When adult sexual abuse victims come forward with allegations of abuse, they
are often misunderstood. As a result, they feel isolated and alone, creating
additional trauma. Not only did the victims suffer the original betrayal by the
abusers they thought cared for them, but now they face judgment and ridicule as
those around them label their ordeal as a mutual affair. So,
understanding adult victims is the first step if we are to aid in their
As an adult victim myself, I am trying to educate others about the
ramifications of this horrific abuse and the damage that ensues. It is my hope
that creating awareness will lessen the stigma, allowing more adult victims to
speak out and find the healing they deserve. We judge what we don’t understand
so empathy is key—we must place ourselves in the victims’ shoes. It is only
then that we can gain the understanding and compassion we need to be an asset
in the victims’ healing.
This is what adult sexual abuse victims need you to know…
We need you to know that abuse by therapists/clergy happens. It is not a rare occurrence, and it is not unique to us.
Abused by a “Christian” psychiatrist in 2013-2014, I never dreamt that a
counselor, a Christian one no less, would hurt a flea much less a human
being. I assumed all people were basically good and that those who went into
the mental health profession were a tad more compassionate than the rest.
Therefore, it was quite the wake-up when my Christian therapist manipulated and abused me. I had been molested before, many times, in fact, by various people over my lifetime, but never groomed and seduced by a predator, a sociopath who found my pain entertaining. Its effects were beyond devastating.
We are just beginning to grasp the prevalence of this type of abuse as more
and more victims step out of the shadows. It is challenging for an adult victim
to come forward due to the added judgment adult victims receive.
For now, just know there are a lot of us.
We want you to know that we are not weak, gullible, needy individuals. We are healthy, successful, educated men and women who turned to someone who we believed was wiser than ourselves for guidance.
After my abuse, I contacted Therapy Exploitation Link Line and found women
from all over the world who understood what I was going through. It was
comforting to realize that these women were not just victims—they were
intelligent, educated, and highly successful people. Some were even
psychiatrists themselves when they were taken advantage of by their
Even after surviving the trauma of abuse, many of us continue to succeed as
we confront our abusers, advocate for other victims, fight for better
legislation, tell our stories via the written or spoken word, or pursue
We were victimized because we were unfortunate enough to cross paths with a
sexual predator, not because of anything inherently wrong with us.
We are not over-sexualized men or women who seduced our counselors.
Because of the extreme imbalance of power in a therapeutic relationship, a
client cannot provide consent. It is important to note that therapeutic relationships are not limited to therapists. Anyone in a position of power can step into this role—teachers, pastors, church leaders, and doctors to name a few.
I was told by an attorney that even if I had begged my doctor for sex, he
would still have been in the wrong. Let me be clear when I say I did not beg
for sex; in fact, one of the biggest motivators for my escape was when my
psychiatrist began hinting at sex.
I also want to say that I did not dress provocatively. My abuser was the one
who pointed out that I dressed boyishly. He said I did it to deter male
attention due to my childhood sexual abuse.
Even if I had been dressing more feminine, provocative even, the doctor was still 100% responsible for maintaining safe professional boundaries 100% of the time.
Our clothing does not make us culpable. Ever.
We need you to know that the damage that the abuser caused us is enormous.
It is hard to grasp the gravity of this type of wound if you haven’t
experienced it firsthand. I can tell you that the betrayal is immense. The
grief is unbearable. The shame crushing. Even worse is the self-hatred. The
self-hatred that ensues after being groomed and sexually abused is what
We can’t forgive ourselves for allowing ourselves to fall prey. We can’t
forgive ourselves for staying with someone we knew or sensed was hurting us. We
hate ourselves for the needs in us that the perpetrator manipulated. If we
hadn’t had those needs, hadn’t been defective, maybe it wouldn’t have
Once we get out, if we are lucky enough to escape, we can’t forgive
ourselves for still feeling some attachment to the abuser. Or maybe we feel
guilty that we are destroying our abuser’s reputation by coming forward. We
hate ourselves for not healing quicker, for not being able to forgive, for all
of it. The self-hatred will consume us and rob us of the rest of our lives if
we let it.
The healing process will be lifelong, but it doesn’t have to take the rest
of our lives. It’s ok to remind us of that.
We need you to understand that it was 100% abuse. There are zero positives to be gleaned from the experience, so please don’t suggest we find some.
I shouldn’t even need to explain this one. However, after I got away from my
abuser, a close friend suggested that maybe the doctor had done some good along
I explained that if I gained anything positive from my time with the predator, the glory goes to God, not the sociopath who admitted to methodically grooming me to use me for his perverted sexual gratification. It is preposterous to think that we were being helped and hurt at the same time. Although the abusers want us to think that they were mostly doing well by us, it is impossible to seduce and abuse people and help and support them at the same time.
