Chaya Lester
Chaya Lester

Sex Abuse Ed – The path of healing after Chaim Walder’s abuse

Sex Abuse Ed - When our spiritual leaders betray us...

Sex Abuse Ed…What to do when there’s Sexual Misconduct in a Religious CommunityUnfortunately, sexual abuse at the hands of a spiritual leader is not a new topic. It has been studied and worked with for decades. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from those seasoned psychological models and to take this trauma to the next stage of its healing for the sake of everyone impacted. One of the core findings in the literature around sexual abuse by a spiritual leader reveals that the community itself is considered a SECONDARY VICTIM; suffering its own trauma. As such, its members feel intense conflicting emotions. They may feel disbelief at the same time as betrayal; fear as well as fury. Other emotions include shock, sadness, embarrassment, vulnerability, to name a few. Some will have intense anger towards the victim; some towards the perpetrator. There is very often denial or minimization of the problem and division in the community. Members may lose confidence in their leadership and face a loss of credibility in the wider community and a sense of shame in the face of the public. The path of healing from this type of trauma has been likened to the phases of grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. These well-known phases have been found to be reflective of the process that all spiritual communities go through when torn by their leader’s sexual misconduct. Understanding the stages in the grief model below is crucial as the community deals with the feelings, reactions and ways of coping with the abuse. Understanding the Stages of Grief Denial: Individuals disbelieve the allegations. Denial provides emotional protection from information that is too painful to absorb. Anger: As denial becomes difficult to maintain, people become angry. Anger, at this stage, is often expressed not toward the offender, but at the victim or those bringing the allegations forward, because it is still too painful to acknowledge betrayal by the offender. Bargaining: The community begins to negotiate with the offending leader or in this case with the leadership, setting conditions for accountability.Depression: This is a time when people have the capacity to feel at a deeper and non-reactive level. There may be resistance to and fear of the depression stage, but if the community is open to this phase, it is an invaluable portal to insight, recovery and eventually greater wisdom. Acceptance: People come to their own understanding and sense of peace regarding the misconduct. There is agreement that the community at large has suffered and there can be a renewed commitment and sense of connection. There is full acceptance of the abuse stories.It is crucial to remember that these phases are fluid and the process is not linear. Individuals move through them at their own pace, in their own way. They may move back and forth between stages. Often times they may be in more than one stage simultaneously. Justice-Making Once the environment has shifted to one of belief then the stories can be shared (via proxy as necessary) and the healing progress can begin in earnest. Here we can turn to a helpful model created by the FaithTrust Institute in Seattle. FaithTrust has worked at response and prevention of clergy sexual misconduct for over 30 years. In listening to hundreds of survivors, the staff at FaithTrust began to realize that the elements required for healing fell into seven categories: 1. Truth-telling: To give the victim/survivor the chance to tell their story. 2. Acknowledgement: To give a response to the victim/survivor, by someone who matters to them. This person stands beside them as an advocate, and can say, for example, “What he did to you was wrong.” 3. Compassion: To suffer with the victim/survivor – and not pass by. 4. Protection of the vulnerable: To do everything possible to make the changes to ensure that these types of abuses do not continue within the community at large.5. Accountability for the offender & the leadership: To call the offender to account, as well as a calling out of the institutions that have enabled such abuses.6. Restitution to the survivor: To give material compensation to the survivor for the cost of the harm done. 7. Vindication for the survivor: To set the survivor free and restore them to the community with a sense of them being the heroes of the story, not the villains.THE GOAL - Leadership Articulating and Enacting a Moral Path Forward The religious institutions and leadership are called to be crucial instruments of healing. This is especially crucial when they have been instruments of enablement in the past. Religious leaders (along with all community members) are called to stand with those who are hurting, and to seek justice and changes within the communal structures. We are on a path of healing here – for the victims as well as the entire community. Let us take this painful saga as an opportunity for generating lasting CHANGES within our institutions and communities.Helpful Resources: Fortune, Marie M. Responding to Clergy Misconduct: A Handbook, FaithTrust Institute, 2009. Patricia Liberty. “Grief and Loss: Dealing with Feelings,” in When a Congregation is Betrayed, Responding to Clergy Misconduct, Beth Ann Gaede, ed. The Alban Institute, 2006, p. 40-45. 26 27Larry Graham “Healing the Congregation,” Conciliation Quarterly, “Pastoral Sexual Misconduct: The Church’s Response,” (Spring, 1991), p. 2-4, at: http://us.mcc.org/programs/peacebuilding/resources/print/ conciliationquarterly1993-91. Brubaker, David. “Not in our Family! When the Organizational Family Turns Incestuous,” Paper presented at the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution, June 6, 1991. Cooper-White, Pamela. “Soul-Stealing: Power Relations in Pastoral Sexual Abuse,” Christian Century, (February 20, 1991) p. 198. Peter Rutter, “Sex in the Forbidden Zone”. p. 107-110.

