Choosing Sides in the Sex Trafficking Problem


last Sunday I led our adult class discussing the demand side of trafficking. In the USA, about 16% of men buy sex at some point in their life. Most of these men are in committed relationships. That begs many questions, but that isn’t the point of this post. We ended the class discussing the things we could do as individuals, as a congregation, and as a community to reduce the demand side of trafficking. As one astute audience member said, “if there wasn’t a demand, there wouldn’t be sex trafficked individuals.”

Over at the BTS faculty blog, I have a bit more about the demand for good people to do something. Check it out plus the additional ideas of what you might do at the end of the blog.

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Responding to race tensions: Where do you start the conversation?


Blogs, news outlets, Facebook, Twitter all offer responses to the recent deaths of un-armed African-American men. Some of these responses are gut-wrenching, others are just gut-reactions intended to provoke. But all start the “conversation” somewhere. Some start the conversation at personal experience (e.g., the pain of being stopped DWB, violent protest are destructive) while others try to start it with statistics (e.g., black-on-black crime, diversity or lack thereof in police forces, etc.). But no matter where you or I start such conversations, we always summarize or contextualize problems to make them fit into meaningful categories. The problem with this is that our categories usually fail to take into consideration another person’s meaningful categories.

Where You Start Changes the Outcomes

Consider the tale of two narratives (neither are intended to describe the Ferguson story).

Story 1: Black men are frequently stopped by police who inappropriately profile (fact) PLUS Black man is killed by police in ambiguous situation (fact and question) EQUALS another situation where Black men are being wronged in America.

Story 2: Most police are law-abiding and do their dangerous jobs well (fact) PLUS police kill Black man who may have been acting inappropriately (fact and question) EQUALS believe the police account unless there is absolute proof of wrong-doing.

Now, I have surely over-simplified these two narratives. But I believe each story illustrates how starting assumptions exert control over interpretation when confronted with ambiguous data. We go back to what we know but this fails to consider the other’s point of view. As a result, race conversations in the US fail much of the time because we fail to sit with each other’s starting point.

Problems with Listening?

Those who know me as a counselor educator probably think I am saying we have to start with listening. That is what I usually teach. You might think I believe that if we just listen to each other in equal measure, we will come to understand each other and believe each other. There is a problem with this idea however. You and I are biased. Listening, while good and necessary, usually leads to critique. I listen to your story and I assent to the parts I agree with and critique the parts you have wrong.

Imagine this happening. You tell me a story of being chased by thugs through a dark alley. You narrowly escape when a Yellow cab drives by, picks you up, and delivers you safely to another part of town. I nod a bit but then tell you it couldn’t be a Yellow cab since that company doesn’t do business in this city.

How are you going to feel? You are going to feel like your story was entirely invalidated.

Let’s turn to a real situation. Someone sees violent, destructive protests in Ferguson and immediately (and correctly) identifies the violence as wrong and foolish. Point it out to those who feel the police were wrong to shoot an un-armed Black man, and they will feel invalidated.

What is the problem with listening? We have trouble stepping into the shoes of others and we look for evidence that supports our own opinions.

A Better Solution?

  1. Try on their experience. So maybe you haven’t had an experience of being stopped due to your ethnicity. Can you imagine always wondering if there was a personal reason why you were always receiving negative treatment from others? What would that be like? How would it feel to never know how others saw you…or worse to find out repeatedly that they saw you as a danger? Look for small evidences of that experience in others. This keeps us from thinking the person is alone in their experiences. Validate the experiences when you see them.
  2. Ask how you could make the situation better? What could you do to start to change the injustice, to calm the fear? It may not be fair, it may not be enough, but if you could do one thing, what would it be? In other words, be part of the change rather than pointing out the problems and doing nothing to solve it.
  3. Avoid pointing the finger to blame the other for the injustice they experience. Avoid pointing out other problems which will only send the message that the injustice they experience is equal to whatever they do wrong. Sure, there will be time to discuss each other’s faults. But it rarely goes well when one person points out a fault to another and that other defends by blameshifting. Be willing to tackle one problem without tackling them all at once.

No, this won’t solve the race problem in America. But, it will improve understanding and compassion, something that seems to be lacking these days. Let the Lord speak to you about how you can step into the shoes of the other, join to solve problems and be willing to let the Spirit work in correcting other’s faults.

