Christian Biblical Counsel: CHILD ABUSE & Childhood Sexual Abuse


Child abuse is a great American tragedy. Children of domestic violence are found in all socioeconomic, educational, racial, and age groups. Patterns of violence often run in families; the battered becomes the batterer. Abuse falls into several categories: verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. Any one of these can be so devastating in the life of a child that he or she may never recover from the damage.

Verbal abuse can be degrading, debasing the child. He or she may feel that any physical abuse that follows is deserved. The screaming parent often accompanies these tirades with swearing, foul language, and constant putdowns: “You can’t do anything right”; “Stop acting like a child”; “You should be more like so-and-so.” This can rob a child of all self-esteem, cause problems with identity, and depress the child to the point of becoming an emotional cripple.

Add physical punishment to this, and the child will be further denied that proper emotional development which produces a normal, responsible adult. It is easy for the abused child to slip into drugs, alcohol, or deviant sexual behavior.

Such children often are depressed, do poorly in school, misbehave, and are delinquent. They are frequently deceptive and lie, steal, cheat, and violate the rights of others. Assuming violence to be a normal behavioral response, the child reverts to it in order to solve problems in school, with peers, and with family. He or she will often be suicidal and may entertain thoughts of murdering his or her parents. A great percentage of our prison population is the product of family violence.

Proper emotional responses in such children are almost impossible; but a tender, loving attitude may at least begin to open a door to solutions.


Helping Strategy

1. Be sensitive, patient, and caring in your approach. You may be speaking to a child who is incapable of comprehension on the emotional level.

2. Reinforce the child’s motive in calling:

• We are glad you called.

• We are here to help you.

• God loves you and we love you.

• You are special to Him and to us.

• God knows what you are going through and will help.

3. Ask the child how he or she feels about himself or herself. As he or she reports abuse which may have come from a father, mother, or elder sibling, find out how he or she feels about the constant punishment. Such people may feel that they deserve the physical punishment they have been receiving.

4. Reassure the child that he or she is not necessarily bad. Sometimes parents do not realize that they are being abusive. They do not necessarily need a motive for hurting a child. Seventy percent of abusers were themselves abused as children.

5. Tell the child about the love of Jesus and how He showed it: Jesus died on the cross for him or her. Jesus is preparing a special kingdom for children (“For of such is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 19:14).

6. Ask if he or she has ever received Jesus as Savior. If not, Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.

7. Ask if he or she has a Bible. Encourage reading it. If needed, offer to provide a copy of the Bible in a modern translation. Offer to send Your
New Life In Christ Bible Study
). This will help get started in daily Bible study.

8. Does the person go to church? If he or she knows the pastor, suggest telling the pastor about all that he or she is going through, even though it may be very embarrassing to do so. The pastor needs to know about the abuse in order to help. The abusing parent is not likely to change unless faced with the legal implications of his or her behavior. The pastor can confront the parents, arrange for counseling, and contact the necessary authorities if necessary.

9. Pray with the child for further encouragement.



“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’” (Matthew 19:14, NIV).

“Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you” (1 Peter 5:7, TLB).

The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996

Childhood Sexual Abuse

The Secret Storm

by June Hunt

Musical, athletic, beautiful—yet with the winsome appeal of “the girl next door”—Marilyn Van Derber walked down the Atlantic City runway as the newly crowned Miss America. After reigning for a year with whirlwind spotlight appearances, she embarked on a highly visible speaking career. As the epitome of self-confidence and composure, this host of 23 television specials served for 16 years as the only female guest lecturer of a major corporation. Then, 33 years later, Marilyn stepped up to a very different podium, this time to deliver a very different message: “Tonight, I break my silence.… It means speaking the unspeakable word.” She revealed, “From the time I was 5 until I was 18 and moved away to college, my father sexually violated me.”

As a motivational speaker, Marilyn had a new motivation—a passion to help other victims break their silence, salvage their lives and be made whole. Describing her hidden horror has helped other victims reveal their terror and survive their shame. Still there are many victims in the midst of their own secret storm who inwardly cry,

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”

(Psalm 55:4–5)

I.     Definitions

Nothing penetrates the core of a child’s inner being like sexual abuse. Its long tentacles reach deep within the child … wrapping around the young heart … choking and killing innocence and trust. For many, the terror is so overwhelming that no part of the child’s soul is able to escape its evil presence. As with Marilyn Van Derber years after her abuse, its degrading impact continued to corrode her personal dignity and pervert her perception of others. She, as well as other victims, can truly identify with the suffering of Job: the terror attacks, the loss of dignity, the lack of security.

“Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud.”

(Job 30:15)

A. What Is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

•     Childhood sexual abuse is any physical, visual or verbal interaction with a minor by an older person whose purpose is sexual stimulation or sexual satisfaction.

•     Abuse means mistreatment, using something or someone in an inappropriate manner.

•     Abuse is intentional, not accidental.

•     Abuse results in emotional, mental and/or physical harm.

•     The word abuse in Hebrew is chalal, which means “to do harm, to defile.”

•     Sexual abuse of a child is almost always committed by someone the child knows or with whom the child has frequent contact, such as:

—  family member

—  family friend

—  babysitter

—  teacher

—  doctor

—  institutional worker

—  mother’s live-in boyfriend or transient suitor

—  neighbor

—  coach

—  church leader

—  older friend

—  playmate’s older siblings

—  daycare worker

The Bible is not silent about inappropriate sexual interaction:

Biblical Claim

“He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.”

