As victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape are finding, for the part, the times and culture have just enough to allow many of them to say “me too.” If you have never been abused, assaulted, or raped, then understanding what these people have experienced and carry with them throughout their lives may be difficult, but we’re called, at the very least, to be compassionate and empathetic to their experience
We do a complete disservice when our concern over this abusive behavior is limited to those of an opposing political party or which network or outlet reports the criminal behavior. It is wrong. It is wrong when it was done and lied about by President Clinton. It is wrong when it was done, bragged about, and lied about by President Trump. It is wrong whether it is Anthony Weiner or Roy Moore. It is wrong whether it is Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, or Louis C.K. It is wrong whether it is a Democrat or Republican. It is wrong whether it is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, someone of a different or alternative faith, or someone who claims no religious affiliation or faith. It is wrong if it is a star college athlete or a professional athlete. It is wrong whether the sexual predator is a male or a female. It is wrong whether the sexual predator is a well-known or unheard of. It is wrong whether it happened 15 minutes ago or 40 years ago.
What appears to be the common denominator in all cases of sexual assault: The sexual predator is someone the victim knows; the sexual predator is someone in a position of authority, leadership, responsibility over the victim.
Several years ago, we started opening discussing child sexual abuse within religious organizations. It started with the men who, as young boys and teenagers, were sexually abused by some of the clergy of the Catholic church and then the church’s coordinated attempt to protect themselves by moving the sexual predators from one parish to another, from one diocese to another. As the story unfolded and more people who were sexually abused by those with religious authority, we found it was not just young boys, but young girls. We found it wasn’t just the Roman Catholic church, but other Christian churches and in other religions.
In response, my faith tradition implemented what we call the Registered Youth Worker program. Recognizing that we can’t stop all situations that may entice a predator to take advantage of, we can do our best to limit those situations as much as possible. Some of the things we have implements are fairly simple: Anyone who works with youth, is in a leadership position, and/or is a member of the priesthood is required to take a class where basic youth protection skills are taught; anyone who has not had the training is not allowed to work with youth they are not the parents of unless there are RYW also working; there should always be two RYW when working with children; all activities with youth need to be where others can see what is going; do not become social media friends with youth unless you are also friends with their parents. A part of the RYW process includes background check and references.
As I said, fairly simple. The training we have as youth workers can easily be translated into working with other groups who tend to be at the most risk and vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them: The elderly and those with disabilities or impaired cognitive abilities. In my congregation, we try to get as many members as possible to attend any and every RYW class we conduct. It is better safe than sorry, and it holds each member – whether in a position of leadership, ministerial authority, or a member – accountable and responsible.
What does your church, religious organization, or any organization you affiliate with do to promote the protection of youth and the more vulnerable? What do they do to hold their leadership, ministers, volunteers, and members responsible and accountable for their behavior?
As we watch the continuing coming forth of victims of sexual assault, how do you respond? Do your values and convictions allow you to turn a blind eye in the voting booth? How will you hold those people who hold positions of responsibility and influence at the city, state, and national level responsible for abusing the public trust, for destroying young people’s lives, for breaking the law? What does your civic responsibility and/or your faith call you to respond?