In light of recent events, we hope to clarify our calling and our work:
When the Delegate Assembly passed the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse in Kansas City, July 2015, we as a church made several commitments. One of which named that we’ll “teach members the realities of sexualized violence, especially by church leaders or other trusted individuals.”
We have data regarding the incidence of sexual abuse or violation experienced by church members.
According to the 2006 Church Member Profile, Mennonite Church USA church members report experiencing sexual abuse or violation in the following percentages.
More than 20 percent of women (one in five) in Mennonite Church USA congregations have experienced sexual abuse or violation, most while they were children or teens.
For men, the incidence of abuse experienced before the age of 20 is 5.5 percent.
For society at large, the figures range from 17 to 25 percent for women and three to 16 percent for men, depending on the study and how people define sexual abuse or assault.
Over 90 percent of victims know their offender.
This means that sexualized violence (abuse, rape, molestation, harassment) affects people within our churches and institutions and our families at the same rate as society at large. And we have a history of ignoring it, not paying attention and even dismissing it. However, the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention will not take part in the enabling of the harm and violence by keeping silent.
With that in mind, we present a few reminders to congregations when they encounter instances of sexual abuse in their midst:
- If a victim is a minor, we always have a legal responsibility to report abuse to law enforcement and child protective services. See Appendix 2 on reporting abuse of Let the Children Come by Jeanette Harder.
- The safety, security and healing of the victim should take top priority. Victims should have a loving and supportive network of people who is committed to accompanying them through their journey toward healing and wholeness. See Carol J. Adams’ article When the Abuser Is Among Us: One Church’s Response to a Perpetrator.
- Never attempt to lead victims in a process of forgiveness and reconciliation with perpetrators. We re-traumatize victims when we force reconciliation before they are ready. See Chapter 7 of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches by Carolyn Holderread Heggen.
- Churches cannot handle situations of abuse alone. Many resources are available through the Leadership Development Office of Mennonite Church USA and area conferences, as well as through organizations like Dove’s Nest and Mennonite Central Committee.
Sexualized violence is cancer within the church that we need to expose. In order to become whole, we must bring to light all that has been too long hidden in the shadows. Talk with your children, with your youth, with your pastor and discuss it in your Sunday school classes and small groups.
Pastors, let’s talk about sexual abuse from the pulpit. Congregations, we can proactively work at prevention by reviewing, updating and putting into practice clear sexual abuse policies. Sunday school teachers, let’s use resources like Circle of Grace and teach our children about safe boundaries.
When we do these things, we are actively creating contexts in which the cancer of sexual abuse cannot thrive. And in the process, we’re creating stronger, healthier and better equipped congregations.
- Sexual abuse prevention panel formed (Dec. 1, 2015)
- An invitation from the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention (March 4, 2016)