Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘The Hope of Survivors’

CSA Awareness: A Two-Minute Pitch for Sunday Announcements

Did you know that August is Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness Month? The Hope of Survivors is leading the effort nationwide (actually, worldwide) to get congregations thinking and talking about this issue.

I am blessed to belong to a church whose pastor understands this issue. He gave me the green light to do an “awareness moment” during announcements at the Sunday service. Here’s what I’m going to say:

Good morning! I’m Catherine Thiemann, and I’m here to share two minutes of awareness on a subject we rarely talk about in church: clergy sexual abuse. 

When you hear those words, you may think of the Catholic Church and the child abuse scandals. But in fact, in most cases of clergy sexual abuse, the offender is not Catholic, and the victim is not a child. Within our Protestant tradition, most victims are adult women or teenaged girls. While there’s no doubt of the devastating impact to child victims, it also wreaks havoc in the lives of adult victims, their families, and the congregations in which it happens.

Sadly, it’s likely that several people in our church have had this experience. A 2009 study by Baylor University revealed that: 
* 3% of churchgoing women have experienced an unwanted sexual advance from a minister at some point in their lives,
* 92% of these advances were made in secret, and
* 67% of the offending ministers were married at the time. 

In an average-sized congregation, there are likely at least half a dozen women — or men — who’ve had this experience at some church in the past. Whether the offense includes physical violation or “only” words, it can be devastating. Victims rarely speak up because they fear they’ll be blamed or disbelieved. Sadly, they are often right.

I’m sharing this moment of awareness for two reasons. One, because we have to be willing to talk about it. Our silence can create a fertile ground for this abuse. Two — the more important reason — is because some of you may have experienced this, or you may know someone who has. I want to offer hope and resources for healing. If you need to talk with someone, our pastor would be a good person to start. There are also wonderful online resources like the FaithTrust Institute(.org) and The Hope of Survivors (.com), where you can connect with confidential counselors.

Why not ask your pastor if you can do this too? Feel free to use this message, and to make any changes you need for your church.


Hope and Healing Conference on Feb. 15 — UPDATE

Four years ago I attended The Hope of SurvivorsHope and Healing Conference in Indianapolis, IN. Eighteen months after I reported my abusive pastor and left my church, I was still so wounded that for most of the conference I sat in the back row and wept. But I heard the beautiful words, “This was not your fault” not once but many times, from every speaker at the conference. Telling my husband about the conference later, I couldn’t speak these words without tears.

A year later, I attended Hope and Healing again. What a difference a year made! This time I was strong enough to participate and connect with other survivors, and I was healed enough to enjoy the beauty of the host city. Early on the last morning of the conference, I walked to the edge of Omaha and crossed the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge just to touch Iowa soil. The previous year I’d been too traumatized to take interest in my surroundings. Now, I was ready to enjoy life’s simple pleasures again.

I have good news for my fellow survivors! The Hope of Survivors is now taking registration for Hope and Healing 2015, to be held on Sunday, February 15 in Northglenn, CO. I urge all survivors who live within a reasonable drive (the conference is just north of Denver) to consider attending. Clergy sexual abuse is an intensely isolating experience. Most of us remain deeply in hiding as we heal; few of us have the opportunity to be with others who understand this experience. If you live anywhere near Northglenn, please consider attending. Spouses are more than welcome, because they need healing too. When Samantha and Steve Nelson share their story, survivors and spouses alike will find common ground.

If you don’t live near enough to attend, please keep the conference in your prayers that day. In return, I will pray for you.

Toward hope and healing!

UPDATE as of January 29: The organizers decided to cancel this event, which was part of a three-day series of talks and workshops on clergy sexual abuse. Samantha Nelson writes, “There are not very many registrants for this conference (unlike normal) and I suspect it is because it is a holiday weekend, it’s winter in Colorado, and it’s taking place in a church (which scares off some victims).” The events of February 13-14 will take place as scheduled. For survivors who need support, please consider visiting The Hope of Survivors’ Renewal Center.

“Can You Help Us?”

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.

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