Courage to Enter

Up until recently, I have not sought out information on the Penn State scandal. I have picked up more than bits and pieces, though, as I am almost constantly connected to social media, and my husband has followed the story with interest.

Quite honestly, I’m sure that this avoidance has been purposeful, if even on a somewhat sub-conscious level. The nightmare of sexual abuse is one that I know from personal experience and, though I have pursued and obtained much healing, powerful waves of emotion can easily overtake me when things like this come to light. It is a feeling that I deal with as it comes, but not one I often go looking for.

There is so much to be sad, angry and sickened over. Whether it is a coach, family member, clergyman, or a stranger, the effects of sexual abuse are immediate and catastrophic to the victim’s soul. There is no human punishment befitting of the one who commits such an awful crime against the body, soul and spirit of another. I have been in sadness as increasingly horrific details emerge from this specific case, and more than a little angry when I think about the silence of those who witnessed some of the abuses, but said nothing.

Apart from the particulars of this current and well-publicized scandal, I am once again rocked by the pervasiveness of sexual abuse. The statistics are horrifying: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before the age of 18. Those numbers are nauseating, and probably low. Dan Allender says here, “I know that everyone in America is relating directly and intimately with at least one person who has been sexually abused. And damn it, we don’t talk about it.” Once confronted with the reality of the proportion of the population who has been abused, the silence of our culture is deafening. If you haven’t already clicked through to the Allender post, please read it for his thoughts on this phenomenon.

What has been weighing especially heavily on my heart and what I keep coming back to that usually receives little-to-no airtime, is the home of the abused child. If the numbers above frighten you as much as me, these are equally troubling: the vast majority of survivors are abused by someone they know. (94% in one study.) The implications are enormous.

Certainly, there are many cases of sexual abuse that are “random” acts of evil and not in any way brought on by a caretaker’s negligence. But often, a predator looks for a person whose soul is not nourished at home, leaving them vulnerable and unprotected to the perpetrator, and without a safe place to turn to after the damage has occurred. You can imagine the psyche of a child who undergoes consistent, lasting torment at the hands of another and doesn’t say anything: before the attack occurred, that child’s voice had already been lost.

There is nothing more unsettling for a child than the feeling of powerlessness that comes with the knowledge that those who are put on this Earth to protect them have either contributed to their abuse, turned a blind eye when they saw it, or given them no place to turn when they were violated. Facing the reality that those who are supposed to protect us have abdicated their role and left us to the wolves is profoundly damaging. In fact, it is more than some can bear. I have heard women talk about their families, how wonderful, loving and supportive they are, yet also admit that they have never spoken of their sexual abuse to their parents. There is a major cognitive “miss” here. The betrayal of the family is not acknowledged.

I am not just talking about a parent who sees abuse occurring and refuses to intervene. That indeed happens, but betrayal can come in a number of other ways, many insidious, that render the family incapable of providing the protection that God intended. Picture a child whose father tells him to “quit moping” when his countenance is fallen, because the family system doesn’t allow for pain to be experienced or acknowledged. The father is too uninvolved and selfish to look into the source of his child’s agony. Or a mother who is unstable and needy. Her ability to function depends on the apparent harmony and relative functioning of the family. Obviously, these are not places where a child can legitimately turn for protection, yet “Abuse victims rarely admit the near ‘impossibility’ of securing help from their family of origin; rather they blame themselves for not seeking help.”¹

When I first began to face my abuse and name it, this is where most of my reflection occurred and the source of my most profound pain. It was as if the scales fell off of my eyes, and I began to face for the first time that my family was not a place of safety, that my parents were committed to many things more deeply than my protection, and that the dynamics there had actually “set me up” to be abused. I need to be clear here in that absolutely no fault can be removed from the youth pastor who initiated a physical, sexual relationship with me. The responsibility of his actions belongs to him alone. I am not removing the blame from the abuser-proper. Rather, the unsafe family is a fertile breeding ground where the evil of sexual abuse can grow more easily and often unchecked.

If the numbers of children who have been abused is on the rise, and if the vast majority of those abuses are from a family member, friend or acquaintance (in other words, not a stranger), then it seems we are losing the family as a place of safety. We are losing parents who really parent, and therefore we are losing childhood, and children. I have no solutions, but I do know that fighting this darkness requires that we move toward it, rather than cowering in fear, discouragement or denial.

We must begin to name our abuse and that of our friends, spouses and children. In that naming we will begin to give a voice to those who have been silenced; we will refuse to further victimize ourselves and others through denial; we will enter the story that up to a quarter of Americans are living.

Having the courage to enter the story is where healing begins.

¹Taken from The Wounded Heart, by Dan Allender

14 responses to “Courage to Enter

  • Mary


    Wow. Incredible post. Thank you so much for sharing, writing, and being real.

