Below are a list of ways in which churches and leaders can provide ongoing acknowledgement, support, and care to those who have been impacted by abuse.
- Support Groups – bring in a counsellor to facilitate a support group for women or men in your congregation who have experienced abuse or sexual trauma. The Abuse Response and Prevention Program in Manitoba can offer this service to churches.
- Care Groups – gather together several people who can offer the victim-survivor practical and emotional support; especially if the individual’s case is going to court. See Advocacy Training Manual for how to be a helpful advocate and support.
- Counselling – if an individual has experienced abuse within the context of church, the church or Conference should cover the cost of counselling. Some churches partner with counselling organizations so that congregants can access free, confidential counselling. This can be extremely helpful for those who need to talk to someone but don’t want to speak about what they are going through to a pastor in order to get counselling.
- Create a service or liturgy that laments, honors, and prays for those who have experienced abuse.
- Invite a counsellor to come speak about healing from abuse or trauma. Self-identifying as a victim and showing up at a support group can be extremely vulnerable. Sometimes a better way for people to learn about the impacts of abuse and ways to heal is better done in a more public, educational setting.
- Church communities can also be places for justice-making. All too often those who report their abuse to the police end up further traumatized by the judicial process. Many victim-survivors choose not to report for this reason. Churches have an opportunity to be an alternative space where victims can experience elements of what might enable their healing process. *See below.
- Remember that victim-survivors are not traumatized people who need saving. We do victim-survivors a disservice when we think that because of their experience they ‘need help’ or ‘aren’t fit to serve’. This is stigmatizing and keeps people quiet about their pain. Victim-survivors of trauma are everywhere. They are mothers, fathers, professionals, leaders, counsellors, athletes, artists, teachers…you get the picture. People are not products of the worst things that ever happened to them.
- We support when we empower our brother and sisters to continue the journey of healing and transformation and to live into their strengths and skills. We must always look at and shine a light on the strengths we see; rather than deficits.
- Understand that healing is a journey. When someone has been deeply violated, they don’t just get over it. Grief, anger, depression, apathy, cynicism, self-blame, fear, anxiety, are all normal emotions to experience. They are not signs that someone’s faith is lacking.
Healing journeys can be exhausting, lonely, and frustrating. Often people feel like they ‘should’ be better, healthier, less depressed or anxious. We can alleviate the burden when we listen, seek to understand, and offer encouragement. God’s presence is most often felt as the friend or family member who is patient, compassionate, and sits with us in our pain.
“We are all healers who can reach out and offer health. We are all patients in constant need of help.” – Henri Nouwen
Elements of justice-making
The faith trust institute in Seattle, Washington has worked at response and prevention of clergy sexual misconduct for over 30 years. In listening to hundreds of survivors, the staff at FaithTrust began to realize that the elements required for healing fell into seven categories:
- Truth-telling: to give the victim/survivor the chance to tell their story.
- Acknowledgement: to give a response to the victim/survivor, by someone who matters to them. This person stands beside them as an advocate, and can say, for example, “What he did to you was wrong.”
- Compassion: to suffer with the victim/survivor – and not pass by.
- Protection of the vulnerable: to do everything possible to ensure the no one else is harmed by the perpetrator.
- Accountability for the offender: to call the offender to account either in the church and/or legally.
- Restitution to the survivor: to give material compensation to the survivor for the cost of the harm done.
- Vindication for the survivor: to set the survivor free and restore them to the community.
Few survivors actually experience all aspects of justice-making, but it is important that they experience enough to be able to move forward in their lives. A deep scar will remain, but fullness of life can be restored. The faith community must take responsibility to do everything it can to make healing possible.
“There can be no healing without justice, and justice takes courage.”
Fortune, Marie M. Responding to Clergy Misconduct. FaithTrust Institute, 2009, p.61-61.