By Linda Crockett
Most people have heard that being sexually abused in childhood can lead to lifelong struggles with depression, anxiety, addictions, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and suicide. Less well known is that we also have strong evidence that it has a significant effect on the physical health of survivors in mid-life. It’s long past time we took this into consideration when we think about the imperative to protect children from sexual harm.
In my work with faith communities engaging in the SafeChurch process, we affirm across denominations that our bodies are created by God and are to serve as sacred temples for the indwelling spirit. Yet these very temples are not only violated when children are sexually abused, they are left far more vulnerable to disease and ill health extending for decades beyond childhood.
CSA (child sexual abuse) is one of the 9 preventable adverse childhood experiences defined in the landmark ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study by the CDC and Kaiser of about 17,000 midlife, middle class adults. The study was designed to see if there was a connection between ACEs such as sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence, and physical health later in life. The study results gave us a resounding YES to that question. ACEs often set off a spiral of attempts to cope with unbearable emotional pain and precipitate unhealthy coping mechanisms such as early age smoking, use of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity and risk taking behaviors.
As the spiral of negative impact continues, survivors suffer poor physical health in mid-life and are more likely than people without ACEs to develop COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) and Liver Disease. It is as though the sanctuary has been vandalized, and the doors and windows are left standing open to the ravages of wind, rain and bitter cold.
This desecration of the body by sexual abuse should be completely unacceptable to anyone. People of faith who further believe that the body is God’s Temple should be especially outraged. And yes, I said outraged…wasn’t it Jesus himself who, upon seeing the money changers commercializing the temple, flew into an uncharacteristic rage that included shouting and overturned furniture?
SafeChurch is working with other organizations on building a national social movement to end CSA. Our role is to call people of faith to action, asking them to step up and become leaders in their communities to stop the destruction of bodies – and spirits – represented by child sexual abuse.
If you participate in a church where leaders assert that a child protection policy written by a denomination or insurance company, and background checks, are sufficient to protect children, I invite you to be outraged. Because while these are important, they do little to protect children, within and beyond the walls of the church or temple. With one in four girls and one in six boys sexually abused before age 18, Jesus himself is probably ready to start overturning some furniture to get his people to wake up. SafeChurch amplifies that wakeup call to people of faith at this moment in history. We are standing with Jesus on this one.