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Who Needs to Confess? And What?

Actress Ashley Judd recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts recently disclosed that he was sexually abused as a child. When each made a public disclosure, the media described these disclosures as “confessions.”

Actress Ashley Judd recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi recently disclosed that she was sexually abused as a child; Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts recently disclosed that he was sexually abused as a child. When each made a public disclosure, the media described these disclosures as “confessions.”

Wendy Murphy writing for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, MA, has lifted up this important observation: “confession” or “admission” conveys that the victim of abuse was to blame—i.e. that he/she has something to “confess” responsibility for. This characterization is totally erroneous.

In April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is particularly egregious to continue to see the media distort and dismiss the experience of victims. But it is this kind of distortion that led me to write Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited.

Let’s put this discussion in a faith context because “confession” carries overtones of religious teaching and significance. Those of us who are Christians are called upon to “confess” our sins, our actions that have done harm to others. This would be the task of perpetrators of child sexual abuse, not their victims.

Sadly, many times a child or teenager has gone to a priest or pastor and “confessed” sexual contact with an adult or older teen. They believe that because the contact was sexual, it was sinful and their fault. Their “confession” is actually a disclosure and a call for help.

If the priest or pastor allows it to remain a “confession” and it is unlikely that this allegation of child sexual abuse will be reported to law enforcement, which is what should happen. The faith leader should guide the young person to understand that there is nothing to “confess,” but there is something to report. The faith leader then should stand beside the young person to prevent future harm and call the perpetrator to account.

If a perpetrator comes to a faith leader, there is much to confess and usually to report to law enforcement as well so that we do what we can to prevent further harm to other young people. The perpetrator then has the opportunity to repent, to “get a new heart and a new mind,” according to Ezekiel, and to make restitution to the victim/survivor.

The concept of “confession” is very helpful when addressing a person’s behavior that is harmful to another. Let’s just be clear about who needs to confess and what. Victims have no need to confess.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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Confession

Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Apr 25, 2011 01:52 PM
Thank you Marie for identifying the error in our framing of a victim's disclosure as a confession. I must confess that in my many years of volunteer work with sexual assault I have not seen how wrong that wording is. As usual you are "on the mark" and give us something to work on. Thanks!
- Marvin Eckfeldt

confession?

Posted by Keith Morris at Apr 28, 2011 03:03 PM
Language is very powerful and often misused. I here too survivors say they share their story. Stories are often put on the same level as TV shows and works of fictions. For those reasons I share my "account" of being abused as a child by a national church leader.
Keith Morris

Confession can be further victimization for the victim

Posted by Herb Hilder at Apr 28, 2011 03:20 PM
Reading your article, I was hauntingly reminded of a situation years ago in my ministry, when a colleague confessed to sexual behaviour with a student (he said it was consensual). The colleague who heard the confession said that the confession was enough, there was no need to go further. Wiser minds prevailed and the individual was brought to justice under the Sexual Abuse and Harassement Policy of our denomination. But I wonder what would have happened if the victim had not pushed the matter with the Presbytery.
Thank you for your reflective piece.