There is a time for everything… time to be quiet and a time to speak up. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7)
The Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault (GNESA), the statewide coalition of rape crisis centers, designates September as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. During this month, our 19 member centers join together to promote greater public awareness about the complex issues that surround rape/sexual assault. In keeping with this month’s theme, I appreciate the opportunity to share with you the work of GNESA and our Clergy Task Force.
The reality is, sexual assault is a tough subject to talk about. The fact that 80% of all rapes occur between acquaintances does not make it any easier. And, this silence is exacerbated when the acquaintances are same-gender. GNESA works to overcome the silence that surrounds sexual assault – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
One way we do this is by providing technical assistance and training services to the 19 rape crisis centers throughout the state, as well as to law enforcement officers and medical professionals who directly assist rape victims after an assault. Additionally, with the help of a Clergy Task Force, GNESA works to find ways to include Georgia’s faith communities and congregations in our fight to end sexual violence.
The task force’s mission is to train lay people and clergy of all faiths to respond to the pain of rape/sexual assault and to provide opportunities for individual congregations to become involved in the fight against sexual violence.
The idea stems from the fact that in many communities, rape crisis centers have become a link between victims and faith-based organizations. As a growing number of sexual assault victims turn to spiritual advisors for additional guidance, they seek referrals from the crisis center. In addition, as spiritual leaders begin to see more sexual assault victims, they ask the rape crisis centers to provide resources and tools that will enable them to better assist a victim’s recovery.
Last year, the Clergy Task Force designed three events that Georgia’s faith communities could participate in during Sexual Assault Awareness month. This year one of those events, Let Healing Ring, is back by popular demand. The goal of the event is to provide an avenue for churches to let their congregations know that its survivors of rape/sexual assault are supported.
Let Healing Ring is simple. On September 20, 2000 at 10 a.m., churches from across the state will simultaneously ring their bells 77 times. (According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, each hour, 77 women become victims of sexual assault.) If your church has electronic chimes rather than bells, you can schedule them to play for 1 minute and 15 seconds.
We are excited about this event because it has the potential to reach out to victims and community members in a unique way. Last year, some churches also read Psalm 13 as a prayer of healing during the services before the bell ringing and/or posted a note in the weekly bulletin explaining why the bells would be ringing. All of these are great opportunities to raise awareness about the realities of rape/sexual assault.
In addition, the Clergy Task Force has identified three projects they would like to develop: faith-based educational curricula regarding rape/sexual assault; on-call clergy crisis response teams; and workshops for individual congregations to raise awareness about rape/sexual assault.
The Clergy Task Force has the opportunity to educate our colleagues and congregations as well as fill a deep void in services for rape/sexual assault victims. At a press conference on September 9, 1999, when Gov. Barnes declared September as Sexual Assault Awareness month in Georgia, Rev. Paul Turner told our supporters:
“There isn’t anybody who is going to go to Synagogue, Church, or Temple that is not going to come in contact with a victim of sexual assault. We must pay attention to what it is that God requires of us. God requires that we do justice, that we act mercifully, and to walk humbly with our God. We must give our victims justice, we must embrace them with mercy, and to do any less, is to not walk with God.”
When one considers the far-reaching effects of sexual violence, it becomes clear that although not an easy task, responding to the pain of sexual violence is a necessary task.