Don’t Play Detective

A warning to those who think they can and should “investigate” allegations of child abuse.

A true story

Once there was a young teen who finally, after much prayer and agony, mustered up enough courage to try to tell her pastor’s wife that she had been being abused by an older male. This young, terrified teen didn’t have enough vocabulary to really explain what had gone on for years and years in her first, terrified, halting words.

The shocked and horrified pastor’s wife wanted to know only one thing. Had intercourse taken place? After asking the young teen several different ways, the victim understood enough to give an answer. “No”. This was true, although plenty of other things had been done to her, and she had been forced to do plenty of other things to the abuser. But the pastor’s wife didn’t ask more questions.

The pastor’s wife was satisfied and referred the matter to her husband and the elders of the church. Their response was to order the victim to apologize for how she had “participated” in the “sexual conduct”.

They interviewed the offender, who being many years older and wiser, and far smoother than the trembling, traumatized victim, came across as sane, plausible and reasonable. He managed evidently to convince the leaders and the victim’s parents, that the events had been when he was young and foolish, and only a minor deal, really, and besides… he had only started after the victim had been behaving in a “sexually provocative manner” in front of him. This was actually not true, but no one bothered to check back with the victim.

Even though the offender was in a church that normally would have practiced “proving and/or excommunication” for sexual sins, he only had to stand up and make a generic, vague apology to the church–not even directly to the victim–that did not specify at all what he had done.

The pastor did not know the truth. The victim’s parents did not know the truth. They had no idea because they did not know how to relate to the severely traumatized victim, who only shut down even further after how she was treated when she tried to disclose. They did not know the truth, because they allowed the abuser to manipulate and “inform” them, and they were just sure he was genuinely, sincerely sorry for what had been some childish behavior.

They did not know the truth, because they never bothered to report and allow trained professionals who had experience with traumatized children to investigate and ask the vital questions that would have allowed them to know the truth. They never knew, because they did not get the victim the counseling she had so badly hoped they would help her get.

The truth was buried deep due to how traumatized the victim was.

Because the truth was, the offender had started molesting her when she was only 6. The truth was that the offender had continued to molest her for years and years afterwards, using threats, significant spiritual manipulation, emotional and mental blackmail and more to keep her silent and in fear. The truth was, he had molested her the last time he had access to her, mere months before she reported the abuse. The truth was, his abuse of her was significant and serious, even if he had never quite raped her.

All this was buried. And the victim was traumatized further because her church leaders and her parents thought they could handle it all themselves.

They couldn’t. They made a horrible mess of the situation that has had long term repercussions, including among other things, the offender growing only more hardened and cocky as he has aged. The truth is, he has continued to relate at a minimum in emotionally abusive ways to those still in his life, because he was never given real accountability, no real help.

The victim has been slowly finding healing. Years of hard work, brutal honesty, and much support have led her to a better and happier place in life than she would have ever dreamed of as a young teen.

Learn and be wise. If you are not trained and licensed to investigate and work with abuse victims, and offenders, DO NOT think you can do so. If you do, you are almost certainly harming more than helping!

There is a role for the church and loving, caring people in abuse cases. But that role is NOT to investigate, nor to counsel. Stay in your lane and allow those who know what they are doing to do so. Seek the input of trained professionals for how you can truly support and help.

Let him who hath ears to hear, hear and be wise.

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