First, become educated.
- Globally, between 7-36% of women and 3-29% of men experience sexual abuse in childhood.
- In the United States, nearly 330,000 individuals will be victims of rape per year – which comes out to a rape or sexual assault every 98 seconds.
- Individuals most at risk for sexual abuse are between the age of 18 and 34.
- Women experience higher rates of rape and sexual abuse.
- It is estimated that 1 in 6 women in the US has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.
- Transgender college students are more at risk for sexual violence.
- The long-term effects of rape and sexual abuse can include PTSD, suicide or contemplated suicide, moderate to severe distress on a daily basis, problems at work and school, and increases in aggression within friendships and family relationships.
- 3.1% of women who attend religious services reported being the object of sexual advances by a clergyperson or religious leader in their home congregation since the age of 18.
- Research suggests sexual abuse can produce and relate to spiritual struggle and generate difficulty in one’s perceived relationship with God, especially if the offender is a clergyperson or religious leader.
Second, talk about it.
- Research suggests clergy and religious leaders experience anxiety when thinking about having conversations and discussions about sexual abuse in the church. The conversation must start there. Begin by talking about how uncomfortable and anxiety provoking the topic is. Then, talk about the issue. Bring in a moderator or educator if necessary. They can guide your congregation and its leaders into the conversation. If you have a local university, invite a sociologist or psychologist to come in and speak at a staff/church meeting.
- When having a conversation, remember, victims of sexual abuse are real people with real stories. Objectifying their pain by reducing them to a “case,” “example,” or “statistic” can further alienate and isolate them in your communities. Whenever possible, create space for them to be the expert and for them to share their stories.
- Have hard conversations around social constructs that support sexual abuse and victim blaming like rape culture, gender discrimination, patriarchy, and power. If you’re a male leader, allow women to lead these conversations.
- In-line with the first suggestion, become educated. At the bottom of this blog post I’ve included a list of helpful research articles and books: Do your work and do your research. You cannot provide help if you are not prepared to help.
Third, discover, uncover, and create your own congregational resources
- Part of me is reticent to offer a “five-step” approach to addressing sexual abuse in your community because it is your community. You are the resident expert and you are the one to call. Learn to develop a greater trust in your own lived and local wisdom, knowledge, and expertise.
- Like a scientist, be curious and seek to discover and uncover what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to change.
- Develop collaborative community partnerships with local professionals.
Fourth, know when to refer out to a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, or counselor.
- If you’re like most pastors or congregational ministers you have had minimal training in pastoral/spiritually-integrative counseling. Education and training typically does not provide enough knowledge and experience to know when to “refer out.” A referral occurs when a non-clinically-licensed individual encourages a care seeker to pursue more specialized care – in this instance with a licensed counselor, social worker, or psychologist. This is a matter of ethics. It is unethical, and potentially unlawful, to provide a level of care you are not trained to provide. Therefore, it is important to build relationships with psychologists, counselors, and licensed social workers in your area. I have a network of professionals that I can call on any given day to ask for advice and feedback, and discern whether or not I should refer a case.
Fifth, enroll in and provide regular training and education seminars on the topic of sexual abuse.
- Use time off to join educational workshops at a local community center or university. If possible, become a trainer and host workshops at your home congregation. This is a great way to build community, provide community resources, and open space for conversation.
Franz, T. (2002). Power, patriarchy and sexual abuse in churches of Christian denomination. Traumatology, 8(1), 4.
Garland, D. R., & Argueta, C. (2010a). How clergy sexual misconduct happens: A qualitative study of first-hand accounts. Social Work and Christianity, 37(1), 1.
Garland, D. R., & Argueta, C. (2010b). How clergy sexual misconduct happens: A qualitative study of first-hand accounts. Social Work and Christianity, 37(1), 1.
Homiak, K. B., & Singletary, J. E. (2007). Family Violence in Congregations: An exploratory Study of Clergy’s Needs. Social Work & Christianity, 34(1). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=07375778&AN=24474033&h=ZueopP8n05I3j5DveNIIKUiHCPSk19hHyBQXrmGas9WDuHvIc8NJkezelQBUjqVKQcUq9ZeKvNMuxb43clcZdg%3D%3D&crl=c
Lassri, D., Luyten, P., Fonagy, P., & Shahar, G. (2017). Undetected Scars? Self-Criticism, Attachment, and Romantic Relationships Among Otherwise Well-Functioning Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000271
Pulverman, C. S., Boyd, R. L., Stanton, A. M., & Meston, C. M. (2017). Changes in the sexual self-schema of women with a history of childhood sexual abuse following expressive writing treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(2), 181–188. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000163
To support ICTG's mission to get leaders restorative strategies for individual and group growth after loss, make a contribution today.
Read all of Joe's blogs here.