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Teen Dating Violence

Eroticizing Power


I came across this article about clergy sexual abuse and the concept of eroticized power seemed relevant to the current blog series on sexual abuse in the church.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following in the comments.

“A power imbalance is easily sexualized or eroticized. Carolyn Holderread Heggen notes that: The imbalance of power between men and women has become eroticized in our culture. Many persons find male power and female powerlessness sexually arousing. In general, men are sexually attracted to females who are younger, smaller, and less powerful than themselves. Women tend to be attracted to males who are older, larger, and more powerful. Male clergy have a great imbalance of power over their congregations, which are often predominately women, therefore, the stage is set for a sexually inappropriate expression of this power differential.
 
In some instances, misuses of power can be sexualized in situations that begin as mentoring. This could happen in the case of an older man or woman taking an interest in a younger person of either gender for the purpose of encouraging that youth’s development. Youth activities that begin as play can become a context of power and authority when youth leaders do not understand the power they possess simply by virtue of their age, authority and gender.
 
Because they have greater power, the leader always bears primary responsibility to protect the boundaries of the relationship. The person with the greater power must act in the best interests of the person with lesser power. This holds true even when the person with less power makes sexualized advances. A leader is the keeper of a trust and, as such, is responsible to ensure that no sexualized behavior occurs, “…no matter what the level of provocation or apparent consent.”

Keeping Children/Youth Safe From Abuse In Church: Best Practices


In our last post we looked at what faith communities need to know and think about regarding sexual abuse. In this post we will look at very specific behaviors churches/ministries can take to reduce the actual risk of sexual abuse occurring in their buildings and programs.

  • Do the hard work of developing policies

Many churches or youth and children ministries already have policies on how to address abuse when it occurs. It would be prudent to develop an abuse prevention policy as well. For example, have a 2-1 adult-child ratio at all times would be a safer practice that allowing 1-on-1 adult to child ratio. If a child needs spiritual counseling or is in a mentoring relationship with an adult, restricting physical touch to only public spaces or simply minimizing (side hug vs. full frontal, prolonged hug) is also a best practice.

  • Identify and question confusing behaviors

This will take an environmental curator, who is skilled at communication, to shape the culture and make it safe and acceptable to talk about confusing or uncomfortable behaviors. Nobody wants to accuse someone of sexual abuse but having a climate that identifies behavior that could potentially be misconstrued as inappropriate is a good starting point.

  • Don’t wait! Address inappropriate behaviors

Speaking up about your concerns is not the same as accusing someone of sexual abuse and could serve to keep unhealthy or dangerous behaviors from occurring in the first place. The very nature of prevention is to act before the illegal sexual behavior occurs. Drawing a boundary of safe and appropriate behavior early is the important work of prevention. Don’t wait until the line is crossed, be proactive.

  • No hide and seek

When planning for child/youth space, we often look at it through the lens of the child or physical harm to the child. We should also be looking at our physical spaces through the lens of a potential perpetrator; where are there blind spots, hiding spaces where abuse might occur. Be mindful of the activities you play, such as; hide and seek, sardines, etc. Consider adding windows to interior walls for safer viewing and higher levels of accountability.

  • Plan for messy people

The church is and should be a place of restoration and reconciliation. People who have sexually abuse others in the past often look to faith and religion as a means of overcoming their problem. What are your protocol for how they can navigate your community? Are certain areas off limits? What legal restrictions do they have? Who is meeting with the abuser for counseling and accountability? Thinking this through ahead of time will give you the opportunity to be proactive and decrease the likelihood of unwanted difficulties.

 

In our next post we will look at best practices for responding to a sexual abuse crisis should it happen in your church/program.

Church Readiness for Sexual Abuse: Reducing Risk


Churches that care about children are an important part of our culture. The need for spiritual and moral development is imperative for our future as humans and also for the future of all faith traditions. The significance of growing into a community of people that love and support you is essential for a successful transition into adulthood as well. Unfortunately, any community can be vulnerable to sexual abuse, especially when adults interact with those children on a regular basis.

  • It can happen in your church.

“It won’t ever happen here.” Famous last words. There is no such thing as a “typical” sexual predator. They come in all shapes and sizes. We can’t afford to live in denial about the possibility that sexual abuse can happen in our ministries. Talking about it won’t make it happen. Talking about it publicly will help keep it in the forefront of your minds and will communicate a sense of safety, that this issue is not being ignored. Parents are always thinking about the possibility so your ministry should as well.

  • You’re as sick as your secrets.

