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When a woman’s first sexual experience is forced, a look at the impact


Laura Hawkes and colleagues have published a prevalence and impact study of American women and their first sexual experience. The sample of women between the ages of 18 and 44 (13,000 plus) records that 6% experienced rape as their first sexual experience. On average, the rape took place when the woman was 15 years of age. The perpetrator was, on average, 27 years of age. (For a news oriented summary of this study, go to this story on NPR.

Force (of any kind) + unwanted sex = rape

When you think of the term rape, you may immediately imagine physical violence. And certainly, many sexual assaults and rape are unimaginably violent acts. But, it is important to realize that verbal and emotional coercion may also play a very large role in forced sex/rape. When a person uses their position, status, verbal power, threats of violence, threats of loss of safety, emotional manipulation and the like to get another person to engage in sexual intercourse, this can be defined as rape. If it was unwanted but the person did not physically fight back, it is still considered rape.

Rape of any kind is destructive and traumatizing. For some, emotional coercion adds an extra layer of shame and trauma because either they or others may not consider the experience an assault. “Well, he didn’t hold a gun to my head…” or “I didn’t fight him off…so maybe it wasn’t really an assault.” Common but destructive questions such as, “What were you wearing? Why did you go there” add additional trauma.

What impact might that have on a person?

When forced sex is the first sexual experience, there are a cascade of potential health problems that may plague the victim. Reproductive health consequences loom large as to be expected. Many of these continue long afterwards. Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and addictions also may become chronic experiences. In what may be often overlooked, chronic insomnia (a not surprising result) can lead to long-term auto-immune disorders and cancers. No wonder we don’t just “get over” something like this.

Discouraged? Yes. Helpless? No.

You can read a study like this and leave feeling discouraged about our society. That would be an appropriate response. And, you may also leave knowing that you can do two things that do make a difference:

  1. Increase your awareness of and compassion for those who have experienced rape/sexual assault. Your capacity to hold their stories and acknowledge the impact may actually begin to lessen shame and isolation and improve quality of life.
  2. Be willing to speak up about any and all behavior that minimizes abuses of power, especially as it relates to sexual activity.

To read the official abstract of the study, go here.

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Free webinar on the impact of child abuse on adult mental and spiritual health


Consider joining me September 4, 2019 on a webinar hosted by The Partnership Center: Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, US Dept of Health and Human Services. I will be presenting on the spiritual impact of child abuse on adult survivors.

Part IV: Mental Illness 101: Childhood Trauma and Mental Health Impacts

Wedneday, September 4, 2019 | 12:00 —1:00 p.m. EDT

Register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/437d661ca5d8d0c434538d7d4481ef37  

Trauma ― specifically trauma experienced as children or adolescents ― can significantly impact individuals across their entire lives. In fact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (@NCTSN) notes that survivors of childhood trauma are more likely to have long-term health problems or are at higher risk to die at an earlier age than their peers.  With so many walking wounded souls in our midst, people are starting to ask, “How can I make a difference?” Our July webinar will focus on this important factor impacting many people who are struggling with mental illness concerns – untreated childhood trauma. Our goals are to equip local faith and community leaders with the signs and symptoms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and provide the proven resources they can incorporate into their congregational and community outreach efforts.  Register today for our September 4th webinar, and invite a friend

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing Training Sessions, Philadelphia, October 4-7, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, October 4-7, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wounds of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups for adults.

Already completed the initial training? Then come to the advanced session to deepen your healing group facilitation skills and to learn how to train others to become healing group facilitators. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for parts of the training and would love to meet you there and talk about ways we we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

Register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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Why reconciliation isn’t the best objective


At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones who are hurt, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a bad objective?

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Better objectives

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (face-to-face or through others) of the damage you have caused or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done.
  • Make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When reconciliation isn’t possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the widow who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.

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Initial and Advanced Trauma Healing training sessions, Philadelphia May 8-11, 2019


If you are looking to become certified in using the Healing Wounds of Trauma curriculum, consider the next Philadelphia equipping sessions, May 8-11, 2019 at the Mother Boniface Spirituality Center.

