Monday, March 8, 2010

sisters speak: teaching about sexual abuse

there is a magazine called the exponent II. this magazine is a publication for and by LDS women, started in 1947. there is a blog that goes along with the magazine, the exponent blog. i love reading this blog. here i can relate other women who are not only LDS, but feminist, strong, and intelligent, who do not always agree with every part of LDS doctrine. women who have substance.

there is a section in the exponent II magazine called "sisters speak." this column features a specific question and responses from various sisters. sort of like a "dear abby," if you will. in january a question was posted on the blog regarding abuse. i am going to post the question here, but you can view the article and all comments here.

Our first question comes from Emily. She writes, “For the past couple years, I’ve been wondering how the Church could teach/protect its members from sexual abuse. I’m dying to do a lesson in Primary or Relief Society on the topic, but I’m no professional and feel ill equipped to deal open a can of worms without knowing what to do. It kills me because statistically-speaking, I’m sure there are people under my charge who are dealing with sexual abuse in some way. I’m wondering how other wards deal with this.”

-If you were given the chance to do a lesson on sexual abuse, what points would you especially want to make?

-What issues surrounding this topic should people be sensitive towards?

-Have you had any experience with wards approaching this issue? What are the potential pitfalls of doing so?

i posted a comment on this article, and here is what i said.

When addressing sexual abuse, I think an important thing to talk about, especially to adults, are the signs that sexual abuse has occurred to a child. There are a lot of warning signs, and many children are afraid to go to an adult. This is true even if they have been told to and taught how. Many times the abuse is coming from a “trusted” adult. The child may not understand what is going on, just that the adult is telling them to do something, playing a game, etc., and they are supposed to consent. Quite often if abuse is going to be made known it will be because a perceptive adult notices a change in a child and lovingly talks to the child–without pushing, which can cause even more damage.

I would also discuss ways to support loved ones that have been abused. I know that there are many resources out there discussing this. I believe LDS social services has a link on their website, as well. Talk about how to listen, what to say, what NOT to say, and how to encourage a victim to get help.

Avoid a discussion format. Comments can be made, even if on topic, that can be extremely hurtful to an abuse survivor, no matter the intent. In your approach to a discussion on “forgiveness” it is important to stress that forgiveness is a process that can take many, many years, and is different for each person. Forgiveness may even be something that, while worked on during this life, may not be completed until the next (in my opinion).

I have never given a lesson on sexual abuse in a ward setting, but as a university student I did in front of one of my classes. These are the topics I touched on, because as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, this is what is important to me. It took eight years before the knowledge of my abuse at the hands of an uncle came out. I wish that my parents had known more about the warning signs I was exhibiting at the time. I am, however, grateful for the way they handled the news, and the way they supported me–much because of the research they did about the best way to help me was, and with help from my therapist.

It is also important to remember that inappropriate comments from an adult can be considered sexual abuse. I would talk about ways to handle that as well as inappropriate touching.

Good luck with this lesson. It is something that needs to be discussed, no matter how difficult it is. My mindset has been that even if it helps just one person, it is worth the stress and discomfort the subject may cause.

i can't tell you how thrilled i was when a few weeks later i received an email from the post author caroline, who would like to use my comment in the magazine! my comment will be published for all readers of the exponent II to see--how exciting. i am so glad that a topic i am so passionate about will be brought to the attention of so many people. teaching others about abuse, how to handle it, how to prevent it, how to recognize it, is so important. i am honored to be able to use my experiences to help others. at least, i hope it will help.

and for curiosity's sake, i would love to know how my readers would answer these questions. many of you are not LDS, but are religious. how would you address this topic in your own church setting? if you aren't religious, how would you address it among a group of your peers? in a school, at a community meeting, etc.? i'm curious to know what aspects of educating others about abuse is most important to you. and if you have not been abused, what would you most like to hear about?


Patricia Singleton said...

My son-in-law was raised LDS and my daughter was baptized into a LDS church before they were married. My daughter was raised in the Church of Christ. I am going to print out your article and send to her to read. I will have to think about your questions and how I would teach about sexual abuse in a church or community. I believe teaching about sexual abuse is what we are doing with our blogs already. Congratulations on the magazine printing your comment.

Marj aka Thriver said...

Congrats! Kudos! This sounds cool! Thanks for sharing this news with us. I really liked your reply, too. I especially appreciated what you said about forgiveness. Thanks so much for letting us use this for the blog carnival.

Tina Clark said...

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month
This is the time when I distribute my award winning autobiography
for proceeds to shelters and programs designed to educate the public on child abuse prevention.

My name is Tina Clark
I am the author as well as a survivor of sexual child abuse

Join my fight this April by ordering your copy of

Memoirs of Sangria Renee