Trillia Newbell: Caring for those who hurt

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 8th. Good morning! You’re listening to The World and Everything in It from listener supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last weekend a conference in Dallas called  “Caring Well” attracted more than 1,500 people. 

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission put the event on. The goal is to help churches address the ongoing sex-abuse crisis. 

WORLD Radio commentator Trillia Newbell was there.

TRILLIA NEWBELL, COMMENTATOR: Overwhelming. That’s how I would describe witnessing a sea of laymen and pastors, counselors and caregivers, survivors and others pour into the conference. 

Emotions were high. There were moments of tears, laughter, and yes, grief. But one theme stood out to me: naming the abuse.  

During one panel discussion, survivors—both female and male—said they didn’t know what was happening to them when it occurred. The realization only came when a counselor, teacher, or some other adult described it and then named it. That often came many years after the abuse. 

Child sexual abuse survivors have no concept for what is happening to them. They often grow up thinking that they did something wrong. Or they may be aware that someone harmed them but could only articulate vague generalities like, “He touched me” or, “She did something to me.” Terms like sexual abuse, assault, and rape aren’t part of a child’s vocabulary. 

Here’s why naming it is so important: It allows the process of healing to begin. The right language is crucial. 

Unfortunately, naming the offense can also start a war. Too often victims are shamed, not believed, and belittled. 

Rachael Denhollander is a Christian author and advocate who was part of the army that brought Larry Nassar to justice. She highlighted the shame many survivors experience when they are blamed for the crime against them.

Rachel said—quoting now—”Start thinking of sexual assault as any other crime…No one will ask, ‘Were you wearing a fancy suit when you were robbed? Maybe you asked for it.’” End quote. 

As this conversation continues to grow in our churches, more sexual abuse survivors will come forward. And you and I will have a choice: Will we take the path of least resistance, or will we care well with our words? 

As a survivor myself, I’d like to suggest two ways to serve and love those who come forward.

First, be ready to listen and care without any hint of accusations. One of the hardest things a survivor of sexual assault ever does is say these words out loud: I have been a victim of sexual assault. One of the many reasons why people do not come forward is because of the shame and unwarranted guilt that often plagues them. 

This is particularly true for women, who are often blamed for their assaults. They’re told, “You were too friendly” or, “You shouldn’t have been wearing that.” Accusations such as these aren’t only inappropriate; they are soul-crushing. 

Second, be ready to give an appropriate response. Tell her it’s not her fault. She did not make him assault, harass, or abuse her. He is responsible for his actions. Then name it for what it is: a crime. 

We won’t have all the answers or perfect words. God is the only one fully equipped to handle and care for our earthly burdens. But you and I can use thoughtful words to reduce harm, bring life (Prov. 15:4), and ultimately, care well. 

For WORLD Radio, I’m Trillia Newbell.

(Photo/Karen Race Photography 2019) 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Trillia Newbell: Caring for those who hurt

  1. john says:

    Rachel said—quoting now—”Start thinking of sexual assault as any other crime…No one will ask, ‘Were you wearing a fancy suit when you were robbed? Maybe you asked for it.’”

    No-one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Or robbed. And such things happen unbelievably more frequently than they should. But I found this particular quote a little bit disingenuous. If I walk alone into a public place and flash a wad of large bills, make some comments about how I’m loaded, imbibe significantly, and then go into a back room to to the parking lot with people that I don’t know, the cops will not be surprised by what happens. I see a lot of warnings about travelling in certain places and not putting my wallet into a rear pocket. So, while no person deserves a horrific event, and needs to be supported if one occurs, there is less surprise when an assault occurs if a person flaunts their sexuality and participates in activities which are difficult to monitor. Making a mistake does not entitle the offense to occur – and obviously, there are things that don’t need to be said during post-trauma support – but we need teach our children to use good sense.

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