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Guest Blog: Hope in the Research

Oct 12, 2017 — Categories: , ,

By Rev. James S. Evinger — Since 2008, FaithTrust generously has posted on its website a document I compile, Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities. Intended to be extensive and broad, the bibliography, as of the semi-annual update of October 11, 2017, is now over 1,600 pages. Here are four emergent themes in the recent (last five years) literature which deserve attention from those who support FaithTrust’s mission.

By Rev. James S. Evinger

Since 2008, FaithTrust generously has posted on its website a document I compile, Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities.  Intended to be extensive and broad, the bibliography, (as of the semi-annual update of October 11, 2017) is now over 1,600 pages. Here are four emergent themes in the recent (last five years) literature which deserve attention from those who support FaithTrust’s mission.

  1. The clinicians and clinical researchers continue to apply and refine the insights from the groundbreaking work of Judith Herman, in particular, regarding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and sexualized violence and betrayal. The more recent work includes violations in the context of faith communities. For example, Carly Parnitzke Smith and Jennifer J. Freyd describe their psychological research regarding the role of institutions’ action and inactions in inflicting traumatic experiences and survivors’ consequent psychological distress.  2014). Institutional betrayal. American Psychologist, 69(6):575-587. Examples are cited from Roman Catholic Church cases to illustrate institutional betrayal as “a concept that has broad applications to many forms of social harm and injustice.”
    Giving a name to a serious problem is a critical step in beginning to address it.

  2. Regarding recovery from sexual abuse in faith communities, Roger D. Fallot and Andrea K. Blanch write about the value of, and need for, “‘trauma-informed’ faith communities” for the sake of intervention with survivors and for prevention:  “The basic trauma-informed values of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment represent antidotes to the toxic effects of violence in people’s lives.”  (2013). “Religious and Spiritual Dimensions of Traumatic Violence.” Chapter 19 in Pargament, Kenneth I. (Editor-in-chief), & Mahoney, Annette, & Shafranske, Edward P. (Associate Eds.). APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, Volume 2: An Applied Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, pp. 371-387. 
    The secular model of
    trauma-informed care holds tremendous potential which faith communities are only slowly discovering.

  3. Because outcomes of justice have been so very difficult to obtain in cases of clergy sexual abuse – whether it is justice and recovery for survivors, or holding accountable offenders and those who enabled the offenses to continue – many consider alternatives to ecclesiastical, civil, and criminal proceedings. Where some promote models such as restorative justice, feminist critiques and studies have soundly demonstrated the inadequacies of that approach due to structural imbalances of power which replicate the power dynamics of the original abuse. Very interesting conceptual work, however, is originating in Australia. See, for example, John Ellis and Nicola Ellis who successfully have applied a redress model built on “therapeutic jurisprudence, the Conversational Model of Psychotherapy, and Trauma-Informed Care and Practice (TCIP).”  (2014) ). A new model for seeking meaningful redress for victims of Church-related sexual assault. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 26(1, July):31-41.  See also the careful analysis offered by Kathleen Daly, an Australian professor of criminology and criminal justice, who considers the potential contributions of transitional justice in cases of minors who were sexually abused in residential institutions in Australia and Canada, including ones operated by religious entities.  (2014). Conceptualising responses to institutional abuse of children. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 26(1):5-29.  See also her book which describes her construct, justice interests of survivors.  She contrasts this with the more typical construct of justice needs.  The latter, she writes connotes basic psychological matters, “whereas interests connotes a victim’s standing as a citizen in a justice activity.”  Its elements include:  participation, voice, validation, vindication, and offender accountability.  (2014). Redressing Institutional Abuse of Children. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Advocates in the U.S.A. can learn much from those beyond our culture, systems, and borders.

  4. In many religious communities in the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s, responses to clergy who committed sexual offenses were quite clergy-oriented, typified by interventions of clinical treatment, much of which was ineffective and, upon conclusion of treatment, fostered illusions of the elimination of risk.  Clinical typologies were used to categorize offenders, and that was considered the best means of prevention. Tragically, time definitely proved otherwise. Now criminologists are applying the lessons from the discipline’s situational theory of crime to recommend best practices for more effective prevention strategies. Paul D. Steele, a professor sociology and criminology, does just that, calling this approach “our best hope for  preventing clergy-involved [child sexual abuse].”  (2013). “Contingent Crimes: Exploring the Sexual Abuse of Children by Clerics from a Situational Crime Perspective.”  Chapter 4 in Renzetti, Claire M., & Yocum, Sandra. (Eds.). (2013). Clergy Sexual Abuse: Social Science Perspectives. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, pp. 60-89. 
    Situational prevention is undervalued – until after the abuse occurs.  Now is the time to learn it.

Discouragement is a realistic emotional temptation in response to the unyielding resistance of faith communities to face the full truth. Helplessness is another emotional temptation in response to the wearisome recalcitrance of those communities to change.

The above four themes, however, all narrow the vacuum of knowledge about how we can better respond to sexual exploitation in religious settings. Yes, there is, indeed, much difficult work still to be done. The emergence of these themes in the literature is a welcome sign of hope that we have come a very long way.

 

About the Author:

Rev. James S. Evinger is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who worked 10 years in urban congregations, and 30 years in health centers with people with psychiatric illness and developmental disabilities in state institutions in Pennsylvania and New York, and held teaching and research appointments in the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY.  He has 22+ years experience with cases of sexual boundary violations in churches, including ecclesiastical, civil, and criminal cases.

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