To Our Workers:
As you may be aware, “There are few moments in ministry that matter more than how we respond to someone who discloses to us that they have been sexually abused..”
[Understanding Sexual Abuse: A Guide For Ministry Leaders & Survivors, by Tim Hein, (2018) p. 57-58]
And perhaps you, like most others, are having to respond extemporaneously. We pray that you will have the needed strength and wisdom, but even so, these situations require some psychological information that I’m sending in case you don’t have it.
Survivors are substantially re-traumatized when disclosure is mishandled. ..Mr. Hein’s book mentions 3 words: Listen, believe, and [I’d add, to respectfully and humbly] acknowledge. I would also add this: Maintain a tone that helps them to feel safe to talk. There is nothing for you to defend or prove in that moment. You can always circle back around with questions at a later time, but those three words are important to employ in the moment.
Whoever is calling you has already spent weeks, months, years, huge portions of their life wrangling with their experience—or that of their precious child. This may be the first time they’ve even said the words. Calling you may well be the single bravest thing they’ve ever done. They are feeling embarrassed, vulnerable, exposed. They are usually going to be needing
1) reassurance that you believe them and to see that you take them seriously,
2) to know what their options are—legal and mental health (and as you know, child and adult options differ), and
3) to see what you are going to do moving forward (prevention). I don’t pretend to know what that is, but please offer something.
You do not need to (and perhaps shouldn’t) counsel them. Your role is to believe them and resource them. (Some resources are listed in my last email, if needed.)
Here are some examples of what they need to hear:
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
The last topic I will mention is regarding perpetrator protection. Again, I don’t know if this has happened recently, but it has happened many, many times. No one coming forward to disclose should have to be questioned about what happens to their abuser. They have already spent way too much time considering that. Moreover, what happens to a perpetrator is between him and God and the law. No one reporting abuse is responsible for that. In addition, research has historically shown that a pedophile’s re-offence, relapse and recidivism rates are fairly high (and I understand that not all sexual abusers of children are pedophiles).
Given that information, many survivors and others are distraught by abusers returning to our gatherings where kids will be. Many I can readily think of have stopped going to meetings because of being unwilling to risk this exposure. Please, please do not make decisions that would continue to protect perpetrators. These people are so deceptive/charming/manipulative that it’s hard to believe they’d re-offend. And maybe even they don’t think they will. Until they do. Even after therapy. And please, please make sure they do not return to our gatherings where there are kids.
My hope is that you will read this email in the spirit I’ve intended.. to support your healthy intentions and offer some practical professional suggestions, in case you don’t already have them.
I hope that you are holding up well.
p.s. I also strongly recommend the book I quoted above. The author was also abused as a child—as many ministers have been, perhaps even your peers, or those on your staff, or even you—and has done an excellent job of offering resources, examples, and self-disclosure in an organized, compassionate way.
I’ve been told that the workers don’t read posts on here.
Some do. Hopefully those who do will share quality advice like this. It would also be great if readers shared this to workers and overseers that they know. This is a quality letter.
My wife is a double board certified child/adolescent and adult psychiatrist and none of the workers have contacted her for guidance. I’m a certified mental health RN since 1990 and silence from the workers. It seems as though they really don’t want professional guidance and are relying on group meetings among themselves to get answers, which we know isn’t the safest way as the overseers leading their meetings are very powerful and the underlings are often fearful of speaking up, especially the female workers. Several years ago the workers had a meeting when homosexuality was brought up and one of the overseers guiding the meeting was engaging in sexual acts against several sister workers. It was several years before he was found out and removed from the work but not the truth. Is it any wonder that there’s considerable doubt about their self guidance success?
I think your experience of workers shunning professional advice is pretty common. However, it is possible that we are at an inflection point on that. Recent events have caused things to happen that I have never seen in my lifetime. Just the availability of overseer letters and letters by thoughtful workers and friends being out in the open is a new development. It could lead to some helpful, moral change……and a bit of humility from workers could get them there. Point is, engaging with workers on these difficult subjects is the only way to get things right, so don’t give up trying! 🙂
Thank you for posting this response. I quit going to meetings years ago for this reason, seeing these perpetrators again. Like you said they re-offend again and again.
Thank you for posting this. I quit going to meetings years ago due to this reason, seeing the perpetrators living their lives and us suffering because of them. Even when I was contacted to have lunch with a “visiting” worker, come to find out he had also been accused of sexual deviancy. The group needs to do better.
I am a survivor of rape, molestation, and other inappropriate experiences, but not while I have been in this Way.
Now that I am 81, professing for 26 years, nothing surprises or shocks me, and I have had plenty of therapy and the joy of finding God in a way that speaks to my heart since those bad old early days.
My feeling since professing is that there is a weird secrecy about the way the Truth works as an “organization”– yes, called by God but administered through humans. I have learned that secrets keep us sick and leave shame in the victim’s heart forever. As humans, flaws are going to appear. Let’s acknowledge them.
There is much to hash out. Gays? Trans people? Jesus came for all. Convicted felons after serving time?
The Truth is actively confronted by all this and more. Time for transparency. No secrets.