Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse

Within six months of moving back home, he and his wife divorced.

It didn’t take long for members of the church to start hearing rumors about the pastor’s son and his ex-wife. His father, the pastor, approached me privately. He made me aware of a deacon meeting that was going to be held to vote as to whether or not his son should step down from leadership.

The pastor convinced me to rally the troops to protest this decision. He asked me to get all the young adults in our church group to write up a testimony about how his son had helped them grow in the Lord since his return to New york. I was naive and eager to earn his respect, so I agreed to take part in his.

The deacon board voted and it was agreed that his son could stay on staff as the young adult leader.

There was a huge split within our church and those that opposed his staying on staff ended up leaving the church.

Shortly after, the pastor’s son and I ended up dating publicly, but the relationship didn’t last.  I started to study the bible for myself, and he quickly became physically abusive any time I challenged his manipulative and sinful ways. I resorted to coping behaviors I had learned while he was away at college.

One time he caught me out drinking alone. He was livid. He forced me to ride home with him to my parents house where I was still living. On the way we got into an argument and I tried to jump out of the vehicle as it approached  a red light. He caught me by the hair and pulled me back into the vehicle and proceeded to choke me out (the rear naked choke hold he used is a blood choke hold he practiced in his Mixed Martial Arts).

I wish I could say I wised up and left him after this incident, but I didn’t. I broke things off for a while, but he was relentless with his apologies and in pursuing me. I was eventually lured back into the relationship. It took yet another altercation where he knocked me out cold in front of my two year old daughter before I attempted to seek help.

That April, I wrote a letter to the director of counseling of the church and explained everything that had transpired over the last year, including how the relationship began in adultery and details of the physical abuse I endured.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was not the only women the pastor’s son had been grooming. While he went on to publicly date me for the first time, he was seeing another women behind the scenes. The neighbor of his divorce attorney. Three months after I broke things off with him, he went on to marry her.

That didn’t stop him from attempting to pursue me again several times after his second marriage, and even after I was married myself.

At my husbands suggestion, I reached out to the director of counseling, again, to make him aware. The counselor was (and still is) good friends with the pastor and his son. I realize now this individual was more concerned with the church image and protecting the pastor and his family because nothing was done to address anything that I reported to him.

My first abuser went on to adopt a little girl. She is currently sixteen. I can’t fathom the heinous things that poor girl has faced at the hands of her adoptive father. My childhood church could have engaged law enforcement when I finally came forward about him, but they chose to handle the claim internally within the church instead.

My second abuser, the pastor’s son, went on to allegedly abuse a sixteen year old girl, a German foreign exchange student who was living with him and his wife at the time. Shortly after she came forward, a young man and his wife’s sisters came forward to say they had been sexually abused by him too. Despite media attention surrounding these “sexual abuse allegations” he was promoted to head pastor and continues to maintain his innocence.

It has taken years of counseling for me to realize how deeply the grooming of these two abusers affected me. To this day I have night terrors, panic attacks, severe social anxiety, and issues trusting people in authority.

Some days are tougher than others. On the days I find myself struggling, I use that energy to pray for my abusers and for others like me.

I am a survivor.

I am not perfect.

I am not without sin.

The same God who sent His son to die on the cross as payment for my sins died for my abuser’s sins too.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or abuse and have remained silent, I want to encourage you to speak out.

I lived in fear and silence for years… No more!

Those who abused me no longer have power over me. Their lies no longer control me. I refuse to allow my past to master me.

God is faithful and promises to bring truth into the light.

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open (Luke 8:17).”

Please, Lord, protect the hearts of those closest to this story and comfort those who may still be hurting.  I know you allowed for even the darkest moments of my life to draw others and myself closer to you. Thank you for the heart of compassion you have given me, especially for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Thank you for being a shelter for the weak, and refuge for the oppressed. I pray those reading this who are still seeking will put their hope and trust in you. I pray this all for your glory, Lord, in Jesus name, Amen!

