Over at Biblical’s faculty blog I have a new post discussing top abuse prevention and response strategies. These are the most common strategies found in my students’ papers. There are certainly many more strategies and more detail to be had for each item, but for any church looking to review its preparation for an allegation, these five make a great place to start.
Tag Archives: Abuse
For those of you who attended or are interested, all PowerPoint slides for our recent Abuse in the Church: Biblical, Legal, & Counseling Perspectives are now available. In the future, we will also make available the audios and video…but that will take a bit of time since we are doing the editing in-house.
The slides from my talk can be found separately on this site. Click the “Articles, Slides…” link at the top of the page and then scroll to the bottom for one file containing all 4 slide sets. Boz Tchividjian’s are made available here (PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT alter or disseminate these slides without Boz’ permission–contact www.netgrace.org):
Plenary One: Offenders in the Church BT
Plenary Two: Minimizing the Opportunities BT
Breakout: When Faith Hurts BT
A great start to our conference last night. Boz Tchividjian gave us some good things to think about in how predators in the church operate. He named 5 particular exploitations that are common
Exploitations of “religious cover” (aka religious activity); of faith issues (using distorted faith matters to abuse); of power (using authority, “God told me that…”); of trust (christian communities tend to be trusting); of need (churches work only through volunteers, thus the need).
Here’s the quote:
Everyone believes in child protection. But when the status of the alleged offender is high and the status of the victim is low, that is when people start looking for exceptions to their protection policies.
I have placed the slides of my 4 talks (last night’s and 3 from today) in my articles and slides page (scroll to the bottom, in right column). Boz Tchividjian will make his available here as well after the conference.
At 6 pm, our class/conference kicks off at BranchCreek church (Harleysville, PA) and runs through tomorrow afternoon. Boz Tchividjian of GRACE and myself will be providing plenary and breakouts on a variety of topics designed to help church leaders and counselors prevent and respond well to abuse within the church family. We are expecting a good crowd of pastors, church leaders, mental health workers, and of course, grad students!
Still want to come?
It is not too late. Information here. Bring payment (CC or cash/check) to the door. We’ll fit you in!
The Penn State independent investigation report is now out. On page 129 the report criticizes Penn State for an
“over-emphasis on ‘the Penn State way’ as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics…”
I’m not a Penn State alum nor do I have an insider’s experience of “the Penn State way.” However, I would assume that this mindset provides alum and current employees some guidelines for how to approach many situations. Consider other entities like the Marines or particular denominations, or sporting associations and how they each have a culture that helps shape decision-making. Tennis players apologize for winning points when the ball hits the netcord. Marines won’t leave someone behind. Presbyterians entrust church polity to representative government processes. The strength of a culture helps individuals choose the “right” response without having to reinvent the wheel every time a conflict or problem arises. But that same culture leads to blindspots–things that no longer receive much attention or criticism.
As a result, an organization or system runs smoothly based on strengths of culture but risks failing to identify where these same strengths damage others. The only way to keep these strengths in check is to be willing to question them as a matter of routine AND to have close proximity to outsiders who will give honest criticism (it certainly helps if this criticism comes from a heart of love).
Individuals suffer from the same problem. What you consider your best asset or strength may be your biggest blindspot. Preachers who are excellent communicators often fail to recognize how much power their words have on others. Organizers sometimes fail to see how much control they exert on others. Critical thinkers sometimes fail to see how they devalue the ideas of others. Visionaries often burden underlings with work that cannot be completed in realistic timeframes.
What is your most valued strength or cultural artifact? Ask a trusted friend to tell you how this wonder part of you (or your organization) can be dangerous.
Don’t forget, 1 week til our “Abuse in the Church” mini-conference runs. It is not too late to sign up. Let’s all work to make sure that our churches don’t have to suffer the public humiliation that Penn State is going through right now. Come and see what the Church can do to respond with love and righteous!
At staff meeting today we watched, Not My Life. A film about human trafficking and modern slavery. Narrated by Glenn Close, this documentary explores the cruel inhumanity of trafficking and slavery around the world today. I recommend it for anyone wanting to get a clear picture of the types of trafficking and slavery, whether in Africa, India, Cambodia, Europe, or the United States.
Somewhere in the movie someone defines sex trafficking as supported by,
force, fraud, and coercion
You might think that force and coercion are the same but here is how I hear those words:
force: the physical power to control another person
fraud: deception often makes it possible to get more cooperation without using as much force
coercion: psychological efforts to get someone to do what you want. It is one thing to kidnap someone. It is another to convince them to act in ways that they would never choose to do. Coercion could be physical but sex traffickers rarely stand over their slaves and make them act out with those who buy them–at least after the first times. No, coercion is often psychological. If you don’t do this, I will kill your family. No one will want you now. Force starts the process, coercion keeps the victim entrapped.
Why is this helpful? Because these three items can be found anywhere. It is far too easy to believe that trafficking happens elsewhere or is something that only a monster does. Well, that last phrase is true…but we all know a little about force, manipulation, and deception. These features are found in everyday life.
