Sexual abuse is blank page in victim's memory


Christian Life

Anne Lok-Vader, RD

Photo RD

Daan was still in primary school when his brother sexually abused him. Together with Jantine den Uijl-van Loon, his therapist, he tells how the trauma impacts his life.

He did not even know what sex was, at the time he first experienced it. "It is so wry. As a young boy, I was confronted with what should develop in a marriage between a man and a woman. What is also cynical, I learnt it from a man."

Den Uijl, who is also present at the interview, points out that people lose their innocent childhood at the moment of abuse. "From the first moment of abuse, your sexual development is disturbed and disrupted. You lose yourself, your security, your confidence." Daan agrees: "That has been taken away from me. All my boundaries have been crossed."

According to the trauma sexologist, sexual abuse within Christian families always impacts the relationship with the church. "Regularly, the perpetrator is a member of the same congregation. Victims sometimes see him attending the Lord's Supper while they carry the secret with them." Daan's brother is also a faithful churchgoer. "An aggravating circumstance," he thinks. "Everyone knows that sexual abuse is not allowed, but not everyone also confesses that God has peremptorily forbidden it."

Emotional bond

His parental family lacked a close emotional bond. "There was little control, little oversight of what we did as children. My parents rarely questioned us and barely gave us any attention. A bad thing. Still, they are not there for me. They know what happened between my brother and me but do not attach any consequences to that. My parents did talk to him about it once. Like: naughty boy, you should never have done that." His voice sounds bitter. "I'm sorry, but that does not do justice to the suffering that I was put through."

He once coldly informed his girlfriend -now his wife- that he had been sexually abused in the past. "She was stunned by that. But we went about our business. In retrospect, she regrets not asking further questions at the time."


Two and a half years ago, Daan entered Practice Den Uijl with very different questions from abuse. He was experiencing turmoil in his life, had changed jobs often, was allergic to authoritarian behaviour, did not take responsibility in his relationships, and struggled with the question of what use he was in this world. And, he says, "the experiences of abuse you also take into your marriage. What you learn then, you can project onto your wife." Den Uijl: "Your emotional age stopped at the time of the abuse." Daan, laughing: "According to Jantine, I'm pubescent now."

In the first conversation with Den Uijl, the abuse came up unexpectedly. Then the debris clearing began. Trauma is like broken glass lying in a thousand pieces throughout a house. Therapy means: finding all of those pieces. And that is not easy because the dark period of his boyhood is like a freezer for Daan. Much he does not remember. "How did I get to that room? I don't know, at most, in fits and starts. I do remember -I think it was the second time- that my mother suddenly called for dinner at the time of the abuse. It was finished abruptly. I walked downstairs as if nothing was wrong."


Under Den Uijl's guidance, Daan has so-called perpetrator confrontation talks with his brother. They discuss what happened, how the abuse could take place and what the damage is. The aim is to restore the relationship; the highest achievable ideal is reconciliation. During these talks, Daan heard details from his brother that he himself could no longer recall from memory. For instance, he thought the abuse only happened a few times, but according to his brother, it happened much more often.

It's not surprising that memory fails abuse victims, Den Uijl knows. To Daan: "If you were to write your autobiography, pages 33 to 42 would be blank. Or contain a few words at most. You pushed those experiences away - out of survival instinct."

So isn't it better to leave those painful memories in the freezer than stir them up? No, says Daan firmly, "Then I would continue to struggle with myself. Thanks to therapy, I am learning to breathe independently instead of using an oxygen mask."

It is not only better for yourself but also for those around you, adds Den Uijl. "Often abuse continues from generation to generation. It is suspected to be the same in Daan's parental family. It would have been wiser if his parents had talked to their children in time. Then they could have said, "It's terrible what happened between you; we're going to the doctor to see what we can do about this". Then all this misery would not have had to simmer on."


Daan confided in his pastor and a few elders. "When I told them about the abuse, they reacted with shock: "That you had to go through this." They are very compassionate." However, what bothers Daan is the urge from the ministers to work on forgiveness. "With that, you step over a mountain of rubbish. Apparently, my pain is not allowed to be there. That it is swept under the carpet is so unjust. The Bible shows: no forgiveness before justice. So justice must first be done for my pain and sorrow before forgiveness can be discussed. And it hasn't come to that yet."

He says forgiveness is an option, just as filing a criminal report is an option. "The question should be: What do you need? Instead of: 'This is what you actually need to do'. Rather, I would have an elder ask me: How are you? An arm on my shoulder, that's what I need."


Other church councillors only know he has trauma, not what happened. "On home visits, I only got very matter-of-fact questions: how long will the therapy take? What exactly does it entail? Does the trauma have to do with your personality? That repelled me. Ask such questions compassionately rather than blunt and business-like."

Daan regrets that his church council has little knowledge about trauma and its impact. "I feel terribly lonely. I am on an island, so to speak, misunderstood. Meanwhile, everyone wonders: why are you even standing there?"

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on March 23, 2023



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