*RELATED POST – We Have This Hope: My Story of Sexual Abuse & Salvation

31 thoughts on “Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse”

  1. Hi Tina, I also attended VBC and I remember you and your family. We left the church in 1991 because I increasingly felt that it was a spiritually toxic environment. I’m very sorry you were victimized by some of those people and by the subsequent cover-up to protect the church’s “reputation.” I see via the church website that, despite the reports on the internet, PB is still in charge with his father teaching elder adult Sunday School. Anyone who still goes there has their head buried in the sand.

  2. I am very frustrated. Nobody at Victory Church knows that Paul Burress is a sexual predator because they covered it all up. Since then, Paul has gone to teen camp, ridden his motorcycle with women, and had access to hundreds of possible victims.

    Is there nothing more that can be done to prevent him from striking again? Everybody knows that predators that get away with it do it again. There will be somebody else whose story is exactly the same as the sad one Tina tells here if something isn’t done.

    Would victims be willing to go to the news? Or call individual deacons? Is there nothing else that can be done? Do we have to sit back and watch while Burress strikes again?

    1. The people that knew about Paul have all left, feeling helpless to do anything or, are there and hoping to change things from within. It was all kept very quiet and secret, even from the newer deacons that voted him in. Those deacons that knew about it did not know it’s true depth. The deacons have no power to change it back. It’s in the by laws.
      There are 2 ways to remove him from the very powerful position he is in;
      1) A victim must come forward and call the police. There was an open investigation with the Monroe County Sheriffs. Investigator Steve Peglow at 585.753.4722.
      2) The membership at Victory can vote him out. If they stop supporting him and ask for him to leave, he will have to. A new pastor would need to be found from outside the church. Those on the current staff are just as corrupt. There are plenty of good, solid pastors out there that would be happy to reform the leadership and the church could grow greatly from the new blood. I know it is a scary thing to change leadership, but God is in control, if you let Him do it.
      I was there myself when everything went down. I was helpless to fight it alone. It takes a group effort. One person cannot do it. They would find a way to make them go away. Every day I think about what is happening there and feel so bad for the people there that are unaware and for the victims of this man, both past and future.

  3. Much of what I would say has been said in the comments so many have posted. I was molested as a child and for many years even to this day have struggled with the thought that maybe I deserved being treated like I was…my value as a person was degraded and I thought maybe I did something to bring on or encourage the behavior. I now realize that this is exactly what abusers do to those they abuse. I was at the church you are talking about for 25 years and remember both you and your daughter as well as your parents. What is heartbreaking to me aside from all of what has happened to you (as if that is not enough) and to the other victims is how the congregation can be blinded to the truth and manipulated into believing lies. I was one who stayed throughout the first split. I believed whole heartedly that I was making the right decision to stay. I believe there are so many people who are trapped within this tangled web of evil. The people in leadership are using their knowledge of scripture to twist and use half-truths and smokescreens in order to maintain power and control. Somehow the attention has switched from the real victims to the pastor’s son. He has now become the victim of abuse and all others are trying to stop God’s work from moving forward. Any people who stand up and voice their concerns are unforgiving, gossips, who are out to cast stones. God’s word should never be used to promote or allow sin to continue unchecked. God has used this situation to bring me closer to Him and I can see He has done the same for you! However, I have this never ending dread that this behavior will continue and there are and will be more victims. A predator becomes more daring when they get away with behavior. He is now in a position of power greater than he was when he used that power over you and at least four others, not to mention his two wives. This behavior will continue. I’m glad this is on the internet…I’m glad many people have been warned…but I’m fearful that it is not enough. Please prayerfully consider pressing charges. There are many who believe you and many others who will believe you in time. God bless and care for you. What ever your decision, you are far braver than many people who have gone before you. God fill you with His Holy Spirit…bless and encourage you…and lead you in the way He would have you go.