These sessions are for both initial and advanced participants. If you have not been trained to use Healing the Wound of Trauma healing group curriculum, this would be a great first experience. The 4 days will give you a first-hand experience of a healing group plus the training you need to lead healing groups.

If you have already taken the initial training and you would like advanced training to become a healing group facilitator or to become a trainer in this train the trainer program, then come to the advanced session. You will need to provide proof (in advance) that you have already led two healing groups.

I’ll be present for the training and would love to spend the 4 days with you thinking and experiencing how we make the church a safer place for trauma victims.

But register now. There are both residential and commuter pricing.

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Philadelphia area Healing the Wounds of Trauma Initial Equipping


Announcing the initial equipping training for those interested in becoming certified in the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum. This will be offered at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, July 18-21, 2018. There are three ways the course is offered:

  • Graduate credit (2 credits, with pre and post course work)
  • Audit (shows up on a transcript)
  • Continuing education (NBCC approved CEs for social workers and professional counselors)

Teachers will be Heather Drew and myself.

For more information, start here. If you are interested in learning this train-the-trainer model of trauma care designed to raise up safe faith communities, this might be the training for you.

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Living with the Inheritance of Trauma


Last week at the Global Community of Practice, Dr. Diane Langberg and I presented “Living with the Inheritance of Trauma” as a kick-off to the conference theme on trauma through the generations. Our two-part presentation can be found here.

Diane’s presentation begins at the 12:05 minute mark. She explores the impact of complex trauma on stages of individual and social identity development and how this has an impact on trauma being passed on to the next generation.

My portion begins at the 58:30 minute mark. I consider some examples of direct and indirect transmission of trauma across generations as well as the systems that maintain trauma transmission. This is a question that I asked the audience and I ask you:

What are the social conditions and structures that maintain systems that transmit trauma to the next generation?

If the question seems a bit obtuse, you can listen to the case I read from “The Warmth of Other Suns” (p 62f) which begins at the 1:08:32 mark. Or, if you didn’t see Rod Williams presentation the next day, check out this video on mass incarceration.

My question really is this: what are the factors outside of individual behavior (e.g., one traumatized person’s behavior towards another) that maintain conditions encouraging generational trauma? And for those of the higher caste in a society: what are the mechanisms that enable those with greater social power to (a) avoid many generational traumas and to (b) remain blind to the structures and systems at work?

 

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Live stream the 2018 Global Community of Practice conference, March 13-15


This year the Global Community of Practice is on the theme of generational trauma (and its antidotes). If you aren’t coming, you may wish to access the live stream link below and watch the main sessions. I believe the link will contain the means to text or type logo-thiquestions and comments to what you are seeing. A moderator will review the comments and questions to be included in large group discussions so your thoughts may well be part of the global discussion.

See Agenda flyer listing the program for the next three days. The times listed are Eastern Daylight Time. Be sure to note the time that Diane Langberg is speaking on Tuesday on “living with generational trauma” and her closing on Thursday afternoon. There are many other can’t miss moments: devotions by Rev. Gus Roman and Carol Bremer-Bennett; presentations by Dr. Michael Lyles, Carolyn Custis James, Rod Williams and many more.

Live stream link: abs.us/COPLive

 

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When don’t we support victims of abuse?


At the American Bible Society, where I work, those of us involved in trauma healing often say that what gets us up in the morning is our mission to equip the church to be a safe place, a place of hope and healing, for traumatized individuals. I think most Christians want to believe that the church is a safe place for the most vulnerable among us.

But this has not been the case for far to many who report child or adult abuse and harassment.

Now, as a son of a pastor, I am well aware of the challenges pastors and church leaders have in leading their congregations. Frequently, the leaders need the wisdom of Solomon, especially in cases of life and death conflict. The work of pastoring through abuse allegations is never easy. Don’t let your love of the church stop you from reading the rest!

I imagine we all believe that the Church can do so much better. And we ought to be asking ourselves, why have we failed as much as we have? In theory, we are always against abuse and always for protecting the vulnerable. But it does not always play out this way.

Consider what responses might be given to these three “first meeting” vignettes:

  1. A woman comes to church leadership to seek pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-known to be antagonistic to church and to the Christian faith.
  2. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-respected in the community and has been a Sunday School teacher for the past decade. She is also known to be a wise and careful woman.
  3. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. The man is involved in the church and the woman has been known to be a bit of a church hopper.

