Responding to Survivors of Clergy Abuse
Rev. Dr. Bernard "Skip" Keels, Elsie Boudreau  -  2012/3/21
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
Unfortunately, the faith-based community has some of the highest incidence of adult perpetone of children/teens. Yet we still a majority of churches and synagogues that still do not have basic "personal safety policies" in place. How do we increase the number of facilities who have strong prevention policies in place AND train their volunteer leaders?
 
1.  Rev. Keels
 Educate congregations ordained and leadership as to the critical importance establishing clear policies on safe sanctuaries. Encourage local clergy groups to seek guidance from established personal safety policies to incorporate into their local community. Offer lay academy training in Clergy Sexual Boundaries and Power. Often a trained lay person can promote clear pathway to healing for the victim if they are away of the resources and issues pertinent to the issue
 
 
What is the role of clergy in responding to survivors of clergy abuse? Are they involved in restorative justice practices?
 
1.  Elsie
 I know for me, when I first came forward as a victim of clergy abuse, I felt the clergy had a huge role. At that point in my life, I loved the Catholic Church and being Catholic was weaved in my identify. After not having been received, heard or believed by clergy and working with over 300 clergy abuse victims, I now say that clergy can play a role, but is not required for healing.
 
2.  Rev. Keels
 Clergy first should identify supportive networks to aid them in responsing to victims. Denominational resources often provide a clear protocol in the response. In terms of restorative justice the clergyperson can be a vital link by providing the victim with a wide array of resources to aid in the healing process. It's very important that clergy not respond as long rangers or insist that their response in the only resource available to the victim
 
 
If the pastor of a church has been involved in sexual abuse of a parishoner, and he has not been asked to step down from his position, what should happen outside of the vicitm leaving the church. Should the pastor's role in the church be limited to the activities he can participate in? Or do you address the issue as a congregation and come up with a plan.
 
1.  SamanthaNelson
 If the pastor has sexually abused someone, he NEEDS to step down from his position. He is no longer fit to stand as a representative of Christ and is a danger to the congregation.
 
2.  Rev. Keels
 If there is an established policy in place the pastor should be placed on leave and mandatorily enrolled in a clergy abuse program. His or her fitness for ministry can never be determined while that pastor is allowed to remain in an active ministerial capacity. Some denominations have established clear guidelines and protocols to insure that the issue of abuse in systematicall addressed. An idividual congregation would do well to retain an expert independent resource to facilitate the process.
 
3.  Elsie
 Like A.W. Richard Sipe says, Secrecy and accountability cannot coexist. I would encourage accountability so that other members of the congregation KNOW they are safe as the hierarchy is doing everything in its power to protect children.
 
 
What are the barriers to seeing Rape Crisis Centers as allies/resources in this movement? It seems as though many issues/needs run paralel but the two movements do not intersect or work together.
 
1.  Nancy Sabin
 An often overlooked, critical aspect of clergy abuse versus other types of sexual assaults is the position of divine trust and friendship that the perpetrator usually has with the victim (or the perceived belief of trust & friendship). That is one of the single, biggest inhibitors of victims coming forward or going to a rape crisis center...the victim's shock and disbelief keep them from ad mitting to themselves that they've been raped. That said, how do we as a society, as family and as faith communities provide better prevention education to stop these kinds of crimes? Without reporting, the clergy perpetrators often have greater numbers of victims because no one has addressed what is going on, let alone reporting it to authorities.
 
2.  RCC
 Thank you so much for your response. It is important to note Rape Crisis Centers (RCC) work with a variety of survivors including both single and multiple instances of: rape, sexual assault, childhood sexual assault, molestation... As a follow up to your response, what are some ways that RCCs and members of clergy could work directly together? Either to provide support for congregation members or training for clergy members. Additionally working together to support legislative changes to address these issues.
 
