I wrote this several years ago as part of a healing prayer service for sexual abuse. Besides being a wound from my own childhood, I believe speaking out openly and honestly about it has allowed me to help others and to heal.
The larger prayer service was published in a now defunct liturgy magazine, and won an award from the American and Canadian Catholic Press Association.
Excerpts from Psalm 55
Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication. Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint.
There are many reasons why abuse may remain hidden. An abuser may manipulate, bribe, coerce or threaten a child to prevent them from telling anyone about the abuse. Depending on their age and stage of development, a child may not be able to communicate what has happened to them, or they may fear they will not be believed. They may be convinced that the abuse is their fault and, if they tell anyone about it, they will be punished. They may fear that they or the abuser will be removed from the home, or suffer other consequences. They may feel ashamed and want to keep the abuse (and related family problems) secret to avoid being stigmatized or have their sexual identity questioned.[i]
My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
It may sound strange, but people sometimes have trouble recognizing that they are being abused. For example, Sometimes people have been abused but don’t think of it that way. Recognizing abuse may be especially difficult for someone who has lived with it for many years. A person might think that it’s just the way things are and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. People who are abused might mistakenly think they bring it on themselves by misbehaving or by not living up to someone’s expectations.[ii]
And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.’
One study on women’s abuse related: “Family friends and acquaintances compose the largest group of perpetrators (28 percent), followed by such relatives as uncles and cousins (18 percent), stepfathers (12 percent), male siblings (10 percent), biological fathers (10 percent), boyfriends of the child’s mother (9 percent), grandfathers and stepgrandfathers (7 percent), and strangers (4 percent).” The researcher was struck by the fact that 10 percent were biological fathers and only 4 percent were strangers. “Which means,” he said, “86 percent of the perpetrators were known to the family, but were someone other than the child’s father.” [iii]
It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them.
“Like in the general population, child sex abuse in the Catholic Church appears to be committed by men close to the children they allegedly abuse, many appear to use grooming tactics to entice children into complying with the abuse, and the abuse occurs in the home of the alleged abuser or victim,”[iv]
But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.
about the same incidence of abuse occurs among all the socio-economic classes. “about 85 percent of the offenders [of child sexual abuse] are family members, babysitters, neighbors, family friends or relatives. About one in six child molesters are other children.”[v]
But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.
Sexual abuse is especially complicated because of the power differential between the adult and child, because of the negotiations that must occur between adult and child, and because the child has no way to assimilate the experience into a mature understanding of intimacy. Regardless of the child’s behavior or reactions, it is the responsibility of the adult not to engage in sexual acts with children. Sexual abuse is never the child’s fault.
Sexual abusers can be:
parents, siblings, or other relatives, childcare professionals
clergy, teachers, or athletic coaches, neighbors or friends strangers [vi]
He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. God, who is enthroned from of old, will hear, and will humble them— because they do not change, and do not fear God.
Girls and boys are affected differently by abuse. Compared to boys, girls are more likely to internalize their response to violence, and experience, for example, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, low self-esteem and psychological disorders. Boys are more likely to externalize their response to violence, displaying, for example, increased aggression, delinquency and spousal abuse.[vii]
My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
We are all born innocent. Due to sexual abuse or subsequent sexual behavior, you may erroneously believe that you are bad, damaged goods, an object for someone else’s use. Let the past be past, and give yourself a healthy start. You are not strapped to the negative labels an offender may have called you or to the way you saw yourself as a result of the abuse. Now you have choice and can assert your true self with others. Old labels will disappear as you stop believing them and stop acting in ways that reinforce them.[viii]
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
[i] http://www.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/fm/childafs.html Child Abuse Factsheet: Department of Justice Canada
[ii] http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=chp&lic=48&ps=207&cat_id=20127&article_set=22594 Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
[iii] http://www.catholicleague.org/research/abuse_in_social_context.htm#_edn2 Sexual Abuse In Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Abusers citing works of (Wade F. Horn, “Common-sense article about abuse,” Washington Times, February 6, 2001, p. E1.)
[iv] http://www.americancatholic.org/News/ClergySexAbuse/ American Catholic article on Clergy Sex Abuse, Citing the John Jay Report http://www.usccb.org/nrb/johnjaystudy/ (
[v] http://www.catholicleague.org/research/abuse_in_social_context.htm Sexual Abuse In Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Abusers citing works of (Dr. Garth A. Rattray, “Child Month and Paedophilia,” The Gleaner, May 14, 2002.)
[vi] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm Help Guide Child Abuse
[vii] http://www.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/fm/childafs.html Child Abuse Factsheet: Department of Justice Canada
[viii] http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/sex/healing.html Sexual Healing by Wendy Maltz
This compilation of Psalm 55 and facts ©2006 Jill Maria Murdy. It may be used freely as a means of helping others heal. It is a portion of a larger prayer service that was originally held at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, West Bend, WI. 53095. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.jillmaria.com