Mental Health Experts Say Churches Must Be ‘Trustworthy’ When It Comes to Sex Abuse Trauma

Attempted suicide, drug overdoses, hatred of God and ruined teenage years are among the effects of sexual abuse described in a Feb. 11 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptists.

Two Southern Baptist mental health experts say the effects of sexual abuse against children and teenagers are actually worse than the Chronicle described. They also say churches and pastors can mitigate those effects with prompt, biblical and wise responses.

“There are many more” effects of abuse “than the ones listed in the article,” said Chuck Hannaford, a Memphis, Tenn., clinical psychologist. At times, abused children and teens “have fear of being touched. Some get into sexual promiscuity. They can have habit disorders — biting, rocking, pulling their hair out.

“They can be aggressive at times because they’re keeping this stuff in. Self-injuries, behavior [issues], sleep problems. You can go down the list. Everything that is within the diagnostic context of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder they will have,” Hannaford told Baptist Press. “It’s a very traumatic event that can make life-changing negative impacts.”

The Chronicle said its investigation of sexual abuse among Southern Baptists had revealed approximately 380 instances since 1998 — including more than 250 since 2008 — of “those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned.”

The crimes have left more than 700 victims, the newspaper stated.

Citing the Amplified Bible’s rendering of Matthew 18:1-6, Hannaford described children as “trusting, lowly, loving and forgiving.” Abusing children is horrific because it “changes the way they think about themselves, they think about God and they think about relationships. And often these children feel what we call the ‘damaged goods syndrome’ — they feel dirty.”

In the long term, childhood sexual abuse can result in the abused experiencing sexual difficulties in their own marriages, becoming overprotective as parents, keeping other people at arm’s length and even becoming abusers themselves, said Hannaford, who served on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s Mental Health Advisory Group. At times, victims don’t realize their harmful behaviors stem from the abuse they suffered as children.

Dale Johnson, associate professor of biblical counseling at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated that “everyone” who has suffered abuse “endures some symptom or long-term effect that often takes a while to overcome, because when you’re talking about sexual abuse, it’s so intimate that it touches so many aspects of a person’s being.”

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Source: Baptist Press