Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘survivors voices’

Survivors Finding Their Voices

Survivors are finding their voices! I’d like to share three resources that I discovered last week.

“My Voice Back” was created by the parent of a survivor. The website offers a resource list, denominational policies, and a blog to support survivors and educate the public about clergy sexual abuse. Readers may recognize some of their own feelings in the essay that begins, “I went to church today. And today I sat through the whole service without a panic attack.”

I’ve already written about progress in Australia. An Australian survivor recently created a Facebook page with some great resources. If you’re on FB, please join me in “liking” Clergy Sexual Abuse of Adults Australia Community.

Survivor “Shamelessly Shayna” has created a powerful video about her experience of clergy sexual abuse. She was victimized first by her youth pastor and then by church leaders who protected her offender. You can find her message here. Her charming blog, Zoetic Cherry Blossom, beautifully illustrates how we can blossom as we heal from abuse.

A Call for Survivors’ Voices: Baylor University’s New Survey

Dear friends,

Please read this important letter from Dr. David Pooler of Baylor University, which issued the landmark study on clergy sexual abuse in 2009. Baylor is now studying how churches respond when victims report sexual abuse or misconduct by religious leaders. You may have already received an invitation to participate in the survey through The Hope of Survivors. If you are a woman over 18, and you experienced clergy sexual abuse at age 16 or after, I hope you will participate in the survey. Your experience could help many others. Although the study is limited to adult women, the results may lead to healthier outcomes for all victims and survivors.

Here is Dr. Pooler’s letter:

Your experience as a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct matters to us. This is an invitation to participate in a national study conducted by Baylor University so we can better understand these experiences. This important project is funded by Hope of Survivors and the Grant Me the Wisdom Foundation. It is hoped that this research will provide information about how churches and denominations can better respond to people who have been abused by a church leader. 

If you are a woman who is 18 years or older and the abuse occurred at age 16 or after in your life, we want you to participate. There are questions about you, your church, and the ways your church did or did not support you. Below is the link to an anonymous Internet survey. We are not asking for information that can personally identify you. Your involvement in this research is critically important. Thank you in advance for considering this opportunity. Please note: This survey could take up to 30 minutes, so please set aside some dedicated time to work on it. We hope that you will benefit from knowing that your responses will help generate new knowledge and awareness around this important issue.

To take the survey click the following link:

https://baylor.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_exotRD9c2AtSt6J

Feel free to forward or share this link with other survivors.

Sincerely,

David Pooler, Ph.D., LCSW
Associate Dean For Baccalaureate Studies
School of Social Work
Baylor University

Update, May 26, 2016: This study is now closed. Dr. Pooler and his team are analyzing the results and will present their findings this fall. I’ll post a link here as soon as I receive it.

Are You Ready to Share Your Story?

Last winter I wrote about the healing that comes when we tell our stories. For a year and half I’ve shared parts of my story on this blog. As I’ve written, and as readers have responded, the healing has been immense.

This morning I learned of an exciting book project. Three authors — bestselling novelist Robyn Williams, television news journalist Isabel Esteviz, and certified life coach Sheila Taylor — have joined forces on a book project that they call “Deception in the Pews.” The authors have put out a call for survivors’ stories. Here’s how they describe the book:

“Deception is alive and well in today’s churches. It is global, non-denominational and multicultural. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, sheep are being led to slaughter. Faith has diminished and too many lives have been shattered by those eager to prey upon the unsuspecting. If you or anyone you know has ever been victimized by someone in church leadership, we would like to tell your story in the upcoming book, Deception in the Pews.

“This ground breaking book explores the hidden dangers and sexual deviances that exist within churches worldwide. Deception in the Pews reveals the pain, anguish, and despair felt by many who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who promised to shield them spiritually. Regardless of your spiritual affiliation, we want to hear your heartfelt stories to bring awareness to real-life issues of greed, immorality, and abuse in the church.”

The authors are looking for heartfelt, first-person stories of all types of abuse in the church. In addition to the story of abuse, they want to know the outcome: did you return to that church (or any church)? Are you still healing?

The deadline is February 1. The maximum word count is 1500. It’s OK to use a pen name. If your story is chosen, you’ll receive a stipend of $150. You can find full story submission guidelines here.

I’ve met some amazing people through this blog, I’ve heard stories of unbelievable betrayal by the church, and I’ve seen monumental courage among survivors. Your stories could be powerful tools of healing for other survivors. If you decide to share your story (which I hope you will), I pray it helps you take the next step forward in your own healing.

New Leadership at Vanderbilt Divinity School

Vanderbilt has a new dean of divinity! The Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes is only the second woman ever to hold this position. She will be the first African-American dean at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, the first lesbian, and almost certainly the first dean to have gotten a whole set of encyclopedias thrown out of her elementary school library. Two years into her goal of reading every book in the library, Emilie Townes came to the “S” volume of the encyclopedia. In the entry on slavery, she found “cartoonish and offensive caricatures of black folk eating watermelon. Stereotypes of smiling black folk working in the field with tattered clothes. A monstrous cavalcade of sambos and mammies and pickaninnies.” Shocked nearly speechless, 10-year-old Emilie brought the book to her teacher and the librarian. “All I could do was open the page and say, ‘This is not right.’ ”

The educators agreed. They threw out the offending encyclopedias even before the new set arrived, and Emilie Townes has been changing the world ever since. In her first address as dean, Townes asked the Vanderbilt audience, “How many versions of that ‘S’ volume do we have in our academic disciplines? In our churches? In our communities?”

