Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

by Editor on July 10, 2015

A life overseas - abuse

Today’s post has been submitted anonymously as a follow up to a piece published here, at A Life Overseas, in 2013.

Today we hear from the daughter of ‘Jessica’ that wrote that article in 2013.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Koman ou di?” – translation – “How do you say?” That is how it all started.

As an eleven-year-old little girl, new to the foreign country that was my new full-time home, I was desperate to learn the language.

I wanted to be able to understand and communicate. I wanted to make friends. Studies show children learn languages very quickly – and I did.

I learned how to speak from local friends in our village. We would sit outside my home day and night and go back and forth teaching each other our first languages.

I quickly adapted and learned the language. The running joke was, if you needed to know how to say slang or swear word, ask me. I learned from kids and other young adults so I had a lot of insider lingo and could understand things well, even if they were spoken in less formal ways.

I learned the culture and language, made friends, and generally loved my time spent down by the front gate, just a few hundred yards away from my parents.

My parents thought it was great! Their young daughter was adapting to the culture so quickly and picking up the language while making friends. This is good, is it not?

It started off great. Truly, it did. It began as a few girls who were the same age as me. They quickly become my first friends. Over a few months time more and more “friends” started showing up and hanging out with us at the gate.

It was still innocent at that point. A few boys who were also my age joined the group. My girlfriends knew them and had no issue with them. I saw no red flags. My friends trusted them, and I was an innocent, naïve 11- year – old girl.

As the weeks and months passed, my time hanging out down by the front gate went from during daylight hours, to mostly after sunset. When it was dark, no one could see me from my house, a short distance up the hill. While our house was close, it was also so very far away.

Not only did the time of day that we hung out change, but so did the friends. My girlfriends were back in school, or had to be home for one reason or another by dark. Before I had much time to realize it, a “boy” who was supposedly my age was the only person down there. I did not instantly realize this was an issue. I trusted him and had been with him in the group of friends. My parents knew who he was. When he said he was my age, I believed him. I thought I was safe from harm.

In reality, I was far from safe. Very, very far. Over the next 1.5 years, he sexually abused me.

Let me repeat myself: I thought he was safe. I believed I was with a friend, someone who was my age. I was wrong. My parents were wrong. We didn’t know. I later found out he was at least 19 years, possibly older. He was only in the 6th grade – which played into us believing he was my age.

Again, I was only 11. I was abused, and part of the reason I was is because we were too trusting and unaware of what was safe and what was not. Abuse happens, we all know that. Sometimes, it is out of our control. Sometimes a little awareness and preparation can reduce the risk greatly.

I am now an adult woman, I have done years of work and counseling to arrive at a healthy place in my life. I am unable to allow other girls to suffer from sexual abuse due to a lack of knowledge. Even more importantly, I want to write to parents today.

There are a few things that I think all parents need to know before moving their children overseas.

It doesn’t always look like what you think it looks like. In fact, it rarely does. As you read in my story, it was not a random person, who violently took me when I was out walking, or whatever the case may be. Many people have a very wrong idea of what abuse looks like. Very often it is someone you know and trust. It’s the driver, the gate guy, the person working in your yard, someone who is in your life often, if not daily.

Please be aware of who you let into your daily life. Your expectations of what is appropriate and theirs are most likely much different. (Refer to point three.) Sometimes when people go to the mission field, it feels bad or unloving to assume that the driver or gate guy is going to hurt your child. Here’s the thing, that guy may be a great person, he may never hurt your son or daughter.  Please here me say this: he very easily could. It could happen right under your nose. Your child doesn’t even have to leave the compound or house for abuse to occur. Please, please be on your guard, and while not assuming that the person is bad, assume that they could potentially hurt your child.

Most often abuse happens by people we know and trust. Do not leave your children alone with people you aren’t 110% certain won’t hurt them. Allowing your children to leave your physical presence (especially if they are alone) with a driver, or with a gate guy, a nanny, a housekeeper, or whomever it may be needs to be something that you have thought out very well. Know exactly whom your children are with at all times and be very cautious. It’s okay to not trust some people with your children. On the mission field, your kids always need to come before the ministry and worrying about friendliness toward staff or new friends.

All cultures vary in several ways from one another. What is normal and acceptable to you may very well be unheard of in the culture hosting you. Simple things like how we greet each other – some cultures shake hands, others kiss on the cheek. But those differences expand well past the small customs. It is generally unacceptable to sexually engage a young child in my passport country. In the country I moved to, it seems  that while no one necessarily thinks it is right, it happens very often and the perpetrator is protected with silence of many others that see what is happening. Where I grew up children are over sexualized from a very young age. While women may know it is wrong, they often times feel there is nothing that can be done about it. For example, an older man can openly pursue a sexual relationship with a young teenage girl. There is no consequence for these actions or behaviors. Please be aware as parents that things of that nature will not be reported to you or seen as unacceptable.

Sadly, both my parents and I have warned several newcomers about cultural differences and while they seem grateful for the warning, they don’t seem to follow through with a high level of vigilance once they move.

Please know that while this blog is written from the point of view of a girl who was abused by a man, it can just as easily happen to young boys. Boys and Girls alike can easily become victims of abuse due simply to a lack of cultural understanding.

Being aware and prepared is one of the greatest assets we have. As a victim of abuse, please receive my story from a place of love. I am hoping that it protects even one TCK from being abused.

Other helpful posts that touch on sexual abuse:

Child Abuse Prevention Week: Awareness to Action

4 Ways to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

Christians and the struggle to report child abuse

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  • Dalaina May

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. It matters and it is helpful to parents of TCKs to hear the hard things so that we can better protect our kids. Thank you!

  • I too want to say you are very courageous for speaking out. There is tons of good stuff out there for parents to help them be aware and your post is one of them.

