). I have a non-profit organization and blog: Lilada’s Livingroom.org that offers support, awareness, Programs, etc. And I also provide life coaching specific to survivors.

    This is a major issue that is one of the single most destructive happenings in a life. I used to think suicide (YES, AS A CHRISTIAN) was the only way that I’d be free from the pain. The church is still way too silent. But I am a witness that God is a healer and a redeemer!

    Thank you so much for bringing up this topic. The more we know, the more we grow.

    Lilada Gee

  13. Truth Tells says:

    FACT is … telling effectively spreads the disease, which is the reason for NOT telling.

    NEVER NEVER NEVER provide DETAILS.

    i found this page while searching for THE TRUTH, which is that human beings actually DO LOVE to hear the stories of S. abuse.

    Certainly, not all humans – but there are plenty who do and that IS … the horrible truth.

    TRUTH be told… telling the truth has always been A MISTAKE.

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