How Can I Help My Abused Child?
It’s been almost a year since I took my three children and left my husband. At that time, my daughters were 15 and 13, and my son was 9. My daughters both told me that my husband (their stepfather) was saying sexual things to them. My 13-year-old even had a text from my husband that was very explicit. Once I saw the text, I had proof of my girls’ accusations.
About three months after we left, my husband was indicted with two charges of indecency with a child—one charge for each of my daughters—which he is currently fighting in court. Since we left, I have had minimal contact with him until recently. He is in anger management classes and seeing a psychiatrist to deal with sex addiction.
He is adamant that he never touched my girls. They agree, but through all our interviews and counseling, we have come to know that what he did was “grooming.” He admits to the harm he caused. My husband feels that what he has done can be forgiven and we can repair our marriage.
But my girls have so much anger for him. He is no longer in our lives and nowhere near my children. They are so young, and their pain is so deep. I want to do the right thing for us all, but I feel lost in all of this. Can you give any advice?
Sincerely, Name Withheld
Dear Name Withheld,
I grieve for you and your children and for the pain and hurt you are enduring. I know that you all have suffered greatly. I hurt for you. Your children will need much care and comfort so as not to come out of this experience deeply scarred.
One of the best ways to help them through their emotional pain is to do what Jesus suggested in Matthew 5:4; “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Your children are mourning. Sometimes the best thing is to put your arms around them, listen to their hurts and needs, and cry with them.
Biblical Grounds for Divorce
While you didn’t mention actually divorcing your husband, I am certain that the idea crossed your mind. So let me confirm that you have “biblical grounds” for divorce if you want it.
According to Jesus, sexual perversion breaks the marriage bonds. The Greek word translated as “adultery,” which He used in Matthew 19:9, is “porneia.” The word means much more than adultery. It includes a wide umbrella of illicit sexual activities including adultery, pornography, bestiality, fornication, and incest (suggested or otherwise).
You may also want to read Ephesians 5:25-31, where the responsibilities of a husband are clearly laid out. A husband who does not live up to these responsibilities has quite clearly broken the bond of marriage.
On the other hand, while you have biblical grounds for divorce, you by no means have to exercise that right. You can certainly work to restore your marriage and your relationship with your estranged husband.
However, I suggest that you leave your children out of this procedure. I would never put your children through the trauma of living under the same roof with him again. Please recognize that his efforts to justify his behavior in the court system—fighting the charges—may be more hurtful than his original behavior with the children. In essence, he is calling them liars.
The Risk of Repeat Behavior
Next, those involved in child sexual abuse very rarely get “well.” From my own genetic and brain chemistry research, it seems to me that those involved in child sexual abuse seem to be “wired” differently than others who are not attracted to children. This is why so many child-sexual abusers immediately return to their dastardly activities as soon as they find the opportunity.
Please don’t take this to mean that your husband is definitely a child-sex abuser via his brain chemistry. He may have just allowed his old sin nature to overwhelm him. The fact that he is seeing a psychiatrist is encouraging, whether he is “wired” that way or not. I hope that he gets help so that he will never act this way again.
Don’t Minimize His Actions
If I seem rather intolerant of your husband’s behavior, it is simply because there are lines that should not be crossed. Your husband crossed several. This is intolerable.
I always find the term “grooming” rather strange. An adult has no business interacting with your girls in any form or fashion—and especially writing them indecent notes about himself. Whatever he did, he certainly “scared your kids to death.” His behavior was painfully dysfunctional.
Please don’t minimize in your mind what he did or didn’t do. The fact that your children are reacting the way they are is evidence that whatever he did is more than just inappropriate. It was nasty, humiliating, and terrifying.
That’s why my biggest concern is for you and your children. I think that you should keep your children as far away from their stepdad as you possibly can. I hope that eventually, over time, they will heal from the trauma and work through the pain, usually with time, loving counsel, and care. Please don’t try to make the kids forgive him at the present time, this pressure will only cause more hurt to their young psyches.
Pursue Medical Help for Trauma
I am a huge proponent of counseling and psychiatric treatment for you and your children. Sexual abuse and marital issues are tough to carry alone—we all need help to understand what happened and heal from it. A strong biblical counselor can walk you and your children through the trauma you’ve all experienced and rebuild healthy relationships. Sometimes, trauma can cause brain chemistry changes that need to be addressed medically. Please, pursue medical and mental healthcare for you and your children.
What Forgiveness Means in This Situation
Finally, you may want to restore your relationship with your husband. If so, go slowly. Be certain you really understand the meaning of forgiveness—for both you and your children.
1. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
I do not know who coined the admonition “forgive and forget.” I do know that it is impossible to “forget” at will. And perhaps that’s a good thing; remembering hurts can help us avoid similar situations in the future.
2. Forgiving does not mean letting the one who hurt you “off the hook.”
The issue here is justice. Those who hurt people need to pay for what they’ve done. It’s natural to want to hold on to your perceived right to “get even.” However, the truth is that when we forgive—when we let people off of our “hook”—they are still on God’s hook for vengeance or grace and forgiveness.
3. Forgiving is not a sign of weakness.
Forgiveness is not a passive behavior that allows the person to keep on hurting you or others. On the contrary! Forgiveness is a courageous act that reflects the grace, kindness, and compassion of Christ.
4. Forgiving does not mean that we must pick up the relationship with the one who hurt us as if nothing ever happened.
Forgiveness does not demand that we reenter an abusive or toxic relationship with the unrepentant offender. If the offender is repentant, we can choose to establish boundaries, giving the offender—over a period of time—the opportunity to demonstrate his/her trustworthiness as a precondition to authentic intimacy. Regaining trust can take a long time—if ever.
5. Forgiving sometimes needs outside help.
I am a huge proponent of counseling and psychiatric treatment. Sexual abuse and marital issues are tough to carry alone—we all need help to understand what happened and heal from it. A strong biblical counselor can walk you and your children through the trauma you’ve all experienced and rebuild healthy relationships. Sometimes, trauma can cause brain chemistry changes that need to be addressed medically. Please, pursue medical and mental healthcare.
Again, I grieve for you and your pain. Everything in your life has been turned topsy-turvy. You never expected this to happen. Life was never intended to be like this. May God bless you and your children as you pick up the pieces and struggle through these days to great victory as Jesus pours in the power and strength for all you need (Philippians 4:10-13).