    ❤ Mary

  • christine

    I have tears TJ! Wow, you have walked through a lot in your life. It has been painful. Your walk with the Lord is powerful, real and encouraging to me and others. Thankful for you for sharing and for staying connected to Jesus and others through it all.

  • Valerie

    This is a touching, amazing, and inspiring post TJ. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    I’m sad to say that I actually did not know the numbers on sexual abuse were so horrifically high. I clicked through to read Allender’s post, and I loved that essay. With so much sexual abuse, it’s awful how little it is discussed openly. Thank you for opening up here, and starting my own thoughts and conversations on the topic.

    • TJ Poon

      I loved his insights and thoughts on why it’s so problematic that it’s not discussed, particularly in churches. It’s unacceptable. Yes, the numbers are almost overwhelming… it’s hard for me to stomach. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Andrew Higgins

    This is a very spot on post TJ. There is so much of this around us, yet many of us who have been abused are too afraid of speaking out about it, of admitting what happened to them in the past. Perhaps some don’t want to be pitied, some don’t want the attention that it garners, however there is tremendous healing involved in being able to admit to the evils that we have seen.

    I myself was abused by an older friend when I was a child. I was too confused to fully understand the implications of it at the time, and the one friend whom I told about it in secret told his other best friend (who didn’t really get along with me), who essentially threatened to expose it to my parents if I didn’t allow him to use our basketball goal whenever he wanted. The first person I finally felt comfortable with telling was the woman who would be my wife.

    Later on, after the guy moved away, I stopped suppressing the memory as it caused me so much anger and hate, and began to instead embrace the feelings of anger and hatred, even to the point of envisioning killing this person who caused me so much harm. I was tempted with these feelings of hatred for so long that it eventually reached a breaking point within me where I knew I had to start to forgive him for what he did to me, because I hated the feelings of anger and hatred far more than I actually hated him.

    The process of forgiveness was long, and I would still get angry when thinking about it, but I had to consciously admit to God, “I forgive him,” over and over, and over again. Ultimately, this became something that God used to teach me the power of forgiveness, and the futility of all of those things which cause us anger from day to day. There really isn’t anything that happens to me that even compares to what he did to me, so if I was capable of forgiving him, I can certainly forgive this other person for XYZ.

    Understanding Christ’s forgiveness of our sins, the pain that it caused Him, and the undying love that He continues to have for us, even in our sinful natures, and being willing to accept the same spirit of forgiveness is the most profound way for anybody to deal with these traumatic experiences.

    Thank you for your voice TJ.

    • TJ Poon

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story! You’re right – speaking up and facing/naming what happened is how healing often begins. Forgiveness is so powerful, and I appreciate that you’ve described it as a “process”. Many survivors are rebuked when they give their honest and valid feelings of anger, by people (Christians) who would cheapen forgiveness either by minimizing the damage done or by telling them to “forgive and move on”. Your process with the Lord describes an ongoing choice which does not minimize the abuse but forgives the abuser even so. Thank you for your words!
      I’m thankful for His work in your life and for your courage to share!

  • lindsey

    Many abusers are masters of manipulation, deception, and control. If abuse (habitual or single incident) starts or occurs when children are very young, some children will not know to speak out. And regardless of highly involved parenting, abuse unfortunately is missed.

    We know a wonderful family whose adopted son sexually abused the younger female birthchildren. Loving, extremely involved, well meaning, Christ-centered, highly educated parents (both also trained to recognize the signs of abuse…one as a family doctor, the other through a Master’s degree in education)…mother stayed at home with the children. Everyone thinks, “How could they/we have missed it?” But there were no physical indicators of abuse, the abuser so manipulating and controlling, and the abused so controlled. And we ALL missed it (as friends of the family, as sunday school teachers of the abuser) and we missed it for a VERY long time (years). Logic says an involved parent should have known something was happening, but the reality is even the most involved, best-intentioned parent can miss abuse.

    Unfortunately, parents are only human and faulty, abuse exists, and the abused may remain silent for some time. The horrific tragedy of the fallen world.

    We need to encourage involved parenting, but I think we must also emphasize educating our children to identify abuse, encourage openness to communicate anything without shame, and ultimately we must discuss and admit the brokenness of our sexuality and our hearts as a culture. And yes…we MUST talk about this as a culture!

    • TJ Poon

      Your comment is a reminder that good parenting doesn’t guarantee a tragedy-free existence. There are plenty of examples of abuse that happens to children in healthy homes, too. It is a sad reality.
      Moving through shame to openness and helping those who have suffered to speak out is a good place to start. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Sister Wife

    Who you are is such a gift to those of us blessed enough to be in your life. Your courage and candor shown in this post and overall are only two of the reasons you’re fabulous.

  • Don

    Thanks for your your post TJ and helping others give voice. Here is a resource that you might be helpful as you work with others who have been abused. YOU HAVE MUCH COURAGE TJ!

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