It seems that every week, every month, we learn of another allegation of the sexual abuse of children. While it’s easy to throw stones at various groups, a horrible truth remains: Humans are sinful and abusive. We can find sexual abuse in any group. It’s not a problem that can be relegated to Catholics or Protestants. Nor is it isolated to home-schoolers, private or public school kids, poor or rich, or any particular ethnicity; the tragedy of the sexual abuse of children is universal.
Therefore, it would be wise for all of us to know the signs of the sexual abuse of children. This way we can help identify those who might be in danger when we see them in our churches or at our church activities. After all, our churches should be places of absolute safety for children. How demonic it is when they aren’t.
Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors, deacons and others can serve as sentinels who watch their young charges with appropriate care and concern, and who notify the proper authorities (and church leaders) when concerns arise.
So what behaviors do sexually abused children exhibit? The list is long, and there are links at the end of this column to expand on the topic and on the way such abuse affects adults who were abused as children.
But among the behaviors children may manifest are depression, anxiety, withdrawal or an abnormal interest in sexual issues. Sometimes they complain of pain or other symptoms in their own genital areas.
They may be angry or fearful (particularly of certain people or types of people). They may refuse to go to school, be disruptive or aggressive. They may sleep poorly and suffer nightmares, have trouble with esteem or even behave in a seductive manner. Loss of appetite may occur. Suicidal thoughts may arise. Parents of these children might notice bloody, torn or stained undergarments. These children may have early pregnancies or may develop sexually transmitted infections.
A friend who has expertise in such things tells me that people who were sexually abused may have an exaggerated response to minor pain. Given the amount of unreported sexual abuse, I wonder if the opioid epidemic is partly an attempt by untold numbers to medicate their own emotional and physical pain.
Churches should develop plans to prevent abuse and deal with it if it should arise. When abuse is suspected, contact law enforcement for guidance on local procedures. And ensure that potentially abused children are not put back in danger. While suspicions should lead to investigation, they should not result in attacks on the accused. Police and courts exist to uncover the truth and apply justice.
These children desperately need the love and support of Christ-followers. And they need for us to work, and pray, so that all children are one day safe from sexual abuse and exploitation.