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Tell Me Your Story—Molested? My Daughter?

DSC_3703_2Dear Readers,
Welcome to Comfort Cafe’s remodel! You can still access the magazine via the Editor’s Letter in the sidebar. Also see our Book Features page there.

I’ve always been fascinated by women’s stories, especially when faith, hope, and love shine despite overwhelming challenges. Since such testimonies encourage me, I thought you might like them too, which is why I’m starting a new front page column—Tell Me Your Story. The stories will come from women in the community or from my connections online. Names and details may be changed to protect privacy.

It’s my prayer that this column will bless you with treasures of insight and truth to strengthen your faith and deepen your relationship with a God who loves you beyond comprehension.

Like the new column? Please let me know! Send me an email at ruthywood@gmail.com.

Molested? My Daughter?

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To hear that your child was sexually abused must be among the most heartbreaking news a mother could receive. Did you have any idea that something was wrong when your sixteen-year-old daughter wanted to have a talk?

No. I was completely unprepared for what she was about to share. At first I wondered, “Did I hear right?” Her words, “I was sexually molested,” sent me into shock.

Another far-reaching consequence of sexual abuse that inflicts further trauma occurs when parents don’t believe their children. Did you have any doubt that your daughter was telling the truth?

None whatsoever. It never crossed my mind to doubt her.

Many children don’t tell because they want to protect their family. Was this so in your case?

Yes. At first, she didn’t want to tell who had done this to her. Finally it came out that the abuse had occurred seven years earlier, when she was an innocent little nine-year-old, by an older cousin visiting over the holidays. My heart shattered into pieces for her pain. (To read the daughter’s testimony, click here.)

Learning that the perpetrator was a family member must have been another shock.

Yes. Absolutely.  But it did not alter my total belief in my daughter. And that shock of it being a family member was well behind the shock of the sexual molestation itself.

I loved our family, loved how we were living our life. I loved homeschooling my children. Everything had been going so beautifully, and I just couldn’t believe this had happened to us.  It felt like a serpent had slithered into our home.

This event dragged us into a dark world hitherto unknown to us. We learned that sexual abuse is widespread and that the perpetrator is most often a relative or a close family friend.  Shocking.

We also learned that the vast majority of families don’t fight for their children who suffer sexual molestation. Too often the children are sacrificed again on the altar of keeping peace. So for the second time the victim becomes a victim, and at the very hands of those who are to love and protect them. We resolved to do what was right by our daughter.

Did the perpetrator show any signs of repentance?

No. The cousin did not come to us to make things right or confess. He began to spread lies about our daughter and our family among his family members and in-laws.

What guided your decision-making process?

We searched the scriptures, for solace and comfort, of course, but also for wisdom. We struggled with the complexity of showing simultaneously both mercy and justice, for both the victim and the perpetrator.

What stood out to us in our scriptural search was God’s heart for justice. We are to seek justice, encourage the oppressed, and defend the cause of the fatherless and defenseless. (Isaiah 1:17) Fathers are the first line of defense to protect and defend their children and pursue justice on their behalf. It’s not only a natural instinct, but a scriptural prerogative.

Tell us what you learned about justice.

A concept that helped organize our thoughts was that there are three spheres of authority ordained by God: family, church and government. Sexual assault is too heinous to justify a turn-the-other-cheek response. I can’t stress enough that it is a crime. And the fact that it is a serious crime puts it squarely in the government’s sphere. The church cannot conduct criminal investigations, neither can the family. The church does not deal with cases of murder. Or rape. Neither is the church the place to seek justice for a sexual assault.

We are under civil laws of society. All sexual crimes against our children will be prosecuted to the extent civil magistrates find appropriate. Our responsibility as parents is to fully uphold our state’s child sex crime laws. That is moral.  That is righteous.

Romans 12 commands us, “Do not repay evil for evil, do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath.”  Chapter 13 goes on to talk about the authority of government. This God-established authority is why we’re not to seek our own revenge—civil government is the tool of God to exact justice for the victim.

And justice IS mercy for the victim.

This crisis must have sapped your energy. How did you cope?

We have always been a close family and this drew us even closer together. We pulled out our twenty plus photo albums and spent hours poring over our family history, laughing and sharing memories, reassuring ourselves that though this dark thing had touched our little family, this event had not rewritten our whole history. We found joy together even in the midst of darkness.

What scriptures, in particular, encouraged you?

My first journal entry was four days after this crisis erupted in our family. I wrote: Family crisis and great pain and suffering, “yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning – even after a night of no sleep, great agony in the dark watches of the night, and fear, and trembling) – great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him…  You came near when I called You, and You said, “Do not fear. O Lord, You took up my case; You redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done me – uphold my cause.” (Lam. 3)

A lifetime of knowing Him laid a strong foundation that quietly supported me, even in the midst of the pain and turmoil and hurt and devastation. I knew with my mind and my heart, which went deeper than my pain, that Jesus showed us once for all what HE is like and what kind of love He has for us by dying on the cross. And that is fact. History. Nothing, no circumstance, no matter how hard or painful, can change that!  Our circumstances are not the window through which we understand His love; instead, His love is the window through which we must view our circumstances! (Read more spiritual insights from this mother.)

How did you help your daughter through this time?

We sought a counselor for our daughter who was well trained in cases of sexual abuse and molestation. And my husband and I, with a battery of questions burning in our hearts, met with her as well. She wholeheartedly affirmed our pursuit of legal justice and shared story after story of damaged women who came to her in their later years warped, stunted and damaged because nobody had stood up for them or sought justice on their behalf.

Our counselor assured us that even if we were to lose our court case, even LOSE, it would be worth it for our daughter’s sake.

Our daughter’s well being remained the determining factor in all of our decisions.

What was the final result and how did the legal approach benefit your daughter?

Having a voice, having the opportunity for her story to be heard, was hugely healing in our daughter’s life. Sexual molestation is a poison that festers in its victims and stunts their growth, especially if they remain silent. Finally talking opened up that festering wound, and today our daughter is a twenty-two year old well-adjusted, confidant, blossoming young woman.

Recently she said to us, “If you two hadn’t fought for me, you would have lost me.”

She also affirmed, “I’d never wish this trauma on anyone else, but I thank God that He allowed it in my life because of what he’s taught me through this.”

Did you see any benefit for the perpetrator by going legal?

The criminal court sentencing called him to account for his crime. In choosing legal action our concern was also for the cousin’s ultimate well being, that his sin would not be covered up and hidden. It is God’s grace, mercy and discipline to expose sin and provide an opportunity for repentance and cleansing.

It is also true that someone who resorts to sexual molestation of a child needs deep professional help as this is a behavior pattern of potential repeat offenses, quite often a later threat to other children in the community. Calling him to account provided an opportunity for him to receive the help he needed.

If you had an opportunity to sit down with a mother struggling through the trauma of her child’s sexual molestation, what would you say to her?

Believe your daughter.

Fight for her.

Be willing to sacrifice personal peace and close relationships for her total well being and healing.

Ruth Wood is the columnist for Tell Me Your Story. Do you have a dramatic or unique story that would encourage others in their walk with the Lord? Send an email to Ruth with subject line “query” and include a paragraph summarizing your story to ruthywood@gmail.com.