Words matter

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Words - courtesy of Pierre Metivier via Flickr

Words - courtesy of Pierre Metivier via Flickr

Words matter. They restore. They wound.

Words have opened the eyes of a blind beggar and welcomed a rejected tax collector. They have also sent millions to death camps and taught children to be terrorists. Perhaps Scripture communicates the power of words best when the Apostle James writes, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

Bill Maher - courtesy of David Shankbone via Wikimedia

Bill Maher – courtesy of David Shankbone via Wikimedia

In the past weeks, I have witnessed a seemingly new boldness to communicate incredibly wounding and cruel words to victims of abuse.  Such words are not confined by ideology, politics, or religious beliefs.  Just a few weeks ago, liberal agnostic “comedian” Bill Maher told Jimmy Kimmel, “When I was twelve, I was once brutally beaten on the playground by two bullies. One held me down, and the other just punched me in the face and if I could trade that, if I could go back to 1968 and trade that experience for being gently masturbated by a pop star I would do it in a heartbeat.” What is just as disturbing is the fact that these cruel words were repeatedly interrupted by laughter from Maher, Kimmel, and the studio audience.   Words matter.

Tucker Carlson - courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

Tucker Carlson – courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

Last summer, conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his audience that it should not be a crime when an adult female teacher has sexual contact with a minor male. Carlson stated, “It’s ludicrous that we are calling this a rape. Are you serious?” Words matter.

These wounding words have even spilled into the realm of politics. This past week, republican presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, released a new book that includes a chapter entitled, “Bend Over and Take it Like a Prisoner.” Regardless of the chapter’s subject, when the words “bend over”, “take it”, and “prisoner” appear in a chapter title, it is obvious that it is a vulgar and demeaning reference to sexual assault. Even if it was not intended as such a reference, the fact this repugnant chapter title has understandably disturbed many who have been sexually assaulted means it’s wounding. Words matter.

Governor Huckabee - courtesy of David Ball via Wikimedia

Governor Huckabee – courtesy of David Ball via Wikimedia

We’ve even come to the point where those who have been accused of sexual offenses have become emboldened to joke about it. As a female audience member of was getting up to get a drink at a recent show, Bill Cosby jokingly quipped, “You have to be careful about drinking around me”, which was an unmistakable reference to his alleged sexual assaults of numerous women. Again, these disgusting words were followed by audience laughter. Words matter.

Bill Cosby - courtesy of Wikimedia

Bill Cosby – courtesy of Wikimedia

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to grasp the traumatic reality that these words are terribly cruel to real people who have suffered through the real horrors of rape. These words shame victims and demean their very humanity. These words tell victims that they are worthless and expendable. These words curse treasured souls who are made in the likeness of God.

We all know that cruel and wounding words to abuse survivors are not limited to famous comedians, political pundits, politicians, or offenders.   We wound with our words when victims are told that they are being “overly sensitive” or are “too close to the issue” for us to take their concerns seriously. We wound with our words when survivors are warned that talking about abuse or warning others about abusers is sinful “gossip”. We wound with our words when suffering victims are told to “get over it” or “move on”. We wound with our words when those who have been assaulted are told that the reported offender must be given the benefit of the doubt. We wound with our words when we perpetuate the lie that abuse victims have a greater likelihood of becoming perpetrators. We wound with our words when victims are told that they are responsible in any degree for being abused. We even wound with our words when we lash back at victims who have hurt or offended us. The list can go on and on. All around us are suffering children of God who sink deeper and deeper into a dark and hopeless abyss while the rest of us move on with life, seldom realizing the devastating impact of our cursed words. It is so tragic.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words actually bring healing and hope? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where an agnostic comedian actually weeps for the shattered lives of boys and men who have been raped? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where a conservative commentator curses female teachers who use their position to access and sexually victimize students? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where a presidential candidate grieves and publicly apologizes for the words in his book that trigger dreadful memories in the lives of survivors? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where a sexual offender actually turns himself into the authorities and finds nothing funny about his abhorrent criminal behavior? Words matter.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words ask survivors to help us understand their pain? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words actually encourage survivors to speak about their abuse and to warn us about those who abuse? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words actually facilitate healing of survivors in their timing, not ours? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words assure survivors that we believe them and that we give them the benefit of the doubt? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words are never used to degrade survivors into believing that one day they may become perpetrators? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words repeatedly reassure survivors that they are never ever responsible for being victimized? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a world where our words comfort even those survivors who have offended or hurt us? Words matter.

