Silent Suffering and Dead Eyes
6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones
who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him
to have a large millstone hung around his neck
and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
(Matthew 18:6, NIV)
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online with an estimated revenue of $3 billion a year. Most images are of the very young, and most are violent in nature. Among people who share images of child pornography, called “Peer-to-Peer Sharing,” 1 of every 3 had photos of children age three or younger, and almost half had images of children that showed sexual violence.
One of the most disturbing things I’ve read in recent memory was an article in the Washington Post by a woman named Sarah Chang on this very subject. Sarah works as a federal prosecutor of sexual abuse crimes against children. Her office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting such things as the production, possession and trafficking of child pornography.
During her first week on the job, she said that one of her colleagues gave her some advice on how to cope with what she would have to view in terms of video evidence. Her colleague said, “Turn the sound off.”
All Sarah could imagine was children screaming, crying and shrieking in pain.
Then came her first case file, containing multiple CDs and DVDs showing a young girl being abused by her father, who filmed his crimes with a handheld camera. So she went to the forensic computer lab and braced herself. And despite her colleague’s warning, she knew she didn’t want to remain deaf during her first pass at the evidence. So she left the sound on in order to feel the horror of it all and to make sure she didn’t miss anything that would affect their case.
But she heard nothing.
She turned it up higher.
She turned the volume up as high as she could, but all she heard was silence.
The five-year-old girl said nothing – not even a sob.
And that’s what she found in video after video,
She later learned that this is a typical reaction of young sexual abuse victims. Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which is also why they are reluctant to report the incidents, and why they tend to accommodate their abusers. Their helplessness is rooted in the complete breach of trust they’ve experienced because, all too often, their abusers are people they expected would protect them. According to the Justice Department, more than 80 percent of sexual abuse offenses against children are committed by people they know:
...parents, relatives, daycare providers and other trusted adults.
Which is why the vast majority of cases are never reported. The “trusted” adult tells them to keep it a secret, or that it’s an act of love between them, or that they’ll hurt their family, or that it will get them in trouble.
Sarah writes that on some days, she has to look at 50 images, and on others, up to 300. She dreads the videos the most. Because not only does she face the children’s silence again, but in both the photos and videos, their eyes, she says, are dead.
If you ever thought the verbiage Jesus used about children and millstones was harsh, perhaps you should think again.
Might I add a few pastoral words?
If you were abused as a child, it was not your fault. There’s so much guilt and shame carried around by people who have been the victims of child abuse.
It’s not your fault.
I don’t care what they told you. I don’t care if you went along.
It’s not your fault.
But you do need to process what took place, with professional Christian counselors, and get the care that you need. And let Jesus enter into your pain with you.
Here’s another pastoral word:
If anyone reading this knows of any abuse of a child, report it. It doesn’t matter who it is – report it. Nothing is more important than protecting that child and other children like them.
For some reason, people feel like a family tie, or even a church’s reputation, is more important to protect than a child.
No. No. No.
What matters is that child;
...their silent suffering, their dead eyes.
James Emery White
Mary L. Pulido, “Child Pornography: Basic Facts About a Horrific Crime,” Huffington Post, January 23, 2014, read online.
Sarah Chang, “I watch child pornography to prosecute sex crimes. The kids’ silence is deafening,” The Washington Post, October 23, 2015, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.