I received this question this weekend from our anonymous Have A Question page:
My wife as had a brother commit incest sexual touching and masturbation on her and other in her family from around 6-9 year old. She has strugle with sex and being touch since we got married 25 years ago.
She has done conselling and praying for this and also together.
She is trying to forget him but just cant and wants to know what does the bible says about forgiving in this case ?
This brother as had incest with his daughters and son also but she doesnt want to expose the truth to all as it will be too hard on my wife (her) but shes afraid for his grand kids and others.
Looking for guidance.
So, we have a few things going on here (as we often do), so let’s take a look at them individually.
Do you expose a family member as a child molester?
Alright, this is just my opinion, but I say yes! Definitely! And here’s why:
It’s not about the past, it’s about the present and the future. Fact is, people who sexually abuse children often continue this pattern for the rest of their lives. And you know he has not only with your wife, but with his kids. Safe bet that any grand kids are next. So, while I understand that it would be hard on your wife, think about all the other kids that are going to grow up having damaged marriages and sex lives because she kept silent.
I get that it’s a really hard thing to do, but in my opinion, this isn’t even an option. In fact, I’m going to be brutally harsh here and say that not exposing him is an accessory to child abuse in my opinion. She’s enabling him to continue abusing children, and that’s not acceptable. If my wife told me something like this, I think I’d ask her to call the police, and if she didn’t, then I would, because I couldn’t live with that knowledge knowing that it was still going on behind the scenes. But, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Guilt and shame from abuse
A lot of people experience guilt and shame from abuse, and I’m really not qualified to discuss that. However, I’d image there’s a ton of additional guilt and shame from keeping this a secret and allowing it to continue all these years. I mean, we’re talking 40+ years of dealing with this, knowing it’s still happening? Yeah, I’d imaging there’s a ton of continuing guilt and shame going on. Usually I’d suggest what you’re already doing: counseling and prayer. But, if she’s feeling guilt about staying silent…all the counseling in the world about the abuse won’t help, because that’s not what she’s feeling guilty about.
Forgiving an abuser
So, there’s a couple issues here. Firstly is that it’s really hard to forgive someone while they’re still actively sinning. If you know your brother is still committing these crimes, then, yeah, it’s going to be really hard to forgive him. But, it can be done. And the only way is to focus on Jesus, not on your brother. We don’t forgive because the person is good, or because they are trying to be better. We don’t forgive so that they will be healed. We forgive because Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13). Also, we forgive so that we can receive healing.
Holding on to anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred, etc., they don’t hurt the other person. They hurt us. Holding on to all of that can both poison your heart emotionally and psychologically, but also have physiological effects like increased blood acidity, stress, etc..
For me, the key is realizing that we’re all sinners. While we often categorize sins differently (like child molesting vs. having an unforgiving spirit), the fact is that with respect to our relationship with God, they’re equal in the sense that they both separate us from Him. Now, the one has a far more negative social impact on our world (especially to the abused kids), but both need the same forgiveness from Christ.
Now, that doesn’t mean that “oh, all is forgiven, and now we don’t need to tell someone”. No, someone in authority still needs to be told. Child abusers are mentally ill and need to be either reformed or removed from the population. From other people’s perspective, they need to know that their children are not safe with your brother. From your brother’s perspective, he needs not to be put in situations where that’s a temptation. To hold back this information is to harm your brother, as well as all his potential victims.
And when you can look at it that way, when you can see him as a broken person who needs healing and forgiveness as much as all of us….then forgiveness will come. I’m not saying it’s easy. But, it is possible.
So, that’s my opinion, but ultimately the decision is yours and your wife’s. I hope, if your wife tells the authorities about it, that it brings her peace. I hope it can start to bring some healing to your marriage as well. But, I also understand that I’ve never been affected by child abuse, so this is my very “ivory tower” opinion. So, I’d love to hear from people who have experience with this in the comments below. Let me know what you think.