There are LOTS of things a local church can do to not be a passive bystander in the face of abuse. Some are big things. Some are little. I’m a big fan of realism in ministry. So it might be a good idea to start with something small but achievable.
Do an assessment of your congregation’s current response
Tearfund has developed a very helpful tool for self assessment that focuses on gender based violence (GBV). The assessment matrix would be fairly easy to modify for other issues related to abuse. You can get a copy here
Welcome People who have been Abused to Church Trust does not come easy for people who have been abused. Thank them for the trust they demonstrate when they come to church. It is a sign that God has not given up.
Tell the Truth on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day These can be very difficult days for people who have been abused. If all you do is mirror a kind of Hallmark Card/Norman Rockwell version of how wonderful parents are. . . a third of your audience will probably dissociate. There is no good reason not to tell the truth. Some parents were hurtful parents. We do not celebrate abusive mother’s on Mother’s Day — we celebrate God’s good intentions for motherhood. And even as we celebrate we can grieve how far short we come from God’s intentions. And we can pray for healing for those who have been harmed by parents.
Include Education on Violence Prevention in Pre-Marital Counseling It is reasonably clear that preparation for and skill building for marital conflict is a key element in pre-marital counseling. [See article by Joan Groom]. At a minimum, tell the truth. . . sometimes things go wrong, very wrong, in spite of good intentions, in spite of all our hopes and dreams. Sometimes good people hurt the ones they love the most. No one wants things to end up like that. But it does happen. Educate people about what to do if things go wrong.
- Susan Yarrow Morris Opening the Door: A Pastor’s Guide to Addressing Domestic Violence in Premarital Counseling (Seattle: FaithTrust Institute, 2006)
- Christie Corad Neuger. Premarital Preparation: Generating Resistance to Marital Violence. Journal of Religion & Abuse: Advocacy, Pastoral Care, and Prevention. Volume: 4 Issue: 3 (2002).
- Groom, Joan. What Works in Premarital Counseling? Journal of Pastoral Counseling; Vol. 36, p46 (2001)
- Jones EF, Stahmann RF: Clergy beliefs, preparation, and practice in premarital counseling. J Pastoral Care 1994; 48:181–186
Develop Policies and Procedures for Abuse Situations Every congregation should have a clear set of policies about how to handle abuse. Trying to figure out what to do in the midst of trauma is very difficult and confusing. Setting policies and procedures ahead of time can prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering. Policies should include reporting procedures, guidelines on responding to people who report abuse, guidelines for responding to people accused of abuse, guidelines for interaction with church leadership, community leaders, the press etc. Here are a few examples. There are many more examples online.
- [PDF] Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies
- [PDF] Plan to Protect: A protection plan for churches. Abuse Prevention Newsletter for Churches and Christian Organizations
- [PDF] Child Safety Policy, Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec
- Volunteer Screening Guide Mennonite
- Making Our Churches Safe (UCC)
- Creating Safe Ministries (PCUSA)
- Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child Abuse and Neglect by Jeanette Harder
- Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention
Educate Leadership About Legal Obligations
Reporting an abuser doesn’t ruin their life. They did that themselves.
Reporting an abuser doesn’t damage their reputation. It makes it more accurate.
Reporting an abuser doesn’t hurt their family. It protects them from abuse.
Reporting an abuser isn’t gossip. It’s integrity.
—Jennifer Michelle Greeenberg
- In the US, most clergy are subject to mandatory reporting requirments in situations involving child abuse or neglect. Some states recognize a clergy-penitent privilege but this privilege has been interpreted narrowly in many cases. In California, for example, the privilege applies only if “the discipline, tenets, customs, or practices of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.” This is a matter than should be explicitly addressed in church policies about abuse reporting.
Mandatory reporting requirements by state can be found here.
Confidentiality and Mandatory Reporting: a Clergy Dilemma? Rev. Marie M. Fortune
For California see these two files:
The California Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Law [pdf]
One Page Summary [pdf]
Report Form: State Form 8572
Create an Annual Congregation-wide Event Set an annual week to emphasize child abuse. Preach on it. Feature a local organization that helps abused kids–invite the executive director to Sunday services and publicly thank them for what they do. Distribute a list of local resources. Do prevention workshops. Do special programming in all Christian education programs. Have a moment of silence for children that have been abused in your community. In the US, in recent years, April has been declared “Child Abuse Prevention Month”. Search at www.whitehouse.gov for annual proclamation. Other annualized programs include:
- World Wide Day of Prayer for Children at Risk. Viva Network
- Children’s Sabbath program (Children’s Defense Fund)
Do Background Checks for Volunteers Anyone who works with kids should get a background check.