So, where do YOU start the conversation when Ferguson, Garner, or related race topics are raised in your presence?

 

 

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Overspiritualizing invisible wounds?


When someone suffers an obvious injury to a leg it is clear to us that this injury limits prior capacities for walking, running, standing, and other things we do with our legs. If the injury is slow to heal, would we be likely to tell them to act as if the injury never happened? No. We can see the injury, its effects, and we recognize that recovery may be limited. We would be unlikely to judge the person for failing to run like they had prior to the accident. Of course, physical wounds will prompt spiritual concerns, from “where was God…?” to trusting God for the future even while continuing to experience pain symptoms and the inability to complete tasks that used to be easy.

But what about the wounds we can’t so easily see?

Sadly, I think we spiritualize them and do judge others for having them. Take for example a victim of abuse or trauma that results in a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We see no obvious wound. The body looks sound and fit. So, the anxiety we see, the hesitancy to trust others, the mental confusion, the inability to sleep well…these symptoms must be primarily evidence of a spiritual problem, right?

Wrong, at least in part. While we rarely see the damage done to victims of trauma, changes to the brain are nonetheless present. Here’s a couple of things we think we know about trauma and the brain:

  • The brain is an adaptable organ and use-dependent. Activity along neural pathways can become more efficient with practice (i.e., the more something happens, the easier it is for the brain to respond). So, certain pathways and structures in the brain become more easily activated
  • Observing activity brain scans in those who suffered severe traumas such as child abuse, we see evidence that the part of the brain that processes emotion seems to be routinely overactive. Likewise, the part of the brain that provides conscious analysis of where we are in time and space, seems underactive when emotional processing increases. This activity problem (too much in some areas, too little in others) appears to cause individuals to relive/re-experience trauma and have less capacity (in the moment of reliving) to talk back to their feelings (analyze what is happening) or explain it to others
  • Along with these structures, hormone feedback systems appear to produce fight/flight hormones in the presence of triggers

Simplistic as my points above are, I hope you can see that a person has little conscious control over these reactions in any given moment. Now, there are things that can be done to help the brain adapt and respond better, but the fact of being triggered is not the result of not trusting God.

So, consider the multiply-traumatized man in your church who reacts negatively to well-intentioned requests to join a small group or to be prayed over with the laying on of hands. Is this because they do not trust God, are sinfully fearful, or evidence of invisible wounds of PTSD? I suspect some would be inclined to assume this man had a spiritual problem. In fact he may, but the reaction he is having is most likely not that problem.

A Better Question

Recently I asked my students to consider this question: What does faithfulness look like for the Christian who is suffering pervasive panic? Does it mean an absence of fear? Forcing themselves into situations that will flood them with panic? How would you answer this question? Are the evidences of fear in your life a sign you do not trust God? Can you acknowledge fear and still trust God? What does that look like for you?

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Making the Church a Safe Place for Victims of Trauma


This afternoon I will be speaking at Chelten Church on the topic of “Making the Church A Safe Place for Victims of Trauma.” This 3 hour continuing education seminar (co-sponsored by Biblical Seminary who provides the NBCC approved CEs) will focus primarily on trauma resulting from child sexual abuse. However, other forms of sexual violence and traumas (domestic violence, military trauma) will get a bit of attention as well. If you can’t make it or wish to see what I am talking about, you can download and see the slides: Making the Church A Safe Place For Victims.

Tomorrow, Mary DeMuth will speak on a topic similar to her book. Her talk is entitled, “Unmarked Marriage.”  I suspect the conference organizers will take walk-ins!

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Cameo in “Hope Rising” on ABC on November 30


Hope Rising, a documentary about The American Bible Society’s efforts to bring trauma healing to the Congo is going to be played on some local ABC stations beginning November 16. However, it airs here in Philadelphia on November 30 in the wee hours of the morning. I make a brief cameo in the documentary. Plus many of my friends doing the work are featured quite a bit. It will be aired on another local ABC affiliate channel, #246, the Live Well Network (LWN) on December 3. But, as they say, check your local listings or follow the instructions on this page to ask your local affiliate to air the program. In the meantime, check out this trailer,

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You are what you tell yourself


That little narrative in your head, the one that thinks about self in the world, has more power over your perception of reality than you might care to admit. Some of us repeat shame stories, some repeat failure stories, some repeat fantasies, and still others repeat memories of being misunderstood or not treated as special. But whatever the narrative, it influences how you see yourself and how you choose to relate to the world–even when you are not aware of its presence.

