Sexual abuse results in a vicious cycle. Researchers tell us that 76% of abusers were themselves abused in childhood. Moreover, many have suffered from sexual abuse to one degree or another. 20% of adult women were victims of childhood abuse or incest. As good counselors, we should prepare ourselves for understanding and helping those with this background. It’s a privilege and honor for God to use us in bringing healing to those suffering from abusive pasts.
Our sexuality can be used to bolster our identity or distort it terribly.
Loneliness and alienation
Fear of intimacy
Bolster our identity
Confuse our identity
Incest and molestation
Incest and molestation often result in a number of issues later in life: distrust, low self-esteem, addiction, sexual issues, guilt, shame, isolation, and loneliness. The results of abuse can be different depending on the person’s experience or interpretation of the past abuse.
If the abuse was voluntary. If the victim voluntarily continued in the abuse, it can result in promiscuity and temptation. Laaser writes, “It may also be that adults who offend in this way repeat their childhood abuse because it reconnects them to the first time their sexual awareness was aroused. This is called imprinting. When adults continue to act out what was imprinted on them as children, they may be returning to their original feelings of sexual excitement.”
If the abuse was involuntary. If there wasn’t consent, abuse can result in frigidity and general aversion to sex. For obvious reasons, the person associates sex with this painful and traumatic event.
Most children never reveal their abuse. In fact, children will often deny abuse if it gets exposed, because parents often do not believe their children. Collins writes, “The majority of abused children do not reveal their experiences during childhood, and when they do admit abuse, it is common for them to later deny that it really happened.”
Rape comes from the Latin root word rapere, which means “to seize.” Since rape is such a violent act, counseling rape abuse is complicated.
Sexual abuse often results in self-blame. Victims of abuse “sometimes blame themselves for the treatment they receive and think that they must deserve to be abused.” For instance, a woman may have dressed seductively or placed herself in an unwise situation. After she is raped, she can falsely believe that she deserved this abuse, because of her unwise choices. While her choices may have been unwise, we need to assure the woman that this never justifies the violent crime done to her.
Teach the person that God wants to draw near to them. In the midst of suffering, we need to know that God is present and active. Remind the person of the fact that God wants to walk with them through this dark time (Ps. 23). James writes, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8). The psalmist writes, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
Help victims to see that they are victors in Christ. Paul writes, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).
Urge forgiveness and perhaps confrontation. Counselors should not urge a counselee to forgive or confront their attacker immediately. This takes time. Eventually, however, the counselee’s hatred, fear, or bitterness needs to be left at the foot of the Cross. This needs to be done for their own sake, because this is part of the healing process. Remember, this is entirely independent of legal action and prosecuting the person. We can forgive someone even as we call the Police and press charges. We do this because we never want someone else to be harmed in the way that we were harmed. In this way, pressing charges is a loving action—not in any way contrary to Christian teaching (Rom. 13:4).
Help with healthy boundaries. The counselee needs to develop healthy boundaries with those who may have abused them in the past. Forgiveness and trust are not the same. Forgiveness is unconditional, but trust is earned. We should help the counselee set their own boundaries here.
Never diagnose someone as having been sexually abused. This could result in False Memory Syndrome (FMS), whereby we might implant false memories into the counselee that never occurred (see our earlier article “False Memory Syndrome”).
Collins, Gary. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2006. Chapter 22: “Abuse and Neglect.”
Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
 Linda L. Marshall and Patricia Rose, “Family of Origin Violence and Courtship Abuse,” Journal of Counseling and Development 66 (May 1988): 414-418.
 Collins, Gary. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2006. 410.
 Collins, Gary. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2006. 406.
 Laaser, Mark R. Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 43.
 Collins, Gary. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2006. 408.
 Collins, Gary. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2006. 407.