(Psalm 10:9)

B. What Is Incest?

•     Incest is sexual interaction with a child or an adolescent by a person who is a member of the child’s family: blood relative, an adoptive relative or someone related by marriage and remarriage.

•     Incest often progresses from subtle touching to sexual fondling and then to more extensive sexual activity.

•     Incestuous relationships usually continue over a long period of time.

•     Incest occurs primarily in the following relationships (in order of predominance):

—  Daughter with father or stepfather

—  Daughter with grandfather, uncle or male cousin

—  Sister with brother, half brother or brother-in-law

—  Son with father or stepfather

—  Son with grandfather, uncle or male cousin

—  Son with mother

—  Daughter with mother

The Bible is not silent about incest:

Biblical Censure

“No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.”

(Leviticus 18:6)

(Read Leviticus 18:6–18.)

C. What Is the Difference between Molestation and Rape?

•     Molestation is unlawful sexual contact, but usually not sexual penetration.

•     Rape is a sudden, forceful act resulting in sexual penetration.

•     Rape is usually a onetime event, whereas molestation can continue over a period of time.

•     Molestation and rape are committed primarily by people the child knows, but also by strangers.

•     Even when the perpetrator is a family member, sometimes the terms molestation and rape are used in place of the word incest.

•     Molestation and rape often occur in the following places:

—  playground

—  ballpark/public park

—  gymnasium

—  nearby wooded area

—  swimming pool

—  public restroom

—  theater

—  department/grocery store

—  child’s home

—  baby/child-sitter’s home

—  neighbor’s home

—  daycare center

—  church

—  doctor’s office

—  school/city bus

—  classroom

The Bible is not silent about the seriousness of rape:

Biblical Consequence

“If out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death.”

(Deuteronomy 22:25–26)

D. What Is the Scope of Sexual Abuse?

Childhood sexual abuse is an umbrella term that covers a variety of direct and indirect sexually inappropriate actions with children for the sexual gratification of an older child or adult. Such exploitation is like a violent storm that leaves a chilling aftermath of fear and devastation.

Checklist for Childhood Sexual Abuse

Indirect Sexual Abuse

•     As a child, were you …

□    Stared at while undressing, bathing or urinating? (voyeurism)

□    Intentionally exposed to the nudity of or made to bathe with someone much older than you? (exhibitionism)

□    Made to listen to sexual talk? (lewdness)

□    Shown sexual pictures, magazines, videos or movies? (pornography)

□    Made to pose for sexual photographs, videos or movies? (child pornography)

□    Made to sexually stimulate yourself with another person observing you? (masturbation)

□    Teased or ridiculed about your body or made to feel you were a sex object? (psychological sexual abuse)

Direct Sexual Abuse

•     As a child, were you

□    Touched or caressed in sexually sensitive areas or bathed in a way that felt sexually intrusive? (fondling)

□    Kissed in a sexual way? (intimate kissing)

□    Made to touch the sexual parts of another person? (fondling)

□    Made to perform oral sex? (oral genital contact)

□    Manipulated or forced into unwanted sexual intercourse or anal sex? (penetration/rape)

□    Made to engage in satanic ritualistic abuse and sexual torture? (SRA)

□    Subjected to the painful use of objects on your sexual parts? (sadism)

The Bible promises justice and hope:

Biblical Commitment

“What the wicked dreads will overtake him; what the righteous desire will be granted. When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.”

(Proverbs 10:24–25)

E. Who Is the Victim of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

•     A child victim of sexual abuse is any boy or girl under the age of eighteen who has suffered a single experience or many experiences of sexual abuse.

•     A child in legal terms is referred to as a “minor.”

•     A child (minor) is defined as a person under the age of eighteen.

•     A child victim of sexual abuse is overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness.

—  A child has no choice about being abused.

—  A child does not have the ability to stop the abuse.

—  A child is defenseless against the emotional pain.

—  A child feels helpless and totally alone.

The Bible is not silent about God’s concern for victims:

Biblical Comfort

“You, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.… You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.”

(Psalm 10:14, 17)

F.  Who Is the Victimizer in Childhood Sexual Abuse?


•     Adult Seducer of Children

Familial            The most frequent victimizers of children in their own families are fathers and stepfathers. They either prefer sex with children or use their own children just because they are available.

Preferential       Referred to as a pedophile, this is a person who is significantly older than the child and who demonstrates a compulsive preference for prepubescent children with little or no sexual interest in peers. Pedophiles primarily victimize nonfamily members. Pedophiles who abuse nonfamily members average 90 victims, whereas pedophiles who abuse family members average two victims.

Situational        This sexual perpetrator does not have a true preference for children, but rather engages in sex with a child just because the child is available or to seek revenge. Angry, bored or feeling powerless, this victimizer is looking for anyone to sexually violate, and children often fit the situation.

•     Adult Rapist of Children

The most dangerous of child abusers is the rapist, who is usually a person significantly older than the child and who commits cruel, violent acts. The rape of one particular child is usually a onetime incident.

•     Child Perpetrator of Children

The child perpetrator is a minor who sexually violates a younger child. Typically, these victimizers have been abused as children and, as a result, have learned to abuse other children in the same way.

