Because of the ways in which forgiveness is spoken about in the broader Christian-influenced culture and also in the mental health field, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are often placed under strong pressure to forgive the person who perpetrated abuse against them. Many women report that when they have accessed a group or counselling, that there has been an emphasis on forgiving the perpetrator and that this step is seen as necessary for healing.
As a worker, I am conscious that everyone goes through their own unique process in relation to coming to terms with the effects of sexual abuse. For a small number of women with whom I have worked, forgiveness has played an important part in their healing process and for them, the pressure to forgive may not have negative consequences. It may have been a process of their own choosing.
However, for most women with whom I’ve worked, the pressure to forgive can be oppressive. For many women survivors, there has been no acknowledgement of guilt or even of any wrongdoing by the person who perpetrated the abuse. In many situations the women have not been believed or have been viewed as in some ways culpable for the abuse to which they were subjected.
This paper describes ways of working with male partners of women who experienced sexual abuse as children. In response to requests from women, groups were held with male partners to provide information about childhood sexual abuse, to enable the men to speak about ways in which they have tried to support their partners, and to discuss men’s experiences and responses. Opportunities were also created to deconstruct unhelpful or ‘dangerous’ ideas around the complexities of childhood sexual abuse.