    1. “A grand deception is achieved when offenders convince others that those who refuse to “forgive & move on” are the actual perpetrators.” -Boz Tchividjian

      This quote sums up my feelings regarding the twisting of scripture you spoke of. The same manipulation tactics were used against me. I felt like I was doing the honorable thing keeping silent all these years. I guess I just wanted to prove I could be loyal and forgiving. 🙁

      With that being said, no, I have no intention on pressing charges. My sister attempted to work with local police last year regarding the abuse she also experienced at Victory. I was present when the investigators visited. They were extremely dismissive and even went to the extreme of victim blaming. It saddens me how little our society thinks of victims of abuse and how quick they are to protect the abusers. Statute of limitations is up for both of us. The only thing we can do is speak out and hope that others come forward.

      At the root of all this evil is sin. The bible clearly tells us that we are all sinners. We all fall short. Not one of us deserves God’s grace (that includes me and my abusers too). Praise God, He offers it freely just the same to those who repent and believe. These Truths are what keep me moving and looking forward and I am blessed to have a husband who reminds me of them each day.

      I’m so sorry for all that you have been through, Brenda! I know how hard it can be to experience abuse. It breaks your trust in people, and if your heart is left untreated, that lack of trust can overflow and poison your view of self and God too.

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I will be praying for you and your family.

      God bless,

      1. You are very courageous speaking out about this, and I am so sorry you and the others went through that. It truly makes my blood boil.

        With that said though, I strongly recommend you pursue legal action if charges cannot be brought. While the perpetrators will not serve any jail time (they should), you will at least have effectively limited, or if all goes well, eliminated the pool from which they draw victims . That place is not a church anymore, it is a hunting ground for a predator who is protected by the others in charge. There are many women and girls currently trusting these “men” who have no idea. Short of legal action or media coverage, they never will.

        Please strongly consider it.

  4. Hey Tina,
    I just wanted to let you know that the boy and his sisters in law came forward before the German girl (myself) did. I would never have come forward if noone had asked and told me that others had come forward first. It was a very hard time for me as many ppl believed me – just not the ones in charge. It was due to the fact that I had feared noone would believe me that I had kept everything that he had done to me a secret for years. And one I hd come forward that is exactly what happened. Ppl did not believe me and covered everything up. Even my other host family, who I had lived with after moving out of the pastors home, did not believe me. My host mom said things like: “well I wasn’t there” and “he just is a little touchy, maybe you interpreted it wrong”…. some ppl said the letter I had written (it contained my whole story) must have been written by someone else who wanted bad things to happen to the oh so innocent pastor. They said a German would not have been able to write such good English…

    Thanks for sharing Tina! You are a very strong, courageous woman. I will pray for god to comfort you. Stay strong!

    Love and hugs.

    1. Someone close to the situation actually shared with me the letter you wrote to Victory Church’s leadership. It broke my heart to read. Your words could have been taken out of a page from my childhood diary. He said and did very similar things to me when he was abusing me (I’ll spare you the specifics because I don’t want to trigger you).

      I am grateful for your courage in speaking out. If I had not read your letter I would still believe the lie that what happened to me was an isolated incident, a temporary lapse in judgement. Your words made me realize the pattern of behavior on both the abuser’s and church leadership’s part.

      I am so very sorry you experienced abuse at the hands of someone who was charged with protecting and spiritually leading you. I want you to know that what happened to you was not your fault. You are a brave woman for sharing your story (regardless if it was you or the others who initially spoke out first).

      Thank you for reaching out, hon! I only wish we had connected sooner and under better circumstances. Know that you have been in my prayers often over the last year and that I will continue to pray for you. You are a child of the one true king. I am confident that He will work all things out for your good and His glory.