The Bible reveals the intent of the victimizers:

Biblical Condemnation

“A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”

(Proverbs 26:24–26)

•     Permissive Parent

One of the primary roles of parents is to protect their children from harm. Permissive parents fail in this most basic duty. They not only permit their children to be abused, but also appear to favor the guilty over the innocent. Surprisingly, victims often feel far more anger toward their permissive parent than toward the actual perpetrator.

•     Passive Parent

Usually a mother, the passive parent gives silent consent to sexual abuse by ignoring it. Most often she feels powerless to protect herself or her children. She victimizes her child by withholding physical protection and doubly victimizes her child by withholding emotional support.

•     Preoccupied Parent

Preoccupied parents are so absorbed in their own personal lives or their own emotional problems that they fail to protect their children. They lack the sensitivity and discernment needed to see the signs of a child in distress.

•     Prideful Parent

Prideful parents cannot or will not believe that sexual abuse could exist within their “picture perfect” home. Their self-centered pride prevents them from taking their own child’s word that such a travesty has happened.

The Bible chastises protectors of the guilty, those who fail to protect the innocent:

Biblical Chastisement

“It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice.”

(Proverbs 18:5)

G. What Is the Typical Course of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Typically, childhood sexual abuse is not a onetime, isolated incident, but rather a premeditated plan resulting in repeated abuse by a perpetrator. While the details of each victimization are different, perpetrators follow a typical course of behavior: intentionally seducing and then stimulating, silencing and then suppressing the victim. Once the victim is suppressed, the child loses all hope.

•     Seduction

The perpetrator emotionally seduces the child by developing intimacy, progressively building trust and giving pleasure. This is accomplished by becoming an attentive friend, showing preferential treatment, giving money, gifts, bribes or rewards.

•     Stimulation

The child feels pleasure in physical touch that seems appropriate, affirming and warm (playful wrestling and tender touching such as hugs and gentle back rubs). Over time the child becomes desensitized and vulnerable to a progression of more advanced sexual activity. The increased physical encroachment may not be enjoyable, but the increased sexual stimulation can be enjoyable. (By God’s design, the body naturally responds to sexual stimulation. While children eventually feel conflicted over the mixture of pain and pleasure, no guilt should ever be attributed to the child—the guilt belongs to the abuser alone.)

•     Silence

The perpetrator moves to ensure the victim’s silence through intimidation and fear-inducing threats. A warped sense of loyalty has already been cultivated within the child through special attention, gifts and privileges. Although the abuse may be a onetime event or continue for years, few victims ever tell. The destructive secret remains imbedded for years in a quagmire of ambivalent feelings such as love and hate, pleasure and shame, tenderness and terror. They feel rage at the reality of being in the relationship and rage at the possibility of losing the relationship. Meanwhile, abusers are keenly aware of their power over their innocent prey.

•     Suppression

When no one rescues the child from the abusive relationship, the child feels doubly betrayed. Any hope of ever being “saved” by anyone, including God, is destroyed. The child, feeling no choice but to bow to the supreme power of the perpetrator, slips quietly into enslavement. Then, when hopelessness reigns, the soul is suppressed and the light within the spirit is snuffed out.

The Bible describes men of deception:

Biblical Caution

“There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.”

(Psalm 36:1–4)

H. What Is the Challenge Following Child Abuse?

If you were abused as a child, your challenge—along with every victim—is to move from victim to victor, from survivor to conqueror through the indwelling power of Christ.

•     Victim

The victim who continues to feel like a victim into adulthood is living with a “victim mentality”—still feeling powerless and therefore acting powerless. Typically moving from one abusive relationship to another, this victim lives in denial, refuses to face the secret of the past and possesses no knowledge of how to receive help and healing.

•     Survivor

The survivor is aware of the need for facing the past. With complete honesty, the survivor takes action to deal with debilitating issues such as false guilt and shame, anger and unforgiveness, loneliness and grief, personal sin and repentance.

•     Conqueror

The conqueror is victorious over the past and no longer in bondage to the memories of the abuser or of the abuse. Through an intimate relationship with Christ, giving Him full control, the conqueror grows in self-worth, vulnerability and the capacity to experience authentic love and intimacy with others. Ultimately the desire to reach out and minister to others becomes reality.

The Bible reveals our hope for victory:

Biblical Challenge

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

(Romans 8:37)

II.    Characteristics of Childhood Sexual Abuse

In order to survive, I split into a day child, who giggled and smiled, and a night child, who lay awake in a fetal position, only to be pried apart by my father. Until I was 24, the day child had no conscious knowledge of the night child. During the day, no embarrassing or angry glances ever passed between my father and me. I had no rage toward him at all, because I had no conscious knowledge of what he was doing to me. Anyone who knew me would say I was the happiest child. I believed I was happy.… Still, incest colored every aspect of my life.

Though the sexual experience may differ from victim to victim, these words from Marilyn Van Derber mirror the emotional experience of many young victims. Early they learn to disconnect from their feelings in order to survive. Memory loss may be God’s way of protecting their young hearts from this paralyzing fact: Those who should have been their protectors were their perpetrators!

Ultimately, the Lord our God is Jehovah Rapha, “the God who heals.” He knows how to bring to the surface repressed memories.… He knows when each person is ready to receive his emotional healing.

“For I am the Lord, who heals you.”

