Monique was nine years old when he started abusing her. He began by spying on her as she undressed; then he started visiting her room at night and touching her private parts. When she resisted him, he was furious. Once he even attacked her with a hammer and threw her down a flight of stairs. “No one would believe me,” Monique recalls—not even her mother. The abuser was Monique’s stepfather.
IT IS NOT the stranger in a trench coat, the loner lurking in the bushes, who poses the greatest threat to children. It is a member of the family. The vast majority of sexual abuse occurs in the home. So how can the home be made more resistant to abuse?
In his book Slaughter of the Innocents, historian Dr. Sander J. Breiner examines the evidence of child abuse in five ancient societies—Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, and Israel. He concludes that while abuse did exist in Israel, it was relatively rare compared to the other four civilizations. Why? Unlike their neighbors, the people in Israel were taught to have respect for women and children—an enlightened view they owed to the Holy Scriptures. When the Israelites applied divine law to family life, they prevented child abuse. Today’s families need these clean, practical standards more than ever.
Does Bible law have an impact on your family? For instance, Leviticus 18:6 reads: “You people must not come near, any man of you, to any close fleshly relative of his to lay bare nakedness. I am Jehovah.” Similarly the Christian congregation today enforces strong laws against all forms of sexual abuse. Anyone who sexually abuses a child risks being disfellowshipped, put out of the congregation.*—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10.
All families should know and review such laws together. Deuteronomy 6:6, 7 urges: “And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” Inculcating these laws means more than occasionally lecturing your children. It involves a regular give-and-take discussion. From time to time, both mother and father should reaffirm God’s laws on incest and the loving reasons for these laws.
You might also use such stories as that of Tamar and Amnon, David’s children, to show children that in sexual matters there are boundaries that no one—close relatives included—should ever cross.—Genesis 9:20-29; 2 Samuel 13:10-16.
Respect for these principles can be shown even in practical living arrangements. In one Oriental country, research has shown that much incest occurs in families where children sleep with parents even when there is no economic necessity for this. Similarly, it is generally unwise to have opposite-sex siblings share a bed or a room as they grow older, if this is at all avoidable. Even when cramped living conditions are a fact of life, parents should use good judgment in deciding on where each family member should sleep.
Bible law forbids drunkenness, suggesting that it can lead to perversion. (Proverbs 23:29-33) According to one study, some 60 to 70 percent of incest victims reported that their abusing parent had been drinking when the abuse started.
A Loving Family Head
Researchers find that abuse is more common among families with domineering husbands. The widely held view that women exist merely to fulfill male needs is Scripturally wrong. Some men use this unchristian opinion to justify turning to a daughter for anything they cannot get from a wife. This type of oppression can cause women in these circumstances to lose their emotional balance. Many lose even the natural urge to protect their own children. (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:7.) One study, on the other hand, found that when workaholic fathers were largely absent from the home setting, sometimes mother-son sexual abuse has festered.
What about your family? Do you as husband take the role of head seriously, or do you abdicate it to your wife? (1 Corinthians 11:3) Do you treat your wife with love, honor, and respect? (Ephesians 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7) Do her views count? (Genesis 21:12; Proverbs 31:26, 28) And what about your children? Do you see them as precious? (Psalm 127:3) Or do you view them as mere burdens, readily exploitable? (Compare 2 Corinthians 12:14.) Eliminate warped, unscriptural views of family roles in your household, and you will make it more resistant to abuse.
An Emotionally Safe Place
One young woman whom we’ll call Sandi says: “My whole family was set up for abuse. It was isolated, and each member was isolated from the other.” Isolation, rigidity, and obsessive secrecy—these unhealthy, unscriptural attitudes are trademarks of the abusive household. (Compare 2 Samuel 12:12; Proverbs 18:1; Philippians 4:5.) Create a home atmosphere that is emotionally safe for children. Home should be a place where they feel built up, where they feel free to open their hearts and speak freely.
