In a recent post on Facebook, I was trying to point out two wrong response to the whole topic of sexual abuse:
1. That child molesters are most despised in society
2. And victims who speak out are most despised in church
Both statements have exceptions, and I was not intending to overlook those exceptions to say that ‘all people, in all situations’ respond this way. (In fact, that short quote was a mini-introduction to the longer post I was working on, which immediately followed and addressed the bigger message). But the initial status was met with a defensive response to how wrong I am about how victims are treated and that it isn’t all churches, because I failed to ‘say it in so many words’ that it is not all, in every situation.
I made a statement, based on 8 years of working internationally with victims of sexual abuse in conservative Anabaptist communities and spending the past two years reading academic papers from other religious communities, that victims who speak out are most despised in church and offenders most despised in society. I absolutely believe what I said. The statement about victims applies in two ways. Victims are not as despised outside of church, they are most despised in church. And, when considering those who are despised in church, I know no group to be more despised than victims who speak out about abuse and won’t be silenced.
Acknowledging this was not meant to stir hatred toward offenders. It is what victims experience (less so in my case than in many), and to acknowledge and look at it is key to changing how things are. Frankly, I believe this is why half the crowd can’t read what is intended because someone is hell-bent on preventing Christians seeing it for what it is. If we do, we stand a chance at making a powerful impact.
Nonetheless, rather than take my word for it, and in order to let the stats speak for themselves, I created a poll for all victims of sexual abuse in/from conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist churches to vote on their experience in this regard. I trust the responses will be honourable and honest. (It is completely anonymous… I don’t even have access to names or identities of who voted).
The victims I work with may well be the group who are damaged through abusive response from church, and represent a small portion. The rest might be thriving because the church responded so well; I do not know. What I know and am confident in is that what I said is truth in the demographic of hundreds, even thousands with whom I have interacted, internationally, for nearly 9 years. And the statement regarding offenders is also true, based on academic papers written regarding sex offenders in prison — child molesters in particular — and the testimony of child molesters who have done time.
If you were abused in the conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist church, you can take the poll here: poll on response to sexual abuse. After you have voted, the results (in percentages, will pop up. Currently, for 50% their church never found out, and the other 50% the church new and did not offer support to the victims.
~ T ~
I don’t doubt your data. I would like to hear more specifics about how that despite is displayed within the church. Is it just a lack of sympathy or response? Or do they actively work against the victim? Do they shame them? Blame them?
I was thinking as I created the poll that it would be ideal if there was some way to capture this part of each individual’s experience. Obviously I cannot speak to those who are participating in this poll, but I did two pedagogical research studies into this in the past two years the ‘lack of support’ ranged from telling the victim they were lying (in one case even after the abuser admitted it), to shunning them (whether from church or family), to threats of church membership being taken if the victim would speak of it one more time, to excommunication when victims did speak out again. (There may have been more, but these all immediately come to mind, with the individual who documented the experience. All were conservative Mennonite/Anabaptists, but from reading other studies, the experiences for some are similar). I am in the process of getting ethics clearance to turn one of these studies into a publishable research project, and plan to edit the other and submit it for publication as well.
That said, the one individual wrote of having received much support from a man named John Coblentz, who is/was a conservative Anabaptist leader. (He may have retired, I do not know). He was compassionate, kind and ‘leaned in’ to the victim’s heart and story. (His name came up several places but one expounded more on how this man had helped). This fell in line with what victims have said over the years, who went to him for help. I’ve not met him, though I did hear him preach on one occasion in my 20’s, but have consistently heard of his compassion. There are exceptions, and honourable men and women among them.