(Exodus 15:26)

A. What Are Emotional Signs of Abuse?

Typically, a victim develops some of the following symptoms:

•     Anxiety or panic attacks

•     Apathy

•     Confused sexual identity

•     Depression

•     Excessive need for love and attention

•     Emotional withdrawal, introversion

•     False guilt

•     Fear of authority figures

•     Fear of going to bed, nightmares or other sleep disturbances

•     Fear of intimacy

•     Inability to concentrate in school

•     Low self-worth

•     Mistrust

•     Psychoneurosis (hysteria, phobias, obsessions, compulsions)

•     Regression to an earlier phase of development (babylike) or pseudo-mature (adultlike) behavior

•     Self-consciousness and insecurity

•     Self-destructive behavior

•     Splitting off into different personalities (DID—Dissociative Identity Disorder)

•     Shame

•     Unexplained mood changes

•     Unpredictable anger, aggression, rage

Q  “If a child is abused at a very early age, won’t time erase any memory of what happened?”

A  Emotional damage to the soul of a child can last a lifetime. Even when there is no memory of the event and without understanding why, victims of sexual abuse can carry a crippling loss of self-worth, an overwhelming amount of shame and a fear-based outlook on life and relationships.

“Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.” (Psalm 142:6–7)

B. What Are Physical Signs of Abuse?

Most victims display some of the following more obvious signs of abuse:

•     Abdominal pain

•     Bed-wetting, change in toilet habits

•     Complaints of sickness or frequent headaches

•     Failure to accomplish simple tasks

•     Genital itching, yeast or bladder infections

•     Habit disorders (severe biting, thumb-sucking, rocking)

•     Memory loss

•     Masturbation, excessive or in public

•     Obsessive washing and cleaning

•     Pain when urinating

•     Premarital pregnancy

•     Sad facial expressions or frequent crying

•     Self-mutilation (self-injury—a cutter)

•     Sitting or walking difficulties

•     Suicidal gestures

•     Torn, stained or blood-spotted underpants

•     Undernourished appearance

•     Vaginal or rectal pain, swelling, bruises or bleeding

•     Vaginal/penile discharge

•     Venereal disease

Note: If a   child is experiencing any of these physical problems, be sure to consult a   health care professional. 

C. What Are Social Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Victims usually have difficulty developing healthy habits and relationships, struggling in several of the following areas:

•     Abnormal expression of sexuality in writing, drawing or playing

•     Alcohol and drug abuse

•     Antisocial behavior, defiance, problems with authority and rules

•     Arriving early, staying late at school or another safe place

•     Avoidance of specific people or situations

•     Deep fear of saying no to adults

•     Defensive reaction to touch

•     Dependent, clinging behavior

•     Eating disorders

•     Excessive compliance (inability to set personal boundaries)

•     Exclusive relationship with an older person

•     Extreme modesty, reluctance to change clothes in front of others

•     Fear of sleepovers

•     Poor peer relationships

•     Premature sexual knowledge or behavior

•     Promiscuity or seductive behavior with older males

•     Running away

•     Secretive

•     Sexually abusing another child

•     Sudden drop in school performance or activities

•     Taking on a parental role

Q  “Will a child who fell victim to early sexual abuse have problems with promiscuity?”

A  Early sexual experiences can sometimes produce sexually promiscuous adolescents. Not all children respond to abuse this way. But once sexual desires have been aroused, sexual boundaries may be destroyed. Longing to feel loved, many victims harden their hearts to God and turn to sexual promiscuity. With a distrust in the Lord, they can “look for love in all the wrong places.”

“I have strayed like a lost sheep.” (Psalm 119:176)

D. What Are Spiritual Signs of Abuse?

Children who are victimized generally struggle with some of the following obstacles to their spiritual growth:

•     Warped negative perceptions of God

•     Anger at God because He did not stop the abuse

•     Distrusting God for allowing the abuse

•     Feeling rejected by God and unworthy

•     Fearing God’s anger and displeasure

•     Projecting the attributes of the abuser onto God

•     Possessing a knowledge of God but have little personal experience of God’s love and grace

•     Difficulty forming an intimate relationship with God

•     Rejecting God or seeking to gain God’s approval through achieving high levels of performance in church related activities

Q  “Why is it difficult for many abused children to trust God?”

A  Children tend to see their earthly father as a reflection of the heavenly Father. If their earthly father is untrustworthy and abusive, they assume the heavenly Father is abusive and cannot be trusted.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

III.   Causes

What kind of father could betray his own child? What kind of depravity would steal the innocence of anyone’s childhood? “My father was a handsome, intelligent man. But there was another—secret—side to him.” Marilyn’s own words reveal the deceptiveness of sin. Evil isn’t confined to the back alleys of life … it can live secretly in the heart of anyone! But it would be inadequate to blame such perverse behavior on “original sin.” There are common causes for abusive behavior, and usually the offender is unaware of what causes the act, much less the desire.

“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”

(Proverbs 4:19)

A. What Is the Profile of a Perpetrator?

The vast majority of abusers were themselves victims of abuse. This fact reveals that certain sins can be generational. That which is modeled before children is too often repeated years later. This does not excuse abuse. Regardless of how evil penetrates our lives, God eventually holds us all accountable for our behavior. But be assured, God’s redemptive power can break any family stronghold. This general principle is seen in the Bible regarding a son (Amon) who succeeds his evil father as king.

“He walked in all the ways of his father.”

