Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.


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When Sex Offenders Confess to Clergy: Three Mistaken Beliefs

The following article was written by our friend, Boz Tchividjian with G.R.A.C.E. Please be sure to check out his personal blog and their website.

http://boz.religionnews.com

http://netgrace.org

This past week, a Florida pastor was arrested for failing to report the suspected sexual abuse of a child. Over a year ago, one of the three young victims informed the pastor of the ongoing abuse. Though he provided the victim with counseling, the pastor never reported the crime to the police because he “didn’t have proof”.

How does a pastor respond when informed of allegations concerning child sexual abuse? All too often the responses by pastors are too little too late. Here is a simple rule that should be followed by pastors and everyone else: Immediately report allegations of child sexual abuse. Not only will you potentially save the life of a child and stop the heinous acts of a predator, but you will also most likely be following the law.

Approximately 27 states specifically designate members of the clergy (pastors) as mandated reporters. Another 18 states designate all adults to be mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. This means that in almost every state of the country, pastors are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse or face criminal prosecution. Even in those limited circumstances when a pastor is not a mandated reporter, nothing prevents him/her from voluntarily reporting suspected abuse to the authorities.

Perhaps the most confusing issue for most pastors related to reporting child sexual abuse is what to do when a perpetrator is the one who discloses the abuse. If a perpetrator confesses to sexually abusing a child to a pastor, every effort should be made by the pastor to insure that the offender immediately reports his/her crime to the authorities. This should certainly be the expectation if the perpetrator has expressed a desire to demonstrate repentance. Expressing repentance for a crime without voluntarily submitting to the civil authorities is manipulation, not repentance. The dark reality is that most offenders who confess abuse to a pastor won’t report themselves to the authorities. In those circumstances, the pastor has a fundamental decision to make; remain silent and protect a perpetrator, or report the abuse and protect a vulnerable child.

In the past few years, I have discovered that many pastors have mistaken beliefs about reporting child sexual abuse disclosures made by perpetrators who refuse to report their crimes to the authorities. I want to briefly highlight three common mistaken beliefs:

Mistaken Belief #1: Mandated reporting exceptions prohibit pastors from reporting

Many jurisdictions that designate pastors as mandated reporters do make an exception if the disclosure was made during a confidential conversation between the perpetrator and the pastor. This exception is based upon the age-old clergy-parishioner privilege that holds sacred the private communications between a parishioner and member of the clergy. This exception does not mean that a pastor is prohibited from making the report. All it means is that a pastor who fails to report a child sexual abuse disclosure made by an alleged perpetrator will not be prosecuted for violating the mandated reporting law. Nothing prohibits the pastor from voluntarily reporting the crime to the authorities out of concern for the life and safety of a child.

Mistaken Belief #2: Clergy-parishioner privilege prohibits pastors from reporting

A pastor is never prohibited by law from reporting known or suspected child abuse to the authorities. Though the law may not prohibit such a report, a pastor who reports abuse learned during a conversation with the alleged offender may violate the clergy-parishioner privilege. However, in these circumstances such a privilege must be formally recognized by the particular church or denomination. A pastor who violates a recognized privilege could be subject to civil legal action.

The reality is that except for the Catholic Church, most churches have not formally recognized a clergy-parishioner privilege. This means that the pastor can freely report a disclosure of sexual abuse made by a perpetrator with little concern about civil legal consequences. What ultimately determines whether a pastor reports the admitted sexual abuse of a child should not be whether or not the church has a formally recognized clergy-parishioner privilege. Neither should it be whether or not the pastor may one day be sued for violating a recognized privilege. What should ultimately determine whether a pastor voluntarily reports abuse is the life and safety of a precious child made in the image of God.

Mistaken Belief #3: Rules of Evidence prohibit pastors from reporting

Rules of evidence are the rules each court follows in determining the admissibility of evidence in hearings and trials. Almost every state jurisdiction in this country recognizes some type of clergy-penitent privilege as part of its rules of evidence. All this means is that certain conversations between an offender and a member of the clergy may not be admissible in a judicial hearing or trial. Rules of evidence that exclude these communications do not prevent pastors from reporting admitted abuse to the authorities. Whether or not a conversation between a pastor and an offender is admissible in a court of law is the exclusive role of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, not pastors.

Regardless of whether the conversation is ultimately admitted into evidence, a pastor who reports the confessed sexual abuse will protect the child by providing law enforcement the opportunity to collect additional corroborating evidence. In those circumstances, even if the court decides to exclude the “confession” from trial, there may still be sufficient evidence to convict the perpetrator. I remember prosecuting a child sexual abuse case in which the court did not allow me to admit into evidence the implicating conversation between the pastor and the defendant. Fortunately, we were still able to secure a conviction because the police had collected additional implicating evidence as a result of a brave pastor’s decision to report what he had been told.

When pastors are told about the abuse of a child, all too often too much time is spent evaluating and analyzing, instead of reporting. As the evaluations and analysis go on and on, the child is the one that pays the highest price. Just ask the three young victims in Florida.

Minimizing mistaken beliefs will prayerfully lead to maximizing the protection of little ones.

This article can be read at it’s original location below:

http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/08/01/perpetrators-confess-clergy-three-mistaken-beliefs/


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He Would Tell Me

Recently I had the pleasure of having breakfast with my friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. I’m so thankful for the friendship he and I have developed and while talking he gave me one more reason to be thankful. He brought to my attention something I had not given enough consideration. It’s from his insight this article originated.

