Why do missionary kids sometimes wait many years to talk about abuse they suffered at boarding schools? What is the response of SIM to those abused MKs who are coming forward now?
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in September 2009 explored the patterns of disclosure of child sexual abuse by victims. Twenty five percent of the respondants had never disclosed that they were sexually abused. Of these respondants, men were twice as likely as women to keep child sexual abuse to themselves. People were more likely to report abuse by a stranger, and less likely if it was a family member or someone else they knew. Half of sexual abuse survivors delayed their disclosure, some waiting up to five years before disclosing the abuse.
Many missionary kids who are abused as children wait much longer to tell their stories, sometimes 30 or 40 years. Why didn’t they just report the abuse right away, or at least when they were still young adults and the perpetrators were still active on the mission field?
A child in a mission-run boarding school is in a pretty powerless position, and it is not surprising at all to me if that child wouldn’t want to report these things to the very dorm parents that were creating the abusive environment in the first place. That would just invite punishment. What about reporting it to their parents during vacations? Maybe some kids still had a close enough relationship with their parents after spending 9 months of the year at boarding school to talk about these things, but I think the norm was we grew away from our parents pretty quickly. We were also given the message at school that our parent’s work was of the utmost importance, much more important than our own happiness or well-being. Living in an abusive environment was also the norm. Even though my life back then was very unhappy at times, I never said to myself when I was a child “I am being physically and spiritually abused.” Children often do not recognize abuse as abuse if it is the normal way of life for them.
Why didn’t missionary kids who were abused report it right away when they returned to their home country and began their adult life? There are many reasons for this.
- It was enough of a culture shock just settling into life in another country. This process was such an emotional drain that memories of abuse as a child were put on the back burner.
- Many of the perpetrators still held active positions in SIM, and it would be very intimidating for an MK to confront them. It is still intimidating today to talk to some of the dorm parents who held such power over us, and I am in my 50s now.
- Some victims had suppressed their memories of abuse. One victim of sexual abuse at Bingham Academy didn’t process the memories until she heard her perpetrator had died.
- Whether purposefully or not, SIM has created an environment that is unsafe for MKs to talk about abuse. Through Simroots we have been chided for complaining, told how lucky we are to grow up at KA, and told that it is a sin not to put the past behind us and forgive. I gave some examples from Simroots in an earlier post. Even in the most recent issue of Simroots an SIM employee states that there are MKs “who point to their MK background to rationalize their shortcomings or to walk away from God.” This produces nothing but guilty feelings and doesn’t make a victim feel their story will be welcomed or heard by SIM.
- Since no one talks about these things and investigations are kept secret, many MKs think they are the only one who suffered, and don’t want to come forward alone. The fact is that perpetrators usually have more than one victim.
A study published in Clinical Psychology Review in 1997 focused on male victims and why they do not disclose their abuse. One reason cited is that professionals do not create conditions that would enable males to talk about their abuse.
Psychologist Mic Hunter states in his book Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse that “Some of the effects of sexual abuse do not become apparent until the victim is an adult and a major life event, such as marriage or birth of a child, takes place. Therefore, a child who seemed unharmed by childhood abuse can develop crippling symptoms years later and can have a difficult time connecting his adulthood problems with his past.” These symptoms themselves, including major depression, substance abuse, attempted suicide and often a history of continued abuse in adulthood can create such a struggle for survival that it is impossible for the victim to address the root of the problem.
SIM could help these MKs by providing an outreach where they acknowledge abuse and create conditions that enable the survivors to talk about it. But we are being told that its a “delicate situation,” and that these things take time, you can ruin things if you proceed too quickly. We are told SIM is already in the process of caring for ANY MK who was abused at boarding school. How is that possible when there are so many MKs who were abused who have no contact with SIM? If we don’t know that we are being cared for, are we really being cared for?
Maybe a good first step for SIM would be to stop being secretive about what they are doing, and to start treating us like adults and equals instead of continuing the authoritarian relationship we had with them in the past.