Childhood sexual abuse: Caring for yourself and others, by Dr Michael Paterson, Redemptorist Publications, pbk, 2018, £5.99
"Sexual abuse is devastating." From the opening lines of this superb booklet the reader is given a clear and deeply pastoral approach to the delicate issue of child sexual abuse. The hurt is palpable in these pages, and the issue is faced full-on, with no holds barred. It is just what is needed in the current climate within the Catholic Church.
The author, a priest and psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience of survivors, explains what sexual abuse is; outlines immediate and long-term consequences; offers guidelines for handling disclosure; suggests practical forms of pastoral care; and points to resources that are available.
Sexual abuse takes place, explains the author, "when someone forces or persuades another person to indulge in sexual activities, sexualised conversation or sexual exposure without their understanding or consent." Such abuse may be either contact or non-contact. Topics such as "sexting", blackmail, bullying, unwanted attention, emotional distress, humiliation, self-harm and risk of suicide are covered.
Abuse impacts physically, psychologically, and socially. It may involve behavioural or spiritual effects. The result means that all sexual abuse is serious and emotionally traumatic, and recovery and healing will be costly and long-term. All this is brought home with individual personal stories.
Paterson provides five guidelines when someone discloses: believe the survivor; take abuse seriously; tell the survivor it was not their fault; assure the survivor that disclosure is the right thing to do; and take appropriate action to safeguard other children.
Survivors who are believers are in need of particular pastoral care. Prayers and reflections are suggested, and a series of resources and help.
This is an absolute "must" for anyone in pastoral ministry, and it would be an excellent idea to give a copy to all seminarians and clergy.
© Denis Blackledge SJ
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