She was devastated when her husband died in a tragic car accident, leaving her with three young daughters. She soon remarried a good Adventist man from a family she knew well.
They went on to have three children of their own. Soon after her daughters became teenagers, they told her their stepfather was raping them at night, telling them to keep it secret. She couldn’t believe her husband would do such a terrible thing.
Her kids eventually grew up and had their own families, but then her youngest son committed suicide after he started molesting his own daughter. It eventually became known that her (second) husband had actually molested his own biological children as well and even some neighbor kids.
Sexual abuse within the family is devastating and can be intergenerational, like in this story. It is particularly heartbreaking when it happens in a Christian home. You may think these types of things don’t happen within Adventist homes. In a recent survey on an Adventist college campus, around 10 percent of Adventist students report being molested before the age of 18 (females are more likely than males are). A vast majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known by the child, including close family members.
Being sexually abused as a child by a trusted authority figure, especially a parent, is harmful in many ways. Research has found, among victims, higher rates of depression, substance use, suicidal thinking, likelihood to abuse children themselves (although the vast majority don’t), and marital problems. Adventist college students who have been sexually molested were 3.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide in their lifetime (females are more likely than males are).
There are also spiritual consequences. Within a Christian home, a child may feel guilty for having sex outside of marriage, even thinking it is his or her fault. If the abuse is by a parent, it can distort a child’s view of a loving heavenly Father. Jesus knew how harming a child can have devastating effects when He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, ESV).
Here are some tips on what to do if you become aware of a child being molested:
- Always accept what a child tells you and then let the Child Protective Services or similar agency in your area investigate if the accusation is correct. On average, sexual perpetrators molest over 100 victims in their lifetime.
- Get professional help. There are thousands of trained mental health professionals, including many who are Adventists, who can help a child and the perpetrator.
There are different ways to prevent this devastation:
- Let’s talk about it. There is a huge stigma around incest, which makes it easier to keep it a secret. To bring it out of the shadows, we need to talk about it and the harm it causes.
- Boundaries are good. Although intimacy in families is a wonderful thing, if that intimacy is something you wouldn’t want others to witness, then you are crossing a potentially dangerous line.
For more information and additional resources, check out the enditnow website (Adventists Say No to Violence): https://www.enditnow.org/.
For a list of Adventist counselors in your area, use this link: https://www.nadfamily.org/resources/counselors/.
Alina M. Baltazar, PhD, LMSW, CFLE, is a professor of Social Work at Andrews University, a licensed clinical social worker, and a certified family life educator.