Should sexual abuse occur in your church or ministry, you might be tempted to avoid the public scandal. Don’t! Nothing feels worse to the victim than brushing abuse under the rug. Don’t minimize or victim-blame. Speak out directly to your community, cooperate with the police, walk alongside the victim, and walk alongside the abuser. This will be messy but it will be worth it in the end as it will give everyone a sense of security that this issue is taken seriously and that we (the church) is in it for the long road to recovery.

  • Background checks – it’s a good start.

Background checks should be required by now. If not, you’re already vulnerable to predatory individuals. While background checks are essential, law enforcement says that 88% of sexual assault goes unreported. That means 9 out of 10 offenders will not have a criminal background. Proper vetting, relationships, ongoing supervision, accountability, and policy are necessary to reduce the risk of abuse happening in your ministry.

  • The importance of policies and procedures.

Beyond background check, extensive and comprehensive policies and procedures are going to be your best defense against child/youth abuse in your community. Good policies make clear that your ministry is committed to nurturing safe spaces for your kids to explore faith and tradition.

 

Abuse Defined


If we’re going to dig into this messy and difficult topic then we’re going to need to define what abuse is and identify the different types of abuse a child/young person can experience.

Abuse Defined

Child abuse and neglect are defined by Federal and State laws. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides minimum standards that States must incorporate in their statutory definitions of child abuse and neglect. The CAPTA definition of “child abuse and neglect,” at a minimum, refers to:

  • “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”

The CAPTA definition of “sexual abuse” includes:

  • “The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or
  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children”

Types of Abuse

Nearly all States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands provide civil definitions of child abuse and neglect in statute. As applied to reporting statutes, these definitions determine the grounds for intervention by State child protective agencies. States recognize the different types of abuse in their definitions, including physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Some States also provide definitions in statute for parental substance abuse and/or for abandonment as child abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is generally defined as “any non-accidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child. In approximately 38 States and American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, the definition of abuse also includes acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare.

Neglect

Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision such that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 24 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect. Seven States specifically define medical neglect as failing to provide any special medical treatment or mental health care needed by the child. In addition, four States define as medical neglect the withholding of medical treatment or nutrition from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

All States include sexual abuse in their definitions of child abuse. Some States refer in general terms to sexual abuse, while others specify various acts as sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation is an element of the definition of sexual abuse in most jurisdictions. Sexual exploitation includes allowing the child to engage in prostitution or in the production of child pornography.

Emotional Abuse

Almost all States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include emotional maltreatment as part of their definitions of abuse or neglect. Approximately 32 States, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico provide specific definitions of emotional abuse or mental injury to a child. Typical language used in these definitions is “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition,” or as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”

Parental Substance Abuse

Parental substance abuse is an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in some States. Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some States include:

  • Prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother’s use of an illegal drug or other substance (14 States and the District of Columbia)
  • Manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on the premises occupied by a child (10 States)
  • Allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used or stored (three States)
  • Selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child (seven States and Guam)
  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver’s ability to adequately care for the child (seven States)

Abandonment

Approximately 17 States and the District of Columbia include abandonment in their definition of abuse or neglect, generally as a type of neglect. Approximately 18 States, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands provide definitions for abandonment that are separate from the definition of neglect. In general, it is considered abandonment of the child when the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left by the parent in circumstances in which the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Protecting Against Sexual Abuse in Youth Programs


6 Stages of Child Grooming

Wikipedia defines Child Grooming as befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions for child sexual abuse. It lures minors into trafficking of children, illicit businesses such as child prostitution, or the production of child pornography.

Child groomers are often drawn into roles such as youth ministry or other positions where they have access to children and youth like teachers, coaches, mentors, etc.

A child groomer is often methodical in their strategy and the grooming process can happen quickly, depending on the response from the child, or over a number of years. It can happen in person, online, or a combination of both. Most offenders are someone the youth and family know and have a measure of trust.

There are 6 common stages of grooming and it is important to be aware of for those of us who work with children and youth.

 

Stage 1: Initial Contact: If an abuser does not already have access to a child they will often target children that are unaware of sexual abuse, are shy, insecure, or children considered ‘weird’ or ‘needy’. They want: access, trust, and ability to control.  Often children with a single parent, or children with busy or inattentive parents are targeted and are increased risk of grooming. The reason for this is that there is a perceived likelihood that the child/youth will desire the attention and affection of an adult because of the deficiency in their primary relationships.

Points of contact include:

  • Church/youth group
  • School
  • Shopping Mall
  • Movie theater
  • Bus/train stations
  • Athletic activities/events
  • Parks
  • Anywhere a child/youth might gather with minimal direct supervision

Stage 2: Gaining Trust: The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his or her needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention. Often, offenders fly under the radar in youth oriented programs because, on the surface, they look like and act like the ideal staff/volunteer.

