APPLETON — While the statistics are difficult to measure since so many incidents of sexual abuse are unreported, studies by the Crimes Against Children Research Center show that one of every five girls and one of every 20 boys will be sexually assaulted during their childhood.
The wounds from these horrors may never completely heal and adults who have endured this trauma should seek professional help for the physical and emotional trauma through qualified doctors and therapists. In addition, healing the spiritual wounds is important.
To help in the spiritual healing process, St. Bernard Parish is offering a seven-week discussion group for women who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The sessions are centered around the book, “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” by Dawn Eden.
Facilitators of the discussion are two women from local parishes who are survivors themselves. Kay and Julie met through a women’s Cursillo weekend when they discovered they had similar backgrounds. Because of what they both had been through, they decided to get together once a month and talk and share their stories and insights. “The similarity of what she felt and I felt was almost not having to finish our sentences. That was a real connection,” said Kay.
They discovered Eden’s book and Julie got the idea of facilitating a book group around it. “I felt this book had exactly what was needed, dealing with the after effects of sexual abuse because you’re wounded not only emotionally but spiritually, too,” said Julie. “I felt this was a good guide for people to have a discussion. We’re not therapists, but we could be sisters along the way in supporting and encouraging each other.”
Two sessions were conducted in the past 12 months. The women who attended found it beneficial, noted Julie. “It’s not something you bring up with anybody, people aren’t comfortable with it. You know in your adult mind that the abuse wasn’t your fault but it’s that shame that’s behind there,” she said.
“We don’t want to drudge up people’s past abuse because that’s not the purpose of the group, it’s about the journey of spiritual healing that Christ can give us,” Julie added. “The church has so many spiritual gifts to offer for us. The author does an amazing job of bringing up all those gifts — the sacraments, the Scriptures, adoration, the saints, Mary, the Eucharist — that we can use as part of that healing journey.”
While the past can’t be erased and the wounds will always be there, spiritual healing can turn them from open wounds to scars.
“You get to a certain point that you’re healed (physically and mentally) but you still don’t have that inner peace and you don’t have the joy,” said Kay. “This book really brings out the spiritual side and can help you to bring that peace and joy back into your life.”
Children should be identified as children of God, say the women, and that’s taken away by sexual abuse. “Your identity is gone, you’re an object. When it’s taken away, that ability to feel that you are loved for being you and that God loves you is taken away as well.”
They stress that during the worst of times, Jesus suffers with the suffering. “God is always there even if you don’t know it,” Julie said. “No matter where you are on this journey, God will meet you where you’re at.”
Even after years have gone by, the feelings of guilt, sorrow, distrust, shame and unworthiness can still pervade women’s thoughts. “You have all these lingering effects of how you think about yourself, how you relate to others, your sexuality,” added Julie. “The spiritual piece can help with all of that.”
Facilitating these workshops and talking one-on-one with other survivors continues the healing process for both of the women. But it’s not an easy thing to do because they are putting themselves out there and still experience the fear of being judged or not believed.
If women are not to the point of feeling comfortable about participating, Kay and Julie encourage them to read “My Peace I Give to You.”
“This book has the tools — praying the rosary, going to adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession cleans the soul, which helps us hear God,” said Julie. The book would be beneficial reading for ministers and for anyone who knows someone who was sexually abused as a child.
Some people choose to leave the church when they are adults. Julie warned people not to judge the church because of that.
“Leaving is probably the worst thing you can do because the healing is in the church,” she said. “I had no idea the gifts that we have in the sacraments. That’s the beauty of the sacraments, for every personality there is something that will work for you.
The journey toward healing is not easy, Julie said, but it’s worth every moment. “It’s difficult along the way but God is there. He’s waiting.”