(2 Kings 21:21)

Typical Characteristics of Abusers

Alcohol or drug abuse

Background of abuse

Unresolved anger

Sexual addiction to pornography

Emotional immaturity

Rigid, religious background

Stepfamilies and divorce

B. Why Do They Abuse Children?

Perpetrators are master manipulators of their own minds. They rationalize their perverted reasoning and justify their sexual advances. But the Bible says:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

(Proverbs 14:12)

•     They feel like victims in desperate need to control someone.

•     They see their sexual actions as a solution to their problems.

•     They use children to bolster their sense of significance.

•     They use sex to feel loved.

•     They have difficulty forming healthy adult relationships.

•     They have difficulty communicating with their mate.

•     They rationalize and justify:

—  “My wife is cold and indifferent—it’s her fault.”

—  “It’s my duty to provide sex education for her (the victim).”

—  “I view sex as loving and gentle.”

—  “It’s better for me to prepare her than someone else.”

—  “It is only play—not intercourse.”

—  “I can’t control my impulses.”

—  “I need something to relieve my stress.”

—  “She is seducing me.”

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

(Proverbs 16:2)

C. What Is the Profile of a Victim?

Abusers typically look for specific things in their potential victims that indicate susceptibility to being abused. In this sense, victims don’t become victims by chance but by the choice of the victimizer.

“He [the victimizer] lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims.”

(Psalm 10:8)

Typical Characteristics of Victims








D. Why Don’t Children Tell?

For a number of reasons, most abused children never share “the secret” of their abuse. And when they do … it’s usually many years later! They protect their perpetrators because:

•     They feel guilty (false guilt), assuming the sexual encounter is their fault.

•     They feel love and loyalty for the abuser.

•     They fear the one they tell may respond with disbelief and denial, or horror and judgment.

•     They feel no need to tell because the trauma caused dissociation, resulting in no memory of abuse.

•     They fear the abuser’s authority and power.

•     They feel threatened by the abuser.

•     They fear what will happen to the abuser.

•     They feel obligated to the abuser.

•     They feel no one cares because no one asks!

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.”

(Proverbs 18:15)

After an act of sexual abuse, the victimizer fears being found out. He seeks to shift the blame to the victim by unloading a truck full of guilt. This strategy is a perverted game.

The Guilt Game

Most games are fun, and most games require some level of strategy. In the case of child abuse, perpetrators use one of the most powerful strategies in existence—guilt. In fact, most perpetrators possess an expertise at playing the guilt game … a game of deceit. For victims, this game is not fun—it is evil.

“Deceit [is] in the hearts of those who plot evil.”

(Proverbs 12:20)

•     “If you share our secret, it will break my heart.”

•     “If you share our secret, Mother’s feelings will be so hurt.”

•     “If you share our secret, they won’t let me see you again.”

•     “If you share our secret, Mommy won’t understand and will leave us.”

•     “If you share our secret, your mother will divorce me.”

•     “If you share our secret, our family will be destroyed.”

•     “If you share our secret, I’ll tell them you wanted it.”

•     “If you share our secret, I’ll say you started it … it’s your fault.”

•     “If you share our secret, I won’t love you any more.”

•     “If you share our secret, I’ll kill you … I’ll kill myself.”

E. What Is the Root Cause of Child Abuse?

•     The Abuser

In order to understand the emotional makeup of a child abuser, be aware of everyone’s three God-given inner needs for love, for significance and for security. Victims of child abuse develop such an overwhelming sense of insignificance and inferiority that they often repeat the abuse done to them in order to feel significant. As children, they had no control over their abuse. As adults, they abuse children in order to feel that they have control, a behavior that makes them feel significant. The feelings of being “out of control” as a child are substituted with new feelings of power.

Wrong Belief: (Of the Abuser)

“Having sex with a child meets my needs. I have the right to get my needs met, and this gives me a sense of power and significance and relieves the intense stress and anger I feel.”

Right Belief: (For the Abuser)

I don’t need to exert power over a child to get my needs met. My need for significance is already met because God chose to create me, and He has a plan and purpose for me. By giving Jesus control of my life, I see children as His precious creations and desire to protect every child at all costs.

“ ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.’ ” (Matthew 25:40)

•     The Abused

Even small children have instincts regarding inappropriate behavior. A young child’s great need for love and security is immensely threatened by fear of disapproval and rejection. Young sensitive hearts feel that “keeping the secret” is the safest way to be loved and accepted.

Wrong Belief: (Of the Abused)

“I can’t stop what’s going on, and I can’t tell anyone—I’ve got to keep it a secret. God must really hate me because I’m so bad. I know it’s my fault, I am so dirty … I can never be clean again.”

Right Belief: (For the Abused)

What is happening to me is bad, but God does not see me as bad. This abuse is not my fault. Telling the truth to someone I can trust is good in order to stop the bad so it won’t happen again. Jesus loves all children, and He loves me. I’m trusting in Him to make me clean and to take care of me.

Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:6–7)

IV. Steps to solution

After graduating from high school in 1955, I enrolled at the University of Colorado. I went home for Christmas vacation, and one night I went into my parents’ bedroom to say goodnight. My father pulled me down to him. I pushed away from him with such anger. That was the “day child” reacting, still without knowledge of the “night child.” He never violated me again.

