Monday, February 27, 2012

Post 5: When Young Girls Are Abused

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

I often schedule camps and retreats during my weekends and summers. And with the exception of a single retreat, every youth event I’ve ever preached at has had at least one young lady whispering to me her story of abuse or self-mutilation. At one camp a few years ago I actually had the number for the state’s Child Protective Services in my speed dial because I was making daily phone calls for teenage girls who were living in abusive situations and could not return home.

The truth of the matter is, there are some young women who are in great pain and will not share this pain with another man. Not ever. Here’s why:

In most cases their perpetrators are men. Many of these women will not tell their story to another man. Some will. Some won't. The men in their lives have broken sacred promises and these girls are hesitant to invite another man into their intimate details.

“But,” you may argue, “we have female youth leaders in our youth groups. All of our girls have a woman small group leader. Can’t she just speak to her?” Yes, she can, but she might not. Here’s why:

First, most abuse is done by someone the victim knows very well. Odds are the youth pastor and the small group leader know the perpetrator, too. Sometimes the perpetrator has just been voted onto the board of elders. Sometimes the perpetrator has just been asked to teach third grade Sunday school. From what I understand it is extremely difficult to muster the courage to blow the whistle on abuse you are experiencing. It can be even more difficult if the church thinks highly of the abuser. So what’s the solution? You tell someone who could care less what your father’s name is or the position he holds.

Second (and here’s where I fear of offending some wonderfully gifted women small group leaders), some of the big fears victims face are: “What if no one believes me?” and, “What if I tell my story and nothing changes?” I have a hunch that some, not all, but some young women will only tell their stories to women who they perceive to have some kind of authority. They are willing to tell their stories to someone who they think just might be able to change things. And while we all know there are multiple ways to exhibit authority without ever stepping behind a pulpit, the pulpit is a status symbol, and a strong visual of authority—particularly for the young.

So here’s my plea to youth pastors: for the sake of the most vulnerable in your group, try alternating retreat/camp speakers—man, woman, man woman. Give the young, hurting women in your youth group access to a woman who holds some kind of authority in hopes that she might find the courage to share her stories and find freedom and healing. 

This post is not about advancing women in the pulpit, it’s about binding up broken women in the pews.


mindi godfrey said...

I think this post is absolutely spot on.

And as a woman who leads a small group as a volunteer youth worker, I'm not the least bit offended. I actually find it to be more of a commentary on how volunteers in youth ministry are often utilized. When paid staff and even volunteers themselves see their role as "just a volunteer" rather than as a shepherd to the teens in their small groups, then it does remove any sense of authority or power that the small group leader has any ability to protect a girl who musters up the courage to tell their story.

In youth ministry, we have to prepare the adults we invite to volunteer with our teens to fulfill the role of shepherd--including the skills necessary to offer shelter and protection.

Gluten Free Jesus Freak said...

I'm linking to your brilliance on my blog tomorrow. Thanks for being so bold and sharing such great wisdom and stories. When you write your book, I'll be first in line. :)

Mark said...

That's an excellent insight Amanda. I just told our student ministries pastor to ask Sharon Ketchem to speak at the high school retreat next year.