Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

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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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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