Let me illustrate this point with two recent pieces run on National Public Radio

1. The Science of Self-Talk.  What you repeat to yourself about yourself can influence how you see yourself. This item explored how slight changes in talking about body image (from “My stomach is fat and disgusting” to “My stomach is round and bigger than I would like”) change the way individuals feel about themselves.

2. The voice in your head.  Radiolab has a couple of stories about voices in our head. The first was the voices heard in those who have Schizophrenia. While that story is very interesting, about 11 minutes in there is a second story that is more interesting to this topic: The second story is about minorities and females who do less well on standardized math testing than Caucasian males. It appears that accepting stories (e.g., girls or African Americans won’t do as well in academic settings) influence both populations to do less well on tests. When calling an IQ test a set of puzzles, African Americans will perform as well as others. Given the same set of puzzles an IQ test, they do less well. While there are many factors involved in the production and maintenance of these stereotypes, it appears that if we accept these stories, they will work on us and we will become them. What is interesting in this piece is that you don’t have to cognitively believe the story to be knocked off your game.

Preach what you want to practice

So, what stories do you repeat in your head? What stories come whether you want them to or not? What new narrative would you like to practice as a better sense of the truth. Choose a narrative that avoids all/nothing since you won’t find it believable. Ask the Lord what narrative he would like you to have for this issue. Consider these two.

1. Body image. What part of your body bothers you? Work out a more reasonable, less pejorative view of that part. Practice saying it.

2. Hurt feelings. Is there someone whose neglect has hurt you? Someone who hasn’t given you the attention you would like? Try softening the narrative in your head.

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Join me in Brazil, March 23-27, 2015!


UPDATE: Conference registration cut in half! Now only costs $250 instead of $500.

I will be attending and speaking at the 2015 General Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship in Sao Paulo, Brazil (March 23-27, 2015) on the topic of recovery from child sexual abuse. Boz Tchividjian, Diane Langberg, Jim Gamble (N. Ireland) and Beatri Kruger (S. Africa) will also be covering topics such as preventing child abuse, sex trafficking and counseling.

These conversations are important everywhere, but this audience will be representing Reformed church communities worldwide, and that makes it very important conversation since churches worldwide need to keep talking about abuse that takes place within Christian environments. ! If trauma and abuse aren’t your cup of tea, there are parallel tracks covering everything from transdenominational ministry, Islam, church ministry and sexuality, church planting, and prosperity gospel.

See WRF GA Assembly for more information about the conference program and how to register for the conference.

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Why are we surprised when we hear of systemic abuses?


Today on my ride home I heard a sports commentator discussing a recent abuse scandal on a high school football team. While the commentator did not dispute the evidence of abuse, he asked another whether he had ever heard of such behavior before by a football team. It seemed he was a bit surprised a team or a coach would tolerate systemic abuses of other teammates.

Why are we surprised when an organization tolerates harm done by one set of members to another set of members?

Whenever an organization (football, school, fraternity, or religious community) seeks to best the competition, limits membership, rejects all who would support other groups, maintains secrecy a strong hierarchy, you have a recipe for systemic abuse. Look closer at this recipe:

  • A population of individuals who deeply desire inclusion, who want to be in the inner circle
  • A population of individuals already in the inner circle and feeling mighty proud of it
  • Everyone feeling the need to protect the organization over individual needs/concerns
  • Secrecy about decision-making processes
  • Leadership who will maintain the hierarchy and encourage fears over what might happen if the system breaks down.

We know hazing and abuse happens on sports teams, fraternities, military units, and any other organization with these above-named features. It is more natural than we would like to admit.

This does not mean that all popular organizations, all private clubs are abusive. Rather, only without significant effort, individual abusive acts will morph into systemic abuse through complicity.

What significant efforts reduce the possibility of systemic abuse? Here are a few for starters:

  • Transparency of leadership and decision-making processes
  • A culture of protecting the weak over the strong
  • A culture of inclusion and collaboration with outsiders
  • A culture of servant-leadership and true mutual submission
  • A willingness to listen to inside and outside critique

He who wants to be first, must be the least of all.

