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“It’s Almost Impossible to Speak about It”: Sexual Abuse, Forgiveness, and the Need for Restitution Rituals

Journal article
Authors Lisa Rudolfsson
Fredrik Portin
Published in Religions
Volume 9
Issue 12
Pages 1-18
ISSN 2077-1444
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI)
Pages 1-18
Language en
Keywords church; congregational care; Christian worship services; forgiveness; interview study; restitution ritual; sexual abuse; victims
Subject categories Philosophy, Ethics and Religion, Psychology


The focus of this research was on ways in which Christian congregations can address the concept of forgiveness when caring for victims of sexual abuse, and to make suggestions for a restitution mass as a possible way for congregations to work with these victims. Interviews with seven women and one man, who were victims of sexual abuse, were analyzed according to inductive thematic analysis. Our focus was on abuse that had occurred outside Church, i.e., not perpetrated by representatives for the Church. The informants described how attending services in Church could trigger their memories of sexual abuse, and they struggled to understand the concept of forgiveness; who they were to forgive and what made their forgiveness good enough. They expressed a need for the Church to offer them a safe space, rituals where their experiences would be acknowledged, and to meet with other victims of sexual abuse. We argue that representatives for the Church need to acquire knowledge about sexual abuse and its consequences before offering care. Further, the presence of victims of sexual abuse in a congregation demands that the congregation create appropriate conditions where the victim’s needs and concerns are put into focus. Addressing forgiveness and offering rituals must be done in such a way that it does not consolidate the victim’s feelings of exclusion, guilt, and shame.

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