Retreat seeks to help female victims of sexual abuse

.- In January, the Diocese of Austin, Texas will offer a retreat for female victims of sexual abuse.  The retreat, entitled “The Healing Heart Retreat,” is designed to begin healing the participant’s relationship with God.

Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton, Texas held its first-ever retreat for victims of sexual abuse earlier this month.  Due to the success of the weekend, organizers scheduled a second retreat to be held January 30 – February 1.

Beverly Collin and Patricia Stankus, who are trained spiritual directors and veteran retreat presenters, will lead the January retreat. Both women have worked at the parish and at the diocesan level for many years and they have been trained to work with those who have suffered sexual abuse.

Collin said such abuse often shatters a woman’s intimacy with God.

“The abuse can cause a person to reject God, to withdraw from God, to cower from God or to deny God exists,” she said. “This retreat is designed to begin healing the participant’s relationship with God.”

Sexual abuse can range from sexual assault to incest to date rape to being inappropriately spoken to or touched. Stankus said the trauma of sexual abuse is often buried in one’s heart for years and the first step to healing is admitting one is a victim of abuse.

“Sexual abuse can affect every aspect of life,” she said. “Often 10, 20 or even 40 years later, the coping mechanisms people create to deal with it just stop working and their world falls apart.”

At that point, abuse victims have a choice, they can either remain victims or seek help and become survivors, she said.

Stankus said the road to healing can be a long journey, but in her experience with working with victims, what often helps the most is knowing that one is not alone on the journey to healing. And that is where the retreat comes in, Collin said.

“Through this retreat, we hope to provide a very safe, comfortable place for people to share as much or as little as they are ready to share,” she said.

Licensed therapists will be available to help participants deal with the emotional and psychological effects of the abuse. A maximum of 10 women will be allowed on the retreat because of the sensitive nature of sexual abuse.

“We want to be able to care for each participant spiritually, emotionally, prayerfully and lovingly, so we have to keep our numbers low,” Collin said.

Stankus and Collin have led many retreats together and they trust the Holy Spirit to lead the retreat in the right direction.

“We want to provide a gentle, supportive and loving atmosphere,” Stankus said. “We can’t force things to happen and we can’t fix everyone, but we can provide the environment and invite the Lord in to do his work.”

The idea for a retreat of this nature was born when a young woman who had been sexually abused approached the Austin Diocese about helping victims of sexual abuse.

“She was looking for some type of spiritual support, but found nothing,” Collin said. The diocese formed a task force and sent Stankus and Collin to workshops designed to help retreat leaders work with victims of abuse. Yet, even after attending the trainings, the women were not convinced that they were ready to lead this type of retreat.

“I think it took both of us a while to realize we were being called to do this,” Collin said.

To register for the retreat, email Beverly Collin directly at [email protected] Confidentially is assured.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Spirit, newspaper from the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

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