I have yet to discover such a world, but I haven’t given up searching and will never give up hope. You see I am not the only one on this search. Each day I am blown away as I encounter more and more beautiful souls who are also searching for a world where words transform lives and fuel radical selflessness and love. Perhaps that discovery begins with these encounters and will become more and more contagious to the watching world. It’s worth a try.

I know such a world exists because I have seen a glimpse of it in the One whose words healed the sick, welcomed the rejected, empowered the powerless, and brought hope to all. What is almost incomprehensible to me is that he didn’t stop with life transforming words, but was the embodiment of radical selflessness and love.

He gives me the hope that such a world will one day be discovered and we will call it amazing.



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  • Patricia Lawler

    Thank you, dear good man.

  • Chaplain Martin

    I thank God for you Boz and for the work of GRACE. I used information from the GRACE website to help my church revise the personnel policy with procedures to report possible child abuse including sexual abuse. Also a policy for volunteers.
    I was a prison clinical chaplain for a number of years. I counseled with sex offenders and led a group of child sexual offenders. Frankly, I have little hope that those pedophiles would not again commit crimes against children. For with them it is a strong addiction.
    Protecting the most vulnerable in our midst is our duty and calling.

    God bless and kept enabling you in your work and the work of GRACE

  • Steve Boyett

    Keep up the work! I think one important step toward that amazing world that you write of is what you do-hold both the purposeful offender and the “accidental” offender accountable! I don’t think that three of the four examples given were “purposefully” attempting to make lite of the subject of sexual abuse, but they did! There needs to be a wave, wait, no- a tidal wave of this kind of information which will raise a higher sense of awareness which can lead to people uniting against this type of verbal abuse!

  • Tamara Rice

    Boz, this is spot on.

  • Learning to be a survivor

    Thank you for this post! These past few years have been some of the hardest in my adult years. I was seemingly living a normal adult life when the memories of past abuse tore apart my world leaving me with PTSD and so much confusion. I lost a lot during these few years.
    I have heard the words you describe here – words that ripped apart my heart. I heard them during abuse through my childhood and young adult years and have heard them in recent years while facing the past coming back up. I have heard words that have cut deep, especially when they come from those who claim to be followers of God.
    At the same time, I have heard words of patience, compassion and great kindness from a some – from GRACE and from a few friends who have walked this journey with me. As the journey seemed never ending and things felt hopeless, those few still gave me words of hope, kindness, support and encouragement. When I continued to struggle and the PTSD symptoms seemed like they would never go away, I was sure they would give up on me, but they haven’t. They still speak to me with words of hope, understanding and compassion. They speak words to me that give me courage and bring healing.
    Through those words, I am relearning who God is and that his love is real. I am finding healing. It often seems like three steps forward and two steps back, but I AM healing.
    Your work isn’t in vain!! Thank you for all you do!! For those who do walk alongside the wounded in our journeys, thank you! Your words of hope are not lost even when we struggle to accept or understand them. Keep on! Your words are making a difference!
    Perhaps there won’t come a day that those who speak with cruelty will stop, but perhaps there will be more and more who will speak out with words of kindness and compassion. Perhaps our words of hope and love can someday drown out the words of hatred and mocking. I know that there are those around me who are hurting and in reading this blog post, I am more committed than ever to do all I can to continue to speak words of hope and compassion to each of them.
    Thank you Boz for all you do!!!!

  • So Bill Maher is still telling that story? How tedious. When he said it several years ago on Craig Ferguson’s talk show, Mr. Ferguson immediately ended the interview and went to commercial.

  • Frightening to know that instead of ending interviews and going to a commercial break, the interview continues and everyone thinks its funny.

  • Thank you, Tam.

  • Wow…what a beautiful and hope-filled comment. Thank you.

  • Amen to that! Thank you, Steve.

  • Thank you.

  • Cynthia

    I have walked a road that is perhaps similar to yours. It is difficult for me to hear the response that “oh, that happened a long time ago”. As if childhood abuse has no long term effects. I have heard others express the deep hurt this statement causes. People are not aware of the depth of abuse in our being. But if they would genuinely sit in silence and listen to us, as adults, so much could be learned. Perhaps our healing would progress more easily. Also, perhaps others would dare to confront the affects of abuse in their own lives. Words are extremely powerful.