Do we believe this? Or do we believe that associating with bigger, more prestigious groups will bring us value?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture

Conference Opportunity: Redeeming the Impact of Sexual Abuse (10/31-11/1)


the%20change%20seminar%20flyer-001[1]I have the privilege of participating in the Change Seminar at the end of this month. Designed for survivors, family members, church leaders, friends, and clinicians, this Friday afternoon/Saturday seminar will Feature myself and Mary DeMuth and her husband, Patrick. Mary, author of Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse, will be speaking on church communities and their role in helping victims and their families recover. She will be speaking Saturday, November 1 from 9-2. I will be speaking on Friday afternoon, October 31, on the topic of making the church a safe place for trauma survivors (those who have been trafficked, sexually abused, or have PTSD from other causes.

To register: www.chelten.org/changeseminar or call to 21.5.646.5588.

For those of you in the Philadelphia area, you can’t get continuing education for much cheaper than this: 6 CEs for $100 (NBCC approved). If you don’t need CEs then the price is even lower, $45 for couples, $35 for couples if one is a ministry leader, $25 for individuals.

Isn’t it time the church became know for the leading edge of caring for (and preventing!) sexual violence?

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Thoughts on Gary Haugen’s “The Locust Effect”


Over 2 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day. If you doubled the population of the United States you would have the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day. As Gary Haugen points out, if you are reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford, 2013) or are reading this blog, you are not likely to be a member of the extreme poor. And if you aren’t a member of the extreme poor you probably wish you could do something to improve the lives of the most impoverished. The poor need clean water, food, housing, jobs, affordable healthcare, and education among other things.

But Haugen says all of those needs pale to a greater need: the need to stop the plague of “lawless violence.”

Opportunities for education, jobs, healthcare, quality food and water will evaporate or will not be accessed if poor do not have protection from violent forces–security, law enforcement, and a just judiciary.

The book challenges the reader to stay with the problem of poverty and violence as it travels across the globe to recount story after story of vulnerable men, women, and children whose governments fail to (a) protect them from sexual violence, bonded labor, property theft, and (b) defend them or seek justice after becoming prey. Frankly, it would be easy to either turn away from this problem since it is too large for anyone to solve or to just keep offering some form of help (food, water, job creation–all of which are needed and good!) without confronting the epidemic of violence.

Sexual Violence

There are many forms of violence a poor person can face. Their livelihood, home, and communities can be destroyed. But sexual violence doesn’t just take those things but also eviscerates the soul. Haugen recounts that in some locations as many as 68 percent of girls report experiences of sexual abuse. Some 6 to 11 million individuals are trapped in the sex trafficking industry. Some 1 billion women are known victims of sexual abuse. For most readers, this is not new news.

But consider for a minute that somewhere’s between 6 and 50 million people (Haugen tells us to read that as MEN) pay for sex each day. Remember that buying sex is likely supporting violence (pimps, prior sexual abuse, etc.). Look at the problem of sexual violence a different way–the percentage of men who have EVER paid for sex ranges from 15 percent to 85 percent (depending upon the country).

Sit with that number for a bit. You want to stop sexual violence? Yes, we need law enforcement willing to investigate and charge sex offenders. Yes, we need a judiciary system willing to provide justice through convictions and sentencing. But, if we really want to stop sexual violence, we have to deal with demand side of the equation.

Trauma the Multiplier of Violence and Poverty

Gary’s book addresses some of the colonial roots of violence in the developing world (i.e., government and law enforcement built for the ruling/colonial class, not for the local population). While I have not finished the book, I’m wondering about how he sees the impact of trauma on this whole problem. As most recognize, traumatized people tend towards learned helplessness and thus are much more vulnerable to future violent acts against them. And Haugen acknowledges this problem, if briefly (pp 105-106). He identifies the fact that “unrestrained violence” leads to traumatic reactions that will hinder the capacities to take advantage of available resources.

While all true, the problem of trauma is likely causing problems not just for the vulnerable poor but also effecting the entire system (police, judiciary, and government). Trauma often causes individuals to stop thinking of the future. Instead, individuals make impulsive, self-protective decisions that may hinder future opportunities (e.g., drug use stops triggers but harms future health). The same can be true of systems (bribery to survive now, but destructive to safety and stability.

The book ends with a number of ways to address the problem of global violence so make sure you read to the end. But I encourage you to think about ways to respond to BOTH trauma and faith deficits. Check out the work the Trauma Healing Institute as an example of grassroots, lay level response to these two problems.

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