We were discussing the reasons behind why I didn’t say something about my abuse and why other survivors don’t tell or speak up while the abuse is occurring. During the conversation I told him something my mom had said to me. He stopped me and said it was important and to say it again.

He asked if there had been any indications to anyone that the abuse that was happening. I told him about one man in my life who had been a positive, male role-model for me. When I was about 13, he was talking with my mom about my abuser (but at this time no one knew) and said, “there’s something that’s not quite right about that guy spending all this time with those boys. I can’t put my finger on it but I know there’s something that’s just not right.” To which my mom said, “If something were going on with David, he would tell me.”

It’s those last four words that bears repeating…“he would tell me”.

My mom and I have a strong and healthy bond. Because my dad was not in the picture for the first 23 years of my life, it resulted in mom and I having lots of time together and the opportunity to forge an incredible relationship that we still have to this day. I would go so far as to say it’s an uncommonly good relationship as parent/child relationships go. I remember while growing up, most of my friends saying at some point, “I just can’t talk to my mom or dad about…”. I never had that issue with my mom. We were always close and always talked about everything. I remember telling her when I had sex for the first time. I told her about the first time I used drugs. When I got arrested for said drugs, it was my mom I called to bail me out. So it’s clear you can see I’ve felt comfortable enough in telling her about the good, the bad and the ugly.

All except for one thing.

And sadly it’s that “one thing” that has resulted in the majority of the misery, struggles and pitfalls of my life.

The point I’m trying to make, is that if I had such a difficult time telling my mom about the abuse, when we were so close, how much more difficult is it for children who don’t feel as close to their parents or feel the freedom to talk with them about anything and everything? Neither my mom, nor anyone else knew about my abuse until 2006.

It’s a mistaken belief that I think most parents have. They believe, as my mom did, that if there were something wrong, their children would let them know about it. Or as I said earlier, “he would tell me”.

It’s a tragic error of belief and one that I hope to reeducate all parents. No matter how close you are, or how strong your relationship, if your child is being sexually abused, it’s almost impossible for them to tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you love them any less than other parents. It’s just beyond description how hard it is for those of us who were abused to tell anyone.

The reasons behind the “why” are as many and varied as there are individuals. We’ve discussed them previously here on the TWH blog and will do so more in the future. But for the discussion today, it’s not about the “why”, it’s about acknowledging a false assumption and correcting it.

As I said, my mom genuinely believed if someone were hurting me, I’d tell her. After all, when a student picked on me, or in one case, when a teacher was being hateful to a friend of mine with a speech impediment, I told her about that. So she had no reason to believe otherwise. Except for one important thing, back in the 70’s and 80’s, nobody talked about Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Back then, all we were told was, beware of strangers and “stranger danger”. It turns out, “stranger danger” is almost a myth. 90-95% of CSA happens at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and/or loved by the child. And because no one was taking about it, there was no “Oprah’s 200” , or organizations like SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Together We Heal.

Due to this lack of information and groups whose entire existence is to help survivors of CSA, parents didn’t know what signs to be looking for or signals that their children might be sexually abused. “Grooming” was a term reserved for haircuts and keeping your appearance neat. Now we know better. But sadly, parents are still waiting until it’s too late to discuss CSA with their kids. This is not a one-time conversation to have when they’re 15 or 16. By that time, it’s more likely any abuse has already occurred or is still ongoing.

In order to give your child the best chance to remain safer from sexual predators/pedophiles, parents MUST start young. They must start young and have it become a “normal” part of the routine questions asked of the child’s day. How was your day? How was school? Do you like your teachers? Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone touched you in a place they shouldn’t? And educating your child on what is appropriate touching is essential to the conversation.

Obviously, depending on the age of the child, there are age-appropriate terms and verbiage. But the questions need to be asked, the conversations need to take place, and all of this needs to be done EARLY and OFTEN. If not, we leave our children susceptible to the ploys of predators. We now have plenty of books, pamphlets and resources on how to have these talks with children of all ages. So please take advantage of the information my mom didn’t have, of the resources I didn’t have available. Do this so you lessen the chances of your children enduring the torture, abuse, rape, and resulting decades of emotional, mental and physical struggles. Do this so your children don’t become another statistic like I did, another 1 in 6 boys or 1 in 3 girls.

We have the information now. And now children can trust they will be believed. It’s time to back up all this talk with action. It’s time to prevent childhood sexual abuse and catch these sexual predators/pedophiles before they do any more damage. But it begins at home, it must begin early, and don’t think for one second, “he would tell me”…

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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Learning to Heal from Abuse: One man’s mission to help

We are so honored by our friend, Boz Tchividjian, who has posted the interview he did with me about Together We Heal and what we’re doing to help our fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Please take a moment to read, not just our interview, but all of the inspiring articles Boz has on his site. I cannot thank him enough for the issues he’s confronting head-on within the church and it’s neglect of those abused. We look forward to working together with him and his organization, G.R.A.C.E. http://netgrace.org (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)

http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/07/11/learning-heal-abuse-one-mans-mission-help/


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7 Ways Churches Should Begin To Welcome Survivors of Abuse

The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.

I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.

7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches

Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.

This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.

I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.

Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.

Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.

Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.

Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.

Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.

Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.

Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.

Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.

Let’s begin this transformation today…

——

This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.

It’s original publication can be found here – http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/05/16/7-ways-welcome-abuse-survivors-churches/