A few months ago, I was contacted by an individual from Florida who simply wrote to encourage me. As we exchanged emails, I learned that this man is a child sexual abuse survivor who credits an amazing (and generous) counselor for saving his life. He was so moved by this experience that he decided to commit his life to helping other survivors connect with qualified counselors who can guide them through the healing process. In 2011, he took the bold step towards this commitment and started an amazing organization called Together-We-Heal.

Below is my interview with David Pittman, a man whom I admire greatly for rolling up his sleeves and getting into the trenches to love and serve survivors. I’m also blessed to call him my friend:

Boz: Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed. What is your connection to child sexual abuse?

David: My connection to this subject is two-fold. First, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. From the time I was 12 until around 15 years old, I was molested by my youth minister at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, Georgia. My other connection is through an organization I have started called, Together-We-Heal. The purpose of this organization is to help sexual abuse survivors get connected with qualified counselors . We help raise awareness on all matters concerning child sexual abuse through public speaking, presentations and workshops. We also help to facilitate the change of laws that will better protect children from and that require more severe penalties for the offenders (i.e. statute of limitation law reform).

Heal? - photo courtesy of Adam via Flickr

Heal? – photo courtesy of Adam via Flickr (Image source)

Boz: What ever happened to the man who abused you?

David: Years after the abuse, I informed the church about what happened and who abused me. The pastor reluctantly removed him from being a paid staff member, but allowed him to volunteer as a music leader. To my knowledge, he is still there and continues to have access to little boys. What I don’t understand is why anyone would allow their children to be around him when they know that he’s an admitted child molester.

Boz: Did you ever inform the Southern Baptist Convention that one of their churches is knowingly allowing an admitted sex offender to volunteer and have access to children?

David: Yes. When I informed the SBC, they responded by telling me that there was nothing they could do about it. In essence, they were telling me, “It’s not our problem.”

Boz: Can you tell me some ways abuse has affected your life?

David: For more than 30 years, I repressed the memories of abuse by attempting to dull my pain though abusing narcotics. This took me down a path of self-destruction, addiction and incarceration. After decades of failed relationships, jobs, overdosing multiple times and being in jail, I finally hit what is called “rock bottom” and decided I didn’t want to die. So I began working a program though Narcotics Anonymous and am now almost 9 years clean. Once I got clean, I was finally in a position to face the issue of my childhood abuse. The only way for me to do this in a healthy way was to seek professional counseling. Fortunately, I found someone who helped me without charging me anything in return. I was finally able to begin a life of healing by using the tools I learned in counseling to help me process and cope with the pain of having been sexually victimized as a child.

Boz: Tell us a little bit about Together We Heal and what led you to start such an amazing organization?

David: I must admit that initially there were no altruistic motives. I was journaling as a step in my process to healing. As I wrote more and more, my counselor and a couple of friends said I should consider writing this on a blog. As I began to get responses from the blog, the overwhelming question I saw was, “Where can I get help?”

It was at this point I realized I had a choice to make. I could either continue just blogging, or I could try to do something about all of the abuse survivors asking for help. Since I had found a counselor who helped me, I figured maybe there are more counselors willing to do the same.

So I began reaching out to counselors all over the United States to help me help survivors. We now work with qualified counselors on three continents all helping survivors of child sexual abuse.

Boz: In your opinion, do all abuse survivors need to see a therapist? Why or why not? 

David: I definitely believe it’s crucial for survivors to get help from a qualified counselor. What we’ve been through is an extremely traumatic event or in some cases a traumatic period of time. Just like a soldier returning from war who is encouraged to seek the help of a trained professional, abuse survivors need the same type of assistance.

For a long time in this country, people held a false notion that seeking counseling was a sign a weakness. As a result, many abuse survivors suffered in silence and isolation. It takes incredible courage and strength to acknowledge that you need help and are willing to ask for it. My hope is that Together-We-Heal will be able to serve survivors by empowering them to find that inner strength and to seek help.

Boz: When an abuse survivor contacts Togther-We-Heal, do you help connect them with a qualified counselor? Also, how do you make sure the counselors are qualified to provide the specialized therapy needed by survivors?