  • Thank you for sharing! If you would be willing to contact me directly, I would be so appreciative. I’m working with a ministry that is engaged in bringing healing to kids who have experienced SA and would truly value your insight.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Cindy –
      What is your email address? I will email you privately.

      • Thank you! cfinley@cindyfinley:disqus .com. No spaces. 😉

  • Leah

    How effective do you feel it is for parents to prepare their kids from very early (I’ve been talking to my daughter about private areas, appropriate touch by appropriate people, saying no and telling Dad or Mom since she was 2)? I always hope that by starting with my kids, it will be their first line of defense, but in the end, I wonder if it will really protect them, or if it just makes them too used to talking about it to care or act if the situation warranted it? We’ve also gone around our whole neighborhood pointing out areas that are too deserted to be safe for kids to hang out alone. Does this put too much responsibility on the child?

    • Debra Carlson

      Please remember, PARENTS are children’s first line of defense. Not criticizing, just my 1st thought. Thanks for sharing. (Capitalization for emphasis not aggression or anger).

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Just wanted to chime in here and say I think that most parents wait too long – they talk to their kids at ages 6, or 8, or 13 and I do think talking about it from very very young is super important.

  • Alicia

    Thank you for sharing this. First of all, I had read your mother’s piece a few years ago and always wondered how you were doing now. Your journey sounded difficult but I felt so grateful that you are at a healthy place in your life. Also, thanks for informing all of us parents and others who love kids. We are listening to your timely word.

  • Anisha Hopkinson

    Thank you so much for sharing. I read your mom’s post and it really stuck with me. It’s been something I think about a lot as I try to figure out interactions/friendships for my four year old son. Thanks again for speaking up.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Thank you, thank you for sharing.

  • Brave, brave, beautiful girl.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Agree!

  • Maggi

    Thank you for sharing your story! It is, I think, one of the most important topics for parents to grapple with. I’m a mother of three, ages 6, 4 and 2, and we’re talking about this on a regular basis – doing pretty much what Leah below mentions that she does with her kids.

    You sharing your story is another reminder to keep it up, so thanks again for choosing to relive it as you wrote it – for our benefit. I think it will be a blessing to many!

  • EM

    Thank you for sharing this. You are a strong woman and are now an advocate for children. This is, I know, one of the most important jobs in the world. The enemy always goes after the innocence of children, and following God should always mean learning to protect children as you are doing. God bless you and your family.

  • Melanie Wood

    Your story is painful lto read. And it needs to be published as you are doing. I am also a survivor, but with a different twist: my mother arranged the summer job for me, working as a babysitter and housekeeper when I was ten. I was to live-in with a young couple and their two “babies under two”. At night the husband sexually assaulted me (unbeknownst to his wife????) and during the day he non-verbally threatened me by waving a butchen knife as he was preparing dinner, or by sharpening it on a strop, the lealther belt-like thing. He said if I told what was going on, he’d kill my mom, brother and me. I was ten. Long story short – I was rescued by a stranger who saw me crying and returned to my family. I don’t know what happened to the man and his poor family other than they disappeared. Sexual abuse is so damn prevalent, and it is such a damn common thing. The girl who replaced me, a classmate, was a sweet docile child. After working there she began a massive shutdown, she was ill a lot, and her ability to communicate sort of disappeared. She ended up with alopecia (spelling?? – hair loss), terrible acne and died young. I always had a feeling this was the norm in her HOME, too. Thank you for leading the charge. BTW – where overseas did you live?

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a TCK I want to share that I experienced similar issues, only in my case the person was almost 30 years old than me, someone who served in the church, someone belonging to the people group that I had grown up reaching out to, and elevated to a position where he was expected to be a caretaker for me while I was in the states for a short time to study. I can tell you it got pretty weird when he started showing me pornographic Japanese or Asian videos and touching me inappropriately, manipulating me into making meals for him and who knows what else! I remember wondering how to be polite and culturally sensitive to his elderly position, maintain my independence from my parents, and what to do if he would attempt to go all the way (I kept a piano tuner under my pillow). I actually didn’t talk about it for a long time to anyone because I didn’t want my parents to second-guess their ministry. I was crazy. God saved me through a friend who misinterpreted a clue that I had dropped in a conversation. She called my sister who then called my parents. It was a rocky journey to get to the point where was able to admit that my parents’ ministry / service to God was dangerous to me and I was ******** scared of continuing to work in it. But after admitting it I finally started to seek treatment. (Counseling, and self defense classes later on because they take away the nightmares. I have a tendency to blame myself for what happened and the self defense classes are one way that I assure myself I can handle myself in a worst case scenario, and never be helpless again). My family and I reported him to our church (although now I know that this was unnecessary, the civil authorities would have been better. I guess we were puzzled over Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian church on taking fellow members to court hastily? Too much tolerance is when you’re tolerating a festering mildew that will break you). I asked specifically about a friend of mine who I knew was in contact with this person for several years of her childhood. Right now this guy’s daughter, one of my Sunday school teachers, goes to a bible study wher i ran into her a few weeks ago (a friend brought me back to visit church). I realized that he has his version of the story so I find myself nervous about talking to these people. I plan to take a break from bible study shortly. I feel like that’s a choice God will respect. Because I am really getting tired of fighting and working and striving to not-be-affected. I learned that at times i just need more than knowledge about God and the sense of *should* and *shouldn’t*… it’s just not enough sometimes. I have to admit that I let my parents’ position and their ideals become my standards, so I looked down on myself for making them look bad, and that completely destroyed my sense of dignity. I don’t want to be a non-believer but I don’t really feel like I’m called to do everything my parents do. Kudos to this site for so much support. I am continuing to pray for direction.

    • Shaeen

      That’s rough.

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