The story of Job forms part of the biblical narrative. It is a story of unexpected and uninvited tragedy. Job’s losses were catastrophic. His livestock were stolen, his servants killed and his sons and daughters crushed under the rubble of his oldest son’s house. Such a calamity had the potential to derail his life. He was plunged into despair, questioning his very existence.
Our daily newspapers have been reporting on a tragedy, different in kind, but no less devastating. The Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has been hearing accounts of child sexual abuse claims in the Catholic Church. There have been shocking revelations about the profound and lasting impact of sexual abuse on innocent children.
Philip Nagle attended St Alipius Primary School in Ballarat in the 1970’s. He told the Commission he had lost a third of his grade four classmates to suicide.
Researchers have established that exposure to childhood sexual abuse was related to “clear increases in the risks of mental health problems.” These long term effects include post traumatic symptoms, depression, substance abuse, helplessness, guilt, feelings of inferiority and interpersonal problems.
James Fogler specialises in the treatment of traumatised children and adults. He maintains that clergy perpetrated sexual abuse “can catastrophically alter the trajectory of psychosocial, sexual, and spiritual development.”
Our mental health affects the way we think and feel about ourselves and others, and how we deal with life. Sexual victimisation wounds deeply and often results in psychological dysfunction. Victims report how they struggle to establish meaningful and supportive relationships. They are isolated in their brokenness.
Returning to our biblical account, Job found encouragement from an unlikely source. We read, “If a tree is cut down, there is hope that it will sprout again and grow new branches. Though its roots have grown old in the earth and it stump decays, at the scent of water it may bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” Job 14:7-9
Victims of sexual abuse have been diminished. They are like a tree that has been felled, their potential unclear, and their future uncertain.
The Royal Commission is giving victims of child sexual abuse a stage to tell their harrowing story. Dr. H. Norman Wright is a grief and trauma therapist. In his book Surviving the Storms of Life: Finding Hope and Healing When Life Goes Wrong, he says,
“Trauma leaves us feeling confused and broken inside… Sharing you story starts the healing process. It will lift the veil of denial, mystery and silence that so often shrouds trauma. Telling your story helps validate you and your perspective.”