Survivors of Sexual Abuse Share Stories at Caring Well Conference

Artist Jackie Hill Perry talks about during her address at the Caring Well conference Oct. 3-5 the sexual abuse she suffered as a first grader. Karen Race Photography

Survivors of sexual abuse shared their painful stories and urged churches to care for the survivors in their midst at a Southern Baptist-sponsored national conference Oct. 3-5.

The survivors’ personal stories came during “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis,” a conference hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. The event — the ERLC’s sixth annual national conference — sought to educate churches about abuse prevention and ministering to survivors.

The more than 1,650 registered attendees and a Livestream audience heard a “survivor story” from each of four women, as well as explanations of their abuse and its effects from other speakers in the main sessions. Here is a summary of the “survivor story” of those four in order, plus that of another speaker, Mary DeMuth:

— Susan Codone, senior associate dean of academic affairs at Mercer University School of Medicine, shared about her abuse as a teenager by first her youth pastor, then her pastor in a church in the Birmingham, Ala., area.

She “knew no one would believe” her regarding the youth pastor and pastor, Codone told the audience in explaining her decision not to report them. “I thought what had happened was my fault. They told me that I had brought down men of God.

“My abuse ended when I was 16 years old, but the effects have continued throughout my life.”

For her, the effects have included a sense of depression throughout her life and the collateral damage to her husband and children as a result, Codone said.

“[M]y faith has fluctuated over the years, and my service to [God] has been interrupted by my inability to trust Him completely and to trust the church completely,” she said. “The church must do a better job of being a place of healing and refuge.”

She offered 10 requests to churches, including: “Understand that what might look like spiritual apathy to you is really spiritual disconnection because of trauma, and respond accordingly.”

“I am a hopeful survivor,” Codone said.

— Megan Lively, a social media specialist, described her ordeal after being raped while a student at a Southern Baptist seminary.

When she reported it to the school administration, Lively was “belittled by leaders to whom I had come for protection” and “made to feel as if what happened was my fault,” she said. “The day I reported what happened to me I was seen as a problem to be dealt with rather than a child of God who had been sinned against. I was seen as someone threatening an institution rather than as a sister of Christ.”

Lively did not share about her rape with anyone else until 15 years later, she told the audience. Her husband, pastor and the new seminary administration supported her when she disclosed the assault in 2018. She continues to be “cared for by the institution that I was convinced had failed me,” Lively said.

Although she identified neither the seminary nor the administrators, Lively attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Her rape occurred during the administration of Paige Patterson. Danny Akin is now president. She graduated from the school with a master’s degree in May.

Physical pain, flashbacks and insomnia have been among the effects of her rape, Lively said. “[I]t may be helpful to know survivors inside and outside the church walk through life with an incredible amount of internal fear, anxiety and insecurity.

“We must join together against this enemy and draw near to the One who has already crushed his head,” she said. “Jesus has won. I am His.”

— Jackie Hill Perry, a speaker and recording artist, told about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a 16-year-old boy as a first-grade student.

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Source: Baptist Press