Barbra Graber speaks at a Q&A with sexual violence survivors on Thursday at #MennoCon17. Photo by Kenneth Krehbiel.

by Erin Bradley for Mennonite Church USA

One in four women and one in six men are survivors of sexual assault. Ninety percent of survivors know their perpetrators and over 50 percent of perpetrators are family.

“So when a pastor gets up on the pulpit and says it’s not happening, they’re not looking,” said Keith Morris who presented in yesterday’s ‘Listening: Survivors of Sexual Assault’ seminar via Skype.

Thursday, Mennonite Church USA young adult coordinators Tyler Eshleman and Hannah Chappell-Dick hosted and facilitated a Q&A with sexual violence survivors Morris and Barbra Graber.

Spoken and anonymous questions were answered during the seminar. A main theme was how to cope, trust or forgive following an assault. Both speakers talked about reaching a point where they needed help.

“Everyone has a different journey, so no one can ever tell you what time frame, how you do it, if you do it, when you do it,” Graber said. “It is really between you and your own soul and what that is telling you, you need.”
Morris stressed the importance of finding a therapist that is a good fit.

Focus emerged on assault and survivors in and around the church. There was special interest in how the church can hold spaces safe and leaders accountable.

“It’s going to be tough to get your pastors on board, but you’ve got to,” Morris said. “Try to get your pastors on board or other church leaders. Don’t rely on your pastors or church leaders to be the experts. There are excellent resources in many communities now, unlike 40 years ago.”

Churches who are interested in more information on safe spaces and trainings, or need an update, can search Samaritan Safe Church (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), Dove’s Nest (dovenest.net), FaithTrust Institute (faithtrustinstitute.org) or contact the Anabaptist Mennonite SNAP.

While emphasizing creating safe space, Graber, AM SNAP chapter leader, stressed that SNAP advises to not reach out to your pastor first. In Mennonite communities especially, a pastor may be connected closely to a perpetrator.

Organizers envisioned the seminar would open safe spaces to speak about sexual abuse and assault, issues that the young adults felt were important.

“One thing this seminar accomplished was creating a space where there wasn’t shame in asking questions, “ Chappell-Dick said. “Giving people the space where they feel empowered to ask the things they’ve been wondering. Creating that safe space, is more than just a buzzword, it’s a practice that we have to continually work at.”

For sexual assault survivors or their relatives that need direction or support, there is a SNAP meeting scheduled for today at 1 p.m. offsite. To find out the location call or text 540-214-8874.

For questions, support or to join AM SNAP, call or text the number above, or email Mennonite@SNAPnetwork.org. If you or someone you know needs help dealing with an assault or depression, call SNAP toll free line: 1-877-SNAP HEALS (1-877-762-7432) or the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Read the full issue of the Orlando Squeeze here.