What Christians can do to help survivors

On my tumblr, a Christian anon asked me to include the ways that Christians can help survivors. So here are the things I have put together for you:

-Make your own posts calling for Christians not to put up with the way Christian culture treats survivors. Bring conversations about sexual abuse and rape out of the dark.

-Support survivors when they talk about what happened to them. Make no judgments, do not tell them the ways they should be handling it. Let them be angry, let them be afraid, let them have PTSD.

– NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS TALK ABOUT A SURVIVOR’S “SIN” AS IT RELATES TO THE ABUSE OR THEIR REACTIONS TO IT. IT IS NOT SINFUL TO BE ANGRY, OR AFRAID OR HAVE NIGHTMARES OR EVEN GO SO FAR AS TO WANT TO KILL THEIR ABUSER (just as long as they, of course, don’t). Many survivors feel so deeply violated to their core, to their soul. They have a right to be that angry.

-Don’t demand the survivor to forgive. Especially in the case of an unrepentant rapist. And don’t give them six different meanings of what forgiveness means either (i.e. “It means feeling at peace! It means being able to move on! etc.) as a way of making it so the survivor will say they forgive. And if they want to categorically reject all definitions of forgiveness, then they should have that right.

-Let them stay away from their abuser, and if it comes to a matter of their safety and support, ask the abuser to leave the church. Seriously. Because otherwise, they will have to be the ones to leave. Deciding that both have a right to be at the same church is deciding that the survivor that can’t handle the presence of their rapist has to leave, and that “neutral” ground is taking the rapist’s side.

-Also don’t go overboard the other way. If a survivor wants to forgive, wants to put it behind them, then be okay with that too. The key is to listen to the individual survivor and be concerned over their needs.

-Remember that everyone is an individual, and so are survivors. Being a survivor hasn’t removed our individual personalities, ways of reacting to things, and how we deal. No one survivor deals with their assault/rape the same way. And everyone’s journey to healing is different. It’s up to the survivor to decide how they want to heal, if they want to heal.

-Read up on literature on how to support to survivors, on rape culture, on the different ways that rapist function.  I can link some posts right here:

Myths about Rape

Facts & Myths Concerning Sexual Assault

Myths about Male Rape

Eight Common Myths about Child Sexual Abuse

Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault

Supporting Victims of Sexual Assault

Rape Culture 101 (Anti-feminist Christians, you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal if you want to help survivors)

-Cut out any and all sermons on modesty and abstinence until you can figure out a way not to shame survivors and place blame on any potential assault. And I say “cut out” because seriously, they are ALL messed up.

-Preach not to rape. I don’t care that you probably won’t find any scriptures of it (one sign that yes, there ARE some things in the Bible that are messed up, and yes, sometimes you NEED to go outside the Bible to teach things). Teach TRUE respect of people. Teach your boys that they can control themselves and “but she was wearing x” is meaningless, because if a girl walked into the church wearing NOTHING she is still deserves the respect of others; to not be touched or viewed as a sexual object. Teach that if a woman says, “I can carry this myself” that’s not a sign to mock her, but you respect her choices because you respect your individuality because teaching to override women’s wants on a small scale teaches them to override them for bigger things.

-Preach that rapists will not be tolerated. Make rapists afraid. I don’t care if that seems contradictory to Christian love, make the act of rape so abhorrent that rapists are afraid to even walk in the doors of a church. And if you’re concerned about the souls of rapists if you shy them away from church (but then they might not repent and be saved!) well, you let God worry about that.

-And since a lot of these are directed at religious leaders, I would say that for your average Christian, just talk. A lot of churches have small groups or homegroups or things. Talk in there. I remember our youth pastor would do meetings with the parents and he once had one where he told the parents of daughters that their daughters were dressing too revealing and causing the young men to stumble. That would have been perfect for someone to say, “Okay, well, can we also address that boys are responsible for their thoughts and actions and it is entirely their responsibility for what they do regardless of the way someone is dressed?”

-Talk to your kids, teach them that if someone does something to them it is not their shame, and they do not have to hide for the sake of other people. The only reason to keep quiet about what happened to them is if they want to keep quiet about it.

-Gossip spreads fast, we all know it. So counter other people’s opinions on rape and sexual abuse. Tell your fellow Christians how it’s not the survivor’s fault, how rape is never deserved. Bring it up. Even if you make other people uncomfortable, actually talk about it because you might be surprised at who, realizing that you’re comfortable with the topic, might confide in you.