Whether or not there is objective evidence supporting her allegations what response should these women receive? Will it be the same? Will the compassion and support offered be the same for each woman? Who will be treated with more compassion, who will be treated with more suspicion (or even just neutrality)? Will the amount of circumstantial evidence influence our response?

Minto, Hornsey, Gillespie, Healy, & Jetten (2016) have attempted to research (a) whether we are more likely to fail to support abuse victims when the abuser is one of our own and (b) whether circumstantial evidence will change our position. [You can download their full-text research essay here.] Their interest was exploring how social identity (what group you are a part of and have pride in) influences how we handle allegations of abuse by fell0w group members.

Study 1. 601 individuals read a vignette of an adult male alleging that a priest sexually abused him as a ten year old. The vignette included details of the alleged abuse and the rebuttal made by the defense attorney for the priest. Catholics, Prostestants, and non-believers all rated the assumed credibility of the victim and the perpetrator. Results indicate both Catholic and Protestant individuals with high church identity were significantly more likely to defend the accused and doubt the accuser. This was especially true if their faith was central to their core identity.

Study 2. 404 individuals also read the same vignette however the level of circumstantial evidence against the priest was manipulated. For some, the survey participants learned that church authorities were not defending the priest and that there had been a previous suspension for similar behavior (i.e., higher certainty of truth). The remaining participants learned that there had been no other cases and that this case was thrown out for insufficient evidence. The results for this study indicate,

ingroup participants were more likely to defend the integrity of the accused (and to cast doubt on the accuser) than were other participants, an effect that was exclusively driven by high identifiers. Interestingly–and somewhat surprisingly–this effect was not moderated by the subjective level of certainty surrounding the guilt of the accused.

In other words, those who highly identify with the Catholic church are more likely to defend the accused even when there is considerable circumstantial evidence against that person.

While this research was carried out examining responses to Catholic priest allegations, it appears that the problem does not lie only within the Church. Consider the obstructing responses of Michigan State to allegations of Dr. Nasser’s abuse of young female athletes over the years. The authors conclude,

Our data confirm that such highly identified ingroup members are the least willing to believe that the accusations are based on fact. This helps to provide psychological explanations for qualitative and anecdotal accounts of senior group members failing to adequately follow up allegations of child sexual abuse within their institution.

But why? The authors ask, wouldn’t the ingroup members be more motivated to purify their ranks by rejecting those who are accused of bad behavior? What is gained (or lost) by standing by accusers when the there is circumstantial evidence of abuse and no evidence of circumstantial evidence of lying on the side of the accuser? This is the challenge for those of use who listen to stories of abuse that happen in our own cherished communities.

Until we solve this problem, we will stand with the young women who accused Dr. Nasser of sexual abuse because he was not one of us but refuse to do the same when the accused is one of our own.


For further reading on reasons why we fail to act well in light of abuse allegations or reports of failures to act:

  1. Why we fail to act: Sins of complicity
  2. Failures to act: Why we don’t always blow the whistle on abuse
  3. After failures: What is more important? Gospel behaviors or reduction of liability?

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Generational Trauma the theme for the 2018 Global Community of Practice


Each March, the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute hosts the Global Community of Practice. This year its theme is on the topic of Generational Trauma. We will have presentations about historic and generational trauma and the ways the church can be an agent of healing. Here is the official description

The 2018 Global Community of Practice Gathering will explore trauma
and healing through generations. You will hear from a wide range
of global speakers about how trauma gets passed down from one
generation to the next, infuses social structures, and results in unique
symptoms calling for unique responses. As always, we will focus on
how the Church (that’s you!) is helping

If you are interested in this topic, want to rub shoulders with those involved in trauma healing around the world, or want to get a taste of the trauma healing curriculum we use, register now.

When is it? March 13-15, 2018

Where is it? The American Bible Society headquarters at 101 N. Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA.

How do I find out more details? This link Registration flyer – COP Gathering will give you the details, show you the speakers and topics, and provide the link to register. Don’t delay. Last year we turned people away!

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