2. Establish avenues of care.
Next, in order to care for these women, we will need to establish specific venues that provide opportunities to process and heal. This might take the form of a weekly group led by a female therapist or trained lay leader where women can honestly and vulnerably talk about what happened. According to Sheila Wise Rowe, Boston area therapist and author, “Because of the intense and damaging nature of abuse, generic groups and well-intentioned but unskilled leaders may end up doing more harm than good. At minimum, all churches should provide vetted counseling referrals and if possible, send a staff member or lay leader to training that is focused on helping sexual abuse victims.” One great resource for this kind of training is the The Allender Center. You could also enlist the help of local counselors and therapists to train your staff and key leaders in this area. Healing from sexual trauma cannot be rushed and seldom happens quickly. We must resist hurrying victims or implying that they are taking too long.
3. Work toward forgiveness, but not necessarily reconciliation.
Ultimately, victims of sexual trauma will need to move toward forgiving their perpetrators. We know from Jesus that forgiveness sets us free, so we should gently guide people in this direction. We cannot prescribe when this should happen, and we need to make sure that they know forgiveness does not necessarily mean that they will have future contact with those who abused them. In particular circumstances, some women have felt led by God to extend forgiveness face to face, but this is not normative nor should it be expected.
4. Recognize your limits.
The support that we and the church can offer will sometimes be insufficient. Rape, ongoing harassment, and all forms of sexual or physical violence leave deep scars that can cause severe trauma. If the women you are serving experience panic attacks, slide into depression, or engage in any kind of harmful behavior, help them find professional help. Additionally, according to Wise Rowe, “If you are also a sexual abuse victim, you may find that some stories trigger your own memories. When that happens, do not hesitate to attend to your pain. We can and should always pray but we may need to refer the victim to someone else.” This is not an indication of your failure, but a sign of wisdom.