Stage 3: Befriending the Victim: Once the individual groomer begins to meet the emotional/relational needs of the child, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Often gifts, extra attention and affection may be a red flag for one adult in particular and they should be monitored closely at this point.

Stage 4: Isolating the Child: The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This private, one-on-one time further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching and special trips all enable this isolation. A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship; grateful that their child has someone in their life that understands and cares for them. Parents can be manipulated into thinking this individual is a conduit for the parent to understand their own strained relationship with their child.

Stage 5: Sexualizing the Relationship: Once there is sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations hugging more frequently and for longer periods of time. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. When conditioning a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms. For a child who has yet to reach identity achievement, sexualization like this can disrupt and distort that natural process.

Stage 6: Maintaining Control: Once the sex abuse is occurring, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to keep the child in continued participation and silence—particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship. Children in these entangled relationships—and at this point they are entangled—confront threats to blame them, to end the relationship and to end the emotional and material needs they associate with the relationship, whether it be the money, the coaching one receives, special outings or other gifts. The groomer creates a system of rewards for the behavior and the loss of those rewards becomes the consequences for ending the relationship. The child may also feel that the loss of the relationship and the consequences of exposing it will humiliate and render them even more unwanted by the offender, family, and friends.

 

Grooming for sexual exploitation purposes is a complex and effective strategy that we must be vigilant about. If you work with youth in any capacity, you are charged with protecting these precious children. Blaming them for the abuse will only render them more vulnerable to future attacks because it will further marginalize them from protective factors.

In our next post we will explore our response should we suspect grooming/sexual abuse is occurring and how we can work to prevent it in the first place.

Helping Teens Navigate Dating Abuse


National statistics on dating violence show a startling trend:

  • 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year.
  • 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Girls between ages 16-24 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Three times the national average.

Teens are more than likely to first disclose abuse to a peer but if they chose to disclose abuse to a trusted adult we should be equipped to help them navigate the process. Below are some suggestions on how we can best help a young person begin the journey of addressing the abuse.

Barriers to Disclosing Abuse

Let’s start by looking at the reasons a young person might not say anything about the abuse:

  1. Fear of not being believed.
  2. Humiliation.
  3. They believe they are responsible for the abuse.
  4. Need to protect the abuse/family.
  5. Asking for help equals weakness.
  6. Fear of reprisal.

What Leads to Disclosure

  1. Anger
  2. Medical concerns
  3. Realizing implications of abuse
  4. Asked about the abuse by a non-family member
  5. Siblings are at-risk
  6. Abuse becomes intolerable
  7. No longer in relationship with abuser
  8. Safe relationships to confide in

How Best to Respond

  1. Empathy
  2. Don’t judge/Check personal bias
  3. Be direct but don’t force the conversation
  4. Manage your reactions (don’t overreact)
  5. Remember appropriate developmental expectations
  6. Be patient
  7. Consider gender/sexuality issues
  8. Follow-up/Take action

If you work with youth/teens in any capacity you are likely a mandated reporter (check your state guidelines). It would also be wise to develop a program policy specific to how your team should handle disclosure of abuse of any kind.

teen-dating-violence1

 

The Functionality of Sin


ducttapeTraditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started us on a journey of seeking to understand these fringe issues (which really aren’t fringe any longer), to be better equipped to love these kids that God was sending us. We believed we were called to be good stewards of the kids He sent us and that meant pulling our head out of the sand, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Sin is such a complex issue, everything from understanding what it is to what it isn’t, to what are the systemic causes of it, to how we deal with the fallout of sin, to how we put programs in place to create an environment that not only discourages sin but fosters the belief that everyone, EVERYONE, is a child of God and treated accordingly.

Dr. Brene` Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power explains her research on the subject of shame as a study on the power of connection and the dangers of disconnection. When one considers the process to the product that is a sinful individual we must first understand that our primary drive is to be connected. God first existed in community and we are created in Their image, aren’t we? The longing to belong serves many purposes; survival, fulfillment, success, and procreation. Growing up as blank slates our families, environments, and culture shape how we “learn” to connect. We are taught skills and styles of connecting to others. Sometimes these means are healthy and affirming, and God honoring, placing God at the helm and others accordingly. Other times we are not taught healthy ways of connecting. We are taught that violence, aggression, manipulation and other illegitimate means are what are necessary to get what you need and want.

When we are not affirmed as worthy of being connected to others we learn to see ourselves as deficient, broken, not valuable, insignificant, etc., but our need for connection doesn’t leave us, we simply learn other ways to get what we need.

