Family Fallout from Sexual Crimes
I have a close friend, deeply involved in Christian ministry and family, who is a problem solver by nature. In one single day her whole life changed, and she lost her husband, her job, her home, her church, and to some degree, her children and grandchildren. She was completely blindsided, through no fault of her own. Walking with her through this journey has hugely impressed on me the far reaching consequences of sin.
Grace's husband Tom was a part time pastor, and full time in a ministry that involved teaching and mentoring, and running a residence hall where they lived. Tom was from a long line of well respected Christian workers. But he had some deeply seated issues that he never revealed to anyone. Then one day his sweet little granddaughter began to talk to her mother about something Grandpa did. As time went on, another granddaughter admitted that yes, Grandpa did some things she didn't like, that made her feel dirty.
What followed was a catastrophe. Grace and Tom met with the administrators of the ministry, and there, in front of other people she was informed that her husband of 38 years had sexually molested two of their grandchildren. They were told to leave their home on the campus of the ministry immediately. They could return in a week when everyone was on vacation, to remove their household items. That Sunday Tom confessed to the church he ministered to and resigned. Tom went to a motel, and Grace went to her son's house, to stay with his family.
The devastation was total. He had been her best friend, and now she saw all their years together in a different light, through the lens of deception and betrayal. Everything that she had believed about her life, her family, her value, her security, her purpose, her relationships, was suddenly plunged into the murky waters of questions - was it real, was it valid, and who was she now?
Dave, the son who welcomed her into his house, was the father of the two girls who were molested. Grace, in her shock, was surrounded by a family in shock, as they tried to deal with the trauma of their girls and the betrayal of their father. Everything that was healthy and beautiful suddenly became rank and sour.
Their daughter, June, who lived in another state was affected also. She also lost her father, as she severed relations with him, and struggled with the new family identity. Nothing she had loved about her family would ever be the same. Her children were not molested, but now would never visit their grandfather again. She struggled with helping her brother who had born the unimaginable. She struggled with wanting to help her mother, but lived too far away to be of any immediate help.
Tom's mother and father, who had been in ministry their whole life, now struggled with the knowledge of what their son had done to their great-grandchildren. Did they fail? What did they do or not do that led to this? Were the years of their successful ministry a farce? And now it is public, our family name is forever smirched. There was anger at Tom, and compassion and desire to help him, but how far could they go? Would standing by him be interpreted as support for what he did? Would they be able to maintain a relationship with their son as well as their grandson and great-grandchildren? Would they ever get to see them?
All this was only the first day of the revelation. There was no sleep for anyone that night. And this was only the beginning of the fall-out.
The Following Days
The days that followed were a whirlwind for this family. Grace, who had always been a problem fixer, was suddenly faced with something she could not handle. Constantly running through her mind were all the signs that could have been warning signs, but in her innocence she put them aside as she trusted her husband. When she did mention something to him, he had responded, "Don't you trust me?" This caused her to feel guilty, so she continued to let things go, thinking the best. Now she struggled with feeling like a failure for not calling him out, pushing the issue. Was this partly her fault? So in addition to feeling betrayed, manipulated, lied to humiliated by Tom, she also struggled with guilt. She felt her whole identity had been swiped away.
Grace and Tom went to their former residence to retrieve all their possessions and figure out what to do with them. They talked almost every day to deal with physical and financial arrangements. They were each unable to let go of their best friend for so many years. But every time they spent time together, their son David and his wife felt a boiling resentment. Tom turned over all their money and savings to Grace, out of grief for ruining her life. Grace felt the need to help provide Tom with money for living and food, but David wanted him to be cut off completely, as a result of Tom's actions. Tom was unable to get employment, or a place to live, so was often hungry. Grace was now torn between helping her struggling husband and angering her son. Both David and June wanted her to completely sever all ties with Tom, but Grace took her wedding vows seriously. She would never live with him, but she wanted to be faithful to him, continue to be his friend and help him in any way she could.
Tom needed counsel to help deal with his actions and their consequences. He suggested to Grace that they get counseling together, thinking that they were both affected and needed to deal with it together. Grace's anger flared up. "What good would that do?" she thought. "There is no 'we!' Doesn't he get it that this is over?"
As the days passed into weeks there was anger on all sides. Grace remembered all the times let her feel guilty, unprotected, and betrayed. Tom felt that Grace was "dumping" on him, and he wasn't allowed to say anything about his struggles. David and his wife felt betrayed by their father, and that their mother was not as dedicated to their side as they wanted. The two girls began misbehaving, hoarding candy, and having emotional outbursts. Grace was living with David's family, and wanted to contribute to the running of the house, and kept running afoul of her daughter-in-law. In confusion, she began staying in her own room as much as possible.
This all happened just under three years after an EF5 tornado had devastated the town. It was during these days that Grace said to me, "Why couldn't we have just died in the tornado before any of this happened? We would have together to the end, and happy. Why did other people die who should have lived, and we lived when it would have been better to die?" She assured me that she could never do any harm to herself because she could never hurt her grandchildren like that. But her pain was just as intense as any suicidal person. Tom's pain was too.
Tom went from one part time job to another, and one temporary living situation to another. It was hard to get employment with these charges hanging overhead, as well as the uncertainty of court hearings and trial dates. At one point he considered surrendering to the police and letting them take him into custody in order to have a bed, a roof, and three meals a day. But he wanted to be available to help Grace in any way he could. Tom's parents could not let him stay more than a few days at a time, as they lived in a retirement community.
The effects of Tom's actions spread far beyond his immediate family. The young people living in the residence they had directed were affected greatly. The members of the church were affected. One lady from the church came to me, desperate to talk. She had been sexually molested as a child by family members, and all this greatly affected her, causing depression and flashbacks. The minister of David's church was involved in bringing the actions into the open and dealing with fallout. The circle of influence widened each week.