      Hugs & blessings,

  5. Oh Tina, first of all, thank you. Thank you for going here. Thank you for putting your worst lived nightmare online. Thank you for speaking light to what happened in the dark. More people resonate with this story than you will ever know. More people are encouraged by this than you will ever know. I am deeply sorry for these horrible things that happened to you. I wish I could rewind time and save you, but you have so much of a greater Savior than I could ever be. I love you deeply and just know my heart is reached out to yours and is extending a gigantic hug. Keep speaking truth and light and freedom. Don’t let the enemy get in. Cheering you on from the #RaRalinkup on Purposeful Faith.

  6. Wow, thank you Tina for your bravery. You are helping many. Sexual abuse is a bigger problem among church leaders than most realize. We have a friend who only counsels pastors in crisis. I pray that you continue to heal as God uses you to heal others.

  7. Tina, as so many others have said– you are beautifully courageous and brave to share your story. I am so grateful to hear how the Lord is weaving the pain you have experienced into a platform for you to love on others. Blessings to you as you walk this path.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Aundi. God is so good! I’m humbled and amazed by His faithfulness each and every day.

  8. Tina, my heart broke with each word you wrote. I pray God redeems your broken pieces as you share your story so that both you and others will find healing in His arms.
    Thank you, Tina, for bravely sharing your heart at #IntentionalTuesday on Intentionally Pursuing. : )

    1. Thank you so much for hosting #IntentionalTuesday, Crystal. The connections made have been a blessing. And, Thank you for your prayers and heart of encouragement too!

  9. Hi Tina, I’m stopping over from the linkup. As the other comments have already said, your vulnerability and transparency provide such a fertile ground for healing & ministry, not just for you, but for those who’ve gone through a similar experience. I’m saying a prayer right now that God will restore what’s been stolen. I love that regardless of our backgrounds or experiences, God’s pursuit of us remains the same.

  10. Tina,
    Thank you so much for your transparency and vulnerability. Thank you for trusting God with us, to share about this part of your life. You are a strong woman of God and I pray that God continues to use this for your good and His glory.
    Blessings to you sister,
    P.S. I was born in Upstate NY and grew up in Northern NJ. 🙂

  11. Thank you for being willing to share your story. I am so sorry for what you have endured, but I admire your bravery. I am sure God will use your testimony to help others that might be going through something similar. Visiting you from the Intentional Tuesday Link Up.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. May God use you to speak truth into the hearts of women who have faced abuse time and again. Press on, sweet sister!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Stephanie! I am blessed by our recent connection and your words of encouragement. 🙂

  13. Your bravery and transparency today is exactly what another woman needs to hear. God will use your story to begin the process if healing for others.

    My heart aches for the devastation of the abuse and the manipulation of the abusers. I will be praying for you and others who are experiencing the same things. Blessings!

    1. Prayers are always appreciated, Mary. Thank you! And, Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. God bless you, Tina

  14. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that, and at the hands of those who called themselves Christians. I think it happens more often than we realize. You are brave to tell your story. Maybe if more are willing to do that, they will finally be heard. What I keep hearing is that the victims are not believed and those who do the abusing go free in so many instances. This is so not right. Much love to you and may God bring healing to you and use your story to help others. I pray God will bless you richly!

    1. You are definitely right, Gayl. I can’t count the amount of women I have recently connected with that have similar stories to tell. I have found healing in bringing the truth to light and by encouraging others to break their silence as well. God has used these moments to teach and strengthen me and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Blessed as always by your encouragement, God bless, Tina.

      1. Tina,
        May God continue to encourage and strengthen you. It is never too late to press charges to stop this if they are hurting others.
        Have a blessed day!

        1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Monica.

          I heard statute of limitations is 5 years from the last incident of abuse or at age 23 if it occurred prior to the victim being 18. That means for me personally, I cannot pursue legal action unless I sued the church directly for knowingly covering up the abuse and enabling it to continue by keeping abusers in a position to abuse. I’ve opted to show grace and forgiveness and use the power of the internet to break the silence about what took place.

          Ultimately, I know God is in control and He is faithful to bring truth to light. I trust His means and timing and I’m blessed to know He shows me the same grace He has shown my abusers.

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