Want to do something about trafficking? Stand up against force, manipulation (coercion) and deception everywhere you see it–in yourself, in others, in systems.
We all know that we shouldn’t wait until our house is on fire to purchase insurance on our home. We all know that a will is necessary before we die. But, do you know that most churches do not have any plan to deal with an allegation of child or adult abuse? While no plan is foolproof and almost every abuse allegation contains unique features requiring difficult decision-making, a basic plan usually contains directions for who will make sure plans are carried out and how the church will handle both victim and offender.
Why Don’t Churches Have a Plan?
Maybe one of the reasons many churches fail to have a plan is that they aren’t really convinced a plan is central to the work of the Gospel–as central as a doctrinal statement or the preaching of the Word. Maybe such a plan is seen as a necessary evil like unto car insurance, something you know you should have but are annoyed to pay such a large bill even though you haven’t needed to use the benefit.
2 Better Reasons!
Counselors talk about trauma as if all traumas lead to traumatic reactions. They do not. Some people have significant distress from what might be considered slight traumatic experiences (surely an oxymoron!) while others appear not have any negative or ongoing reactions to very large distressing events.
There’s another problem. We sometimes talk as if all traumatic reactions are the same. This is also not the case. While the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are well-known to many (i.e., intrusive re-experiencing of trauma experiences, emotional numbing and other attempts of avoiding memories or triggers, and hypervigilance), you can find counseling students and practitioners who are less aware of a cousin of PTSD: Complex Trauma.
Defining Complex Trauma
I’m reading Treating complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence-Based Guide, edited by Christine Courtois and Julian Ford (Guilford Press, 2009). This is an excellent text if you are interested in exploring the symptoms, neurobiology, and treatment protocols for complex trauma. In the foreword, Judith Herman helps the reader clarify the main difference between regular and complex trauma
These days, when I teach about complex PTSD, I always begin with the social ecology of prolonged and repeated interpersonal trauma. There are two main points to grasp here. The first is that such trauma is always embedded in a social structure that permits the abuse and exploitation of a subordinate group… The second point is that such trauma is always relational. It takes place when the victim is in a state of captivity, under the control and domination of the perpetrator. (xiv, emphases mine).
For trauma to become complex one needs to experience the trauma at the hands of those who are most perceived to control a social unit (family, community, etc.). It needs to be repeated and woven into the fabric of distorted relationships. You can see that prolonged abuses experienced as a child prior to development of an understanding of the world and of the self would have more devastating impact than an unfortunate and distressing event that happens as an adult. If I experience a horrific accident and an unexpected attack by a stranger, I would not, usually, begin to feel unsafe amongst friends and family. I would likely continue to trust them even as I might not trust the larger community. However, if I experience repeated abuse by a teacher, a parent, a relative, a church leader as a young child, I do not have the prior experiences of safety to rely on and thus, I am likely to experience all of the symptoms of PTSD and then some more.
What More Symptoms?
Courtois and Ford give a cursory description of complex trauma on the first page of the book,
…involving traumatic stressors that (1) are repetitive or prolonged; (2) involve direct harm and/or neglect and abandonment by caregivers or ostensibly responsible adults; (3) occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life, such as early childhood; and (4) have great potential to compromise severely a child’s development.
Adding to the typical symptoms of PTSD, complex trauma victims also struggle to regulate emotions, impulses, somatic experiences, consciousness, and evidence significant distortions in views of the self and others leading to difficulty forming trust relationships and finding meaning in life and faith.
Those interested in learning more about the current thinking on complex trauma conceptualization and treatment may find this book useful. Others may wish to check out the latest articles at www.traumacenter.org, one of the leading centers in the country focused on the problem of trauma.
church should be the safest place in the world! Unfortunately, it isn’t always. Even worse, when abuse does happen, the church may not always protect the victims. While this shouldn’t surprise us since the church is full of sinners, we ought always to be working to make it a place free from abuse. Is your church working to protect the congregants from abuse? Is it ready to respond to an abuse allegation?
This summer I will be co-teaching with Boz Tchividjian (Liberty Law School prof and former prosecutor) a weekend course/conference on preventing and responding to abuse in the church. We are inviting church leaders to join our MDiv and counseling students at Branch Creek Church, Harleysville, PA. The class will run Friday night, July 20 and all day Saturday, July 21, 2012. All the details you need can be found on this Abuse Course Flyer.
Would you consider personally inviting your pastor or church leader by passing on this brochure?
I have a new post on the faculty blog over at www.biblical.edu. You can read it here. When any church faces the sad and grievous reality of abuse within their own community, leaders must respond. If not prepared, leaders may make decisions based on knee-jerk reactions rather than a set of previously discussed core values.
Check out the tale of two church committees (my original but discarded title of the blog).
- Is your church prepared to handle an abuse allegation? (wisecounsel.wordpress.com)
- Ministry to Sex Offenders? post on www.biblical.edu blog site (wisecounsel.wordpress.com)