“I’M NEAR 40 now,” says Eilene. * “And even though my problem is over 30 years old, it still haunts me. The anger, the guilt, the problems in my marriage! People try to understand, but they just can’t.” Eilene’s problem? She is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and for her the effects have proved to be long lasting.

Eilene is far from alone. Surveys indicate that an alarming number of women—and men—have suffered such mistreatment. * Far from being a rare act of deviant behavior, then, childhood sexual abuse is a widespread affliction, one that cuts across all social, economic, religious, and racial lines.

Fortunately, the vast majority of men and women would never even think of mistreating a child in this way. But a dangerous minority have this sick inclination. And contrary to stereotypes, few child abusers are drooling homicidal maniacs who lurk around playgrounds. The majority are persons who have cultivated a convincing veneer of normalcy. They satisfy their perverted lusts by targeting naive, trusting, defenseless children—usually their own daughters. * Publicly, they may treat them kindly, tenderly. Privately, they subject them to threats, violence, and humiliating, degrading forms of sexual assault.

Admittedly, it is difficult to comprehend that such horrors could take place in so many seemingly respectable homes. Even in Bible times, though, children were used “for the momentary gratification of . . . sensual passion.” (The International Critical Commentary; compare Joel 3:3.) The Bible predicted: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves . . . having no natural affection . . . without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” Therefore, it should not surprise us that child abuse is taking place on a large scale today.2 Timothy 3:1, 3, 13.

Childhood molestation may leave no physical scars. And not all adults who were victimized as children are visibly distressed. But as an ancient proverb observed: “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain.” (Proverbs 14:13) Yes, many victims have deep emotional scars—secret wounds that fester inside. Why, though, does childhood molestation wreak such havoc in some? Why does not the passage of time alone always heal its wounds? The magnitude of this distressing problem demands that we address it. True, some of what follows may be unpleasant to read—especially so if you have been a victim of childhood abuse. But be assured that there is hope, that you can recover.

^ par. 2 All names have been changed.

^ par. 3 Because definitions of sexual abuse and survey methods vary greatly, accurate statistics are nearly impossible to obtain.

^ par. 4 Most victims are molested by their biological fathers or their stepfathers. Abuse also takes place at the hands of older siblings, uncles, grandfathers, adult acquaintances, and strangers. Since the vast majority of victims are female, we will generally refer to them in the feminine gender. For the most part, though, the information presented herein applies to both sexes.