Recent news headlines remind us of a troubling statistic: 1 in 5 American adults has been a victim or witness to events that traumatized them in just the past 10 years.
The release of the Sexual Abuse Task Force report reminds us that traumatic situations happen both inside and outside the church. But the church is also uniquely positioned to serve those who have experienced trauma, such as those healing from sexual abuse and those reeling from recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Riverside, Alabama; and Uvalde, Texas.
What can we as believers do?
How can we respond?
Here are some resources from The Baptist Paper that might help:
What is trauma?
Trauma is an event, a series of events or a set of circumstances experienced or perceived by an individual as emotionally or physically harmful or life-threatening. Trauma events can range from one-time incidences to chronic or generational experiences.
Typically, traumatic events are unexpected, have the capacity for harm and overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. Examples of traumatic events include natural disaster, sexual assault, physical violence, unexpected loss of a loved one and military combat.
Common responses to trauma include nightmares, hypervigilance, flashbacks, avoidance, intense emotions and loss of acquired communication skills.
Vicarious trauma is a result of continual exposure to victims of trauma or being indirectly exposed to a traumatic event such as the life of another person being threatened or witnessing a death.
According to the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, vicarious trauma can occur from listening to an individual recount his or her stories of victimization, reading case files, watching testimony videos or prolonged exposure to media recounting traumatic events. Professionals, ministers and volunteers who work with and assist people who have been traumatized can experience vicarious trauma.
Those in caring professions are most at risk, such as medical professionals; first responders such as police, EMS and firefighters; counselors and social workers; attorneys; journalists; and clergy.
When children witness or experience violence, they may become distrustful of the people in their lives. They also have a heightened risk for conflict with others, self-destruction, suicide, post-traumatic stress and elevated aggression.
The trauma follows them into adulthood. Research shows children who are exposed to long-term violence — as witnesses or victims — are at a higher risk to suffer poor mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior, criminality and neglectful or abusive parenting during their adult lives.
Christian parents and grandparents are justifiably concerned about the rising violence in their communities. They want to protect their children. Here are some suggestions:
Provide daily opportunities for children to talk, honestly expressing their fears and feelings about personal safety. Listen, ask questions and respond in age-appropriate ways.
Reassure children you love them, pray for them and will always do whatever you can to protect them from harm.
As a family, read Scripture and pray together during regular family devotional times.
Teach children to dial 911 and call for help when witnessing a crime outside the home or if their safety is threatened within the home.
Reduce children’s exposure to violence on television news, social media, videos, films and computer games. If they spend time with neighbors and/or other family members, make those caregivers aware of your family’s boundaries and ask them to honor them.