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No Longer Hushed

Child abuse victims find healing through recovery in Christian contexts.
Second of two parts.

Nicole Braddock Bromley’s divorced mom, Cindy, remarried when her daughter turned 3. New stepfather Vince appeared to complete the perfect blended Christian family. Indeed, growing up Nicole emerged as the seemingly perfect girl, excelling as a student, athlete, and class leader.

Yet behind his veneer, Vince privately told vulgar jokes to his preadolescent stepdaughter. He showed Nicole pornographic movies, warning her never to tell anyone “our little secret.” At age 5, Nicole’s stepfather began molesting her, threatening that if she told her mother about their “special” relationship, Nicole’s mother never would want to see her again. He threatened to kill Nicole’s dog.

Manipulation of the vulnerable child continued for nine years. The confused and ashamed Nicole felt as though she had no recourse but to comply. Vince told her no one would ever believe the accusatory lies of a child against a well-respected adult.

Nicole remained silent until age 14, when Cindy became concerned about Vince’s increasingly controlling conduct. That’s when Cindy asked Nicole if her stepfather had ever behaved bizarrely toward her.

Nicole revealed the secret — and her mom instantly believed her. They fled the family home for their lives and went into hiding after reporting the abuse to the local children’s services agency. A week later, after police investigators questioned Vince, he committed suicide.

“So many are told to hush, to keep it a secret, so shame won’t be brought on the family name,” says Bromley, who wrote about her ordeal in Hush: Moving From Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse. “This furthers the lies told in the first place, and sends the message to the child that she isn’t good enough to be protected.”

Consequently, a victimized girl confides in no one else because the warning of the father — that no one would believe her — has been fulfilled. The mother, for myriad reasons, regularly chooses to believe her husband (or boyfriend) rather than to give credence to her child’s account. Thus, the child realizes the one person who could be her protector distrusts her.

Bromley, now 40, advises child abuse victims to keep telling an adult — another relative, a teacher, a coach, a pastor — whom they trust until someone believes them. Teachers and pastors are mandated by law to report a suspicion of abuse to child protective services authorities.

“The first step to healing is breaking the silence,” says Bromley, founder of OneVOICE, an organization that raises awareness of sexual abuse, assault, and trafficking. “No matter what the circumstances are, Jesus can take our pain and suffering.”

For Bromley, the effects of abuse didn’t end with her stepfather’s death. For years she confided in no one else, and coped by becoming even more involved in clubs, sports, and studies. High school classmates elected her homecoming queen.

Not until her sophomore year of college did Bromley seek professional help on her own to seek healing for the anger, bitterness, and hatred she held toward her stepfather.

A major trauma doesn’t go away when the perpetrator is no longer around. Bromley has found memories of abuse cropping up even at the joyful times in her life, such as her 2005 marriage to husband, Matthew, and the birth of their three sons, Jude, 11; Isaac, 9; and Kase, 5. The family lives in Columbus, Ohio, and attends a Vineyard church.

Along with being a mother, Bromley writes and speaks about abuse full-time at churches, high schools, women’s conferences, and especially Christian colleges. She also has written Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse.

Many perpetrators are unwilling to confess and repent of their actions. Bromley says a survivor can forgive the offender without a face-to-face meeting. She recommends confrontation only if there is hope of reconciliation — or if there is concern that someone else also is being abused.

While recovery groups for alcoholism, divorce, and porn addiction have cropped up in various churches, discussing sex abuse often remains taboo in Christian circles.

“Keeping sexual abuse a secret isn’t going to make it stop, and sweeping it under the rug won’t make us safe,” Bromley says. “If it remains unaddressed, it’s an injustice not just to the church but to the whole community.”

Churches need to be a secure place where pastors and laypeople are unafraid to enter into frank dialogue with survivors of abuse, Bromley says.

“It’s a conscious choice to let go of the need to force our abusers to fix or pay for the mess they have caused in our lives,” Bromley writes in Hush. “It’s a mental resolve to lay it all at the foot of the Cross.”

When Bromley began her ministry in 2003, she had few peers bringing the issue to light, but now many others are vocal activists for those who have suffered sexual abuse. One in three girls and one in six boys reports being sexually abused by age 18, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Healing is a lifelong journey, Bromley notes.

“The person I was supposed to trust the most — my stepfather — betrayed that trust,” she says. “He did horrible things, even though everyone in the community trusted him as a faith leader, coach, and businessman.”

In such scenarios, it’s common for victims to fall into an unhealthy pattern of undeserved guilt: I should have said no. I should have been able to get out of it. Then often comes shame for not telling anyone sooner. That frequently leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms that may include an eating disorder, drug addiction, or self-injury.

Bromley recommends abuse victims seek therapy and journal in an effort to process all the traumatic experiences.

“That opens doors for God to heal through the power of the Holy Spirit,” she says.

Of course the pandemic has created a surge in ungodly behavior toward children, including an increase in production and viewership of child pornography

Patricia E. Barrett of Emerge Counseling Services, the primary counseling partner for the Assemblies of God based in Akron, Ohio, says there is a real need for churches to reach out especially to blended families such the one from which Bromley came during the lockdown. When four parental figures are involved, there is more of a risk for a child’s well-being to slip through the cracks.

Barrett , 67, notes there has been an increase in marital separations during the pandemic, which adds to the stress of the custodial parent.

Since the quarantine began, Barrett has increased the time she spends in sessions solely with abusive parents to half an hour from 10 minutes in an effort to determine why they are acting out.

“This crisis can either make or break a family,” Barrett says. “If parents are crisis, crisis, crisis, the child internalizes, thinking, It’s hopeless; it’s never going to change.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.