Responding to the trauma of sexual assault

A timely message from the Eastern PA Conference ICARE Team

By the Rev. Susan L. Worrell

In light of recent national news about sexual assault, including the sentencing of comedian Bill Cosby and the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Judge Brett Kavanugh on Capitol Hill, many sexual abuse survivors are now reliving their trauma.  

We urge all church leaders to be vigilant in looking out for persons in our congregations and communities who have been victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment. We should reach out to those individuals to offer moral support and appropriate validation, along with listening ears and caring hearts. May we be ever more aware, receptive and supportive of them, particularly in the coming months.

Some church leaders, both clergy and lay, may themselves be survivors of sexual abuse trauma. Please be gentle with yourselves, seek support with safe and trusted friends and family.  The wounds can be very raw and very real.

These widely publicized events disturb all of us at a deeply felt level. They can trigger memories or feelings that take survivors right back to the full force of their own trauma.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual trauma, here are some resources that may be helpful:

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-2673-8255
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline chat option: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • Crisis Text Line: text 741-741
  • The Trevor Project Hotline: 866-488-7386 (suicide hotline for LGBT+ youth)
  • Safe Horizon Hotline: 1-212-227-3000 (our nation’s leading victim assistance program).

The United Methodist Church has long supported the work of eradicating sexual harassment and misconduct, but we have yet a long way to go. Our society continues to invalidate the claims of victims, protect the victimizers and defend the patriarchy and misogyny rampant in our country.  

Read the UMC’s official stance on the Eradication of Sexual Harassment in The United Methodist Church and Society.  In the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference we strive to be responsive to any claims of sexual misconduct by leaders in the church, either clergy or lay.  Any person who has credible reason to believe a violation of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct Involving Adults (2016) has occurred should bring the matter to the attention of church authorities.  Such a report can be initiated through the ICARE Team’s confidential email address, icare4epa@gmail.com, or by contacting one’s District Superintendent.  Read the ICARE Team flyer for more information.

In addition, may we all be aware of and sensitive to the humble and repentant men in our midst who are recognizing how, in their youth and young adulthood, they consumed and were shaped by messages of the misogynistic culture.  Many may have acted in concert with the expectation to prove their manliness through sexual conquests.

They may recognize now that they could have misread signals that seemed to indicate consent where no consent was given. Their burden is also great.  Let us all be willing to hear and address their pain and realizations.

We also recognize that not every man bought into the misogynistic norms of the culture. For those who have examined, or are now examining, their past transgressions, may we walk humbly with them as they face the reality of their past.

This is a moment when we in leadership in our churches can stand for honesty, truth-telling, repentance and healing.  May the Lord of all help us in this sacred task.

Please visit, use and share with others the ICARE webpage on the Eastern PA Conference website.


ICARE

The ICARE Team responds upon request to situations involving sexual misconduct related to congregations and/or clergy of The Eastern PA Conference. Learn more

ICARE Team, Co-Chairs
  • The Rev. Dr. Brunilda Martínez
  • The Rev. Susan L. Worrell, MS, CADC, LPC
Reporting Sexual Misconduct

Do you believe you have witnessed or been a victim of sexual misconduct in one of the churches or ministries of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of The United Methodist Church? We are here to help!