“Ministering to men and women who are victims of sexual abuse can be tricky; there are several common mistakes that pastors make. By being aware of these pitfalls, you can be better prepared the next time an incident arises within your church.”
When individuals tell you, Pastor, that they were sexually abused or raped, often those victims are terrified, full of shame, and sure that you are going to think less of them. However, they have also given you great honor and privilege because they have decided that you may be a safe person in their most unsafe place.
But ministering to men and women who are victims of sexual abuse can be tricky; there are several common mistakes that pastors make. By being aware of these pitfalls, you can be better prepared the next time an incident arises within your church.
Mistake #1: Failing to understand the weight of what they are telling you
First and foremost, we need to recognize the experience of victims of sexual abuse and recognize their courage in sharing about their experiences. To do so, we should be gathering information. What do they mean by “sexual abuse”? Was it one time or ongoing? For adults who share that they were sexually abused as a child, it may be that over the course of a decade or more, they were victims of that abuse. Or, it may have been a one-time occurrence. In gathering information, we are understanding the weight of what they have been through and can be better prepared to minister to them.
Mistake #2: Assuming they are safe
Many times we make the assumption that because sexual abuse happened when someone was a child, it no longer happens to that person as an adult, or we assume that it will never happen again. But these are wrong assumptions. Just because people are “adults,” that doesn’t mean they are safe where they are.
Pastors should be asking questions about their current safety, such as, “Are you safe where you are now, and if not, can I help you find a safe place?” You should ask these questions regardless of their age.
As an example, a twenty-year-old may share that an uncle used to abuse her, and now he is coming to visit for the weekend. That should be a red flag for us; it may be that this young woman does not have the strength to keep the abuse from happening again. Because of this, we may need to find a place for her to stay, or we may need to call the police to help keep her safe. We cannot assume that abuse has ended or that she is strong enough to keep it from happening again.