Honestly, I think there is a lot we SHOULD be saying about abuse, and specifically about sexual abuse. And I truly hope that after this week of engaging in this conversation, we realize at a new level how important it is for us to be talking truthfully about kindness, sex, abuse and relationships with our students, parents and leaders.
I’ve compiled a random list of messages that those around us should hear at some point in our ministries. I would love for you to add to the list. Look over it and see what I am missing!
Sexual Abuse is … I think from the beginning we have to define exactly what sexual abuse is and help students see the wide range of behavior that is deemed abuse. The Department of Justice defines it this way: “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape.” Understanding this definition allows victims to identity their abuse as legitimate abuse when maybe they have felt like it didn’t qualify because it wasn’t intercourse. At the same time, it communicates to potential predators that any sexual content is assault … not just intercourse.
No Means No. It doesn’t matter what they are wearing or how they are acting … if they say no … it means no.
It’s not your fault. To a victim, you can’t hear these words enough. The shame and guilt that come from being sexually abused is overwhelming and consuming. You begin to think you deserved it or that you asked for it. A victim needs to hear from the church that they are without spot and blemish and that they are pure. That what was forced on them is not their sin.
You are pure. In youth ministry we talk A LOT about sexual purity. We need to make sure that as we have that conversation we clearly communicate that those who have been assaulted in any way are not impure. They are not the rose missing petals or the tape that is no longer sticky … or whatever other analogy you use to explain sexual purity. This is not the same thing, and they need to hear it from you.
Don’t keep it a secret. We must become a safe place where students can share their pain, and at the same time we need to communicate the importance of not keeping their abuse a secret. (Leaders need to know this too … if a student shares something with them about abuse, they need to share it with the lead youth worker.)
Let’s get help. There is no way of “getting over” being sexually assaulted. Those who have experienced abuse NEED help … professional help. Encourage those students who share with you and with other leaders to get the help they need. Have a list of resources for them and their families. (Also, make sure you follow the law. Report it!!)
To Adults In/Around Your Ministry:
Safety First. As lead youth workers, we are responsible to make our ministries as safe as possible. We need to communicate to everyone that there is a process to being a leader in our ministry … and it is tough. You must being willing to walk through the process to serve. When an unknown adult walks into our youth room, they are greeted by our team and told the process of being a leader. Safety first. Parents need to know we value it and volunteers need to know that EVERYONE goes through the process.
At times, the church has really blown it when it comes to talking about sexual abuse. We’ve brushed it under the carpet or we were unsure of whom to side with in the conversation. It is time for the church to be talking about it and for us to be the safest place for victims to come and receive care. I hope that youth ministries around the world will begin to lead the way.
What else is missing from the list? What else should we be saying about sexual abuse in our youth ministries?