Jeff Renner (00:00):
The issues of sex abuse, harassment, and domestic violence gained prominence in 2016. In 2017, the Silence Breakers were named the Time Magazine Person of the Year. New stories of suffering and failure to prevent such suffering continue to emerge. We’ve documented the issues behind the Me Too Movement in a past episode of Challenge 2.0. There have also been successes, not enough, but successes, nonetheless. Perhaps one sign of success has been the emergence of more people asking what can we do? What has been done that works? We seek to help answer those questions in this episode of Challenge 2.0, Moving Beyond Me Too.
Thank you very much for joining us for Challenge 2.0 and in a special thanks to all of our guest panelists for joining us today on this very important topic. Let me introduce them. First, Mary Santi serves as Chancellor for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and as Executive Director of Human Resources. As you might suspect, those two posts include several responsibilities among them is that of coordinating the safe environment program and initiatives that focus on responding to and preventing sexual abuse.
Mary, thank you for joining us.
Liz Coleclough serves Jewish Family Service in Seattle, both as Director of Counseling and of Project DVORA. Project DVORA provides guidance and education to support loving, and safe relationships and respond to and help prevent domestic violence.
Liz, thank you for joining us as well this morning.
And Reverend Pat Simpson came back for a second time. She’s a repeat guest and we’re very grateful for that. Pat is the Senior Pastor at University Temple United Methodist Church, and serves on the Faith Trust Institute Board of Directors. The Institute is a national multi-faith multi-cultural organization working to end domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Pat, thanks for coming back.
I should say this is a follow as we mentioned earlier to the previous topic that we did, and it was largely your impetus that we chose to follow through on this. In that first program on sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, we focused on what can best be described as the very worst examples. I’m wondering if each one of you would recap an example of an experience that crystallized your desire to work in this area.
Rev. Pat Simpson (02:55):
I started active ministry as a pastor in South Bend Washington, a very small town. I was working with a social worker to lead a support group for people experiencing domestic violence. During that time, one of our group members was murdered by her husband and that made an indelible impression on me and was really my introduction to the framework of power and vulnerability that is applicable to all of these issues.
Jeff Renner (03:30):
Liz Coleclough (03:31):
I actually started in public health earlier on in my career. I was working in HIV work, both prevention, education, and then treatment for folks living with the virus. What I noticed was how pervasive domestic violence and sexual violence were in the community. They weren’t discussed at all. And very often, if you were a survivor, you were a pariah in the community and actually more vulnerable to a lot of victimization and harm. Tact that it didn’t have any attention in the community was shocking to me given the level of damage it clearly was doing.
Jeff Renner (04:08):
Mary Santi (04:11):
I was studying for my master of divinity degree at Seattle University and also working at a parish about 25 years ago. We had an ethics class and the presenter described how she taught faith formation. One of her students eventually became her husband and the marriage failed, and she explained that she didn’t realize that at the time, but there was such a differential of power. It’s really struck me how important it is to have very, very strong boundaries in ministerial relationships.
Jeff Renner (04:44):
We’re going to be going into much greater detail on the work that you’re doing in your perspectives, but I’m wondering if each one of you, however you’d like to begin could give us just a brief overview of what it is you’re doing now. We introduced you with the organizations you work with, but perhaps just explain a little bit about what your projects are.
Liz, why don’t you start out.
Liz Coleclough (05:02):
Sure. I direct Project DVORA, which is our domestic violence advocacy program. We work with survivors of DV as well as their children. We’ll help them really at any stage that they’re at; if they’re in the relationship, if they’re trying to leave or if they’re still experiencing victimization after leaving. We encounter domestic violence and sexual assault a lot in that regard. And then I also manage our counseling program and we’ve increasingly worked with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse on trauma recovery. That’s what we do.
Mary Santi (05:38):
I oversee our Safe Environment Program, which involves background checks and training for prevention, and also recognizing signs of sexual abuse or harassment. We also have affiliations with several other social service agencies and affiliations with … I have places like King County Sexual Assault Resource Center is one of our major partners. And then we are also really committed to helping those who have been harmed in the past by clergy employees or volunteers of the church and offer counseling for them and do what we can to help in their healing process.
Jeff Renner (06:16):
Pat, tell us a little bit more about Faith Trust.
Rev. Pat Simpson (06:19):
Faith Trust was originally called the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, and that really describes the breadth of our work. It’s mainly through training. We work with secular domestic violence providers on their religious literacy, so they can work with people in their programs who have faith issues. We work with Navy chaplains on domestic violence and sexual abuse. But the intersection with the other part of my professional life is we do a lot of work to try and clergy and other religious leaders to [inaudible 00:07:00] that spiritual power they have in a way that does no harm to their people. In the United Methodist Church, we’ve used those materials for many, many years to do mandatory quadrennial training for our clergy.