Posted by Chaya Kaplan-Lester on Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Unfortunately, sexual abuse at the hands of a spiritual leader is not a new topic. It has been studied and worked with for decades. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from those seasoned psychological models and to take this trauma to the next stage of its healing for the sake of everyone impacted.
One of the core findings in the literature around sexual abuse by a spiritual leader reveals that the community itself is considered a SECONDARY VICTIM; suffering its own trauma. As such, its members feel intense conflicting emotions. They may feel disbelief at the same time as betrayal; fear as well as fury. Other emotions include shock, sadness, embarrassment, vulnerability, to name a few.
Some will have intense anger towards the victim; some towards the perpetrator. There is very often denial or minimization of the problem and division in the community. Members may lose confidence in their leadership and face a loss of credibility in the wider community and a sense of shame in the face of the public.
The path of healing from this type of trauma has been likened to the phases of grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. These well-known phases have been found to be reflective of the process that all spiritual communities go through when torn by their leader’s sexual misconduct. Understanding the stages in the grief model below is crucial as the community deals with the feelings, reactions and ways of coping with the abuse.
Understanding the Stages of Grief
Denial: Individuals disbelieve the allegations. Denial provides emotional protection from information that is too painful to absorb.
Anger: As denial becomes difficult to maintain, people become angry. Anger, at this stage, is often expressed not toward the offender, but at the victim or those bringing the allegations forward, because it is still too painful to acknowledge betrayal by the offender.
Bargaining: The community begins to negotiate with the offending leader or in this case with the leadership, setting conditions for accountability.
Depression: This is a time when people have the capacity to feel at a deeper and non-reactive level. There may be resistance to and fear of the depression stage, but if the community is open to this phase, it is an invaluable portal to insight, recovery and eventually greater wisdom.
Acceptance: People come to their own understanding and sense of peace regarding the misconduct. There is agreement that the community at large has suffered and there can be a renewed commitment and sense of connection. There is full acceptance of the abuse stories.
It is crucial to remember that these phases are fluid and the process is not linear. Individuals move through them at their own pace, in their own way. They may move back and forth between stages. Often times they may be in more than one stage simultaneously.
Justice-Making
Once the environment has shifted to one of belief then the stories can be shared (via proxy as necessary) and the healing progress can begin in earnest.
Here we can turn to a helpful model created by the FaithTrust Institute in Seattle. FaithTrust has worked at response and prevention of clergy sexual misconduct for over 30 years. In listening to hundreds of survivors, the staff at FaithTrust began to realize that the elements required for healing fell into seven categories:
1. Truth-telling: To give the victim/survivor the chance to tell their story.
2. Acknowledgement: To give a response to the victim/survivor, by someone who matters to them. This person stands beside them as an advocate, and can say, for example, “What he did to you was wrong.”
3. Compassion: To suffer with the victim/survivor – and not pass by.
4. Protection of the vulnerable: To do everything possible to make the changes to ensure that these types of abuses do not continue within the community at large.
5. Accountability for the offender & the leadership: To call the offender to account, as well as a calling out of the institutions that have enabled such abuses.
6. Restitution to the survivor: To give material compensation to the survivor for the cost of the harm done.
7. Vindication for the survivor: To set the survivor free and restore them to the community with a sense of them being the heroes of the story, not the villains.
THE GOAL – Leadership Articulating and Enacting a Moral Path Forward
The religious institutions and leadership are called to be crucial instruments of healing. This is especially crucial when they have been instruments of enablement in the past. Religious leaders (along with all community members) are called to stand with those who are hurting, and to seek justice and changes within the communal structures.
We are on a path of healing here – for the victims as well as the entire community. Let us take this painful saga as an opportunity for generating lasting CHANGES within our institutions and communities.
Helpful Resources:
Fortune, Marie M. Responding to Clergy Misconduct: A Handbook, FaithTrust Institute, 2009.
Patricia Liberty. “Grief and Loss: Dealing with Feelings,” in When a Congregation is Betrayed, Responding to Clergy Misconduct, Beth Ann Gaede, ed. The Alban Institute, 2006
Larry Graham “Healing the Congregation,” Conciliation Quarterly, “Pastoral Sexual Misconduct: The Church’s Response,” (Spring, 1991) http://us.mcc.org/programs/peacebuilding/resources/print/ conciliationquarterly1993-91.
Brubaker, David. “Not in our Family! When the Organizational Family Turns Incestuous,” Paper presented at the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution, June 6, 1991.
Cooper-White, Pamela. “Soul-Stealing: Power Relations in Pastoral Sexual Abuse,” Christian Century, (February 20, 1991)
Peter Rutter, “Sex in the Forbidden Zone”.
About the Author
Psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, wordsmith, performance artist & Co-Director of Jerusalem's Shalev Center. Chaya lives in the heart of Jerusalem with her husband R'Hillel & their 4 energetic children. Read more pieces like this in real-life book form: https://www.amazon.com/Lit-Poems-Ignite-Jewish-Holidays/dp/1623930219
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