by Kate Hedrick, Souderton congregation
Some conversations are hard to start, especially within the church. #MeToo and #ChurchToo have brought the topic of sexual abuse to our social awareness, perhaps like never before. We have a growing awareness that sexual abuse is something we need to talk about, so that victims can be heard, so that policies can change, and so that we can prevent, as much as is possible, further incidents of sexual abuse. But sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start the conversation.
Last fall, Souderton Mennonite Church had the opportunity to host Carolyn Byers Ruch, founder of the Rise and Shine Movement, an organization which equips parents and communities to prevent childhood sexual abuse. She is a wonderful resource for churches and communities who want to be educated and who want to have conversations surrounding sexual abuse.
Carolyn’s message is one of empowerment and encouragement. As a mother myself, I learned that more often than not, victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. It is a friend or family member. This reality struck fear into my heart. How could I protect my daughter from people I trust? But as I continued to listen, I went from feeling like sexual abuse was a threat I was powerless to protect against, to knowing I had some concrete steps to prevent sexual abuse.
While much of her presentation is directed at parents, Carolyn is very clear that prevention is a community effort. “When we increase the communication, we decrease the risk of childhood sexual abuse,” said Carolyn. A community that openly discusses sexual abuse is one that is more intimidating to abusers, making abuse less likely to happen. Moreover, when every person in a child’s life is educated in the same principles, they can reinforce what is being taught at home. In a church setting, consider the number of people coming into contact with a child: greeters at the door, nursery volunteers, well-meaning adults who approach them during the coffee time, etc. We all interact and play a part.
Carolyn’s presentation is honest, sensitive, and ultimately uplifting. She helps to shed light on a dark topic, creating hope for prevention and making space for healing to begin.
If your church or community would like to find out more or schedule a presentation, you can find further information on Carolyn’s website: https://riseandshinemovement.org/