David Pittman - photo courtesy of David Pittman

David Pittman – photo courtesy of David Pittman

David: Yes, we want survivors to contact us and we will work hard to connect them with a qualified therapist. So far, we have been able to get just enough counselors to donate their time to assist all of those who have come to us. However, we are constantly in need of more counselors as the need grows on a weekly basis.

We do extensive background checks, which includes making sure to verify their degrees and specialty certificates. We will even call the registrars at academic institutions and training centers to substantiate their qualifications. We are committed to doing whatever we have to do to make sure the counselor is qualified to handle issues related to trauma.

We also look counselors with a wide variety of backgrounds. We don’t want just a set of “cookie-cutter” counselors who all do the same thing. We seek out individuals who are best able to address the unique needs of each abuse survivors. Also, we are not limited to just faith based counseling. Oftentimes, abuse survivors need a more secular approach to therapy. Our primary objective is to connect each survivor with the counselor that will best be able to work with then through this journey of healing.

Boz: What if a survivor doesn’t live near a qualified counselor?

Jamie: When location is an issue, as it often is, we will setup counseling either over the phone or via computer. At first, some “old school” counselors told us that this wouldn’t work. Not only have we found great success doing it this way, but the American Psychological Association recently published a study that found over the phone or computer counseling to be just as effective as in-person…sometimes even more so. Some folks find it easier to open up when not staring down the barrel of a pen and paper counselor sitting across from them.

Boz: Many survivors I know don’t see a counselor because they simply can’t afford one. How do you all handle those situations?

David: We have a system in place to assist survivors who do not have the financial resources for therapy. We have counselors who have generously donated their time to provide counseling for no cost. I want to mold Together-We-Heal after the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital standard that no one be turned away because of cost. So far we’ve been able to meet that objective!

Boz: What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced as an abuse survivor within the Christian community?

David: What genuinely breaks my heart is the way the church continues to protect the predators and re-victimize the abused. For example, my abuser has admitted to sexually abusing me. Even when being informed of this admitted abuse and knowing that this perpetrator still has access to children, the leaders of the denomination have deliberately chosen to do nothing. To make matters worse, when I called the pastor of the offender’s current church, I was told to leave them alone. I was told that I am a “bad person” for continuing to bring up what happened in the past. The problem is that these pedophiles and sexual predators never stop. Since I came forward I’ve had 7 other men reach out to me and let me know that this man continued to sexually abuse others in at least three other churches. The only response from the church has been silence.

Tragically, my story is the rule, not the exception. It goes on in every denomination and faith community. Our faith leaders continue to keep their heads in the sand, allowing the abuse of the very ones they are charged with protecting, our children.

In my opinion, those who protect predators are worse than the offenders. It’s like approaching a scorpion, you know it’s a scorpion and it will hurt you. That’s what predators are. But the church and religious leaders are allowing scorpions to run free among the parishioners.

Boz: What do you see as some of the greatest challenges facing the modern day Church as it relates to understanding and serving abuse survivors?

David: I believe if real and lasting change isn’t made in how the Church understands and addresses sexual abuse, we will continue to watch the decline of the Church. Religious leaders must take accountability for the damage done and begin loving and assisting the abused, rather than protecting the offenders.

Boz: Do you have any suggestions as to what can be done to address these challenges?

David: The leaders of faith communities, schools, and other institutions where children are at risk, must begin by providing a safe environment. This includes training their members to detect the signs of “grooming” that are so common amongst offenders. If the leadership fails to move in this direction, we will continue to see more and more abuse tragedies. Sadly, what happened at Penn State and is happening in the Catholic Church is much more common than most realize. Our faith leaders must recognize this reality and do something about it.

We also need to train parents how to begin educating their children about sexual abuse from an early age.

Finally, we need to put pressure on our elected officials that if they don’t change the statute of limitation laws they will not be reelected. That seems to be the only language they understand.

Boz: I often share that though I am constantly confronted with darkness and pain when addressing abuse, God gives me a front row seat in watching Him at work in some amazing ways. Have you had similar experiences? If so, can you share a little bit about that?

David: Yes I can I completely relate to what you’re saying. I got a phone call not too long ago from a survivor in distress. It was clear from what they were telling me they were having suicidal thoughts because they felt like they couldn’t endure another day of reliving the pain of the sexual abuse. After spending about two hours on the phone with them, I set up a counselor to work with them. About a month later I got an email from this same person telling me how grateful they were they found us online. It turns out this survivor was actually on a bridge, about to get out of the car and jump when they decided to do one more search online and discovered the contact information for Together-We-Heal. I am humbled beyond words to know that Together-We-Heal helped to save the life of a survivor who had given up hope.

That’s just one out of dozens of survivors we’ve been able to help onto a path of healing. I tell everyone who contacts us that from that they forward they can know they are not alone. We are here for them and will walk with them as long as needed.

We will never walk away.

 

Please contact Together-We-Feel to take that first step of the healing journey.

 

23 Comments

  1. There’s a lot of good stuff in this article, but he still never specifies the qualifications of a good counselor for victims of sexual abuse. I am looking for the words “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” and/or “Cognitive Awareness Therapy” and not finding them. I would settle for PTSD-EMDR, but I don’t see him saying that, either. Even a nouthetic counselor can pull out a doctorate and certificates, and they are still not qualified to counsel. Exactly what therapies does this guy permit for survivors of abuse?

    There’s no shortage of people who call themselves “qualified counselors,” and they also do do not have sex with patients, but they still are not in fact qualified, and they do more harm than good.

    • Hi Jeri,

      Those are all excellent and legitimate questions. The reason why you don’t see what methods our therapists and counselors use to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse is because it’s not what Boz was asking of me in the interview. But I’m more than happy to explain that our qualified therapists/counselors use all of the methods you mentioned and more. They use CBT, EMDR, and just about any other you can think of. As I answered in the article, we don’t have “cookie-cutter” counselors. They use whatever method is best suited for each individual. So I can’t tell you we always use “this” or “that” because it wouldn’t be accurate or truthful. We use what works best for each individual. I hope this better clarifies how each therapists works and how we work to help each survivor. And if you have further questions you can always contact me at dpittman@together-we-heal.org

      David Pittman

      • Thank you, David. I think detailed specifics are essential in recommendations for any counseling ministry. Too many victims have suffered a second time from abusive counseling. Thanks for the clarification

        • Hi Jeri,

          I couldn’t agree more with you. It’s why I do as much as is humanly possible when interviewing each therapist and then doing a thorough background and certification check. It’s also why I personally interview each and every one and do not leave it to someone else. I want to be able to say to each survivor, I know this person and can recommend them based on what I know of them. The last thing I want to happen is the scenario you described, to have my fellow survivors re-victimized or further harmed because we didn’t do our due diligence. As I said, if ever you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. And I’m even more thankful that you’re encouraged. Please let others know we’re here for them and if you’re able to help in any way, I’m easily accessible to talk. I posted my contact info in the previous comments feel free to contact me anytime.

  2. O.k. but what if one is the victim of sexual abuse committed by missionary men and they selected you because they were citizens of a country that they thought gave then the right to do whatever they wanted to citizens of smaller countries?
    The mission concerned doesn’t want to know, they are to busy making excuses and avoiding lawsuits from their own countryfolk.

    You end up living at the bottom of the world, your parents are kissing the butts of their mission and wish you’d just shrivel up and go away. Your family disowns you and only your closest friends have any idea what you are talking about and you risk driving them away by mentioning it to often.

    Then you find out that these offenders are still free, because U.S. law is totally inadequate when dealing with historic sex crimes committed by it’s citizens overseas.

    Where is the just God? Where is the country that prides itself on administering justice? Why?

    • To A. Smythe – I wish there were but there are no “just” answer to those questions. Unfortunately the majority of us who are survivors of sexual abuse, and that includes me, will never see criminal “justice” or see our offenders locked up. What I can tell you is that hope and healing is possible for us. And if you would like to talk about that possibility please contact me. My email is dpittman@together-we-heal.org and my Skype is live:dpittman_4 – I can’t offer justice for the past, but I can offer hope for the future. I hope to hear from you.

