I’ve been trying to write this since November when I read Paedogeddon: of God and Monsters, written by Sara Kewly Hyde and published on threads, in which we are challenged on how we engage with sex offenders.

I am a survivor. I grew up being abused by the people who should have been caring for me. By the people I should have been able to look up to. The man who should have been a father to me abused me. I was abused by someone else who was unable himself to deal with being abused.

One day when I was in my early 20s I was also assaulted in the street, just down the road from where I lived. That day, my life changed. Forever. Yet another thing taken away from me. I had nothing left. It pushed me to the brink of death, because just over a year later, I would try to kill myself (here by the grace of God and all that).

Sometimes I am able to eloquently describe and talk about what it is like to be abused and raped. And sometimes I am not. Sometimes I am able to put into words the pain, shame, fear and torture that fill your mind. It is torment. However hard you try to wash, scrub, cry, scream, cut and plead away the pain, the memories, the nightmares – they don’t go. They will never go. And even though, in time, you may be able to try to start living a life, a different life, those memories will always exist. Sometimes they are more painful than others. But a day does not go by without some memory surfacing. Somewhere, sometime during a normal day, something will trigger a memory. It could be a smell, a word. Anything.

But what I have learnt as I grow stronger, and I shall be forever grateful to those people who support me in this journey, is that life can be lived, and lived well. And that is the journey I am on. I am learning to laugh again, to smile, to be loved, and to love. And it is going well. I think.

But then every now and then something comes along that halts you. Makes you stop. Makes you remember even more intensely than you already do. Makes you reflect more so than ever before. And makes everything so loud once again in your head.

That has been my experience since the Jimmy Savile exposé happened. Since it was revealed that he was a predatory child abuser, that his victims could be as many as 200 and counting. Reading Sara’s Paedogeddon article made me realise that my response was the emotional and personal response of someone who has experienced the pain of abuse. And this is where the clanger kicks in for me: it was NOT a Christian response. And it was not a response that considered the offender. In fact I never really thought about it from those points of view. I never really thought about what it means to be a Christian and a survivor, to the point where I have to consider how I think about and respond to people who rape and abuse. Not properly anyway. Not deeply. Not with any meaning.

Until I read Sara’s thoughts. Her article touched on topics I have not wanted to, have not been able to, and have tried to ignore. But I have no choice as a Christian but to confront these issues.

So how would I respond if I came face to face with an offender?

And this is where I come a little stuck. This is where my head goes round and round in circles, and this is where I have written this blog so many times, and still not managed to write a coherent answer.

I don’t know.

The truth is, I don’t know how I could love someone who had been a child abuser or a rapist. I don’t know how I would respond to someone sitting in front of me in church, who was a known sex offender. Maybe I would want to hit them. Maybe I would want to scream at them. Maybe I would want to walk away and never have to think about them again.

I don’t know.

But I ask myself this: do I have a place myself, a place in a Christian community, if I am not willing to accept this line that Sara wrote:

“The Church needs to be a place of acceptance and healing for the abuser and the abused.”

Ouch.

If I talk about, and expect, and desire, and wish to see the Church understand, accept and have a place for a survivor of abuse, then surely I have to accept that it is also a place for an offender. I have to accept that there can be/is/has to be a place for them too. That they also need to be part of a community that will accept, love and support them. I have to accept that they are people too.

As a survivor and a Christian I have to believe that Jesus came for the people who abused and raped me too. That he came for people who abuse and rape others. Otherwise, as Sara put it so well “the cross is a nonsense”. And deep down, no matter what state my relationship with God is, I know it is not nonsense.

But that is big stuff to get my head around. And how does this actually play out? And again, that’s where I come to ‘I don’t know’. I could give you the answers I’m meant to. The answers where I say I would greet them with open arms, welcome them into my community, my family, and love them. I could give you a deep and super-spiritual answer, but actually those answers wouldn’t be being true to myself. Because the answer I have is: I don’t know. I simply don’t know.

But I do accept that the Church has to have a place for them. Because deep down, deep down where it hurts so painfully, I know Jesus has a place for them. He loves them, like he loves me.


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Written by Helen Austin

Helen Austin is a community support worker in Lincolnshire. She is passionate about encouraging people to have a voice on issues that matter to them - and also passionate about chocolate.

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