Refuge from the pain of abuse

Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson

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The young lady who was seeking counselling was clearly distraught; fidgeting and shifting about on her seat, close to tears, fingernails that were once beautifully manicured now chewed and ragged.

She has a little baby of 14 weeks and motherhood is slowly dragging her back to a place where she has some sort of purpose in life, some reason to go on. She’s only 21 and claims to have beaten a drugs and alcohol addiction.

Julia had been bright and enthusiastic at school; that is until she reached the age of about 14 when everything went wrong. For the next four years she was the plaything of a serial rapist. Because of the physical pain she bears silently and feelings of shame and worthlessness she sank into a period of drugs dependency in an effort to drown out the memories and the fear that he might return with insatiable and selfish demands.

Eventually she told the only person she knew she could trust; her mother, and while the abuse ended the anguish had only just begun. And it might never end, she might be haunted for the rest of her life, some day he will be out of jail, and wherever she goes she’s constantly looking over her shoulder.

Julia displays classic symptoms of one who has been sexually abused; she doesn’t want to eat, afraid to sleep because of the flashbacks. She’s ashamed, frightened of being alone and frightened of being in a crowd and so isolates herself rarely going outdoors.

I sometimes wonder if sexual predators are aware of the deep and traumatic effects of their behaviour. I never cease to be amazed when I see grown men, who were abused as children, break down and cry, horrible haunting darkness still pervading their lives half a century after the events. But bad as the problem is, it is not restricted to sexual abuse, it has much to do with someone exploiting the trust of another or manipulating someone for selfish gain.

Much has been written about spiritual abuse, which few can understand unless they have had experience of it. In my book Savage Shepherds, I told of the effects spiritual abuse had on my family and me, deep troubling anxiety and insecurity because my abuser had positioned himself as God’s spokesman in my life so that when he rejected me and was disappointed with me I thought God was rejecting me and was disappointed with me, and I can tell you it took years before I could distinguish between God and the ‘man of God’.

Perhaps the most significant lesson that experience taught me was that God has no grandchildren,a principle that is written on every page of Scripture and reflected in every interaction I have with my Father.

Because of my professional connection with the 21-year old rape victim I could not tell her what I’m about to say. But if she and those who have known the pain of abuse of any kind could hear me, this is what I would tell them about my Father; ‘He redeems your life from the pit, he crowns you with love and compassion. He satisfies your desires with good things. He renews your youth like the eagle’s. He works righteousness and justice for all those who are oppressed.’