  3. I’m in the same boat as A Smythe:

    Tumbled out of a large U.S. based mission childhood in the Third World. I knew what I saw and experienced was wrong, very wrong! There was no God of Love, it was a childhood of fear, guilt, mind manipulation and being at the bottom of the pecking order.
    So I tumbled out into “secular society” and got on with life. I destroyed the yearbooks and tried to forget it all, but the nightmares were always the same. Move on 30 years and with the aid of the internet, the dreadful truth has been revealed. This is a massive scandal that has occurred in almost every country this mission has worked in. Rampant sex abuse of children and physical violence committed in the name of discipline.
    And yes there is very little concern from the mission, they care little for their own citizens, so why bother with the small minority who served out of “lesser” nations.
    However, connecting with others who have had the same childhoods is incredibly therapeutic, suddenly I am not alone. It is not a figment of my ungrateful imagination as my deluded father preaches.
    I have almost no contact with my family, this is common for Australasian Missionary Kids. I have a doubting faith in a God. But what I have found in the last 3 years is the freedom to know that I am comfortable with who I am, despite the past and that after all those years of internal turmoil and isolation, that I was actually right all along and the childhood had little to do with the Love of God, but more to do with the egos of to many perverted men who were using a strange mission to do what most men would think totally unthinkable and even more missionaries who knew what was going on, but closed a blind eye.
    As for justice. Where there is the will there is a way. Bringing offenders to the attention of those who have an interest in the international activities of paedophiles is worthwhile. Few governments want their citizens participating in criminal activities of this nature.

    • Thank you Oscar for your openness, in spite of how much I know it hurts to pick at these wounds. You said something that I think is of the UTMOST importance. You said, “connecting with others…suddenly I’m not alone”. And those last three words are the most important to all of our fellow survivors, for them to know they aren’t alone either. Part of our goal at TWH is assuring others of that very point. That we are no longer alone, we have one another. We have others who know exactly what we’ve been through because they’ve been through it also. Please also know we are here for you and with you. Many of our therapists and counselors are survivors also which is part of the reason they give of their time, they want to help others who’ve been through what they have. Peace be with you.

      David

      • Many thanks for your words of reassurance.
        In my own case I have been fortunate enough to be married to a partner who is very supportive and understands most of the workings of the complex situations that arise out of the strange childhoods that are the lot of many missionary children.
        I’m certainly not alone, there are hundreds of others, each with strange journeys. Journeys that were supposed to be the epitome of Christianity, bringing enlightenment to those not as well off as ourselves, but ended up being sacrificed lives to the egos of men who were serving themselves and systems that covered it up with copious doses of guilt to keep the lid on what is now being revealed in ever increasing accounts.
        Most of us thought that we had been involved in an isolated “bad area” of otherwise wonderful organisations and systems, but the truth is now apparent that the mission boarding schools were fertile grounds for paedophiles and sadistic physical abusers. Far away from the watching eyes of law enforcers and in environments that many would think were the last place these scandals would occur. But occur they did, over and over and over.
        And where were the parents in all this, mine are still denying there was any abuse, rambling on about “bitter spirits” and “not walking with God”, while ignoring facts such as the incarcerations of their fellow colleagues for horrendous crimes.

        I have been fortunate enough to survive and come out the other side, many have alas not been so fortunate. For those still struggling to make sense of it all, I hope they will avail themselves of the help that is generously offered. As for my faith, God yes (with reservations), church never again!

  4. I’m glad that you personally interview all of the therapists you recommend. Even those that are well educated, with wonderful credentials, and offer the best treatment modalities, are not always a good fit for survivors.

    My therapist doesn’t do EMDR, so I sought out a local expert. I’m glad I had three years of good therapy behind me before I saw her. Even then, it took me a couple months to realize she was in way over her head when it came to treating sexual trauma survivors: she touched me without warning or permission, and then acted as if my startle response surprised and baffled her; she insisted I was not ready to “tell my story”, even though I’d already written it in great detail, read it to my therapist, and we had processed much of it together; she gave me a lengthy speech as to why I was wrong not to press charges against my rapist; she was disempowering and actually attempted to undermine much of the progress I had made. When I had finally had enough, and communicated my reasons for leaving, she was very defensive — and then suddenly insisted that I wasn’t a good candidate for EMDR after all! If she had been my first therapist, all that would have been quite damaging to me. It was disappointing and discouraging, but that negative experience taught me a lot and made me appreciate my longterm therapist all the more.

    I’m so glad to read this interview. This is a much-needed service! Thank you.

