The conference assembles representatives from organizations and religious communities from all over Norway with the aim of working together against violence and sexual abuse. These offenses are gaining more attention in society – they cause a lot of suffering and destroy the quality of life for a great many people. Twenty-one percent of Norwegian women and 8% of Norwegian men have been subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18. Even more experience this at some point in life, and surveys by the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (nkvts.no) indicate that the numbers are high. Because this also occurs in church contexts and within religious communities, increased awareness and knowledge development is necessary: what it is, how it occurs, and its consequences.
The Vulnerable Individual
This year’s conference took place November 31st – December 1st in Oslo, and gathered about 120 participants from all over the country. This time the topics centred on the Vulnerable Individual—on power and powerlessness, and the prospects for one who has been a victim of grave wrongdoings. How can one live in a community yet alleviate in secret one´s enormous psychological pain that has materialized (and often persisted) for years?
The first presenter at the conference was the founder of the Faith Trust Institute in Seattle, Marie Fortune. She was introduced as the person in the world who has worked most with violence in close relationships within ecclesiastical and interdisciplinary contexts, and as a pioneer in the field of abuse within large and small church communities. Her main message was the need to mobilize resources in these faith groups because of the risks in society. How do we realize the ethical and moral norms for the mission work and gatherings? “We need a strong foundation—an understanding of why sexual abuse is wrong,” she said, and pointed out the challenges in that both offenders and victim support workers have various positions and roles in a community.
Support and contact workers must take a coherent stance and choose approaches that clearly indicate the values guiding their work. Those who are stronger or who have leadership roles to some degree, have a position of power with ensuing opportunities to help or hurt those without. Those who are weaker and do not have leadership roles have the possibility of being helped or harmed by those who are strong. Therefore the weak have a ‘right’ to be helped and protected, and the strong have a duty and a responsibility to protect and help. This is an important foundation for the encounter between those who have power and those who are vulnerable, claimed Fortune.
Lectures from and interviews of people with staggering personal stories of sexual abuse came later in the conference. They told about the invalidating feelings of shame and guilt, and how their childhoods were stolen from them as victims and their lives “put on hold”.
Professionals presented possible strategiesand methods for meeting with victims and facilitating a worthwhile life in communities within churches and organizations. Most importantly, however, is the effort to prevent, create openness, respect, and equality in the connection between individuals and their community.
Prevention of inappropriate behaviour and sexual abuse was not a particular focus at the conference this year. But questions from the audience and conversations during breaks meant that this extremely important topic received some attention.
An important aspect of such events is the contact with academic institutions and resource people that can benefit the further development of competence and safeguards for the growth environment of children and young people. Attention from the media and public authorities helps sharpen awareness of the risks and occurrences of brutal, destructive conduct.
But the corruption that sin, abuse of power, and the evil that can grow from inclinations in human nature cannot be avoided unless individuals take a personal stance, and organizations make targeted efforts. Openness, honesty, competence, conscious measures, and follow up are needed to create safe conditions for the growth and development of children, youth, and other vulnerable groups in our community.
BCC will continue its work towards an increased awareness, prevention, and follow-up in all its activities—both inside and out. BCC works together with academic institutions and individuals who have the best knowledge and experience in the field to achieve the highest possible level of quality in our work with these challenges.