Sexual violence, including child sexual abuse, spans across all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. According to a Child Maltreatment report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, 60,956 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in the United States in 2013. On top of the guilt and shame that abuse can bring, most victims know their attackers, which can lead them to be silent about their traumatic experience. Staying silent, however, does not lead to healing, according to Shannon Deitz, abuse survivor and founder of Hopeful Hearts Ministry.
Recently speaking at Baylor University Chapel Deitz specifically addressed sexual assault and date rape. Shannon comments “In helping survivors recognize the abuse they have suffered and being able to speak about it allows a deeper level of healing.” Through Hopeful Hearts, survivors receive compassionate support from a trusted peer and are able to realize that the abuse they have endured does not define them as a person. As a result, they are able to rise above victimization, embrace their full potential, and thrive.
“Both sexual assault and child abuse are so devastating that most of us don’t even want to think about them being present in our society. This makes it extremely difficult for any victim of assault or abuse to feel comfortable enough to speak out, which is exactly what they need to be able to do. Be it a child, a teenager or an adult, anyone who has been abused needs to be able to speak about what has been done to them without question or judgment.,” comments Dietz. With this in mind, Hopeful Hearts Ministry started the “I Have a Voice” abuse awareness project where survivors share their personal stories of abuse (domestic, sexual, incest, rape, neglect, emotional and verbal) through intensely personal and honest YouTube videos. The nine videos have been viewed more than 5,000 times and show the power of giving a VOICE to survivors that was once kept hidden, and not only aides in their personal healing, but shows others they are not alone and there is reason for hope.
Five years later, Hopeful Hearts Ministry has outgrown its facility and the number of survivors from all of over the world receiving peer support, Christian counseling, and attending the programs it offers has grown exponentially. The organization receives at least two to three calls a week from new survivors seeking healing support. “It’s a catch 22 with the growth of our organization,” said Deitz. “On the one hand, I would rather be out of this business because there are no more survivors to help. But until then, I will continue to do what it takes to offer the programs and services needed to help survivors thrive in this life.”
Hopeful Hearts has served over 350 abuse survivors on four continents with individual and group peer support sessions. 90% of these individuals are female; and 75% have survived sexual abuse. Deitz has participated in over 60 public advocacy opportunities for abuse survivors.
With firsthand experience, Deitz understands the pain and stigma of being a survivor of sexual abuse both as a child and as an adult. She sees the month of April as an opportunity to encourage other survivors to speak up and speak out, knowing that it is a crucial step towards healing. “The shame, despair and inability to cope with the painful events can lead to depression as well as dangerous behavior, as survivors tend to seek other ways to block out the memories and dull the pain.” comments Deitz. “My goal is to help others see their worth and become the best they can be.” Through the power of her own testimony, she helps people see that they no longer have to live as a victim. They can begin a journey of healing because they are not defined by their past and they have immense value.
In her newest release, Redeemed (Hopeful Hearts Ministry October 2016), Deitz shares the struggles she has faced, including how she worked to overcome sexual intimacy issues, and abusive behaviors that carried over into parenting. Redeemed reveals the self-destructive behavior Shannon was led into because of the shame of rape and guilt of self-imposed inexcusable sin during her formative years. Deitz, in a gripping and riveting read, unfolds this truth through the continuation of her journey in accepting love, intimacy, worthiness, and forgiveness. Redeemed portrays Shannon’s ever strengthening love story with God as she struggles to accept the good gifts He has waiting for her, and the courage it takes to trust God and others, when her spirit has been so deeply wounded by sins of her past.
“Survivors want to know they are being heard and that they will be safe and protected,” explains Deitz. “We do not need to be silenced because our situation makes others feel uncomfortable. To the contrary, we need people around us who are willing to listen and willing to stand up for us if we choose to go public.” This focus in April is important because the more people who become aware of just how prevalent this problem is in our country, the more beneficial it will be for everyone. Being able to share our story with others serves to help prevent future abuse from taking place. If there is a survivor in your midst, be willing to listen. Be willing to hear their story.”