If this is done well, as God first intended, then it significantly increases the likelihood of having generations of people who choose to enter into a relationship with Him, just as He ordained from the beginning of time.
When this doesn’t go as God intended the opposite result is the outcome. Brokenness in God’s creation exists. God’s children all fighting and pining instead of cooperating to satisfy the deepest longings of their heart. Longings placed in them to direct them to God and each other, in that order. We experience sin and its collateral damage when we invert that order, placing me and others before our relationship with God the Father.

This is where sin becomes functional. Sin becomes a means to an end. For a long time we have demonized our sinful youth as just giving in to their hedonic nature. What if there was more going on than just simple pleasure seeking? What is we began to ask the question, “What purpose does sin have?”. Would this change the way we approach our youth and their sinful behaviors? What if we started having conversations about other ways, more God-honoring ways, to meet the deepest longings of their hearts? What if we spoke the language of their heart and longings? What if we told them of a God who can satisfy these longings in real ways, so that it is God’s love that draws them not the fear of Him. What if we created space in our homes and gathering places where youth felt they belonged and mattered? If we could do this, with the help of the Spirit, would they drop their cheap substitute (sin) for the real deal (God)? What do we have to lose?

The Three R’s of Bullying Interventions


The issue of bullying just doesn’t seem to be going away so today let’s talk about strategies to fix what bullying does.  The following would be a great resource to put in the hands of parents of your students.  It is also good kindling for discussion on reconciliation.

Restitution, Resolution, and Reconciliation 

If student was a follower/supporter of the bully: 

  1. Intervene immediately
  2. Provide a system of graceful accountability while allow natural consequences to occur
  3. Create opportunities to “do good”
  4. Nurture empathy
  5. Teach friendship skills – assertive, respectful, and peaceful ways to relate to others
  6. Monitor/Criticize/Converse about TV shows, movies, music, and video games that reinforce violence against others
  7. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, and energizing activities 

If your student hurt others through gossip: 

  1. apologize to the child who was harmed by the rumor
  2. go to everyone she told it to and tell them it wasn’t true
  3. ask them to stop spreading it
  4. ask them to let everyone they told that she was a part of spreading the rumor and that she wants to correct it
  5. to the best of her ability, repair any damage done to the target by the act of spreading the rumor
  6. take the next step of building a new and healthier relationship 

Three principles that foster moral independence: 

  1. Teach your student that he and only he is responsible for the consequences of his actions (kids who accept responsibility for their own actions are more likely to live up to their own moral code) 
  2. Build your student’s confidence in his or her ability to make good decisions (Kids who have confidence in their own judgments are not easily manipulated by others) 
  3. Teach your student how to evaluate reasons on his or her own (Kids who have confidence in their own ability to reason are more questioning and more resistant to passive acceptance of orders.)

reference: Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanders by Barbara Coloroso

Creating Caring Communities that Challenge Bullying


The following is a brief outline for creating an environment that leaves little room for bullying.  Whether your group is in a classroom, youth group room, large group meeting room, or small group this following principles will be helpful for the leader to cultivate a safe environment.  This can also be used in training volunteers as there is a Powerpoint Presentation that goes with it at the bottom of this post.

Four Key Principles 

  1. warmth, positive interest, and involvement from adults
  2. firm limits as to unacceptable behavior
  3. in case of violations of limits and rules, consistent application of non-hostile, non-physical sanctions (discipline as opposed to punishment)
  4. behavior by adults at home and in community organizations that creates an authoritative (not authoritarian) adult – child interaction

 Elements to Effective Anti-Bullying Policies 

  1. A strong, positive statement of the organizations desire to promote positive peer relations and especially to oppose bullying and harassment in any form it may take by all members of the community
  2. A succinct definition of bullying or peer victimization, with specific examples
  3. A declaration of the rights of individuals and groups in the community – students, teachers, clergy, LGBTQ, minorities, etc – to be free of victimization by others
  4. A statement of the responsibility of those who witness peer victimization to seek to stop it
  5. Encouragement of students and parents with concerns about victimization to speak with school/church/community leaders about it
  6. A general description of how the community organization proposes to deal with the bully/victim problem
  7. A plan to evaluate the policy in the near future

 Prevention Strategy 

  1. Gathering information about bullying in community directly from students
  2. Establishing clear organizational rules about bullying
  3. Training all willing adults in the community to respond sensitively and consistently to bullying
  4. Providing adequate adults supervision, particularly in less structured areas, such as playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, etc.
  5. Improving parental awareness of and involvement in working on the problem.

Bullying Training

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