Jeff Renner (07:14):
It struck me as I was listening to your stories that you were offering, your first experience, what drew you into this field, that these are stories. These are experiences that aren’t easy to hear. They’re not easy to deal with just on a human level. For people out in our viewing audience that might be encountering this. How did you cope with this, especially early on? What keys would you offer if somebody gets presented with this? What worked for you?
Rev. Pat Simpson (07:41):
You’re speaking to what we would now call a secondary trauma as the caregivers and the helpers carry the weight of the stories that they have heard from others. I think what’s been helpful to me is getting active and working in prevention has given me a sense of agency about making this at least incrementally better over the years.
Liz Coleclough (08:07):
I think for me, I have an amazing team and it’s wonderful to go to work every day and work with such dedicated people that are really trying to prevent and allow for healing from gender based violence. We lean heavily on each other because this is really hard to hold, and actually having a group of people that have come together, it allows for the ongoing healing of secondary trauma that’s necessary to keep doing this work. I think that piece, and then also seeing the resilience in the survivors and the children that we work with. We hear egregious stories, but we also see amazing, amazing healing. That’s why I go to work is because I get to see that every day.
Mary Santi (08:52):
Well I think about it, I guess not surprisingly from a Catholic context. I see it as a possibility of a resurrection story. With the abuse survivors that we are dealing with, the abuse happened generally speaking decades and decades ago. We can’t do anything about that. We can’t undo it, but what we can do is work with them and help to bring them toward healing and also use that as the impetus for prevention and making sure that not just in the Catholic Church, but hopefully throughout society, that eventually we can eradicate the sin of child sexual abuse.
Jeff Renner (09:31):
When you speak of this, and you’ve already alluded to this is that necessity of creating a safe space. Somebody’s been violated, they’re reluctant to come out with their story. How do you make them feel safe to relate that and to get help?
Mary Santi (09:46):
We have a hotline. People will call the hotline and we have a pastoral outreach coordinator who is very experienced in helping people deal with what has happened to them and what is the best avenue for them to proceed in terms of seeking healing.
Liz Coleclough (10:06):
I think for us, it’s about normalizing the experience of trauma. We see folks taking on a lot of responsibility for the trauma that has happened to them and feeling like something is wrong with them. And so the thing that we try to focus on at all times is helping them recognize that there’s nothing wrong with you. Something happened to you and we’re working towards healing in that, but you didn’t do anything to inherently create the situation. That’s a message that we try to give to people time and time again.
Jeff Renner (10:37):
Rev. Pat Simpson (10:38):
To speak in a smaller congregational context, I have experienced the power of preaching as a way to create safety. It’s a very common experience for pastors to preach about domestic violence and then in the next week find out that there are survivors in the congregation he or she didn’t know about. I’ve had the same experience speaking from the pulpit about childhood sexual abuse, and had a chance then to help those survivors know each other in a way they hadn’t before. So simply breaking the silence has great power.
Jeff Renner (11:17):
Which is part of what we’ve seen as the power of the Me Too Movement as well. One common response and we’ve seen it in news accounts, whatever venue they may be coming out is people will respond, “I can’t imagine so and so doing something like that.” What perspectives would you offer on that?
Rev. Pat Simpson (11:36):
Well the so and sos who get away with it, particularly for a long time, tend to be people who are very skilled at projecting that vibrant, attractive, trustable persona, particularly the predators and serial abusers. It’s part of their shtick, that it’s hard to suspect them.
Liz Coleclough (12:02):
Yeah, I completely agree with that. We see quite a bit the people who perpetrate harm are in fact can be very, very charming and very enigmatic and are often people who hold a lot of power in their communities, and so they’re quite prominent in their communities very often, not always, but often. And so I think that given that persona, it is easy for people to think that what you present to the world is fully accurate and not necessarily give credence to a person that might not be as prominent in the community.
Mary Santi (12:36):
I have been amazed over and over again, standing in front of congregations with perpetrators who have admitted what they have done even, and the folks in the congregation, and it’s stronger the more charismatic the perpetrator is defending that individual.
Jeff Renner (12:55):
I might just follow up on that. When you, as you all pointed out, these are very often people with considerable influence that have a network of their own that might tend to serve to suppress this. How do you go about circumventing that? Any particular strategies that come to mind?
Mary Santi (13:14):
I would say what we have seen to be effective is not focusing on intent, but focusing on behaviors, measurable and observable behaviors. For example, rather than saying, “Well, he’s giving so and so full frontal hugs, but I know he’s a really good guy so it’s okay,” we really stress in our training full frontal hugs are not okay in ministerial positions. And if you see that you don’t worry about the intent, it’s intent, it’s against the policy and it’s wrong and so it needs to be reported.
Rev. Pat Simpson (13:47):
I would say it’s also important to go deeper than policies and rules. For those of us who have positions of influence, and this could spill over into the secular realm as well, to always be watching not only our own intent, but the impact of our behavior and be willing to ask and learn. In our trainings it’s been really helpful to have different segments of our community represented. I remember co-training with a Korean pastor and talking with him in front of the group about the different meanings of about a handshake, a touch, a hug in a Korean church or an Anglo church, and that sparked a much broader conversation that spanned the meaning of these things across generations. We just need to work hard to watch all the time.
Liz Coleclough (14:54):
Yeah, I do think naming the power in the room is really important, both in terms of where your individual status is. There’s gender power, there’s racial power, there’s disability power, there’s aegis power, and being able to acknowledge that I think is huge when it comes to thinking about these individual interactions people have with each other, because a hug for somebody who’s been through a lot of victimizations with somebody in a position of power is going to mean something very, very different between the two people.
Jeff Renner (15:25):
True. True. So far we’ve been talking about this being a two person dynamic; the victim and the victimizer. Is this really when you take a larger global view of this, is it really a two person issue or is the core problem much bigger than that?
Rev. Pat Simpson (15:43):
Oh, even in a congregation, it’s bigger. If you have a predator coming into a congregation, say seeking unsupervised access to children, even with a good structure in place with many protective windows and rules and ratios and background checks, that person may begin to groom others in the congregation who are the gatekeepers for a little exception to the rules, a chance to drive this kid home alone, for instance. So a whole group of people can be recruited into this effort unwittingly, and so everybody needs to be vigilant.
Liz Coleclough (16:27):
Yeah, I agree with that, and I also think just societally we fundamentally believe that domestic violence and sexual violence behavior is learned. It’s learned through all of these different aspects of the way that society is built. Because if we think about it, DV was only a crime, what, as of 50 years ago, so we’re on top of centuries and centuries of this being permissive behavior. Even if we’re not just talking about something as egregious as rape or assault, there are all of these things that come in between. I think that’s all built up into this huge culture that now we’re only just now starting to recognize and try to dismantle.
Jeff Renner (17:10):
Mary, what’s your perspective?
Mary Santi (17:11):
Well, I also just think that the normalization of highly sexualized behavior through TV, media, advertisements, all of those sorts of things also contribute to this issue.
Jeff Renner (17:25):
Well, and I think that brings up an excellent point and that is, we’re talking about dealing with this at the time it occurs, but it seems, and I’ve heard many people address this issue, you really need to go to the way girls are raised and what expectations are placed on them and the expectations boys have. Let’s talk first, perhaps of girls. What are the key points as you’re fulfilling your respective roles, and even as you’re just thinking of, “Gee, I wish we’d see more of this?” What do young girls need to learn as they’re growing up from their parents, teachers or whoever their key role models might be? Anybody want to tackle that first?
Rev. Pat Simpson (18:09):
Well, to put it in a theological context, not just my body belongs to me, but I am a person created in the image of God and I am worthy of respect.
Liz Coleclough (18:25):
I also think it speaks to a little bit of my former point that we’re really just at the beginning of this. I think we’ve got some of the language down around gender equity. There is some beginning encouragement of girls to not feel siloed into the gender expectations, but we’re only at the beginning. So even if we’ve got the language down, all of the stuff that’s gone underneath is still there. I think what I would tell young girls that if you feel uncomfortable or if you feel like something is off, you’re probably not imagining it. It’s probably there. We’ve got a lot of work to do to keep going. Even though there’s still a lot of work to do, there’s hope in that because look how far we’ve come just in a small amount of time.
Mary Santi (19:17):
I also think, and this is true for both girls and boys, that it’s really important that they have trusted adults that they can have ongoing conversations with about these things and feel safe talking to them about whether it’s a parent or an aunt or an uncle or pastor, whoever that might be.
Jeff Renner (19:36):
That brings up the other side of the question and that is how do we need to change the way boys are raised to become men, the expectations of manhood? We’ve heard in news coverage and past stories, “Oh, that’s just locker room talk,” or “That’s to be expected,” and I think the understanding now is that’s not to be expected. What would you suggest to parents that they need to do to raise their boys differently?
Mary Santi (20:07):
I think they need to model mutual respect. I think that’s probably the most important thing other than also keeping the lines of communication open.
Liz Coleclough (20:14):
I was saying how we have the language for girls. I don’t think we have the language for boys yet in terms of talking about what is masculinity versus toxic masculinity. I know that’s sort of a larger overarching phrase. What I mean by that is boys they’re not taught to have this spectrum of emotions that are allowable. They’re taught to be strong, they’re taught anger is okay, they are taught that sports are okay, they’re taught that promiscuity is okay, but they’re not taught that crying is okay, they’re not taught that showing empathy is okay. Again, like there’s got to be intention there. How do we raise our boys to be allowed to be complete human beings? I don’t think boys have permission for that yet.
Rev. Pat Simpson (21:01):
I’m going to again, go across the gender spectrum, across the spectrum of sexual orientation and say that Christian churches, I think I’ve done a very bad job of encouraging our own children and youth to hold their sexual lives in their spiritual lives together as one thing. Insofar as we stay silent about their sexuality and don’t provide a good education and forum for them to discuss their sexual lives. They got their faith and they got their locker room. They got their, I’m made in the image of God, but in this situation I do not deserve to be respected. That bifurcation is a really bad thing, and I think we’ve got a long way to go in helping kids have the sense of a whole self and then the backbone to take that into a toxic culture.
Jeff Renner (22:07):
Part of it seems to be providing good role models. Be it, what is a good role model for a young girl, young woman, or a young man or boy, and it’s a matter of maybe lifting those up as examples. Would you agree with that?
Rev. Pat Simpson (22:26):
Jeff Renner (22:27):
Any way that if an organization is out there thinking, “How do we go about doing that?” Anybody have some suggestions on that?
Liz Coleclough (22:35):
I was actually just in a prevention training last week and they were emphasizing the value of older adolescents and young adults, whether they’re college recruited or from a young adult group, because they were really emphasizing how powerful that age group is for adolescents, even more powerful than adults, because as an adult, I can’t relate as well to what’s going on for a teenager right now. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a social media generation, but a college student does. Somebody who’s 18, 19, 20 does. I think the modeling that can happen there can be the most possible impact on a 14, 15, 16 year old today.
Rev. Pat Simpson (23:20):
Yes, because we can be so clueless.
Liz Coleclough (23:23):
Yeah, across those generation gaps.
Rev. Pat Simpson (23:26):
But here’s another kind of modeling that happens in that to have those 18 or 19 or 20 year olds also interacting with younger teens and kids with their own good boundaries, understanding the influence and the power they wield can be a good example.
Jeff Renner (23:48):
Social media has become so pervasive on that and it does seem that you need to get brothers, sisters or people of similar age to be able to have that toolkit if you will, to be able to respond and advise them at that age.
Liz Coleclough (24:03):
I mean, the other thing that I would add though, is we’re seeing it. We’re seeing so much youth leadership out right now across the board, including the Me Too and so that’s really heartening because it is I think young people who’ve taken a really prominent platform in this movement specifically.
Jeff Renner (24:20):
That would be a good point to bring up. And that is, we tend to focus on the negatives, we focus on the problems and they’re there, that’s why we’re doing this program, but maybe if each of you could give an example of a really positive change, transformation or example that you’ve seen.
Liz Coleclough (24:35):
Well, I get to see it all the time because I get to see recovery happen in all of the work that we do where people are starting to really, really both understand their experience, understand that they’re not making it up, find a space where they’re feeling heard, where they’re feeling safe, find a space where they can process through their trauma and move beyond it and not be defined by it. I get to see that all the time and it is really heartening.
Rev. Pat Simpson (25:08):
I see that too. To have survivors move through their own process and then become mentors and helpers to their peers and to those who are in the midst of trauma … that’s a longstanding pattern. A lot of people have gone into these professions after their own experiences and use that life knowledge as the energy behind their own helping activity, whether as volunteers or as professionals.
Jeff Renner (25:46):
We have just scratched the surface on this. You can’t possibly do this justice in the space of one program. So I would not only like to thank each of you for participating today in this program, but also to come back, keep us aware of what might be some other angles to look at this. I don’t doubt at all that you provided some inspiration for the people that are watching, giving them a new idea of how to respond to this, perhaps what they can do to change or to affect change in their lives.
We thank you very much for watching this episode of Challenge 2.0. We hope to see you again next week.