3.  Elsie
 From a victim standpoint, I would say that there potentially are benefits to working with both. However, I would say that unless there is full ownership of the problem of clergy sexual abuse, the Church(es) may be threatened to work with such centers.
 
4.  Rev. Keels
 One might take a look at the nature of the issues of rape and clergy abuse and the resources and methodologies used to address each issue. For instance, rape often is a one violent event perpetrated on a victim. While clergy sexual abuse can be a recurring act of truama on the victim. Churches can develop policies and training for all clergy relative to the issue of abuse. The similarities are in the critical need to educate law enforcement on the impact of the offense against the victim.
 
 
News in religous communities spread fast. What can leaders do to make sure that the community is sensitive to the victim, without exposing too much? Also, how can the victim be sheilded from the naysayers but still continue to be a part of the community?
 
1.  Rev. Keels
 It is absolutely important that religious communities not allow others to speak for them regarding the alledged abuse. They should develop a clear process for an official response in order to cut down on rumor, mistruths, gossip etc. The victims never should be revictimized. The churchs response should be that of a supportive community commmitted to restorative justice that empowers the victim to remain a vital part in the life of that congregation. Healing is best when the survivor of clergy abuse is held in the tender care of a community that bears his or her pain and supports their struggle to be made whole.
 
 
Should we try to persuade the victim to file a report of the abuse? Some times they feel as if it wont matter, due to the community, but it can be an impotrtant step in recovery
 
1.  Elsie
 Absolutely!!! I would encourage all victims to report to law enforcement. You also have to be careful not to be too pushy. Victims need to be in the driver's seat so to speak. Be a gentle reminder that you will support them in the process. I can say for myself as a victim, it wasn't until I came forward that I really found my voice. I no longer am afraid to use my voice and am 100 okay in my body. There is power in speaking the truth and having someone believe you.
 
2.  Rev. Keels
 I feel that is the responsibility of the church or faith community when made aware of clergy abuse to have an established vehicle by which the incident can be reported. Victims often feel reporting wont matter because some churches give carte blance authority to pastors. When the victim is aware that the church deeply cares for their healing by having a immediate response to investigate abuse and measureable steps to aid in the recovery and healing process.
 
 
Josephine Halfhide asks if there are treatment programs specifically to address this population of children abused by clergy, who do not disclose until adulthood? Specific to the Native population?
 
1.  SamanthaNelson
 The Hope of Survivors provides support to victims of clergy sexual abuse, whether they come forward as adults abused as children, or adults abused as adults.
 
2.  Elsie
 Hi Josephine. I do not know of any treatment program that deals specifically with clergy sexual abuse. I do know that there are programs, like Southcentral Foundation's Family Wellness Warriors Initiative, that deal with family violence (addressing sexual abuse)using a faith-based approach (not necessarily Native).
 
 
Given the immense amount of coverage on this issue, does the media play a role in encouraging victims to come forward and report acts of abuse? If so, do victims use the media as an outlet to discuss their encounters?
 
1.  Laura Litvinoff
 Great idea, Janet. Thank you!!
 
2.  Janet
 Laura- check with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center about the Pointer Institute and Sexual Assault advocates joint traiing project results
 
3.  Rev. Keels
 having been a news reporter I remember how short a news story is. One must be careful for instance to realize that just becuase a reporter might interview you for twenty minutes chances are only thirty seconds of that interview will air. On the subject of clergy sexual abuse we must demand that more comprehensive coverage be provided to educate, prevent, report, restore the healing of the victim. I cant stress enough how important it is that news media play a critical role in equipping both the survivor and the abuser with resources that promote healing and restorative justice.
 
4.  Laura Litvinoff
 Thank you for responding, Elsie. I've been working on my dissertation, which focuses on the media and disclosing acts of sexual victimization and it's very informative to hear personal opinions from those who were victimized. Rev. Keels, you point out a major issue with my research, which is great, and that is agenda setting by the media. While some news outlets may encourage victims to report, others inhibit victims just by the way the story is published and by who. It's about what is newsworthy and what captures the public's attention. When you say shows do you mean television broadcasts over print media? I know the power of image and when it is paired with text, the power increases. My question to both of you, is print or televised media more powerful?
 
