Victims blame themselves for sexual abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “In reports from 38 rape crisis centers in 24 States and the District of Columbia, self-blame was attributed to about 74 percent of victim clients.” (https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/self-blame-rape-victims-control-maintenance-strategy)
We are experts at finding reasons we might be defective, reasons we made ourselves susceptible to abuse, reasons it could be our fault. Maybe we were broken or gullible. Possibly we were too empathetic or too forgiving. Our unresolved childhood voids or issues could have made us needy or desperate. If we were normal, this would not have happened.
I have experienced seven abusers in my lifetime. And I have wondered why this pattern continued to repeat itself. I knew I had a target on my back, one that my first abuser placed there but one that I allowed. I hated this sign, and I blamed myself for its existence. It was a constant reminder of everything bad in me, everything in me that needed to be fixed. A sign that read something like: Abuse me. I deserve it.
In 2013, I found myself in a therapist’s office. I was there to address the origins of that sign and hopefully remove it forever. The doctor was a kind, gentle nurturing type. He told me he was loving me as Jesus would if He were here in the flesh. That the Holy Spirit was his boss. He was an elder at my church and came highly recommended by church leadership. I thought I was in good hands.
But I wasn’t. I was actually in the crosshairs of a serial predator, one who made his living taking advantage of innocent souls who came to him seeking help. People who needed a safe space to unload all of their baggage, their hurts, their fears, their secrets. And he did all of this proudly with a cross necklace around his neck.
In my memoir, Prayed Upon, I recount my horrific experience. I allow the reader to observe the nightmare as it unfolds. They get to watch as I minimize the abuser’s behavior, make excuses, and accept blame. They get to hear my litany of self-deprecating thoughts that kept that sign squarely on my back. And they get to see me escape and begin to address these lies. They see God’s hand at work as He rescues me and begins to right these wrongs.
Finally, they get to see me tear that sign off of my back and light it ablaze. In time, a new sign takes its place. A sign that reads: Daughter of the King, fighter, survivor, God’s masterpiece, forgiven, accepted, cherished, chosen, adopted.
Words contain power and we must be careful the way we address ourselves because these labels stick, sometimes for a lifetime. For more on this subject, see: https://amynordhues.com/labels-allowing-the-world-to-dictate-who-we-are/. We cannot go back in time and make people tell us what we needed to hear, but we can re-parent ourselves and provide ourselves with what we need to hear now.
Here are the reasons I initially believed that the abuse was my fault. After each one, I explain how I see the ideas now…
- Then: I was taken advantage of because there is something inherently wrong with me.
- Now: I was taken advantage of because I encountered a skilled sexual predator in a therapist’s office no less, a space that places the client in an extremely vulnerable position.
- Then: I was taken advantage of because I am too empathetic.
- Now: I love that I am a sensitive and empathetic person. I love that I am deeply affected by other people’s pain. I am glad that I am not shut off. This quality makes me an excellent friend, wife and mother.
- Then: I was taken advantage of because I am too naive.
- Now: I love that I give others the benefit of the doubt. I love that I continue to trust despite repeated offenses. I appreciate that life has not made me cynical or jaded.
- Then: I should’ve said “no.” A normal person would have said “no.”
- Now: We have been trained as a society to trust people in positions of power—doctors, elders, pastors, coaches, parents, teachers, political leaders. It is okay that our instinct tells us that a person in a position of authority must be correct and our interpretation must be off. That simply makes us normal.
- Then: If I had been strong enough, I would’ve left sooner.
- Now: Predators are masterful at ensnaring their victims, making them feel unable to walk away. Sociopaths prey on our natural tendencies to feel empathy, guilt, fear, confusion, attachment, loss. Anyone caught in their web of deceit will find it extremely disorienting and therefore almost impossible to escape.
- Then: I was taken advantage of because I am needy.
- Now: I am a human being with human needs. I feel no shame in having those needs— needs for connection, love, comfort, nurturing, acceptance. I also accept no blame for past hurts that may have magnified any of those voids.
- Then: I was taken advantage of because I am inherently flawed.
- Now: I am no more flawed than any other human being who has walked this earth and encountered abuse, pain, heartbreak, or loss. I am God’s perfect creation, no more and no less.