It wasn’t until several years later that Marilyn remembered the abuse suffered by the night child. One word triggered a tremendous emotional response, bringing a flood of tears. This word surfaced her buried secret, and she began remembering events that had been blocked for years. The word was incest! Likewise, many victims have experienced a similar emotional block. But the Bible offers this promise to all who have suffered such a heartbreaking travesty:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

(Psalm 34:18)

A. Key Verse to Memorize

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

(Isaiah 12:2)

B. Key Passage to Read and Reread

Psalm 55

My Prayer for Developing Trust

God, I appeal to You. v. 1

I am troubled and distraught. v. 2

I suffer at the voice and the stares of my victimizer. v. 3

My heart is in anguish, and I am terrified.      v. 4

Fear and horror have overwhelmed me.         v. 5

How I long to escape far from the tempest and storm!          vv. 6–8

I see the violence and strife.   v. 9

I know the malice and abuse. v. 10

I hear the threats and lies.       v. 11

I feel absolutely betrayed.      vv. 12–14

Deal with my betrayer as his evil demands.   v. 15

I call upon You, and You save me.    v. 16

I am distressed, and You hear me.     v. 17

I am opposed, and You ransom me.   v. 18

You know all about my abuser and will punish him.  v. 19

My betrayer attacks those close to him.          v. 20

He is a smooth talker whose words can’t be trusted. v. 21

I cast my cares on You, Lord, for You will sustain me.         v. 22

You won’t let me fall. v. 22

You will bring judgment upon my betrayer.   v. 23

I choose to put my trust in You!.        v. 23

C. Do’s and Don’ts of Awareness

Don’t be like an ostrich, hiding your head in the sands of denial. Although it is terribly hard to do, facing the truth that child abuse is taking place is the first step to healing.

“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

(Proverbs 21:15)


•     Be aware … child abuse is illegal, a crime, and must be reported.

•     Be aware … children are usually abused by people they know.

•     Be aware … children seldom lie about abuse.

•     Be aware … most often, physical abuse is violent, but sexual abuse may not be.

•     Be aware … children may deny or change their stories because of fear.

•     Be aware … sexual abuse is progressive and will get worse, if not stopped.


•     Be in denial, no matter how difficult it is to believe.

•     Assume that if it happened only once, it is not serious.

•     Minimize the abuse.

•     Let the offender go without confrontation.

•     Blame other family members.

•     Keep abuse a “family secret.”

D. What Do You Do?

If You Suspect Child Abuse …

Seek the help of a professional who is trained to work with children.

•     To verify or to relieve your suspicions

—  Contact a child advocacy program to discuss your concerns privately.

—  Consider having someone there do an evaluation of the child and make recommendations as to a course of action.

•     To further inform yourself (not in the presence of the child)

—  Contact Child Protective Services.

—  Contact a Family Attorney.

—  Contact a shelter for women and children.

—  Contact a pastor or spiritual leader.

—  Contact the local police or a law enforcement agency.

—  Contact the local District Attorney’s office.

“A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.”

(Proverbs 24:5–6)

•     If a Child Discloses Abuse …

—  Stay calm.

—  Take time to sensitively answer any questions from the child.

—  Be available to the child at all times.

—  Remain with the child—leave the child only with another adult whom you and the child trust.

—  Respect the privacy of the child from those who have no need to know.

—  Make no promises you can’t keep—such as, “Your mom won’t be angry” or “He won’t get into trouble.”

—  Explain that the law enforcement agencies must be informed and what will happen next.

—  Be prepared to provide protection, arrange for a medical exam and obtain professional counseling.

“We urge you … encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:14)

•     If You See Questionable Marks on a Child’s Body …

—  Take the child to a pediatrician or the local hospital emergency room for immediate examination and documentation.

—  Relate why you suspect possible child abuse, and state that a child abuse case should be turned over to a caseworker.

—  Ask for a copy of the medical report in writing and for copies of photographs if they are taken. (An attorney can subpoena them.)

—Keep a paper trail of all contacts you make: calls, reports and photographs.

—  If a caseworker’s file disappears, supply duplicates of your copies of photographs and reports.

—  Follow up with caseworkers on a regular basis, asking about the status of the case and how you can be of assistance.

—  If the local services are not responsive, keep appealing to higher authorities by contacting a state agency or federal agency.

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men … who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

(1 Peter 2:13–14)

E. Surface the Secret

Victims of childhood sexual abuse are in bondage to “the secret.” Revealing the truth is the only strategy for breaking the power of the secret. To open the hearts of victims, give them loving care and compassion that springs from the Spirit of God.

•     Pray for supernatural wisdom from God.

•     Provide a safe atmosphere.

•     Ask if the child is experiencing something uncomfortable or confusing.

•     Listen, reflect and observe carefully.

•     Be cautious about asking “leading questions.” Let the authorities ask most of the questions to determine the truth.

•     Communicate that you believe the child.

•     Acknowledge that the offender is wrong.

•     Give assurance that the child is not to blame.

•     Confirm that “telling” is the right thing to do.

•     Provide a safe atmosphere by displaying genuine love and compassion.

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”

(Proverbs 20:5)

F.  Protection Power

Many children do not know they have permission to take action to protect themselves. They don’t realize what is happening, and they become too frightened to react quickly. Since most children are taught to obey authority figures, they need to be empowered to protect themselves. The following statements can instill confidence and build assertiveness in a young heart and help the child to resist inappropriate sexual advances.

Permission to Say NO!

•     “God loves you and made your body with a special plan and purpose.”

•     “If you are asked to do something you think is wrong, I expect you to say NO even to an older relative or friend of the family.” (Role-play saying no in a firm assertive voice.)

