The accusing headlines of sexual abuse leave no one out – celebrity, clergy, government official and student. The accusers range from anonymous to outspoken. Is it possible to not only forgive the perpetrator but also find healing from life-crippling feelings of violation?
Rape and sexual assault are traumatic experiences that interrupt lives at home, at work, and at school, and affect relationships with friends, family, and co- workers. It requires alertness and compassion from those in authority when such situations occur.
But zero tolerance for such heinous acts does not exclude forgiveness and healing.
A progressive step is to recognize sexual abuse as not only a crime to be punished, but also as a sin to be overcome by one and forgiven by another.
We have both modern and ancient examples of forgiveness for terrible acts against humanity – from the inspiration of young Malala to the courage of Jesus. Both knew and employed the power of forgiveness in the healing process.
These stories of personal triumph show that forgiveness begins within; so, ultimately forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Many profound spiritual thinkers through the ages have known this. Christian healer and author Mary Baker Eddy wrote:
‘One’s first lesson is to learn one’s self; having done this, one will naturally, through grace from God, forgive his brother and love his enemies.’ (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 129)
One of the two great Christian commandments asks that we love our fellow man no matter what he has done to us. And, experts in the field of sexual assault are increasingly exploring with their patients the power for healing behind forgiveness.
But after forgiveness, how does the victim find wholeness? By this I mean, how does one replace the part of one’s identity that says ‘this happened to me’, with a purity that washes away such a history? This is found in ‘learning one’s self’ as Eddy states – and for some this is a new, spiritual journey.
Over the years, I have learned that a loving God cares for all His creation. Individually, we all express the qualities of His nature that include purity, wholeness, innocence, compassion, love, and forgiveness. And, God’s nature never changes – no matter what human event occurs. So, our identity is forever safe, untouched and secure.
I was touched by a story I read of a young woman who found her freedom from the trauma of sexual abuse when she realized that her purity was a spiritual, not a physical, quality. Her last sentence said it all:
I felt washed clean. The feeling of contamination fell away as a great weight. I understood then that the spiritual identity that was me and always will be me—and there is no other—had never been touched.
Research indicates that spirituality is increasingly recognized as an important resource for coping with the trauma of personal violation. Here in Ontario, Sharon Ramsay, a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist, who works with victims of sexual assault, has consistently found this to be true.
In addition to her RMFT certification, Ramsay holds a Masters in Divinity, which enables her, when appropriate, to counsel the vulnerable with spiritually inspired compassion.
She wants to be the one who offers the side of hope, the side of change, the side of better. She believes this is the place where spirituality comes into play. It is faith that allows a client to persevere, to navigate turning the corner away from fear to finding safety, from isolation to support.
Ramsey counsels: “In a Christian tradition, you are loved,” she said; “The divine is actually looking for you with all that has happened in your life….it is a sense of God seeing in us all of who we really are.”
And she encourages clients to not let the traumatic events define them as a person. They have a worthy individuality regardless of how someone else has treated them.
The prophet, Isaiah, no stranger to conflict and crisis, offers this promise:
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isa. 41:10)
Whether you are the accused or the accuser, there is hope for forgiveness, reassurance and restitution.
This article was published in several news site editions of Metroland papers, such as The Mississauga News.