Safe and Sound Sanctuaries for Teens
“Involvement in a faith-based institution does not protect teens against unwanted sexual experiences.” This was the conclusion of a study done in 2003 entitled Faith Matters: Teenagers, Religion and Sexuality. Perhaps this was news to some in faith communities who, in their wishful thinking, assume still that teen dating violence, acquaintance rape, and incestuous abuse don’t happen in our church/synagogue/mosque.
“Involvement in a faith-based institution does not protect teens against unwanted sexual experiences.” This was the conclusion of a study done in 2003 entitled Faith Matters: Teenagers, Religion and Sexuality. (Steve Clapp, Kristen Leverton Helbert, Angela Zizak. LifeQuest, 2003. ISBN 1-893270-10-6)
Perhaps this was news to some in faith communities who, in their wishful thinking, assume still that teen dating violence, acquaintance rape, and incestuous abuse don’t happen in our church/synagogue/mosque. From a sample of over 5,000 teens (11 & 12 graders) in faith-based groups, 31% of females and 12% of males had had “unwanted sexual experiences.” The recipients of these unwanted experiences cited physical, social and psychological pressure from a peer or an older adult. These numbers run parallel to teens in general. So, no; being involved in a faith community isn’t a shield against being sexually abused as a teen.
We also now have more data about teens’ use of technology to abuse dating partners. Beyond cyber-bullying, “‘[we now have] hard data to confirm what we already know — that domestic violence and dating violence occur where we live our lives,’ said Cindy Southworth, founder of the Safety Net Project on technology at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. ‘These days, the digital world is our real world, and for teens even more so.’”
In the Faith Matters study, teens concluded that they were not getting the help they need from their faith communities to address dating, sexuality, and sexual abuse and that they would welcome such help, particularly from youth ministers.
So two things can happen immediately to respond to our youth in faith-based settings:
- Talk about it. Bring the conversation into the room with the many resources available that can equip youth to deal with intimacy, respect, assertiveness and the possibility that they may experience abuse. Talk about social media and how they are using it. They may not be getting information at home or at school but they can get it in their faith setting. The FaithTrust Youth Declaration is a good place to start a conversation with teens, parents, and youth workers. Additional resource materials for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month are available to you on FaithTrust’s website.
- Train and monitor youth ministers and workers to be safe resources with healthy boundaries. I’ve worked on too many cases where youth ministers were careless and immature in violating boundaries (for example misusing social media) or intentionally exploited teens’ vulnerabilities as predators. I’ve also seen extraordinary work done by youth ministers who were mature role models and trained to develop good boundaries. They play a pivotal role in the lives of our youth during these very turbulent years of living into adulthood. We have new training materials for Healthy Boundaries 101 & 201. You can learn how to train with these materials May 19-21, 2013 at Teaching Healthy Boundaries 101 & 201 training in Seattle, WA.
But as faith leaders we have to remember that we won’t hear about abuse unless we speak about it. We cannot let this opportunity to be there for our youth pass us by.
Resources from FaithTrust Institute:
- February – Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
- Recorded Webinar: “Teens and Social Media: The Benefits and Risks” presented by Rev. Elizabeth Dilley (February 12, 2013)
- Recorded Webinar: “Teen Dating Violence: What Ever Parent Needs to Know” presented by Rev. Al Miles (February 6, 2013)
- Recorded Webinar: “Helping Teens Develop Healthy Relationships” presented by Rev. Lizann Bassham (February 7, 2012)
- Recorded Webinar: “Taking it to the Next Level: Healthy Teen Relationships” presented by Thom Chu (May 17, 2011)
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune