Sexual Abuse Policy

CMC Sexual Abuse Policy

Edited by Alisha Huber 6/16/2017

  1. Introduction

    1. We are called to be active followers of Jesus Christ, who recognize the inherent worth of every person. In living and worshiping in covenant with one another, we strive to keep Christ at the center of our daily lives, to treat others with respect, and to ensure all who enter our buildings are welcomed, shown hospitality, and offered grace within a nurturing, safe environment.

We recognize that human sexuality is a gift from God that can “enable us to enjoy companionship and intimacy and to form families and build community.” Our sexuality is also a place where we can experience vulnerability and harm. Sexual abuse and sexual harassment expose our vulnerability and violate our sexuality and our sense of self.

Community Mennonite Church recognizes that sexual harassment and sexual abuse are serious problems. Church leadership is encouraged to rely on outside professionals for their expertise. This policy will address how to respond to and report claims of sexual abuse involving those in leadership positions (e.g. pastors, pastoral elders, church council) as well as members and those who attend and/or are associated with CMC.

This document is intended to serve as a partner document to our policies on Safe Church and serious accusations.

Community Mennonite Church aims to listen carefully, compassionately and supportively to the victims of sexual abuse; to give those accused the opportunity to respond and be heard; to aid in healing for victims and families involved; to promote reconciliation when appropriate; and to hold perpetrators accountable when appropriate.

 

  • Report of Sexual Abuse

 

      1. When any member or attender becomes aware of sexual abuse (or an allegation of the same) involving members of the CMC community they shall inform the Lead Pastor or the Chair of Council. If the abuse involves a credentialed pastor, the Lead Pastor or Council Chair will refer the matter to the District Minister, pursuant to Virginia Mennonite Conference guidelines.
      2. If Lead Pastor or Council Chair or their families are directly affected, then another member of pastoral team or Council Vice Chair, respectively, shall serve in their place to make the referral to Virginia Mennonite Conference. This policy is not intended to apply to pastors. In any case where a pastor is accused of misconduct, Virginia Mennonite Conference’s policies apply.
      3. If the abuse does not involve a credentialed pastor, the Lead Pastor and Council Chair will convene a response team to make a preliminary assessment of the situation, which will use the following checklist to determine appropriate steps.  At any time in this process they may wish to consult professionals.

 

  • Checklist of Preliminary Considerations

 

      1. Who has been harmed and what are their needs? See Section V, Parts A and B.

        1. Have steps been taken to assist in getting medical, psychological, or psychiatric help if needed?

        2. Do steps need to be taken for congregational safety?

      2. Is a minor involved?

        1. Consult (CMC) Safe Church policy

        2. Determine which adults should be notified

      3. Who needs to be held accountable?

        1. Are there imbalances between parties such as age, gender, position of power, or considerations such as a past relationship of trust, history of victimization, or other circumstances of vulnerability which may preclude real consent? Who should be informed?

        2. Does any party need to obtain legal advice about whether to disclose information about this matter to an employer, church institution, or other person?

        3. Should the congregation be informed either now or later? See Section V, Part D.

        4. Should law enforcement be notified? Or is this unwanted and unwelcome sexualized behavior which is a serious moral wrong but not legally actionable?

      4. Is it appropriate to initiate a process of accountability toward restoration?

        1. Conversely, are other steps appropriate, such as advising a person to refrain from violating personal or cultural norms?

 

  • Requirements for Accountability and Restoration Process

 

      1. Establish a response team. See Section V, Part A.

      2. Plan a clear process for the victim to be heard, supported, and acknowledged. See Section V, Part B.

      3. Ensure a fair opportunity for accused to respond and be supported. See Section V, Part C.

      4. Prompt inquiry by persons with appropriate distance from the situation. See Section VI.

      5. If the inquiry reveals more than a misunderstanding between the people involved, the outside resources should be contacted. An example of a misunderstanding would be a case where someone makes an accusation of harassment because a person from another culture touches them in ways that are not consistent with American cultural norms, but are considered normal and appropriate in the accused person’s culture. It should be noted that continued unwelcome contact of this kind, after a clear explanation, will be considered harassment. (See Section VIII, Part B)
      6. Devise a clear timetable for determination of responsibility,  accountability, restorative steps.