  5. David, I’m not sure what you mean by saying, “For more than 30 years, I repressed the memories of abuse…” Can you elaborate a bit more? The repression thing is controversial and leaves me a little confused. Thx. Blessings.

  6. Perhaps I can have a go at answering this one from my own experience.

    I grew up in a Mission boarding school in the third world. Abuse was rampant. 30 years ago I tumbled out of that environment and back to the “civilised” world, where I “got on with life”. It was so much repressing the memories as just trying to forget them, because in reality who on earth would be able to comprehend what on earth I was talking about. Spilling all the beans would have just been my word against a group of seemingly devout dedicated missionaries who had given their all for their cause. My own father dismissed any raised concerns as being faulty memories.
    So I pretty much kept my mouth shut.

    Then with the advent of social media, I found that many other missionary children had had similar experiences and many much much worse. Suddenly there was no need to carry the burden of those nagging questions. So I wrote my way through my dark past and found it incredibly therapeutic. It also helped others and so I just kept on writing.

    Some have “repressed” the memories of abuse, some have just got on with life and some struggle daily. Each victim is different and the path to being set free from the nightmares of the past is very much individual. Some will never talk, some will talk of little else, the vast majority are somewhere between those two poles.

    Personally, facing the demons of the past has been the best thing I have done in regards to my mental well being. At last I am free of the nightmares, I have made friends in places I would never have dreamed possible and I am not ashamed of the past or carry any guilt about what happened.

    Hope that helps.

    • Oscar, I’m an MK myself. Fortunately, my experience was much more positive than yours. I’m sorry for you. But actually, I was hoping David would respond with his experience. Repression implies involuntary forgetting, so I’m curious if David is referring to that kind of thing and attributing his drug use to a subconscious working out of the trauma he was unaware of? The other question is how the memories were restored; therapy, journaling, etc? Or maybe I missed the boat altogether and David is using “repression” more metaphorically and is talking about an intentional “suppression” of painful memories.

    • Learning to be a survivor

      I have been reading all the replies under the original post. In reading, I realize that in some ways, we are all in very different places, but in other ways, we all face many of the same struggles.
      I too, was an MK, but it is a time period I don’t think about. I read the posts about the healing that can come from connecting with others with similar pasts. I have connected a bit in recent years with some who experienced abuse in another setting. Connecting with them and realizing I was not alone has been freeing in many ways. It has helped me face those years in a way I didn’t realize was possible.
      MK life, however, is different, at least it has been different for me. That was a world just too painful and terrifying to remember. I don’t want those memories. When I think back on my growing up years, there were many time periods that were difficult, but none so terrifyingly helpless as my years spent as an MK. The idea of connecting with other MKs isn’t an encouraging thing for me to consider. I fear it. I fear the memories coming back. When I see someone post a bit about their experiences as an MK, my heart breaks. I hear beyond the words and have pictures of the depth of terror, fear, guilt, shame, hopelessness, worthlessness, etc. that is part of that world. It is very different than “normal” life. I read posts from other MKs and want to respond that I understand what they are saying and hurt for and with them, yet something holds me back. I don’t want to remember or identify with that world. I want to still try to pretend it never happened. I don’t know exactly why, just that was full of experiences I don’t have words for. The experiences that happened as an MK are just different and hard to put into words. How does one explain that feeling of having no roots at all, of belonging nowhere?? How does one explain the acceptance of abuse since we had been chosen as sacrifices for God’s work? How do we explain how deep the hopelessness is in that setting? How do we explain the concept of truly belonging nowhere? When visiting the US, we didn’t belong here. I didn’t understand or connect to the culture. It had been described to me as selfish, etc. by my family and by other missionaries. I was encouraged to not identify with it and not allow it to impact me. At the same time, I was warned not to identify too closely with the mission country. I was reminded that I was American and needed to act like it (whatever that was supposed to mean!). The gospel was not for me and any need I might have at some point (medical illnesses, etc.), was something that was directly preventing the “Gospel” from reaching the “heathens.”
      While I experienced abuse in other settings, abuse that I could not prevent, it was different. There was something about it that held a tiny shred of hope. While I knew I couldn’t report to police officers, they at least existed. While I knew I could never go to some secular group for help, I could at least dream about it b/c they existed. There is nothing like that as an MK. There is no where to run. There is no one to care. There is no one to hear. There is truly absolutely no avenue of hope or help.
      I fear the memories of that time period in my life. I try hard to just block it all out – the bad and the good. Some of that is a conscious choice to not remember a very painful and terrifying time in my life. Some of that is because there really are no words to explain that time period to “normal” people. I don’t really understand it myself and truly have few memories of those years. Purposely blocking things out and blocking things out without intent has all blended together. It results in very few memories and memories that just don’t have words to describe.
      I fear connecting with other MKs. I fear the memories becoming too real. I fear they would destroy me.
      I do understand that at times, there is hope that comes from others who we can connect to, but are there times where the connection just brings up too much pain? The MKs I grew up knowing lived very scattered apart. There were none near me. When I encountered others on very, very rare occasions, it felt strange and surreal. Upon returning to the States, I have avoided other MKs. I just don’t know that I have the strength to remember and come out whole. :(
      As for repression?? I have no idea. I have no words to try to explain all I have “forgotten.” I have very few memories and strongly push back at those I do have. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to remember. At the same time, I realize that that time period will always have some affect on me.

