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Silence and Denial

Continued from my previous blog mostly from my book Redeem The Silence; an Unintended Journey:

Silence is a profoundly self-focused, self-protective, and selfish position when applied to the area of sexual violence.  As a cultural phenomenon that becomes a shared belief within the faith community, it is an example of mass denial.  Such shared denial promotes further damages to the survivor by minimizing her voice and essentially abandoning her.  Passivity and silence support the rapist/incestor/molester and wound the entire community.  if asked about her rape experience, a survivor always has a choice not to answer questions, but if questions are asked out of genuine care for her, she will feel relief and healing just  by the asking.

The Role of a Pastor, Minister, or Priest:

Many pastors say they are unaware of sexual violence survivors in their congregation.  If so, the probable cause for this is that survivors are uncomfortable, afraid, or don’t even think of talking to anyone about what has happened to them.  Many have even blocked out the memory or do not understand that what was done to them was a violation and damaged them.    If rape survivors are hiding in fear and shame, something in our faith community culture needs to change.  A pastor/leader has a pivotal role, but can’t provide most of what is needed to a survivor’s Unintended Journey.  This takes a community.  But as a pastor/leader it is your responsibility to lead/teach your community to do this job. 

The failure to address sexual violence on the part of faith community leadership is adopted by the congregation. That is how the denial of its existence is perpetuated.  If congregations don’t hear about the issue of sexual violence from the pulpit, they’ll continue to believe that it only happens rarely, as it in fact does in rape-free cultures (we are a rape-prone culture).  This is sometimes called mass denial and ignorance.  Unfortunately the survivor and her family will pay heavily for that silence, no matter at what age her violation occurred.  Surely, if an accurate understanding of SV (sexual violence) is upheld, and the myths surrounding it abolished, then God’s people will become responsive and compassionate in an active way.

Every faith community has survivors in their midst.  Author Fred Littauer, author of Promise of Restoration, estimates that the men and women in any congregation are survivors.  Other researchers range from 25% of college women.  Fred is the only one who I know of who has researched men, so if there are others out there I would like to hear from you.  Anyway, we can safely assume that somewhere between 25-75% of any congregation has been affected.  Think about the impact on the relationships within marriages, families, parenting, and individuals.  When one pastor announced that he was going to attend a conference on sexual abuse, he was amazed upon his return to find his appointment book full.  The respondents were women who turned out to be survivors of rape and molestation.  His announcement alone inadvertently gave his congregation permission to come to him with their experience. 

“No way!” you may be saying.  “My calendar is too full as it is.”

I’m sure it is.  But your role is simple.  Just as mention of the word “divorce”  was once unmentionable, a pastor can mention SV from the pulpit occasionally or bring the subject into sermons.  An announcement about church resources for support and recovery or a guest speaker on the topic can be made.  What is important is not that the pastor/leader has the expertise to do more than offer limited support if that, but that he or she serve as a resource.  Female survivors usually won’t feel comfortable talking to a man, so a male pastor may make a female leader available.  How many faith communities have multiple source choices for a survivor?

I will continue to blog about the role of the pastor next week.  Please, please understand that silence, passivity, and ignorance is a key tool of the enemy of our souls on this issue.  So, like in real estate the say location, location, location is everything, so in combating SV education, education, education is almost everything.


  1. Can you tell us about that movie? I have never heard of it.

    I agree that most survivors who have had the courage to go to a pastor/faith community leader has met with massive ignorance and ended up feeling judged, blamed, and at the very least, been of absolutely no help at all. There are some exceptions, and we need to hear from you.

    When I was raped, it was not a secret and much of the 6,000 member congregation knew. My husband and I went to a pastor for help. To his credit, he did have an informational booklet from the YWCA Rape Crisis Center that he handed us. That was it though. There was no follow up, just silence.

    Within the following couple of years our marriage began to disintigrate. Then, I was judged. I even experienced a pastor ‘friend’ step away from me in the foyer when I told him my husband and I were separated. Further silence ensued. I was on my own with my church and my family, judged by both.

    The above is a travesty, and is what I blogged about today; the unnecessary suffering that could be avoided if faith communities were picking up the mantel here and learn how to support instead of judge and promote what I call ‘institutionalized amnesia.’ I really believe that most of these communities are not even aware of how their absence of leadership is what is promoting this institutionalized amnesia, and that most really do not want to that. Most people just do not understand that sexual violence experiences create an ’emotional cancer.’ It grows just like physical cancers, unseen. Dr. christain Northrup, an OBGYN has even written about the connections between female cancers and unresolved sexual assault. Her position is that while she may cure a certian type of cancer, it will show up again in another form if the sexual abuse has not been healed. She has learned to question such patients about their experiences and encouage them to get help.

    I do need to add that in about 1990 the above referenced church did have a Saturday workshop on rape. I was invited to tell my story. I was blown away, and still remember and can cry at the amazing response. Four hundred people, the whole group of attendees, stood up and gave me a standing ovation. That alone was a healing experience.

  2. Well, I am exited. Tomorrow, I am going to be able to view a documentary about “Boyhood Shadows” that is talked about above.


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