the Hope of Survivors

Human Rights, Homemade—Jennifer Jill Schwirzer

Jennifer Jill Schwirzer(From the July 2012 edition of HopeSpeak)

Social justice, human rights, victim advocacy—these are all the rage today. For instance, filmmaker Jason Russell’s viral Kony 2012 has received over 100 million views. I was one of them. Watching it, I felt outrage, compassion, and a call to noble action. Will the film have its intended effect of helping secure the arrest of war criminal Joseph Kony? We’ll know in December, the deadline set by the “Stop Kony” campaign.

It’s good to be concerned about injustice. We should all do something to right the countless wrongs of a deranged world. I don’t doubt that the video has inspired some to action. But I wonder if for most it has produced this less remarkable result: a rush of good feelings. Speaking for myself, I felt my inner hero flex its biceps as I watched. I became an instant, armchair victim advocate. For just that moment, I felt reassured that my conscience and compassion were in good working order. And that felt very nice.

But indulge me as I self-observe: When I don my superman’s cape of moral outrage, the ego lift feels as if I can leap small buildings in a single bound. But ego lifts dissipate quickly; I eventually crash into a state of outrage fatigue. Here’s what I’m thinking: Wouldn’t it be tragic if human rights became another spectator sport? If we went online to get the stats on sex trafficking, domestic violence, or civilian death, then after ranting and panting for a few minutes, settled into complacency? After all, an atrocity over the ocean, tangled in a web of retaliatory attacks and political confusion, is really very inaccessible. Throwing money at the problem has been proven ineffective, even destructive. If I care much about things about which I can do little, I frustrate myself into not caring, even while priding myself on my caring. This sounds to me like a formula for paralysis.

I want to propose a solution. Start small. Start with the victim under your nose, in your families, churches, and communities. To invest in, for instance, a campaign against sex trafficking while ignoring cases of sexual abuse within our own sphere reveals serious inconsistency. I propose that instead of ignoring reports of victimization, we show an active interest in the cases. I propose we listen to the story and take cautious but appropriate action.

Okay, I’m showing my colors here. One of my pet peeves is sexual abuse. And my pet pet peeve is the kind of sexual abuse that happens in churches. I’ve heard so many stories that they’ve strung together into a sad song that plays endlessly in my head. But that song keeps me dancing toward the goal of ending abuse as far as my influence extends. And I’m recommending the same to you. Work with me to end abuse by advocating for the victims in your own world.

A few objections present themselves:

“They might be lying.” Yes, but the stats are on their side. Research has consistently shown false allegations of child sexual abuse to be rare; some sources say one percent. The motive is on their side, too. Coming forth on victimization is almost always socially awkward, humiliating and frightening, creating a disincentive for lying. On the other hand, perpetrators have a strong incentive for lying, as they preserve their careers, reputations and relationships. In a recent conversation someone said to me, “It’s ____’s word against the _____’s word!” True. So then believe the alleged perpetrator? This is bias. Why the bias? Perpetrators are typically charming, and often powerful, charismatic and well respected. Apprehending them can present a great inconvenience. But ignoring the victim is typically easy. So here’s what I propose: Rather than disbelieve the alleged victim and risk re-traumatizing him or her, tentatively believe them and risk being lied to. There’s a risk either way, but a 99 percent greater one in disbelieving the victim. Then go about gathering proof. No one should be convicted without proof.

“That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.” General sexual abuse stats shock: 17% of males and 28% of females suffer sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Incest, the worst kind of sexual abuse, hovers around 10%, with females at 20%. And the well-documented problem of clergy abuse in the Catholic Church shouldn’t lead us to think the problem stays there: Figures released to the Associated Press in 2007 revealed that there are more sexual abuse cases in the Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church. That kind of thing does happen here.

“It’s going to ruin our family (church, community).” Actually, sexual abuse hotlines, counseling, and shelter programs have a positive effect on communities. A recent peak for sexual abuse allegations in churches came in 1994; it has significantly dropped since because of prevention and advocacy program implementation. Yes, the truth may shake things up, but the long-term health of your family, church or community will improve when you purge out the festering wounds of secret evil.

“It’s going to destroy (the alleged perpetrator)’s life.” Actually, treatment for perpetrators of abuse has a high success rate. The best thing you can do for the perpetrator is bring him or her to whatever justice is necessary and encourage treatment. The worst thing you can do is ignore his or her problem. The anaerobic bacteria of sin thrives in dark places, but withers in the light of disclosure.

“I don’t know what to do!” Let me help with that. First, listen to the victim. Document their story. Ask them to collect any evidences they may have, if they exist. If appropriate, seek medical care to ascertain physical damage and secure treatment. Find counseling for the victim to work through emotional problems related to the abuse. A free resource for processing a crisis can be found at www.crisischat.org . To get more detailed help, call one of the many crisis hotlines such as:

1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368) Stop It Now

1-800-656-HOPE Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Information about each state’s requirements for abuse reporting can be found at www.childwelfare.gov ; or you can call the US National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.

The Hope of Survivors helps victims of clergy abuse. Go to www.thehopeofsurvivors.com.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause,” Is. 1:17. “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed,” Jeremiah 22:3. “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge,” Proverbs 29:7.

Please join with me in advocating for victims today.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18