•     “Your body belongs to you, and you decide who touches it.”

•     “The parts of your body covered by a bathing suit are private.”

•     “Never allow anyone other than your doctor to touch your private parts, and then only for medical reasons.”

•     “If someone tries to touch your private parts, scream and run to a safe place.”

•     “If someone touches your private parts and says that it’s okay, they are wrong! You must tell me or someone you trust.”

•     “If a person does not stop touching you, say, ‘I’ll tell if you don’t stop!’ Then tell me or someone else when you are safe.”

•     “If someone threatens you, do not be afraid, tell anyway.”

•     “If you are asked to keep the touching a secret, tell anyway.”

•     “If the person you tell does not believe you, keep telling no matter how embarrassed you feel … keep telling until someone believes you.”

•     “Pray for a safe adult you can trust—someone to help you who is not a member of your family.”

“If sinners entice you, do not give in to them.”

(Proverbs 1:10)

G. Should You Warn Parents?

Many people feel uncomfortable being a “tattletale” … revealing the bad things others have done to them. However, if you know that a child abuser is about to be put in a position of authority over other children, be willing to share what you know—even if your warning is dismissed. All responsible adults have a heart to protect children. Therefore, if you take action based on the Golden Rule you just may save a child’s emotional life.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

(Matthew 7:12)

Q  “As a child, I was sexually abused by an older relative. Now he is planning to marry a woman with young children. Should I express my concern?”

A  Yes. First go to your relative and ask if he has dealt with the reasons he abused you. If you are not satisfied with his responses, express your heartfelt concern for the physical and emotional protection of these children. Explain your moral obligation to share your abusive experience with their mother. First ask the mother, “Are you aware of the childhood sexual abuse in [relative’s name] past?” If the answer is no, then say, “I feel morally obligated to share a painful memory with you.” After you have briefly described what happened, communicate, “If he has not received adequate help through counseling to understand both his inappropriate thinking and behavior, and if he has not learned to honor appropriate boundaries with children, there is reason to have great concern for your children.”

“A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.” (Proverbs 14:25)

H. Safe from the Storm

Children who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse need not only a physical haven of safety, but also an emotional haven for the wounded heart. Tell them about God’s unconditional love and then be an example of His unconditional love. Help children run into the arms of Jesus to receive His emotional support and security.

“[Jesus] took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

(Mark 10:16)

Ask the child to repeat the following assurances every single day:

•     “Nothing can ever cause me to lose God’s love.”

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

•     “Even if someone in my family rejects me, God still accepts me.”

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)

•     “I will tell God what I really feel, and He will understand.”

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

•     “When I come to God for help, He will heal my hurts.”

“O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.” (Psalm 30:2)

•     “I will let Jesus live in my heart, and I will be a brand new person.”

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

•     “God has a wonderful plan for my life.”

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)


Four teenage boys were torn from their families, separated from their homeland and forcibly abducted to another country where their captors controlled their every move—even dictating what they ate and drank. Their names were changed; their futures determined. The four were forced to serve a ruthless man who gave no thought to their personal desires and dreams. At the height of their budding manliness, this self-centered man destroyed their sexuality and stole any hope of their ever fathering children—he castrated them! In spite of the fact that they were sexually victimized, these God-fearing young men trusted the Lord with their very lives. Ultimately, their admirable faith caused their captors to respect and honor them. And in the end, God proved to Daniel and his three friends that He indeed was their true Provider and Protector. (Read the Book of Daniel.)

The Power of Play

Most young children never tell anyone about their sexual violation. They usually fear punishment or simply don’t understand what has happened to them. Observing children at play is a valuable method for detecting the truth when there is suspicion of mistreatment. These simple interactions with children are also effective ways to teach children skills for self-protection.


•     Be highly observant if you discover sexualized play or behavior. Ask the child, “Where did you learn to do that?” (Remember the child’s exact words and record them later to give to authorities who work with abused children.) Do not ask for any more details.

•     Be aware of any child who consistently appears sad or withdrawn. Ask the child, “Has anything happened to you that you wish you could erase?” … or “Do you have a secret that makes you sad?”

•     Warning—Never suggest anything that “might have happened,” or you could be accused of planting thoughts into the child’s mind and thus jeopardize a victim receiving true justice.

“Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.”

(Proverbs 20:11)


•     Tell children it is right to forcefully state, “Stop!—that’s wrong!” then scream, run and tell a trusted adult.

•     Practice appropriate responses to inappropriate advances.

•     Draw or dramatize safe places to run when being followed.

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”

(Proverbs 2:11)

Dramatize Bible Stories

The Lost Sheep

(Use for Detection.)

•     Read Matthew 18:10–14 to the children.

•     Let the children act out the story. Play like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is looking for one little lost lamb—and the child is the lamb.

•     Explain that God loves them even when they hide and bad things are done to them.

•     Ask, “Have any bad things happened to you that you have been afraid to talk about?”

Jesus Calms the Storm

(Use for Detection.)

•     Read Matthew 8:23–27 to the children.

•     Have the children act out the story by playing the disciples on a boat and Jesus calming the storm.

•     Explain that they should never be afraid to tell about scary things that happen to them because Jesus will calm all their fears.

•     Ask, “What bad things could happen that would be hard to talk about?”

Apply Biblical Truths

The following illustrations should be used at the discretion of parents, taking into consideration the age and maturity of their children.