Commercial background check services:
Background checks are not a perfect solution. It is important to know that in some states there are significant restrictions on the kind of data that can be acquired and some significant limitations on how that data can be used. In California, for example, the fact that a person is listed on a sex offender’s list may NOT be legally used in matters of employment. [See: California CA Penal Code §290.4(d)(1): Use of sex offender list]. So while background checks are a good idea, they are not sufficient to provide the kind of protection for children that most churches will require.
Develop a Critical Incident Response Team If your congregation has such a team for generic ‘crisis response’, one member should have a specialization in abuse. If not, a seperate team could be formed. In some situtions such a team could work effectively to assist other congregations within your denomination/community in addition to your own.Most “Critical Incident” resources are focused on emergency services in response to natural disasters or terrorism but they also deal with early interventions with trauma, stress managment, PTSD and other topics which are useful for an abuse-focused critical incident response team. See for example:
Support Foster Care Programs Do something nice for foster parents in your community. Ask them to come to your congregation and tell stories. Invite them to a picnic to honor their efforts on behalf of abused kids. Encourage families in the congregation to consider being foster parents.
- ChildShare: Finding Homes for Children Through Local Congregations
- Bethany Christian Services
- Royal Family KIDS
Develop a Support Group Program for Abused Kids For a great model see Confident Kids. This is a distinctively Christian life-skills training program for elementary age children from troubled homes. Very creative. Also very resource intensive. By far the most powerful program I know of for kids.
Build Bridges to Local Resources And Give Them Visibility Post a list of local emergency resources for abused women in the women’s bathrooms – the best format is probably something on a business card — sometimes called a ‘shoe card’ because if placed in individual bathroom stalls you could pick up a copy and put it in your shoe without anyone knowing. Very few people who really need it will pick up a large fancy brochure from a public place! Develop a more complete referral/resource directory. Update it regularly and distribute it to congregational leadership. Be a ‘squeaky wheel’ about local resources. Write articles for church newsletters. Offer to prepare a once a quarter (once a month?) item for the Sunday bulletin featuring a local resource.
- Learning to Build Bridges Between Churches and Community-Based Resources”
- See also the Building Bridges online training here
- For a list of local domestic violence shelters go here
Make Outreach to Survivors of Abuse Part of Your Missions Program The global impact of abuse is hard to overstate. Abuse is one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of the enemies of God’s Kingdom. So send someone into this mission field! Help the Christian community world-wide to respond effectively to the problems of abuse, neglect and trauma.
Include Abuse Prevention in Christian Education Curricula Some examples:
- Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, Ages 5-8, by Kathryn Goering Reid. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1994. This ten-session church school curriculum for children ages 5-8 addresses sexual abuse prevention. Available from the RCA Distribution Center, 1-800-968-7221.
- Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, Ages 9-12, by Kathryn Goering Reid with Marie M. Fortune. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1989. (A course designed to provide information about sexual abuse and prevention to children between the ages of nine and twelve in the context of a religious education program. Order from the RCA Distribution Center, 1-800-968-7221. See also resources at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
Develop a Face-to-Face Support Group for Adult Survivors of Abuse
- Distinctively Christian Models:
- Open Hearts Ministry They offer a SALTS training seminar (Survivors of AbuseLeadership Training Seminar) to men and women who desire to learn biblical ways to walk through the process of restoration from the damage of abuse. It is a six-day seminar which prepares leaders for a comprehensive twelve-week program which participants can take to their local churches and communities.
- Mending the Soul
- Becomers Groups. Developed for people leading groups based on Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse: A Sensitive, Biblical Guide for Counselors, Victims and Families by Lynn Heitritter and Jeanette Vought. Copies of a Start-Up packet can be obtained from the Christian Recovery Center (763-566-0088).
- Circles of Healing. A three-session support group curriculum for abused Christian women. Developed by the Domestic Violence Awareness Task Force of the Office of Justice and Peace, Catholic Diocese of Richmond, VA
- Risking Connection® in Faith Communities: A Training Curriculum for Faith Leaders Supporting Trauma by Jackson Day, Elizabeth Vermilyea, Jennifer Wilkerson and Esther Giller. (Sidran Press, 2006) ISBN-13: 9781886968165
- Twelve Step Models
- Therapist-led group models:
- Bonnie J. Collins, Kathryn Marsh. Healing for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A 12-Session Group Treatment Program (Whole Person Associates, 1998)
- Other Networks
Develop a Victim-Offender Mediation/Reconciliation Program (Restorative Justice) The legal system is designed to result in retributive justice. A person who has abused has committed an offense against the state and its laws and is punished by the state. Where is the abused person in this scheme of things? Sometimes almost invisible. It is very common for abused persons to feel completely excluded from the workings of the criminal justice system. It if important, therefore, to remember that retributive justice is not the only kind of justice. Restorative justice is just as important. It’s goal is, to the extent possible, facilitate restoration of that which has been broken. This is a completely different approach to justice. Good models exist for congregational participation in this kind of justice work.