The understanding stems from Scripture to which I have picked Ephesians 2.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used
to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the
air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh
and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature
deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Sin is death. It is the death in that there is separation from God. The separation does not need to be permanent. Christ gives life.
The victim is a victim whilst dead in sin. The sin need not be their own sin. The sinful acts of another person can entrap the victim into the death of sin. So, for a child who is under custodial care in an institution the sin of an adult sexual abuser entraps the child. The entrapment can be in the form of physical scars or psychological scars. The entrapment may later encompass resultant effects of the abuse – such as delinquency or disrespect for persons in position of authority. In respect psychological scars, the adult’s abuser has often exhibited more than sexual abuse. The adult abusers have often been guilty of theological sin (where the abuser justifies there actions based on an interpretation of the Bible), or authoritarian sin (where the abuser over-steps their role of office). So, just as the sin of the perpetrator can be multi-layered so can the scars of the victim be multi-layered.
However, the scars can be overcome. They can be washed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
The victim can become a survivor if they arise from the death of sin. This is often a long process. It is a process of healing. The victim often first has to shed any guilt – any thought that their own actions justified the perpetrator’s behaviour. Included within this is often a position of understanding self-worth – for example, some victims were in care because of their status as an orphan and they may hold to a stigma of first being orphaned. The victim then also has to perceive that some form of justice is dealt upon the perpetrator. The victim then needs to see repentance on the part of the perpetrator. At all times the victim needs balanced support. They need to be held in the love of Christ as they unpack layer upon layer of experience, ruminated thought and relived shock. Through the process they overcome the death imposed upon them by others and return to life. Indeed, through Christ they can return to life in the full.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is part of the process that brings justice. That the churches have not brought robust and complete justice systems into play is a shame upon them. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney is an example of one that has sought solutions of the Royal Commission (see this link).
The church wants to identify victims as survivors but has not satisfactorily employed Biblical acumen in arranging passage towards them being survivors. Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia Philip Freier is the latest to use the word survivors yet allegations suggest that some of the church’s most senior figures – ones who still hold positions of authority - covered up abuse. Effectively, the church will use the Royal Commission to fulfil a role that the church should have done itself.
Bishop Greg Thompson of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle is a victim and yet his leadership and forthrightness lend towards his emergence as a survivor.
Perhaps we should let the victims self-identify as victims or survivors – as an indicator of where they are on their journey towards life. This would be better than tarring them all with the one favourable brush. The church escapes no responsibility in drawing victims to survivorhood for that responsibility is incumbent upon the church in its role of dispensing the grace of God and the life giving stimulus of Christ.