Embrace your voice: April is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month


The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.”  -- Micah 6:8 
It seems that every week there is another story of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault at the top of the evening news or spreading across social media. We might feel like we are hearing too much, asked to feel more than we can handle, and process in the open what many have known for so long – sexual abuse and sexual harassment are widespread, and the pressure for survivors to be silent is real with serious consequences for those who have spoken out. 
We, the people and congregations of the Oregon-Idaho Conference, can use our voices to speak out “to inform individuals on how they can use their words to promote safety, respect, and equality to stop sexual violence before it happens.”[1] This year, *SAAM is celebrating its 17th anniversary with the theme “Embrace Your Voice” to inform individuals on how they can use their words to promote safety, respect, and equality to stop sexual violence before it happens.[2]
During April, consider how you can raise awareness of sexual abuse and its impact on people’s lives with members of your faith community. The following information is provided by National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)
Sexual assault is a serious and widespread problem:

  • Nearly one in five women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives, and 1 in 67 American men have experienced rape or attempted rape (Smith et al., 2017).
  • Victims of sexual assault often experience short-term consequences including guilt, shame, fear, numbness, shock, and feelings of isolation. Victims may also experience long-term health risks and behaviors such as PTSD, eating disorders, depression, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (Cutajar et al., 2010; Santaularia et al., 2014; Wingood, Seth, DiClemente, & Robinson, 2009).
  • The majority of sexual assaults, an estimated 63 percent, are never reported to the police (Rennison, 2002).
  • Despite misconceptions, the prevalence of false reporting for sexual assault crimes is low - between 2 percent and 10 percent (Lisak, Gardinier, Nicksa, & Cote, 2010).
The good news is that prevention is possible and it’s happening:
  • Individuals, communities, and the private sector are already successfully combating the risk of sexual violence through conversations, programs, policies, and research-based tools that promote safety, respect, and equality.
  • By promoting safe behaviors, thoughtful policies, and healthy relationships, we can create safe and equitable communities where every person is treated with respect.
We are in a watershed moment:
  • With America focused on this very important issue, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve understanding and change behaviors. The time to rally communities and the broader public is now.[3]
Justice, Kind Support, and the Paths that We Walk Together
The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference brings together the efforts of over 200 faith communities, special resources, and leaders to support survivors of sexual and gender-based abuse and harassment.  Here are a few of the resources for our churches:
Safe Sanctuaries is a program within the Oregon/Idaho Conference (and the United Methodist Church) that provides guidelines and training for the prevention of child abuse within our churches.  The Safe Sanctuaries Team offers training events, confidential support, and more for local ministries.  Safe Sanctuaries in Oregon-Idaho has strong minimum standards to offer maximum protection for children, youth and vulnerable adults.  These minimum standards are set out in the Policy “Template.” In the Policy Template, used by the overwhelming majority of our congregations and ministries, we also require local churches to post listings of where survivors can find additional resources for counseling and support (see page 5, Template #3 under ABUSE AWARENESS AND PREVENTION).  The Template can be found on the Conference website.
The care and concern we show for the youngest as well as vulnerable adults extends to all our members who have been affected by sexual abuse.
Unlike many local faith communities, the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church provides oversight and the willingness to deal with issues of harassment and abuse.  The Board of Ordained Ministry, Oregon/Idaho (“BoOM”), offers training events for clergy and local congregations.  The BoOM reinforces Safe Sanctuaries efforts, and also addresses issues of misconduct, harassment and abuse that do not involve children, youth and vulnerable adults. 

In 2018, training events will be set out as required by the United Methodist Church.  
The Board also oversees issues and complaints regarding clergy and others.  Although actively working toward PREVENTION, the BoOM’s response efforts are just as crucial. 
Leadership and resourcing are also available through the efforts of the District Superintendent’s office.  If there is an issue at the local church involving harassment or abuse, it is appropriate to notify the District Superintendent.  Please note also that resources have been made available for persons who required support due to an incident at the local church. 
As a society, we are not “there” yet, in terms of 100 percent prevention.  However, we as United Methodists, are 100 percent committed to prevention and support of survivors.

Lydia Henry is the Oregon-Idaho Conference Safe Sanctuaries coordinator.
Rev. Warren Light also contributed to this article.

[1] https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/about_saam2018_final508.pdf
[2] https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/about_saam2018_final508.pdf
[3] For more information, refer to the NSVRC Fact Sheet “Understanding Sexual Violence.”