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HIDDEN PAIN: An Insight into Childhood Sexual Abuse, by Anne R. Lastman
To readers of AD2000 where she is a regular columnist, Anne Lastman is well known as a writer on theological and social issues, as well as one of Australia's most authoritative voices on the recognition and treatment of post-abortion grief, a field in which she has practised as a professional counsellor for 17 years.
Her combination of theoretical and practical knowledge has given her insights into difficult issues which our community would prefer to ignore, if not deny.
Her previous book, Redeeming Grief, dealt sensitively with the subject of post-abortion grief, and this book, Hidden Pain, is based upon her experiences in assisting people who have suffered the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
I must confess that until 10 or 15 years ago, I considered the sexual abuse of children to be a heinous crime in which some males exploited their power over children to satisfy their perverted sexual desires. I thought it rare, and could not imagine it happening in stable families.
The repeated revelations of recent years have convinced me that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of a deep social malaise which has always existed, but which until now has been taboo, and not spoken about.
The current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia, following widespread allegations of childhood sexual abuse in religious institutions, has exposed the extent of the problem.
As at the time of writing, the Royal Commission had received over 16,000 telephone calls, 7,000 emails or letters, had conducted over 2,000 private sessions with victims, and issued orders to produce to over 860 individuals and institutions.
Yet this is not the worst of it. The Royal Commission is expressly constrained from examining the problem of abuse in government-run institutions, nor does it deal with the problem in families. Yet both media reports and the extent of removal of children from families by child welfare agencies reveal that the problem is far more widespread.
It affects people from all strata of society, all socioeconomic groups, all ethnic groups and people of all faiths. It is not a modern problem, but has existed throughout history, in all societies and civilisations.
As a grief counsellor, Anne Lastman has often been confronted by the devastating effects of sexual abuse, and with great compassion, has set about trying to undo the hurt which victims suffer even decades later.
Hidden Pain examines child sexual abuse, its causes and consequences for both victims and society.
The book is not a catalogue of horror stories, nor does it point the finger of blame. It seeks to understand the problem, and by casting an informed light on it, help the victim and ease the social trauma.
Anne begins with a psychological and Christological reflection on the problems of suffering and trauma, particularly as it affects children's development. She then discusses the causes of sexual abuse, and shows why it is so damaging.
The author does not shrink from the evidence that often sexual abuse begins within families, with some victims (particularly males) becoming abusers. This has recently been documented in indigenous communities, notably in remote parts of Australia.
She discusses the impact of modern technology, including the internet, in universalising the problem through pornography, then discusses the link between sexual abuse and prostitution, and the links which she has observed, repeatedly, between sexual abuse and multiple abortions.
Among the most comforting parts of this book are the chapters dealing with what Anne calls "the journey to wholeness", the process by which a skilled counsellor can help to repair the damage caused by sexual abuse, including dealing with the problem of guilt, and the gift of forgiveness.
Anne writes with perception and sensitivity about the perpetrator, and the issue of clergy abuse. The book concludes with several case studies which are not a catalogue of wickedness and evil, but journeys towards healing.
This is a most important book based on an acute understanding of the human condition and a deep sense of compassion for wounded humanity, from a Christian perspective.
Child sexual abuse is indeed confronting, but every person who reads this book will benefit from the author's insights into one of the most difficult problems facing our society today.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 10 (November 2014), p. 17
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