      • I experienced years of not thinking about and then if I did accidently remember or meet someone that shared their abuse I got triggered and the memories started coming anyway. it was overwhelming and I wasn’t in a place emotionally to handle it. I attempted suicide, I drank, I did drugs, I did anything to keep the memories away. the church I was attending at the time spoke of phsychiatry as the counsel of the ungodly and really made me stay away from that. my suicide attempt however, made me legally have to go to therepy. in therepy I had several therapists that needed therapy obviously! but then I got one that was a trauma trained therapest with much experience. she had me learn dbt skills so that when the emotions and memories got overwhelming I didn’t have to hurt myself or discosciate or get drunk. I also was on a med for flashbacks at that time. anyway in the therepy we started talking about the least stressful memory first to see how I endured that. (whether I could handle the intense emotions) and slowly worked up to the more damaging memories of abuse. sometimes I would get overwhelmed and have to take a break in talking about trauma and just go and talk about things that weren’t triggering or stressful, then later go back to talking about the traumatic issues, one at a time. I am so much better now, not done , but able to have some memories that don’t destroy me and are just memories. I think it is very very important who we see for therapy, (not based on some churches views of psychiatry) but if the therepest is qualified, experienced and kind. I am glad you posted what you did and pray that we all will find sincere help and not be revictimized, or overloaded so that we crash as we walk the path of healing.

  7. Oh wow, there are so many of us MKs just wandering around wondering what the past was about and where we fit into the future. Thank you so much for your honesty and courage.
    Sometimes I try and post about my MK past, but I’m always scared that I will be tracked down and dealt to by those who do not want to have their activities and crimes revealed so I keep my identity well covered. Other times I rant about the past, then I regret how much I’ve revealed when I sober up.
    There are so so many of us wandering around and the churches just don’t want to know. They just want to keep sending money to do Gods work and they never ask what the money is really being spent on, like hiring lawyers to defend the missions who have sexual offenders in their history.

    And Tom, be very thankful you had a nice MK experience and that you are not a female MK!!!!!! Because the mission world is a very patriarchal system and women are to be seen and not heard, must take what their male leaders deliver to them, without complaining and watch their MK sons and brothers often turn into the same sort of monsters we learnt to fear and loathe.

  8. What an incredible interview, I have no idea how I stumbled on this but I am so grateful for your questions Boz and answers David. Since starting my own healing journey I’ve come to the conclusion that feeling connected and being seen is the key to my letting it all go and learning to grow from the experience and how I have chosen to live my life.

    I also had the opportunity to meet with my perpetrator and say out loud to him and his wife questions that had been on my mind for years. It is not an option for everyone I know, but for me it set me free, their answers did not matter nearly as much as my ability to speak my truth and to see just how much power I had given him without knowing it.

    If anyone is interested in seeing the video and reading a little of my story please feel free to click this link: https://www.facebook.com/tanya.monteiro/posts/10151929806587890?notif_t=like

    I so appreciate you both for doing the work you do and look forward to working with you in the universe to help as many of us out there feel connected, not alone and able to Thrive not just survive.

    Thank you,
    Tanya

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