(Use for Protection.)

•     Read Genesis 39:2–12 to older children or teenagers.

•     Emphasize that Potiphar’s wife tried to do something wrong to Joseph.

•     Ask “What should you do if someone tries to do something wrong to you?” Be like Joseph, say no, escape and run away.

•     Make up a similar situation for today and share or act out what you should do.


(Use for Protection.)

•     Read Genesis 9:18–27 to older children or teenagers.

•     Share the story of Noah, who fell asleep unclothed.

•     Ask, “What should you do if you saw someone without clothes?” (Like two of Noah’s sons, don’t keep looking. Leave immediately and tell someone what happened.)

•     Talk about other situations that would not be good to watch.

Sowing Seeds of Safety

Wise parents, grandparents, teachers and others who work with children know the importance of early training for their personal safety. The best defense against sexual abuse is prevention. Tell children they have God-given worth. Your words will cultivate the soil of a young heart and sow seeds of safety, which will in turn produce self-confidence and self-protection.23

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.”

(Proverbs 1:8–10)

•     Don’t wander around looking for your parents if you get separated from them in a public place. Go to a security guard, checkout counter or the lost and found and tell them you need help finding your parents.

•     Don’t leave your yard or a playground without permission.

•     Don’t accept a ride home or get into a car to go anywhere with anyone, even if it’s someone you know, unless you have your parents’ permission.

•     Don’t go near anyone following you who is walking, or on a bicycle or in a car.

•     Don’t go with anyone who asks for your help to look for a lost pet. (a common trick)

•     Don’t go near the car of someone who asks for directions.

•     Don’t go with people who tell you someone in your family is in trouble and they were sent to get you.

•     Don’t keep special secrets with older people, and if someone asks you to keep something secret, tell your parents or another adult you can trust.

•     Don’t let a stranger take your picture.

•     Don’t hesitate to scream as loud as you can, “Help, this man/woman is trying to take me” or “Help, this is not my father/mother.” Scream and keep screaming.

“He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”

(Proverbs 28:26)

Dismantle the Damage

For Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Former Miss America, Marilyn Van Derber, had no memory of her father’s incestuous relationship with her. Like many victims of trauma, she buried her painful memories under layers of disbelief and denial! Later, when her daughter reached the same age as when her abuse began, Marilyn began to experience anxiety attacks and chest pains. Seeing her young daughter at that age triggered memories of her past abuse. This experience is common for many incest survivors. Trust in God’s timing. He knows when and how to bring truth to the surface and healing to a wounded heart.

“ ‘I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.”

(Jeremiah 30:17)

How to Deal with Denial

•     Desire complete honesty with yourself and with others.

•     Choose to believe the truth: you were not responsible for the abuse.

•     Through journaling each day, face the personal damage to your heart.

•     Identify any unresolved anger.

•     Allow yourself to grieve over your loss of innocence.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth.”

(Psalm 86:11)

How to Have a Pure Heart

•     Acknowledge your desire to change.

•     Admit your excessive desire to be in control and your strategies for self-protection.

•     Recognize that living in fear and shame means that you are not fully trusting God.

•     Experience genuine sorrow over any known sin in your life.

•     See your need for the Savior, and rely on Him alone.

“I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

(Psalm 32:5)

How to Grow in Your Love for Others

•     Desire to grow in the character of Christ.

•     Rely on Christ within you to do what you cannot do.

•     Choose to forgive your offender.

•     Reach out to others—especially to those who are victims.

•     Choose to trust God with your future.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

(1 John 4:18)

Begin to walk each day in prayer and Bible study.

“We love because he first loved us.”

(1 John 4:19)

The secret—knowing the child won’t   tell—is the perpetrator’s most powerful weapon in child abuse. God’s strategy   for the protector is to surface the secret and thus enable the TRUTH to set   the child FREE.—June Hunt


Selected Bibliography

Allender, Dan B. The Wounded Heart. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1990.

Atler, Marilyn Van Derbur. “The Darkest Secret.” People, June 10, 1991, 88–92.

Barshinger, Clark E., Lojan E. LaRowe, and Andres T. Tapia. Haunted Marriage: Overcoming the Ghosts of Your Spouse’s Sexual Abuse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.

Crabb, Lawrence J., Jr. Understanding People: Deep Longings for Relationship. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.

Frank, Jan. Door of Hope. Rev. and updated ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Hancock, Maxine, and Karen Burton Mains. Child Sexual Abuse: Hope for Healing. Rev. ed. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1997.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008

Huskey, Alice. Stolen Childhood: What You Need to Know about Sexual Abuse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Martin, Grant. Please Don’t Hurt Me. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1987.

Martin, Grant L. Counseling for Family Violence and Abuse. Resources for Christian Counseling, ed. Gary R. Collins, vol. 6. Dallas: Word, 1987.

McGee, Robert S. The Search for Significance. 2nd ed. Houston, TX: Rapha, 1990.

Shellenberger, Susie. When Someone You Know Is Sexually Abused. Colorado Springs, CO: Focus on the Family, 1996.

“Some excerpts from speech by Marilyn Van Derbur Atler.” The Denver Post, Thursday, May 9, 1991.

Strom, Kay Marshall. Helping Women in Crisis: A Handbook for People Helpers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.[1]

[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Childhood Sexual Abuse: The Secret Storm (1–27). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

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