«It can happen, it happens, but it mustn’t happen». A serious theme is being covered today, and in the hall, 120 course participants are listening attentively. These are representatives from BCC’s various churches, and they are about to learn more about how a local church can contribute to preventing violence, transboundary behavior and sexual harassment of children and young people.
By: Johanne Reiersrud, BCC
We find ourselves at Jarlsberg conference center, where representatives from all the Norwegian churches are present together with groups from Denmark, Holland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Harald Kronstad is the leader of BCC’s resource team for this field of transboundary behavior with respect to children, and he has a contentful and important program for these course participants this morning.
Serious social statistics
In a Norwegian research study from 2012, as many as 18.3% of the interviewed women, and 3.2% of the interviewed men answered that they had experienced sexually harassing behavior before they had become 16 years of age. (Iris Steine, 2012) These are dreadfully high figures, Harald Kronstad says from the stage.
– At the same time, we know that only 1% of reported incidents of rape ends in a conviction. We need to be honest and admit that such things can also take place amongst us, and such things shall and must be prevented. Unfortunately, there are generally speaking no easily registerable differences in visible behavior between an assailant and a dutiful coworker, he says gravely. We must be certain in ourselves that we have done everything we can to prevent such assaults taking place amongst our children and youth groups.
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– We need to have an open, positive leadership culture characterized by respect, security and awareness, so that any assault can quickly be exposed and the necessary measures set in motion, he tells us. Children that have experienced an assault bear with them an enormous sorrow and despair. When people who has been assaulted, shares these traumatic experiences they have well-developed antenna regarding whether you believe them or not. As a rule you should always believe the child, Kronstad underlines.
How Competent Are You?
It is a weighty, but nonetheless important theme that is being gone through. The seminar is interspersed with several cases studies, and the participants are kept busy through group discussions, and other forms for participatory involvement. Early in the program, 20 volunteers are invited to approach the stage. They are asked as to what degree they would feel secure or uncomfortable if they had to handle a case involving sexual harassment.
Using a scale of 1 to 5 the participants are divided into five different categories, based on how comfortable or uncomfortable they feel. There are great differences in the group and the variations show that there is some way to go here. The aim of the seminar is that the participants, in the course of the day, feel more secure in dealing with such things than before they came.
Case-tasks make room for reflective thoughts
The course continues, and risk analysis is dealt with, with the focus on the ones who are especially vulnerable to harassment. The participants discuss various cases that can occur, and how to deal with children and youth who confide in them. Such matters that are addressed are the duty of prevention, applicable police report boundaries, and the steps needed to be taken if a case arises.
– Social statistics for this area make grim reading, and we have a great moral responsibility to contribute in such a way that these figures are reduced, Harald Kronstad tells us in the break. We mustn’t be blue-eyed, yet the resource team which has worked with this over the last two decades has reason to believe that the figures are far lower with us that those that Steine’s research has revealed. Just as all those who takes this theme seriously, we have a zero-tolerance policy for all types of violence or sexually demeaning behavior, and we don’t cover up such matters.
BCC has actively pursued preventative measures in this specialist field since 1996, and Kronstad has been there since its inception. In addition to his many years of experience within health education, he also has the support of doctors and people with weighty and long experience in this special field present in the group.
– Moreover, we are very glad to have been able to work together with The Norwegian Church’s resource center (Den Norske Kirkes ressurssenter) against violence and sexual harassment, who also have many skills in this field. However, in 2016 BCC saw a need to review their strategy once again, in order to make it fit to the organizational form with the many new youth groups that have grown forth in recent years. The work has resulted in an updated version of the church’s guidelines, and this together with guidance tools and personal declarations has been systematically implemented in all parts of the church structure.
Harald Kronstad in conversation with one of the course participants
Sentral Policy – Local Responsibility
– The individual church is responsible for implementing the policy locally and to work out guidelines which effectively can prevent undesirable occurrences. The aim is to arm the associations and local teams with the ability to implement measures wherever there is a suspicion of violence, harassment and demeaning behavior among children and youth, he explains. We have a large proportion of children and young people in our church, and a corresponding number of mentors. This applies in all to several thousand people, and we want everyone involved with children and youth work in our church to have a strong awareness regarding this. For this reason, we also have our designated resource team in BCC who can be contacted when needed.
– The seminar’s main focus is based on principles and action plans developed by the authorities and resource teams within health and social care work. This important material needs to be implanted in the minds of all those involved in work with children and youth, Kronstad says. The faith foundation of BCC itself should be a strong motivating factor against any form of harassment. The foundation provides a solution to what philosophy calls “the problem of evil”, where human beings can actually be changed from being evil to being good.
– For people who build their lives on such a foundation, committing such behavior is unthinkable. Unfortunately, not everyone who participates in the churches’ activities has a genuine interest in the faith and the life that it leads to. For this reason, it is necessary with seminars, control mechanisms and a heightened awareness regarding this problem, Kronstad says passionately.
The audience pays close attention to the different themes covered
The course is drawing to a close, and the local representatives have received several pieces of «homework» to take home and continue to work on locally. Torill Holm Berg from Bergen feels it has been a useful course. I think it’s very positive that the focus on this area has been increased. Personally, I have previously taken part in some courses in this field linked to the University of Bergen, and I know that we need both knowledge and the language skills to be able to communicate around sexuality and fixing boarders in a safe manner. Now we have received even more input which we can make use of locally, which is important, she underlines.
Toril Holm Berg
Hope for the Future
Harald Kronstad rounds off the course by thanking the participants for the work they do on behalf of the children and youth, each one in their own way. In order for people to thrive there must be security, and I believe that many of you will be able to bring important rays of sunshine conveying hope and light into the life of many children!
Read BCCs strategy- and action plan here:
Safety of Children – the Adult’s Responsibility
Representatives from The Netherlands and Germany; David Nooitgedagt and Mathias Hauptmann
A group from BCC’s local churches in Denmark is present as well
A day full of impressions for the participants