  • Learning to be a survivor

    I have heard that statement as well and it is isolating. I’m sorry you have heard it. For me, that is perhaps one of the most silencing statements. How does one explain to someone who doesn’t understand, just how much it ISN’T in the past? It’s especially hard to hear this from the religious world as it leaves me feeling as if God must be frustrated and angry at me for still struggling.
    When I have flashbacks, I feel as if it just happened that day and feel the same intense feelings of panic, fear, humiliation and shame, confusion, etc. I feel the same nausea, the same disbelief, the same shock, the same helplessness.
    I feel again the same confusion about God wondering if it was punishment for something I didn’t do right or if I wasn’t perfectly pleasing him enough.
    When I come out the flashback, I’m disoriented and sick and struggle to find a way to push the memory back into the past. How does one explain that to someone who thinks it was all long ago and don’t understand why it matters?
    I don’t think that Christians in an overall sense are comfortable with suffering or with walking with those who suffer. I also feel like, for many, the concept of sexual abuse is just something they don’t want to think of.
    I have learned the hard way to trust very few people, but to choose to trust those few. I don’t have the strength yet to open myself up to the general scorn that will come from much of the religious world. Perhaps someday, I will be strong enough that their words don’t matter, but that is not today.
    YOU matter. What happened to you matters. The abuse you endured was completely the fault of the abuser and it was evil. YOU are valuable. The abuser may have treated you as something worthless, but that is a lie. No matter how long it takes for you as you continue this path towards healing, know that it’s okay. Many of us are on that same journey. You are not alone!

  • Cynthia

    Thank you for your kind comments to me. We are sisters and I find there is a silent knowing amongst women who are victims of abuse. Somehow, we are the safest people to share with. My memories surfaced in my 40’s and I am now in my early 60’s. It have come to realize that healing is a lifelong process. That unraveling season of reliving body memories is perhaps the very most traumatic. It does seem that the abuse is reoccurring over and over, at unpredictable intervals. It is torture. The resulting anxiety and depression are nearly debilitating. This is one of the reasons peoples’ complacency is so hurtful.

    I would like to share with you the substance of a very important letter I received when I was first realizing that indeed, I had been severely abused as a 4 yr old, and again at a later time. The letter was penned by a dear friend of my parents. He was an editor for Scripture Press, well read and wise. We corresponded by letter for quite a few years. Ultimately, each time he would close by taking me to Jesus, but also dialogued helpfully on the topic at hand.

    The letter that opened my eyes to the severity of abuse on an individual stated that ‘abuse goes nearly to the core of our being for that is where our sexuality lies’. Oh my, I was quite upset by the truth of these words. So THAT is what is going on. He went on to explain that because it is at the depth of our being, it affects nearly every part of our being. (My autonomic nervous system was still developing when I was 4 yrs old) I think my healing will be a life long process. Finding the wounded little girl inside took me a long time. I love her now.

    Trusting God and staying connected to God is really only beginning to hold fast on my part in the last 5 yrs. Ridding myself of shame has been like peeling an onion. I think I’ve healed in this area only to realize I am shaming my self again. It is so subtle.

    I am proud of you for agreeing with yourself to begin the healing process. You are going to come more alive than you’ve ever been in your life. Your life is going to make sense to you. You are going to encounter remarkable people who will walk parts of your journey with you.

    Years ago, my daughter made me a picture and set it on my pillow. The picture was a mountain and colorful sun. The words were,”one step at a time when you make a steep climb”. I placed it back on my pillow each morning, for a long time.

    We can visit at this sight if you like. I’ll keep watch for you.

  • Shary Hauber

    Thank Boz Words are very important. I believe this is something we should talk about in our churches. I think many do no realize what they are saying. People often think they are joking and do not realize the hurt they are causing. Of course there are also those who say these things because they really think them. Those people should be verbally hung at the very least. Getting people to talk about this is very good. Thanks