Indeed! If Protestant Christian seminaries produced an encyclopedia, what would we find in the entry on clergy sexual abuse?
* Would the entry focus on the abuse of children in the Roman Catholic tradition, and say (like the Pharisee in Luke’s gospel), “Thank God we are not like that”?
* Would it speak of “affairs” between pastors and their congregants, staff, or junior clergy?
* Would it paint victims as sexually voracious or mentally unstable seductresses?
* Would it shrug off the damage in victims’ lives as the inevitable result of their own weakness?
* Would it warn future pastors to protect themselves against false reports by vengeful congregants?

Or would it tell the truth?
Clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition.
* Experts estimate that 95% of clergy sexual abuse victims are adult or teen women.
* The landmark Baylor study of 2009 showed that nearly 1 in 30 churchgoing women (or seven survivors in an average-sized congregation) have endured sexual advances from clergy as adults.
* When a pastor initiates or encourages a sexual connection with a congregant, it is never an affair. It is abuse. The clergy/lay power differential makes meaningful consent impossible.
* Congregants may develop crushes on their pastors, but pastors need to remember that it’s not about their attractiveness as men (or women). It is about their power as clergy, their perceived spiritual superiority, and their apparent willingness to listen and care.
* Clergy sexual abuse causes profound emotional and spiritual damage even to victims who start out healthy and strong. Worse, predatory pastors target the already wounded. Some victims never recover. Every single survivor is a living, breathing miracle.
* Of course each claim should be investigated, but false claims are rare almost to nonexistence. As I shared here, a pastor is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be falsely accused of clergy sexual abuse.

Emilie Townes challenged her audience. “How many versions of that ‘S’ volume do we have?” she asked. “And how can I and others model what my teachers did, and provide others with larger and more accurate visions of who we are, and how we can be, in the household of God?”

Vanderbilt Divinity School is on the right track. Last fall, the school invited the Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of the FaithTrust Institute, to deliver the Carpenter Lecture, “Wolves in Shepherds’ Clothing: The Institutional Crisis of Clergy Sexual Abuse.” When religious institutions invite Marie Fortune to speak, it is always a good sign: she is fearless. She pulls no punches. I hope that Emilie Townes will continue to include strong voices like hers in the dialog at Vanderbilt. Even more important, I hope she will include the voices of survivors.

I have great hope for Emilie Townes. She has already spoken clearly on this topic. Vanderbilt Divinity School and its partner, The School of Theology at Sewanee, together graduate more than 100 new Masters of Divinity every year. These men and women will eventually lead churches and judicatories. They will have the power to harm or to help their congregants, to hide behind institutional self-protection or to challenge it boldly, to silence the voices of victims or to learn from them and heal the church.

Dear Rev. Townes: the community of survivors are looking to you with hope. Will you grab these future leaders by the ears, look them in the eyes, and demand that they take seriously their call as caretakers and protectors of God’s flock? Will you give them a larger vision for what the Church can be? Will you blaze a trail of leadership that invites all divinity deans to follow?

We are looking to you with hope.

Finding Strength, Hope and Healing

For some survivors, writing is how we heal. But while I was keeping my pastor’s dark secret, writing was almost impossible. How can I describe the weight of holding that secret? I don’t even have the courage to try right now; it was a terrifying, sickening, and confusing time that lasted far too long. I will just say that the secret permeated almost every waking thought for years. I had the terrible duty to guard my pastor’s reputation and honor, and the only way I could do it was through silence. But the secret wanted OUT. If I tried to write, the terrible secret found its way into almost line. To protect the secret, my writing turned to mud (dense, obtuse, opaque) and then dried up altogether. Years after I left my church, I finally found the courage to begin talking. Once I did, words started flowing like water.

It is the rare survivor who has the courage to write while she is still facing her demons. Even more rare: a survivor who writes so fearlessly that she almost pulls you into her world, even while she is still facing the horrors of victim-blaming and ostracism. Survivor “K” reported her pastor just this summer. He left ordained ministry only weeks ago. And yet she has the clarity of mind to write — and not merely a catalog of events. She shares with stunning transparency her struggles with trust and betrayal, loss and grief, despair and hope, anger, faith and emptiness.

K has given me permission to share her blog. As you read, please consider these suggestions and warnings:
* Start at the beginning. Scroll to the earliest post and read your way forward. The newer reflections will make most sense if you know the facts of K’s story.
* Trigger warning: the Aug 19 post titled “How My Experience with Clergy Sexual Misconduct Started” contains an account of sexual abuse.
* Trigger warning: the Sept 5 post titled “Don’t Call Me Brave” contains a description of self-harm.

