April is Child Sexual Abuse month. It heightens my awareness of the need to stop this deadly epidemic. We need more Lamplighter Chapters, a place for victims to go to tell their story; we need an army. Part of my goal is to give a clear understanding of what is going on with this subject. So many people are searching for answers. What causes it? Why can’t people (and children) come forward with their stories? What makes a sex offender and why does he offend?
One of the most frequent common denominators of child sexual abuse victims (especially in the case of incest) is that of growing up in a religiously regimented household. Another is being a part of a patriarchal family system. No wonder so many complaints are coming in from parishioners in the Catholic Church which is also set up as a patriarchal system. While child sexual abuse is rampant it is not just in the Catholic Church; other religions have this problem as well. The news is full of stories of child sexual abuse in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Articles about their disclosures are all over the Internet. Everywhere I look there are more scandals and more disclosures of child sexual abuse.
To offset that, hundreds of blogs and non profit organizations are all crying out to be heard. But are they making a difference? If they are making a difference why are the numbers growing? More people are coming forward with their stories of abuse. This is a good thing. It’s easier to see the dark when you shine light on it; and so many thousands of children are in the dark.
The Lamplighters believe that telling your story is the strongest first step to healing. It is also the most difficult. Silence is the primary reason the number of victims is so high.
The Catholic Church has the largest congregation of any organized religion. There are 2.1 billion Christians in the world and the Catholics top the list with 1 billion, 100 million. Most child sexual abuse victims aren’t connected to churches, don’t file lawsuits and never speak publicly. The Catholic Church is experiencing only a small portion of reported child sexual abuse. The figure that is the most impressive is the silent number. 90% of child sexual abuse goes unreported.
The French and the Germans have joined the ranks of Catholic clergy who have sexually molested children. Articles of abuse blaze across the Internet. Every time I read yet one more sad account my heart weighs heavy. How can this happen? How can the religion of my youth that brought me such comfort, such peace, such a strong bonding with God and my Blessed Mother have come to this? When I was a child the church was my solace, the Mother of God my Mother. The church filled my senses, incense, lighted candles, hymns, sermons to guide my way and mostly a feeling of belonging, of togetherness.
I struggle to find an answer. It is especially poignant during this Easter week, a time when we should all be celebrating the most important miracle that ever happened, a time to take pride in our church. It brings to mind the story I’ve always returned to whenever I hear of one person doing something painful to another. It is what I call the Cain and Abel syndrome. If you believe in the Old Testament there were only four people in the world (maybe six) when murder was committed. Cain slew Abel and for such a small reason. God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s, therefore Cain felt he had to rid himself of his brother. To Cain it was a big reason. Ever since there has been murder, rape, plunder, stealing, and every other evil you can think of. Sometimes it seems to be getting worse. Then I remember World War II and Hitler. I think of all the conquerors and the dictators. History is filled with them, all the Cains of history. And so, God sends us sadness but he also sends us joy. It will always be that way. It is as if God wants to expose that weaker side, to show the world that we must fight against the dark side that lies in all of us. Even atheists can see that we have a world of light and a world of dark. Mankind struggles against adversity on a daily basis.
The more sexual abuse is exposed the more we have a chance to lower the numbers. Before I went into recovery I would have rather confessed to murder than to being molested and raped by my father. The shame of it would have overwhelmed me. It takes great courage to come forth and tell what happened.
The Catholic Church is working at resolving their problem. They have initiated a new department called Safe Environment in each of their archdioceses. That’s a start. I applaud the work they are doing. It makes it easier for someone who has been abused to come forward and tell their story.
We come to the most important question. Why is there so much sexual abuse; 60 million survivors in the US alone? What happened? Like the story of Cain we can’t stop it. We have to deal with the survivors and we need to educate their children. People don’t understand how important it is to work with the children of a survivor. Children of an untreated child sexual abuse victim stand a five times greater chance of being abused themselves. I know this is true. I have three daughters and all three are victims of child sexual abuse. Why? Children watch their parents and mimic their actions. They don’t know any better. If we can stop the children from being abused we can stop the biggest percentage of child sexual abuse. It must not be passed down to another generation.
If we can train the children, starting in Kindergarten at least, to say “no”, to know that their bodies are their own and no one can touch them without permission, to go for help and not keep secrets, we can keep them from becoming victims. The silence of the victims is deadly. It is the single biggest cause of child sexual abuse. The war cry of the perpetrators is: “Let me hurt you and don’t cry out!” * The answer for all victims and potential victims should be: “I am telling my story.” It is a powerful weapon and we must train our children to all tell their stories. We must change the victims into survivors and most importantly we must protect our children so that they never become victims.
See our blog at www.thelamplighters.org
*Let Me Hurt You and Don’t Cry Out is the title to my autobiography