Sexual abuse may damage the fundamental worldview and the existential components of spirituality, leading to struggles in living the trauma also from a spiritual point of view.
The impact of child sexual abuse (CSA) on the spirituality of survivors can include challenges in anger, despair, confusion, guilt, and sometime a complete withdrawal from any spiritual activity. If victims are unable to maintain their faith, they may be further burdened by feelings of guilt and shame.
Survivors struggle with a loss of belief in God, justice, fairness, humanity, and the world as a good place; existential crisis such as loss of meaning and connection with others or with the world and God; and a sense of foreshortened future. The belief about fairness and justice in the world influence how they perceive the world as predictable, understandable and controllable. The underlying sense of trust and belief in a fair world influence the sense of self, relation with others and God as well as the concept of spirituality in general.
Survivors may experience the crisis of faith that most believers experience when something terrible happens in their life. Survivors may have difficulty in believing a God who protects and is just: They may have a feeling of spiritual emptiness and a search for answers for the experience of CSA. They tend to question where God was when the abuse was happening. Often they struggle with the question why a loving God should allow something so terrible happen to them. Some may conclude that God does not exist because God will not allow sexual abuse to happen to them. They may tend to believe God is distant and uncaring. CSA may diminish their trust in God’s love for them and they may disconnect from anything religious since they feel God has abandoned and betrayed them.
Survivors who were abused by a father figure may have difficult putting their faith in the triune God, as Christians profess God as a Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and they may struggle to pray the “Our Father”.
Some survivors may cope well with CSA because of their belief in God, while others may struggle to keep their faith in God. For religious victims when the spiritual dimension of their abuse is not addressed their psychological wounds may be difficult to heal. Therefore, pastoral care givers may be a resource for these victims as they go through the process of recovery from the spiritual impact of CSA.
There is need to offer adequate pastoral support for survivors in their recovery process, to help them believe and perceive that Jesus is with them in their suffering and pain. Pastoral agents need to be able to listen to the pain of survivors and to accompany them as they confront their spiritual crisis resulting from CSA and help them reconstruct their religious faith.
Sr. Rejoice Hoedoafia
CCP Research Assistant