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Jennifer Cisney: Healing From the Pain of Sexual Assault


Enrichment Spring 2009.

Jennifer Cisney, “Healing From the Pain of Sexual Assault” Enrichment (Spring 2009), pages 108-112.

Jennifer Cisney, a counselor, executive board member of the American Association of Certified Christian Sexual Addition Specialists, member of the the American Association of Christian Counselors since 1994 and survivor of sexual assault, recognizes “the progress the church has made in dealing with emotional pain and struggles in Christians.” The author, however, questions why she “can count on one hand the number of workshops that have addressed [the] critically important issue” of the “devastating and traumatic event” of rape and “why . . . society and the church are so reluctant to address it.”

Sexual assault is a widespread problem. Why is the church so reluctant to address it?

Cisney points to the “shame and stigma surrounding sexual assault” as a primary reason why most victims of rape do not seek help from the church or available community resources. She questions whether the Christian community neglects to address the problem of rape, believing that the crime of rape is not a “pervasive problem” even though the issue, as Cisney acknowledges, traces historically to the beginnings of recorded history.

Jennifer Cisney

The author, in addition to integrating issues related to rape in contemporary context with instances of rape in certain scriptural passages (i.e., 2 Sam. 13:19), addresses several of the misconceptions concerning sexual assault: (1) the belief that rape is not a widespread problem; (2) the misunderstanding that rape always involves sexual attack by a stranger, rather than by a date, acquaintance or other known person; (3) the error in believing that if serious physical injury does not result, the victim will be free of long-term effects of the attack, and other misconceptions. She is careful to cite important current statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. For example: (1) One in 6 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime; (2) someone in the US is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes; (3) victims of sexual assault are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression; 6 times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Face the challenge: providing competent and effective ministerial care and counsel to victims of sexual assault has the potential to result in healing and wholeness for those deeply wounded by the trauma.

Cisney’s viewpoint is authentic due to her professional training and experience in treating the victims of sexual assault and to her personal history as a rape survivor. In view of the author’s credentials, the article serves as a very valuable resource for ecclesial leaders and others whose ministry contexts require some form of pastoral assistance or counsel to the victims of sexual assault. She advises pastoral counselors and others to be prepared to “ask the right questions”; to provide a safe place for victims to share their stories and to be prepared to refer victims of sexual assault to others qualified to assist those victims during the healing process. The article describes in some detail the nature and symptoms of acute stress disorder and PTSD, thus providing pastors and other leaders with essential and specific information needed to assess an individual’s need for referral to other forms of counseling, medical treatment and/or other resources to begin the journey of healing and restoration. She also carefully describes the distinctions between consensual sex and statutory rape from both moral and legal standpoints.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2010

About the Author: Mara Lief Crabtree, D.Min. (Wesley Theological Seminary), MPS (Loyola University, New Orleans), MA (Regent University), is Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Women’s Studies at Regent University School of Divinity. Ordained in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, she serves as a Tidewater Chapter Chaplain and Region II US Representative for Virginia Chapters in the International Order of St. Luke. Faculty page. Faculty blog.

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