Survivors of abuse, consider these questions.
* What if your abuser were the most revered leader not just in your church, but in your whole community?
* What if you believed your religious leader had the power to curse you if you didn’t keep silent?
* What if the abuse happened in an environment where sexual assault was so common, and community response so inadequate, that even victims’ advocates recommended keeping silent?
Welcome to life on Native American reservations. The 2013 congressional debate on the Violence Against Women Act highlighted some terrible statistics. A Native American woman is at least twice as likely to be raped as an average woman in the U.S., and her assault is less than half as likely to be prosecuted. Although only a handful of native healers violate their traditions’ ethical codes, their abusive acts have a devastating impact on victims and their families. Sadly, in some native communities, it’s rare to find a woman who hasn’t experienced sexual violence.
At a conference last March, a young Navajo pastor reached out to Steve and Samantha Nelson, leaders of The Hope of Survivors. He told them about the abuse in his community and about how helpless he felt. He asked them, “Can you help us?”
This isn’t the first time an isolated community has reached out to The Hope of Survivors. In 2012, a pastor in Hawaii’s Seventh-Day Adventist Conference asked for THOS’ help dealing with child sexual abuse by a Christian educator. Through seminars, sermons, and counseling, Samantha and Steve helped the congregation understand sexual abuse, recognize their own wounds, and begin the process of healing. The Nelsons spoke to parents, and then to their children, about how to recognize and prevent sexual abuse in and out of the church. Pastor Keala’s letter to the Nelsons leaves no doubt: where religious or spiritual sexual abuse exists, The Hope of Survivors can make a difference.
This September, The Hope of Survivors will make a difference in the Navajo community in the Monument Valley of Utah. “There is great need among the Navajo,” says THOS Vice-President and CEO Samantha Nelson. “For many Navajo, even within the church, abuse is rampant among many family members and among spiritual leaders. It is much like what we experienced with Hawaiian natives. Abuse is taken for granted. Some leaders seem to consider it a right.” The Hope of Survivors will bring to the Navajo the same resources that made such a difference in Hawaii.
Besides their work with communities, the Hope of Survivors also helps individual survivors via email and telephone counseling and at their Bedford, IA Renewal Center. They facilitate far-reaching research and awareness projects such as the annual “Enough is Enough” Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness & Prevention Campaign. And this fall, they will partner with Baylor University on a follow-up to the landmark 2009 Clergy Sexual Misconduct Study. All survivors will be invited to take part in the study’s online survey; watch for updates on this blog.
In other words: The Hope of Survivors makes a difference. They have helped many victims become survivors, and they have saved countless others from becoming victims in the first place. They do this work on grants from philanthropic organizations and on the freewill donations of people like us — but the resources are never enough to meet the need. They’ve had to say “no” to other native communities, at least for now.
If the plight of the Navajo communities moves you, or if you just want to help an organization doing critical work to prevent clergy sexual abuse, I hope you’ll join me in supporting the work of The Hope of Survivors.