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Justice and Forgiveness

Q. I don’t think I can heal until my abuser pays for what he did to me. Is ‘having my day in court’ really healing?
A. Abuse survivors who have held their abusers legally accountable have overcome the myths that they are powerless, that they were to blame, and that no one will believe them. They have gone from victim to victor, turned the tables and assumed control. One survivor who sued her abuser had described the feeling as ‘taking back the power that was stolen from me.’ But it can be a long and painful process and one you should undertake only after careful thought.

Q. How do I bring my abuser to justice?
A. Child abuse is a serious crime, and the police and District Attorney may be able to bring criminal charges against your abuser. You can also file a civil lawsuit against your abuser, demanding that he pay you compensation for the harm you have suffered.

Q. What is the difference between criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit?
A. A criminal prosecution and a civil law suit are separate legal proceedings. A criminal case is brought by the District Attorney on behalf of all the state’s citizens. Its main purpose is to protect the public from criminals. A civil suit is brought by you, the injured person. It is a demand that your abuser compensate you for the hard he or she caused.

Q. I was taught that a good person always forgives someone who hurt them. Do I have to forgive my abuser?
A. Real forgiveness is an act of strength, not weakness. It comes, if at all, only after you have taken control of your life, for only then can forgiveness truly be a free choice. Only you can choose when to forgive.

For some survivors, forgiveness is an important part of their personal healing process. For others, it will never feel right. Great evils and great injuries cannot be wished away. Forgiving must be your choice. It is also okay not to forgive, ever.

Even if you can never forgive, eventually you may want to ‘let go’ of your resentment. That is part of ending your abusers control over your life. You can also gain insight about your abuser. For example, you may discover that he or she was also a victim of child abuse and has suffered as much as you have. That does not excuse the abuser’s behavior or make him or her any less responsible for your pain. But this knowledge can help free you of the feeling that it was your fault.

The only person you need to stop blaming is yourself.


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