The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Family therapist and pastor Marcos Zapata analyzes othe effects of child abuse and the role of the churches in its prevention.
Child abuse is a taboo topic in our society, and in the evangelical churches too, but the church cannot be unaware of a problem that also takes place among Christian families.
That is what Marcos Zapata, evangelical pastor of Buenas Noticias church in Lugo, Spain, and a family therapist, with a large experience in dealing with child abuse cases, expressed in an interview with the Spanish online newspaper Protestante Digital.
“It is necessary to make visible what is invisible“, explained Zapata. There is a lot of silence around this issue because “it is a very difficult topic”, and we usually do no want to think about it,but it is something that many people suffer in their childhood.
“It is estimated, said Zapata, that only 2% of the cases are known, but child abuse can affect 20% of the population. It is a very important problem because, besides that little percentage of cases reported, only 15% of the victims denounce the abuse”.
This silence conditions victims´s lives: “it is a shameful situation for the families, so that they do not denounce, but they do no realize the psychological and relational problems that that could bring”, explained Zapata.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF ABUSE
According to the experts, there are different types of sexual abuse, apart from a physical action. “Exhibitionism, child sexual exploitation, or when the children are force to make sexual touchings, all that is considered sexual abuse”, detailed Zapata.
The online sexual abuse is growing so much nowadays. “There is a traumatic erotization when a child is exposed to an erotic situation before he can process it adequately”. Pornography and it easy access through the new technologies is another problem for this erotization.
Another kind of abuse takes place when adults seduce children to sexually interact with them. It is always a “relation of power” between the abuser and the minor.
Economic problems or social status are not conditions that favor the child sexual abuse.“There are less reports among rich people, but not less abuse”, affirmed Zapata. Being a believer does not prevent us from suffering abuse: “It happens in catholic, evangelical and atheist homes”, explained the pastor.
“As a pastor, I have intervened in cases of children abused within the evangelical community, and that is very sad. Some months ago, Billy Graham´s grandson said that the hiding of the sexual abuse in the churches is a great problem”, remembered Zapata.
One of the hardest realities that the abused minors have to face, it is the fact that most of the abusers are people they trust. “It is estimated that 75% of the cases occur in intimate, safe and trusting environments”, explained Zapata.
DETECTING THE ABUSE
Most of the children who suffer abuse, hide it ”for many different reasons”, so it is really hard for parents and others in the child environment, to detect it.
There is not a specific type of abuser, but “they are usually an authority figure for the children. They are caring, manipulative, and they usually count with the parent´s favor. They use seduction more than force. If they are parents who abused their children, they will abuse their grandchildren too”, added the pastor
The children´s behavior can help us to detect a possible abuse: ”children with a low self- steem, that look for affection everywhere; children with a lack of assertiveness an a passive attitude”, explained Zapata.
TRYING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
According to Marcos Zapata,there are two ways to face the abuse: “When a family knows the abuse and decides to silence it, the home becomes an inferno filled of submissive people who suppress their emotions”.
The other option, emphasized Zapata, “it is the breakup and it requires to report the abuse. There is suffering,but, at the end, the children are healthier”.
The previous denunciation is critical for Zapata: ”I dealt with 3 cases this year, in the cases with a report, the children have normal lives right now”.
RESOURCES FOR THE CHURCH
The Family Commission of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, is working on a Pastoral Guide against sexual abuse that will be available for all the church very soon. Zapata hoped that this guide will help the church to take a step forward in the prevention of this big social problem.
“I want our churches to be able to prevent it, to talk and to teach our children about it. We need to learn how to work with those who have suffered abused”, said Zapata to Protestante Digital. He was the coordinator of the Pastoral Guide against gender violence in 2011.
Marcos Zapata remembered that “it is possible to work with people who have suffered abuse, but only if they report it”, and he warned: “It is a huge mistake no to denounce, because the report protects our children, it helps the child to understand that he is a victim”.
The faith plays an important role in these situations: “I have seen reconciliation inside the church, daughters who confronted their fathers and they started recovery programs”, because: “there is restoration at the foot of the cross, when there is a real repentance, when the abuser realized all the evil he has made and he loathes what God loathes”.