 

  • Restorative Guidelines

  • Response to Accusations of Harm

 

        1. CMC leadership will respond to any accusation of sexual abuse with a spirit of caring, support and restoration for the victim of sexual abuse, the one accused of abuse, and the community surrounding the victim, the accused, or both.  A restorative response will vary from situation to situation; depending on the type of sexual harassment or abuse; the degree of harm done; and the level of ongoing endangerment to the victim or to the community.  In the case of sexual harassment or abuse, mediation with face-to-face reconciliation is often not recommended or even possible.  A high level of confidentiality must be upheld throughout any response to an accusation, so leaders need to discern if, or at what level, others in the congregation will be informed or involved.

 

  • The first priority is to listen to and care for the victim.

 

        1. Hear and honor their story. It is important to believe them.  Ask how you can support them.  As per CMC Safe Church policy, pastors now function as mandatory reporters for any suspected abuse that involves minors so it may be best policy to inform victim, at the outset, of our intention to function as mandatory reporters.
        2. Assess immediate needs and offer help and support as needed.
          1. If there is imminent or ongoing danger, take immediate and concrete steps toward protection, whether through a safe place to stay, care groups or the legal system.
          2. If someone is harmed physically, get medical help immediately.  Offer to contact family, an advocate or friends who may assist.
          3. Whether the accusation is harassment or physical abuse, intervention may be needed to relieve a threatening situation.  Leaders do well to consult with sexual-abuse professionals to determine the best intervention.
        3. Ask permission from the victim of abuse, confirm the exact nature of the accusation, and assure safety before confronting the accused.
        4. Determine a path for ongoing support for the victim.  This may include assistance in finding a professional counselor, pastoral care, the formation of a care group, or other options deemed helpful by the one claiming harm.
        5. Assess needs for support among family members, close friends or members of an existing small group close to the victim.  Respond as appropriate.

 

  • Confronting and Caring for the Accused

 

        1. Share the accusation with the accused in accordance with the comfort level of the victim.  Hear their story and assess their response to the accusation.  (See V.B.3)
        2. Within 10 days of this meeting with the accused, the response team will make a determination whether to pursue further action.
        3. If the accused holds a position in the church, whether paid or voluntary, require a leave-of-absence until the situation is resolved and/or the requirements for accountability and restitution are fulfilled.
        4. Hold the accused accountable for harm that has been inflicted.  Determine a specific plan for accountability, and determine who will monitor the accountability process that follows, if other than the response team.  An accountability process can be done within the church community but is often more effective if managed through professional or legal intervention, depending on the type and severity of offense.
        5. Tend to the needs of family members or friends who need support or assistance in the accountability process.
        6. It may be necessary to ask the accused to not attend CMC for an indefinite period of time. The victim should not be expected to encounter the accused in church.

 

  • Caring for the church community.   

 

        1. Whether or not an accusation is shared with the congregation as a whole, leaders must assess the impact on the congregation.  An initial assessment will include the following:
          1. Is there a safety concern?
          2. In consultation with the victim, determine what level of confidentiality will be maintained. Who do we need to tell?
          3. Does the victim or the accused already belong to a care group in the congregation who knows about the event or the accusation?
          4. Do leaders need to bring in professionals to help them care for the congregation in this time of crisis?
          5. Does the congregation as a whole need a healing process?

 

  • Inquiry, Accountability, and Support in Balance

 

      1. A response team will include at least three people, ideally of varied gender and experience to ensure balance and fairness.
      2. Both the victim of abuse and the accused may be invited to choose a supporter to be present at all or any inquiries or meetings.
      3. Leaders are encouraged to consult with professionals within the congregation or broader community at any time in the process.
      4. Any interaction between victim and accused can happen only if both parties express readiness and willingness.  Even if readiness is insured, leadership is strongly encouraged to secure mediation professionals to lead and accompany the process.

