I have only occasionally joked that as director for justice for Women of the ELCA, I get to handle all the sins. Sometimes it feels that way with Women of the ELCA’s heart desire to address such weighty topics as racism, human trafficking, care of creation, and woman and child nutrition, to name only four. Yet as St. Teresa de Avila once wrote, living “in the service of others” is a marvelous way to spend our time “until we are united with The Beloved.” I second her sentiment.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). In 2014 the focus is on healthy sexuality and young people. SAAM offers a most practical link entitled “where to get help” that opens into a list of a nationwide network of organizations actively combating sexual assault. I encourage everyone to find out who is working on this critical topic in your area. Quite helpfully, there is also a Spanish language website.
At this year’s Conference of Presidents, I was asked to provide a plenary presentation on human trafficking. All synodical organizations are receiving my presentation through their presidents. I hope that slide show will go into congregational units. The connections between sexual assault and human trafficking are easily evident to some but for others it has to be spelled out.
Both batterers and traffickers use power over and control to dominate their victims. Trafficked persons are often subject to sexual assault as a means of control. On the flipside, children that have been sexually assaulted in the home (often by a family member or other care provider) are vulnerable to human traffickers as runaways.
The Crimes Against Children Research Center tells us that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of child sexual assault. During a one-year period in the U.S., 16 percent of youth ages 14-17 had been sexually assaulted. Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14-17 have been sexually assaulted.
Part of the burden of exploring such a crime as sexual assault of adults (mostly women) and children is that the stories one hears begin to accumulate within the heart. The other part of the burden is attempting to do something that actually makes a difference.
Cherish All Children is a ministry of the ELCA that fights child sexual exploitation. Its mission is to “empower, equip, and support leaders to pray, speak and act on behalf of children in their congregations and community.” It is another organization you can contact in April.
There are many reasons for us to become engaged in combating this pervasive problem. Serving others in ways that make this a better world is a fine way to spend our time until our journey ends. April is as good a month as any to re-engage or engage in combating sexual assault. I pray that you will!
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice.