How “Counseling Sexual Abuse” Blames and Shames Survivors

18 April 2013, 06:00



Versions of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) document “Counseling Sexual Abuse” were distributed at Advanced Training Institute (ATI) Counseling Seminars for over a decade. The document speaks for itself, but Recovering Grace would like to point out how victim-blaming and/or callous dismissal of abuse survivors’ pain is built into almost every one of the document’s ten points. Commentary follows below the document image.



Points 1 and 2 downplay the sexual abuse victim’s physical suffering as damage to the “least important” part of a person, with no mention of other possible effects of abuse.

Point 3 condemns the victim for self-damage (presumably to mind, will, and emotions left untouched by the abuser) and rebukes the victim for feeling not only bitterness, but also guilt.

Point 4 explicitly suggests that the victim invited the abuse by enticing the abuser or by earning divine wrath. This is a particularly stark example of Gothard’s theology: Gothard presents a God who passively or actively allows sexual abuse as just punishment for “immodest dress,” “indecent exposure,” “being out from under protection of our parents,” or “being with evil friends.” When this document was published, the IBLP operational definition of the term “defraud” was “to stir up desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled,” and a version of this definition is still used by IBLP. In the IBLP document, “Lessons From Moral Failures in a Family,” this concept of modesty and temptation is also applied to the sexual abuse of very young children.

Point 5 explicitly speculates that the sexual abuse victim is likely guilty for some part of the abuse or its aftermath, and appears to directly contradict Point 3, which reprimanded the victim for damaging his or her soul with guilt. “Moral vaccination” seems to reference a concept Gothard shared in seminars and conferences in the 1980s, when he told the story of a woman who struggled with unwanted sexual thoughts and eventually was raped. In the anecdote, Gothard described the rape and the woman’s subsequent aversion to sexuality as inoculation against lust.

Point 6 leads with the default assumption that the abused is usually at least partly at fault, presenting the guiltless abuse victim as an exception. This guiltless victim is told what great spiritual power he or she can expect to be compensated with after being sexually violated. While it appears that we have at last reached a bullet point that doesn’t chide or censure sexual abuse survivors, Point 6 has a dark reverse side that makes it as toxic as Point 4; if the abuse victim is not experiencing all seven evidences of being “mighty in Spirit,” does that mean he or she was not truly faultless in the abuse? If a survivor of sexual abuse does not adequately exhibit “spiritual discernment” and “creativity,” or feel “energy, enthusiasm, joy,” and “inner peace,” is that evidence of guilt or complicity in one’s own abuse? The standard for being “not at fault” is not only to have demonstrated perfect modesty and obedience before the abuse (by IBLP definitions) and to have harbored no guilt or “bitterness” after the abuse, but also to demonstrate seven arbitrary qualities of an extraordinary super-Christian soon after the abuse. It is a subjective test of guiltlessness few could pass.

Point 7 is an interesting choice of Biblical example of sexual abuse, but has some merit. Here Gothard conflates correlation with causation, indicating that Daniel’s wisdom, understanding, and position were direct compensations for physical trauma. Also telling is the absence of rape victims Dinah and Tamar as examples of guiltless survivors. Other IBLP materials denounce these women for inviting or failing to thwart their own abuse.

Point 8 presents a vicious false dichotomy that pressures the abuse victim to symbolically “choose” sexual abuse as a necessary accompaniment or gateway to being “mighty in Spirit.” This is not mere acceptance that the past cannot be changed, nor just a choice to make something positive of the situation going forward; this is a theoretical active choice in favor of being abused. Here Gothard defies his own admonitions to his followers to avoid answering questions about hypothetical situations.

Points 9 and 10 echo Points 1-3 in condemning any “bitterness” the victim may feel — and by word count this is apparently a far greater concern than the sexual abuse itself. The document presumes to know the exact reason for any “bitterness” on the part of the survivor: “He damaged your body.” No other reasons for anger or pain are considered here, and no other possible negative effects of sexual abuse are mentioned. In a trichotomistic document that asserts the importance of the soul over the body and the primacy of the spirit over both of these, negative effects on the victim are relegated exclusively to the lowest level, the physical, then effectively dismissed as petty. This slyly suggests that any continued pain or difficulty the survivor experiences is the result of carnality or insufficient dedication of the spirit to God. The document assumes that the victim is not already dedicated to God, and was likely not adequately dedicated to God at the time of sexual assault. Point 9 is a master stroke of passive aggression against survivors who would dare express any ongoing spiritual or emotional distress resulting from their sexual abuse. It silences survivors whose stories have not yet culminated in complete spiritual triumph.

Instead of the usual IBLP language of tearing down strongholds, reclaiming surrendered ground, and replacing strongholds with “towers of truth,” Point 10 advises victims to reclaim surrendered ground and “cleanse with rhemas.” This contextually unusual choice of language is darkly jarring in light of the feelings of being dirty that so many sexual abuse survivors report experiencing. Point 10 subtly supports the idea that sexual abuse survivors are in special need of purification.

The damaging potential of “Counseling Sexual Abuse” is not theoretical. The damage has already happened. The teachings outlined in this document have had devastating effects in the lives of real people. Click here to read one story directly affected by these teachings.

 If this sexual abuse series brings up any emotions that you would like to process with a professional counselor, please e-mail us at: [email protected]g. We would be happy to recommend some professional counselors who are associated with the Recovering Grace ministry and who are familiar with the fundamentalist background of ATI and IBLP.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.