 

  • Prevention and Education

 

      1. Church Council and Pastoral Team will share responsibility for educating staff, volunteers and the congregation on sexual abuse, healthy sexuality, and this Sexual Harassment Policy annually and throughout the year.  The goal will be to create a congregational culture of mutual care and dignity in which all people are honored and treated respectfully as God’s beloved children. Specific educational actions should include:
        1. Encouraging open door policies for meetings between two people.
        2. An annual sermon on healthy sexuality.
        3. Reminding people to consider whether their actions may lead to the appearance of inappropriate behavior.
      2. The Church Council is responsible to see that this policy is followed and will review this policy annually with pastors and pastoral team, Church Council officers and Commission chairpersons, lay staff, other employees, as well as committee chairs and volunteers in the congregation.
      3. This policy will be included with any application for employment with an expectation of compliance for those hired by CMC.
      4. This policy will be shared with organizations who use CMC property with the hope and expectation that these groups will also put policies in place to protect themselves and the CMC community.
      5. Training Program for pastors and lay leaders on trauma, victimology, and predation will happen annually.

 

  • Appendix

 

    1. Definitions

      1. Sexual abuse refers to any sort of non-consensual sexual contact. It includes unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, such as hugs, kisses, touching, assault and intercourse. It can also occur within a marriage or family relationship.
      2. Sexual harassment is any unwanted and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. It can interfere with a person’s ability to work, get an education or engage in ministry, among other things. It often takes two forms:
        1. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when sexual favors are made either explicitly or implicitly a condition for employment, promotion, grades or other forms of aid.
        2. Environmental harassment refers to unwelcome sexual behavior that creates a hostile environment. It can include communicating by any means sexually suggestive remarks, jokes or gestures, degrading pictures or objects. It includes unwelcome propositions and unwanted physical contact such as touching, hugging, pinching, patting, massaging, etc. It should also be recognized that there are cultural and personal differences in respect to personal space, touching and hugging that can cause discomfort for some individuals and confusion for others. Regardless of cultural differences, unwanted touching that persists after the recipient has expressed that it is unwelcome is unacceptable and requires further education on American cultural boundaries.
      3. Sexual abuse is used in this policy to refer to sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment. It should also be clear that sexual abuse may involve a man abusing or harassing a woman, a woman abusing or harassing a man, or same-sex abuse or harassment; however, a man abusing or harassing a woman is the most common.
      4. Victim is a person who is on the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse. Although this term is problematic and possibly disempowering, it is the clearest one we have.
    2. Support professionals

      1. District Minister Roy Hange (434-227-0079, rmhange@juno.com)
      2. The Collins Center (http://www.thecollinscenter.org/) 540-434-2272.
      3. Center for Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding (http://www.emu.edu/cjp/)
      4. RAINN: https://www.rainn.org/laws-your-state-virginia (provides information on VA laws concerning sexual abuse, including confidentiality)
    3. Resources
      1. Community Mennonite Church: Safe Church Policy, 2015; Serious Accusations Policy:  Handling serious accusations, 2013
      2. FaithTrust Institute Resources
      3. Heinzekehr, Hannah.  “Responding to Sexual Abuse.”  The Mennonite, October 2016, pp 26-30. Mennonite Church USA.  Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse, 2015.
        1. Abuse: Response and Prevention — a guide for Church leaders.  2009, 2016
      4. Understanding Sexual Abuse by a church leader or caregiver, 2nd edition.  2011, 2016.
      5. Oudshoorn, Judah, with Michelle Jackett and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz.  The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Sexual Abuse: Hope through Trauma.  Good Books/New York, New York, 2015.
      6. Virginia Mennonite Conference.  “Manual: Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure,” pp 108-145 in Leadership Handbook for Congregations, Districts, and Credentialed Leaders in Virginia Mennonite Conference, 2015.
      7. Yoder, Carolyn.  Little Book of Trauma Healing