There is no light in the darkness. “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light, and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” Isaiah 5:20 (NLT)
Can God bring beauty from the ashes in time if we let Him? Yes. He can and
will if we cling to Him, but this happens through His divine power and
There will be triggers, out of our control, that last a lifetime.
It crushes me when something triggers my abuse and I hear the dismissive,
“Oh well.” As in, “I don’t want to deal with your pain, so move on.” Or it may mean, “I don’t know how to help you with this, so let’s just forget it.” I know people who say this to victims are well-intentioned, but I also know immediately that they haven’t walked in
For me, it is a certain car or seeing an elderly gentleman with similar facial hair, or a visit to the city where I know my abuser lives that sets me off. Once triggered, I can do little to stop it. I used to feel guilty every time I got triggered until my wonderful therapist explained that it is a process of brain function that causes the triggers and not a personal failure on my part.
Thank goodness, because being triggered only provided more fuel for self-loathing—why am I still letting this affect me? Why am I not over this? It was a relief to discover that I am not “letting” anything affect me, my brain was simply doing its job.
When this happens to us and it will—validate our feelings, remind us we are no longer in danger and that it will pass. Recognize that it is not a setback in our healing, or a personal failure, just our brain attempting to keep us safe.
We want you to know that we were victims of a crime.
Being a conscientious person, I decided that total honesty was the best method. I set up a meeting with my pastor and my husband and told him every detail I could recall about my abuse. Later, I got the chance to speak with a psychologist who specializes in therapist/clergy abuse. He often testifies in legal cases about the dangers of transference in the therapeutic relationship and how this makes clients vulnerable to predators.
He asked me if I had shared anything with my spouse yet, and I told him I had explained everything. He said that’s too bad because I wasn’t obligated, that as a victim of a crime, a felony in many states, that I didn’t “owe an explanation” to anyone. It was such a comfort to hear those words, and I want you to hear them too.
Do victims of crimes need to provide an explanation? Sadly, with sexual assault, many suggest that we do, but I am here to tell you that we do not. If we saw a man beaten half to death on the street, would we ask him why it happened? Or would it fill us with righteous indignation and compassion?
We don’t owe anyone an explanation regarding the crime committed against us,
just as others don’t owe us an explanation about crimes committed against them.
Victims may question their role in the abusive relationship especially early on. Some may believe they participated willingly. Some may know they were forced into it. And others are so confused and hurt by what happened that they are left in a state of shock. Regardless, a big part of the healing journey is to recognize they were victims and therefore have zero culpability in the abuse.
We need you to understand our hesitancy to report the abuse. Reporting has definite healing benefits but also carries substantial risk.
I went on a pre-planned vacation with a friend a week after escaping my abuser. I told her what happened, and she informed me that as a licensed social worker in Texas, she had to report the doctor. I got quiet whenever the subject came up. Finally, she asked me why I was avoiding the subject. “Because I don’t want anyone to know, that’s why!?”
Does staying quiet mean we are protecting our abusers? That we weren’t really victimized? It does not, but I felt that unspoken judgment at times.
Remember, we think we are to blame so we’re not excited to announce to the
world what we did, what we allowed, and what we took part in. We couldn’t see
the figurative gun to our heads, so we think we failed immeasurably, and even
if we recognized it the world likely will not.
There is a lot we struggle with during those initial days and weeks. I felt guilty for ruining my therapist’s life and career. I thought maybe it was only something weird about me and that he helped others. I thought he should continue practicing.
I wanted him to maintain his position as a church elder. I would leave. I just wanted to be free from him. I wanted to crawl under a rock and when the coast was clear, I would soldier on alone telling no one.
Just understand that this decision is fraught with complications and emotions that take some time to sort out. It does not mean we were complicit in our abuse or that we weren’t devastated by what happened. To read more about stats on sexual assault and why victims don’t report, see: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system
We want you to realize that you, as friends and family of a victim, are “secondary” victims.
If you are a friend or a loved one of a sexual abuse survivor, I want you to know that the abuse also damaged you. Just ask my husband what he had to endure. Ask my sweet boy what it felt like to ask his mother if she was raped. Ask the pastor of my church who had to confront one of his elders. Ask my friends as I pulled away into isolation.
The tragedy seeps into every area of the victims’ lives—families, friends, careers, faith. There was not one member of my family that was unaffected. Often, we have to leave friends behind, churches behind, and communities behind. The devastation is profound, and we were not the only ones hurt by what happened.
We know this, and we are sorry for the ways it affected you too.
To read about what adult victims need you to do, click here: https://amynordhues.com/what-adult-victims-of-abuse-need-you-to-do/