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  • steve

    i am not saying people like tucker carlson are always correct in what they state..and i know your a sex crimes prosecutor and you have seen horrfic sexual crimes… but the facts are according to that bible you hold in your hand if a 15 year old boy was taken before god in the day of the bible and was caught over a span of time on the internet talking to a 20 something year old man and he went and slept with him there would be no victum mentaility god would have them both stoned..i have known atleast 10 myself included that at the ages of 14 and 15 have had consentual sex with people much older in thier 20s who were not rape victums ..did not feel like rape victums..werent truamatized and many actually enjoyed he experience..i also know many christians(while unbelivers) that in thier 20s did things like that and contary to what you say did not turn themselves in and they recived the baptism of the holy ghost evdenced with speaking with toungues and went on to live holy lives casting out devils and living for god..god approved thier repetence..i am not talking about forcible rape nor am i speaking about sex with 5 years olds or even 40 year olds with 14 year olds..but some of these cases there is no victum ..i know plenty of people who are friends with the people they had sex with to this day ..some were 15 and had sex with 20 year olds..some were 14 and had sex with an 18 year old..and various other situations..i know sometimes trauma does happen..but not every case is the same..in fact in the bible in jewish culture it was often times custom to have 14 and 15 year olds married to 25 year olds..the concpet of stuatory rape in that situation wasnt there…the age of consent is 15 in germany france..sweden and italy..lower is spain and china and japan…shoot in florida you can be 16 and have sex with a 23 year old and 364 days but if that person turns 24 they are all of a sudden a rape victim..which is absurd..i am sorry there is not some magic fairy dust you sprinkle on someone where the sexual..cognitive and physcial maturity all come together as the age of consent…..some of these cases with a 15 year old who turns consentual age in 3 months and is caught haveing sex with a 22 year old in which it was planned out…being rape and then magically 3 months later its perfectly fine is abit ridiculus. alot of these cases need to be tried case by case..what about the 15 year old who lies and says they are of age to the person then gets caught..i belive the underage person needs to be punished as well for cases like that…and for a 17 year old to be charged with rape of a 15 year old is a criminal offense in itself..i think its an insult to actual rape victims and child molestion victims to call that rape when its consentual

  • Shary Hauber

    Steve by making such a long list of those you think had sex and it was not abuse, you have just given an example of what Boz was talking about. Words do matter and yours bring us to the conclusion that the victim is usually at fault. Sorry your words are abuse in themselves.

  • MarkE

    Words do hurt, even unproven allegations. As the mess made at UVa by Rolling Stone has shown, we should refrain from labelling people until they were proven guilty. Not intended to invalidate the abuse and damage afflicted on victims of sexual abuse, using words like sexual predator for Bill Cosby – how is that different than what’s happened to men falsely accused in media accounts who later are found to be innocent? Not that it is rarely the case, but WORDS DO MATTER – for everyone.

  • Tom

    Shary, I’m not sure you’ll get much of a conversation if you plan to verbally hang those who have an honest difference of opinion and speak what’s really on their mind.

  • Shary Hauber

    Tom I have had many conversations with people who disagree with me on this subject of abuse. I explain my side, they explain theirs. We may not change our minds, but we both understand a little better the other person. I have done this in person not just on line. I don’t hang people by the way.

  • steve

    um no the people i listed do not think it was abuse and they are not victims as i said they are friends with those people to this day..if they are not traumatized..and they are fine with it and in many cases enjoyed it who are you to say they are abused..its up to the person rather they assume to be abused or not..you cannot call a 15 year old whos almost he age of consent and is the age of consent in half the world who sits online all day..if often already haveing sex with people thier age..and talks to a 21 year old all day on the internet and seeks out a sexual encounter and does it then often times does it over and over it agian and years later has no regrets for it and is friends with the person to this day rape..in the bible those ages would not have been called rape in that situation its mans modern day psychobabble that would consider that situation rape..if that situation happened in front of god as a judge in isreal in the torah..especially if it was a 15 year old boy and a 21 year old man ..would call call that 15 year old a victim or would he have him stoned right along with the 21 year old..ask yourself that..i am not speaking of a 21 year old and a 5 year old..nor am i speaking of a forcible rape situation ..or a 40 year old with a 13 year old..im speaking strictly of these kinds of situations..sorry the only people on many cases who claims they are a victim is people like you i know many that dont consider themselves victims at all..its up to the person who had the experience to decide if they feel victimized..you cant make that call for them

  • steve

    so are you saying the 14 or 15 year old who purposefully lies about thier age to someone and then the person gets caught with him or her that the “child” has absolutley done no harm nor needs to have any blame at all? would the bible you claim to believe in and read everyday make the same call? you guys be surprised at gods judgments vs yours…

  • Tom

    Sorry, Shary. I was having trouble parsing your comment that “people should be verbally hung…” What did you mean?

  • Shary Hauber

    Tom words matter very much. Some people use words to silence those who have been abused. When it is obvious that this is what is being done they should be publicly exposed, or verbally hung.

  • Tom

    Shary, referring to your reasons for exposing bad behavior, I don’t particularly disagree in principle. In practice, however, my question is “By whom? How? After what safeguards?” If words matter, this should be a central issue.

  • Pilgriim

    Boz, is the e-mail exchange published between you and Leah on http://www.romancingvictims.net/boz.html an actual e-mail exchange? Some are claiming that it was faked.