5.  Rev. Keels
 Media soundbites often do the exact opposite. They discourage the victim to come forward due to the sensationalism of the news story that often lack real compassion and understanding of what the victim is going through. Public affairs shows or longer formatted education shows can better inform and encourage the victim to report acts of abuse.
 
6.  Elsie
 I do know that if it were not for the media, I would not have known of the victims who initially came forward from the village of St. Mary's. Before that, I thought I was the only one. This gave me courage to come forward with what had happened to me. I also know that the media coverage regarding my situation and naming my perpetrator helped other victims of the same perpetrator to come forward. To date, there are at least 20 women to have named him as a perpetrator.
 
7.  Elsie
 Very good question. I can tell you that the media has played a HUGE role in my journey of healing, moving from shame-based to finding my voice. I have said that the media is like an extention of a victim's voice; a vehicle by which victims can speak the truth and be heard.
 
 
Are there particular signs to monitor for in children that may have been abused by clergy? What should we tell parents to look for and how to communicate to the children to ask the hard questions?
 
1.  Elsie
 I would encourage you to share with parents different resources like for younger children, the book THE RIGHT TOUCH. This allows for dialogue between parent and child in a safe way. It's important for children to know that they could talk to their parents about anything. If parents suspect something may have happened to their child, a report should be made and allow for those trained to ask those hard questions.
 
2.  Rev. Keels
 If a child doesnt want to go to church or be around Pastor X should sound an alarm. If the child has questions about if God loves me then why do bad people work at the church. In the process of educating children about the boundary issues relative to adults touching them in inappropriate place parents should cleary tell them about adults in places of responsibility like the local church they attend. Watch for loss of appetite bad dreams or changes the child might have when in the company of the clergy person.
 
3.  Elsie
 Yes, there are signs, but please know that not all children who display these signs have experienced child sexual abuse. It may be an indication of something else. Signs: obvious physical signs like bleeding, bruising or pain in the vaginal or rectal area, STD's. Behavioral signs: change in behaviors like trouble sleeping, nightmares, sudden or unexplainable fears, withdrawing or isolating, lack of interest in activities, fears, memory problems, bedwetting, setting fires, torturing animals...
 
 
Do you know any jurisdiction that offers an interagency council or other 3rd party team with specialized knowledge that offers actions, guidelines and interventions to victims, mandated reporters or employees faced with negative consequences (such as employer retaliation) who find themselves further victimized by inaction or irresponsible actions of persons in leadership roles with key responsibilities for victim safety, protection, reporting, etc? I believe this is needed!
 
1.  Margaret Mata
 This sounds like an excellent resource. However, What resources are available when good, prevention and protection policies are not practiced by the leaders of a faith community and victimization (and secondary trauma) continues? These leaders are very powerful and generally oversee any internal grievance committee that could handle a concern at a lower level.
 
2.  Rev. Keels
 The Baltimore Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has a well established interagency approach that offers specific actions, guidelines and interventions to both victims and abusers. Clergy for example are required to go to Sexual Boundary classes to understand the nature of power and boundary that clergy have relative to lay persons. Clergy and staff colleagues who are aware of abuse are required to report it and insure the safety and retaliation upon the victim.
 
 
Is there a proactive role for local law enforcement; if so, can you comment?
 
1.  Rev. Keels
 Yes. Local Law Enforcement should be made aware of denominational and local church protocol regarding Clergy Sexual Abuse. Local Law Enforcement should be made aware in writing to any policies governing clergy sex abuse. Remember the accused and abused are members of that local community and have an community wide impact.
 
 
What should law enforcement pro-actively do, i.e. initiate?
 
Return to Discussion