-And for the last fucking time, believe survivors. I swear to you, in this culture, there is no benefit to go around “making up” rape stories. And just because you think Mr. Nice Christian Man over there would never do it, or because Mrs. Nice Christian Lady is ~gasp~ a woman or because the victim isn’t Perfect Wonderful Christian, or a guy or something doesn’t make your judgment right about the situations. Rapists are manipulative little fuckers, that’s how they do it. So make it clear that you will always believe them.

12 comments on “What Christians can do to help survivors

  1. Peeved Skippy says:

    Well done! Peeved Skippy is considering printing this out and dumping several copies on all the churches within a five-mile radius’s doorsteps!

  2. Jenn says:

    I completely agree that rape should be preached against – but as for no passages, I think the Rape of Tamar can be used to show just how damaging it can be and what an un-human act it is to commit rape. I bring it up because that was one of the first sermons I heard when I switched churches that started to break into the walls I had put up – the idea that Tamar was human and the acts against her were not…

    I would add if you know a victim/survivor invite them to your family Christmas – but only if you have a loving non-judgemental family (that celebrates with booze helps too) – for the two years following my “coming out” with my brother’s molestation of me, my best friend’s family took me in – every holiday, it didn’t matter who was hosting – I had a standing invite. They were my saving grace – no hostile family holidays.

    • The rape of Tamar has been so distorted and so used as a very victim-blaming passage that it didn’t even occur to me.

      Yeah, definitely including them is helpful. Though not putting pressure on them as well – if they say “no thanks” continuing to say, “Oh come on, come over” is really disempowering.

      But having a community of people is good. Especially if the rape/assault was within the family. My friend invited me over for Christmas and I got out of being around my family, and it was very nice.

    • Dianna says:

      Yes, the holiday thing is fantastic. When I was having some problems with family earlier this year, my (atheist!) friend was the only person who was like, “I know it’s short notice, but if you need to go somewhere else for the holiday, you’ll welcome to come hang out with my family.” And that meant a lot – I’m not even a survivor of abuse like you guys, I was just having a lot of trouble dealing with some (possibly emotionally abusive) things family members had said. It was enough to know that I had a safe space and a safe friend to talk to.

      • Yes. Though I would say that the invite must be genuine. and not a pitying, “oh your a survivor so I’ll treat you nice.” I got a lot of well-intentioned, but utterly meaningless, extensions of kindness from the youth group I was a part of, and it was all a kind of “Well, you’re the weird one standing on the side so I’ll do my ~Christian duty~ and be nice to you so I can feel good about myself” and was never a genuine extension of kindness or a want to actually connect and be my friend. And a lot of survivors are hyper-aware of reading people and intentions – they had to be, to survive – and it can feel a lot worse when it seems like the only people who are being nice to you are doing so for their Christian cred.

        But genuine outreaches of real friendship, those are the best, and probably the best things for survival.

  3. susania says:

    THANK YOU. You could submit this as an article to magazines – very, very helpful!

  4. FMC says:

    Thank you so much for speaking out about this.

    You know how you said that in church, they must make rapists scared and they must not be tolerated.

    Instead, they are preaching about homosexuals being scared and not welcomed in church. You know, people who actually are loving individuals. Yet the rapists and abusers get practically a free pass in church.

    it is so backwards.

  5. Stitch says:

    Thank you. Thank you so much. As a survivor and a Christian…this is absolutely 100% spot on correct. If I hear one more person tell me that I need to move on, or forgive, or that it wasn’t a big deal, or that it may have been my fault, or that God was testing me…(sigh) Six years ago today. Today is a rough day. Thank you for being a strong voice.

  6. […] “What Christians can do to help survivors” by Somatic Strength: SUCH an important message. All Christians, please read this. […]

  7. Concerned says:

    I know this isn’t a recent post, but it’s excellent. And timeless. One thing I would add:

    There is a verse about weeping with those who weep. The most powerfully healing things anyone has ever done for me is grieve with me. One Christian man knew nothing about my story, just that I was a survivor. He asked permission to give me a hug…and he cried. He kept whispering, “I’m so sorry”, over and over…words I had no idea I’d longed to hear from a man. I have a dear friend, a big huge guy, who is not afraid to weep when he prays with us and for us…his dedication as an advocate for survivors and as a partner in healing has literally saved lives.

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