Also, children have a great need for physical expressions of love—hugging, caressing, handholding, romping. Do not overreact to the dangers of sexual abuse by withholding these demonstrations of love. Teach children through open, warm affection and praise that they are valued. Sandi remembers: “My mom’s view was that to give anyone any commendation for anything was wrong. It would give you a big head.” Sandi suffered at least ten years of sexual abuse in silence. Children who are not secure in the knowledge that they are beloved, worthwhile individuals may be more susceptible to an abuser’s praise, his “affection,” or his threats to withdraw it.
A pedophile who sexually abused hundreds of boys over a 40-year period admitted that the boys who had an emotional need for a friend like him made the “best” victims. Don’t create such a need in your child.
Break the Cycle of Abuse
Under severe trial Job said: “My soul certainly feels a loathing toward my life. I will give vent to my concern about myself. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul!” (Job 10:1) Likewise, many parents have found that they can help their children by helping themselves. The Harvard Mental Health Letter noted recently: “Strong social sanctions against the expression of pain by men apparently perpetuate the cycle of abuse.” It seems that men who never get to express their pain about having been sexually abused are more likely to become abusers themselves. The Safe Child Book reports that most child molesters were themselves sexually abused as children but never got help to recover. They express their pain and anger by abusing other children.*—See also Job 7:11; 32:20.
The risk to children may also be higher when mothers do not come to terms with past abuse. For example, researchers report that women who were sexually abused as girls often marry men who are child abusers. Furthermore, if a woman has not come to terms with past abuse, she may understandably find it difficult to discuss abuse with her children. If abuse occurs, she may be less able to discern it and take positive action. Then the children pay an awful price for the mother’s inaction.
Thus, abuse may pass from one generation to the next. Of course, many individuals who choose not to discuss their painful past seem able to cope well enough in life, and that is commendable. But in many the pain is deeper, and they do need to make a concerted effort—including, if necessary, seeking competent professional help—to heal such severe childhood wounds. Their goal is not to wallow in self-pity. They want to break this sick, hurtful cycle of child abuse affecting their family.—See Awake! of October 8, 1991, pages 3 to 11.
The End of Abuse
Properly applied, the foregoing information can do much to reduce the chances of child abuse in your home. Remember, though, that abusers work in secrecy, they take advantage of trust, and they use adult tactics on innocent children. Inevitably, then, some of them do seem to get away with their disgusting crimes.
However, rest assured that God sees what they do. (Job 34:22) Unless they repent and change, he will not forget their vile acts. He will bring them out into the open in his due time. (Compare Matthew 10:26.) And he will exact justice. Jehovah God promises a time when all such treacherous people will be ‘torn away from the earth,’ and only the meek and gentle who love God and fellowman will be allowed to remain. (Proverbs 2:22; Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; 2 Peter 2:9-12) We have that marvelous hope of a new world thanks to the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 2:6) Then, and only then, will abuse end forever.
In the meantime we must do all we can to protect our children. They are so precious! Most parents will readily put their own safety at risk in order to protect their little children. (Compare John 15:13.) If we don’t protect our children, the consequences can be horrible. If we do, we give them a wonderful gift—a childhood that feels innocent and free from calamity. They can feel just as the psalmist did, who wrote: “I will say to Jehovah: ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.’”—Psalm 91:2.
Sexual abuse of a child occurs when someone uses a child to gratify his or her own sexual desires. It often involves what the Bible calls fornication, or por·neiʹa, which could include fondling of genitalia, sexual intercourse, and oral or anal sex. Some abusive acts, such as the fondling of breasts, explicitly immoral proposals, showing pornography to a child, voyeurism, and indecent exposure, may amount to what the Bible condemns as “loose conduct.”—Galatians 5:19-21; see The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, footnote on page 30.
While most child molesters were abused as children, this does not mean that abuse makes children become abusers. Less than a third of abused children become child molesters.