K writes about abuse and betrayal, but she also writes about honor, compassion, and courage — and strength, hope, and healing. I’m honored to share her words here.

Vindication for Irene

Marie Fortune lists the seven things that a victim of clergy sexual abuse needs: truth-telling, acknowledging the violation, compassion, protecting the vulnerable, accountability, restitution, and vindication.

Vindication is the final key to freedom. Along my journey I’ve been vindicated in small ways: A former colleague asking my forgiveness for her part in my shunning. Marie herself, in my presence, telling my church leaders that secrecy is harmful and wrong. Sojourners accepting my story for their series on sexual violence.

But I’m still looking for the big vindication. I should be able to walk into my old church without seeing a sneer of disgust from a beloved pastor emeritus (this actually happened last fall, and at a memorial service no less.) I know I acted with integrity and courage; I know my pastor took shameful advantage of my trust. If justice prevailed, everyone in the congregation would know it too. But the church’s secrecy makes this impossible.

I can’t have justice for myself, but I can seek it for other victims. So I do this work, and I look for signs of progress. This month, three stories give me hope.

* Over 1400 people have signed the G.R.A.C.E. petition calling on Christian leaders to stand on the side of CSM victims. “When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy… have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the ‘little ones.’ ” I hope you will sign it, too.

* Churches are beginning to listen to survivors. From the UK arm of The Hope Of Survivors: “[Our volunteer] Anthony met with the safeguarding officer of the Baptist Union recently and she took away one of the THOS brochures. She has read it through and found it very helpful. The Baptist Union, which oversees 2000+ churches in England, have pulled their safeguarding policies from their website in order to re-write them. This, I understand, is as a direct result of our experience. The BU safeguarding officer has asked us to give them advice on what needs to be in their new policy.” The new Baptist Union policy will protect thousands of vulnerable women and men.

* The experience of Irene McCormack Jackson, the first victim to publicly accuse Mayor Bob Filner. I have utmost compassion for what Irene is suffering now, and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything — but in a way she is living my dream. She came forward under the protection of one of the nation’s most respected attorneys. City, state, and national leaders immediately and very publicly denounced her offender. By the end of the week, six more women, prominent leaders all, had come forward with similar charges. (The total is now eight). We still don’t know whether Filner will leave office, whether he’ll face criminal charges, or whether Irene will get the financial settlement she deserves. But even with all that uncertainty, Irene has already won. The world stands on her side. Her offender is publicly (very publicly ) shamed.

I plan to follow this story closely. “Plan” might not be the right word; the truth is I’m obsessed with it. I want Irene to win. But regardless of how the story plays out, I’ve already claimed some vindication. Justice for Irene, even just in the court of public opinion, is justice for all of us.

The Truth Has Set Me Free

My new church walks in a big civic parade every summer. My former church marched in the same parade. When I was there, I loved this annual ritual. I was always proud that with nearly a hundred marchers, my church fielded the biggest contingent of all.

I left the church just before Christmas in 2009. In a final generous gesture to my pastor, I waited until after the holidays to file my complaint. By springtime, the investigation was over, his guilt had been swept under the carpet, and my ostracism was well underway. Still in treatment for anorexia and trauma, I entered my new church in a state of terror, but I was determined not to let my fears get in the way of my faith. As the weeks passed, I gained health, began sleeping better, and started feeling safer in church. When summer rolled around, I thought I was strong enough to risk being on the parade grounds again. I didn’t know how much protection I could expect from my new church — after all, they didn’t know my dark truth yet — but any protection was better than none.

So, on parade day in 2010, disguised with a big hat and sunglasses, I made my way to my new church’s assigned spot. With horror, I recognized the streamers, banners, and hundredfold forces of my old church, staged right next to us on the same short block. For two excruciating hours, I ducked a constant stream of the purple-shirted army. Rather than risk one more cruel encounter, I hid — no, literally cowered — on the curb between our two glittery convertibles. Those were two of the longest hours of my life. I had night terrors for weeks afterward.

Thankfully, for the next two years, the parade organizers staged us several blocks apart. But this year, once again, the two churches were staged on the same block. What a difference three years makes! Far from hiding, this time I strolled confidently past the mass of purple shirts. I was a stranger to most of them, but I did see a few familiar faces. Among them: three friends who had been dear to me. I smiled and greeted them warmly and they returned the welcome. I spent the next hour catching up with my old friends and introducing them to my new. In contrast to the terror of 2010, this was nothing less than a miracle.

Why am I so much stronger this year? Because I am known and loved for who I am: a friend, a helper, a gifted organizer and writer — and a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. In my new church, I have support even (or perhaps especially) from the people who know my story. I get strength from my women’s “Journeying Together” spiritual group, from my online writers’ clan, and from the small but growing community of fellow CSM survivors. I still think carefully before I share my story with someone new. But except for the backlash that drove me out of my former church, so far all I’ve had is blessings. And now with this blog, I’m sharing my story with the world.

When I decided to speak and write openly as a survivor, I only thought of helping future victims. Now, the blessing has come back to me. The truth has set me free.

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