Surviving the secret


Last year, I spoke on the topic of sexual abuse at a Texas Baptists conference breakout session. The focus of the session was on helping attendees understand the different types of abuse and the responsibility to report, specifically in relation to Texas law. I encouraged participants to take advantage of the training offered through our Texas Baptists partnership with MinistrySafe and made sure attendees were aware of the consultation services and counseling referrals available to them through Texas Baptists Counseling Services.

During a break between the two sessions in which I presented, I grabbed a bottle of water for a quick drink and then headed toward the ladies’ restroom. As I was about to leave the restroom, an older woman stopped me and said she had a question. She hesitated, looked down toward the floor with her eyes, then looked back at me and told me that she was an abuse survivor. She was abused as a young child by a family member. As tears began to fill her eyes, she then asked me - “Is there hope for me? Would it help me if I were to talk with someone about what happened? I mean it was so long ago. My husband knows about it, but we don’t talk about it. No one else knows. Would counseling help me?” 

My heart sank. I saw in front of me a strong older woman who had probably lived a lot of good, fulfilling years with family and friends. But she was keeping a secret. There was a part of her that no one really knew. By the emotion that seemed to swell up in her and the question she asked, I can only imagine that she must have experienced a lot of shame, probably guilt, anger, confusion, grief and a host of other emotions as she lived her life, surviving the secret she held.

I spoke with her for a few minutes about how counseling could help her process her experience and potentially work toward healing that might in turn, positively impact her relationships. She did not tell me specifically who her offender was, only that he had passed. As our time narrowed and the conversation closed in that small ladies’ restroom, I encouraged her to reach out to me upon her return home so we could discuss in more detail the counseling resources available to her.

I have not heard from her since that brief conversation and the truth is, I have had other similar encounters with males and females in my 20 years of counseling. Surviving the secret of abuse is hard, and everyone has a different way of processing their experience. Survivors may not seek help for years, if ever.  

These are the conversations that compel me to act on, making sure our churches have information on prevention measures for protection, awareness of reporting and ways to reach out to and care for survivors. Thankfully, Texas Baptists’ partnership with MinistrySafe makes action steps toward prevention easier to understand by offering practical ways ministries can protect the children and students within their care.

For over four years now, Texas Baptists have emphasized the need for ministry leaders and churches to step up their protection measures by providing over 20 free regional live training events.  But we realize that schedules, locations, finances and emergencies can prevent ministry leaders from being able to attend a live training. Therefore, we have been working with MinistrySafe to offer additional options that will be accessible on your schedule and wherever you are located.  

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We want you to be aware of the ways Texas Baptists are supporting you and your church toward implementation of comprehensive prevention measures:

Sexual Abuse Awareness Training: Texas Baptists are offering our ministers and churches free access to the online Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, which is the first piece of MinistrySafe’s 5-Part Safety System. Completion of this hour-long training will provide you with much-needed information to understand the grooming process, reporting requirements in Texas and much more along with a certificate of completion. 

Webinars:  We will be offering several online, hour-long webinars over the next few months to help break down the 5-Part Safety System in bite-size pieces of information while going deeper into each aspect of the system. Check our Sexual Abuse Response page for details as they become available.

Live Training: We will continue to offer live training events regionally across the state. 

Online Training:  We are adding an online training option specifically designed to reach our bi-vocational ministers called Church Safety Workshop “Lite.” This is a 2-hour online recorded training developed to give you the basics of what you need to know about the MinistrySafe 5-Part Safety System and topics like grooming, policies and procedures, etc. with the hope that you will be able to attend a regional live training event with more in-depth information at your earliest convenience.

Sexual Abuse Response page: We have also created a sexual abuse response page to provide a more comprehensive look at information to assist you in learning ways to protect, report and care. This webpage will continue to be updated with new resources as they become available.

We strongly encourage you to utilize the resources available to you. Take steps in your church to prevent a child from the experience of abuse and a life of surviving the secret.

Please contact Katie Swafford at katie.swafford@txb.org  if you have any questions or need assistance accessing the resources.

Related articles: Executive Board emphasizes the importance of safeguards at May meeting / Cuidando de sobrevivientes de maltrato / Caring for abuse survivors