Vienna Presbyterian Church Trains Members on Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention
Leaders hope to train every church member and to carry the message to the wider community.
Thirty-five Vienna Presbyterian Church members gathered one night last week for a 3-hour sexual abuse awareness and prevention training.
“Nothing will completely prepare you for what you are going to see and hear," cautioned facilitator and VPC Director of Student Ministries Dawn Geschiere.
During the training, participants watched two videos of sexual abuse survivors and perpetrators telling their stories in great detail.
One abuser admits to victimizing more than 500 children while coaching girl’s softball teams, teaching and managing a roller skating rink and playing Santa Claus for hire at malls.
The second perpetrator reports his abuse started when he was 10-years-old. He explained the manipulation and controlling behavior typical of an abuser.
The survivors share their painful stories and the long-term impact of the fear, guilt, shame and anger the abuse caused them.
VPC, in consultation with members of the church’s NewSpring ministry, chose the VIRTUS ("VEER-toos") program, Protecting All Children, created by the National Catholic Group. NewSpring is a group of volunteers and staff that came together in 2009 in response to the devastation caused by the sexual abuse crimes committed by former staff member Eric De Vries and the subsequent missteps that further harmed De Vries’ victims. (For Vienna Patch’s background stories, click here and here.)
Geschiere outlined the training's three goals: increase awareness among church leaders, staff, lay leaders, volunteers and the congregation regarding the warning signs and symptoms of sexual abuse; create and maintain a church culture committed to maintaining a healthy and safe church environment; and do all things possible to prevent abuse from occurring in the future.
Vienna Patch requested permission to attend the training. David Jordan-Hass, the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care, on behalf of church leadership, gave the reporter of this article permission to attend the training as a participant, but not as a reporter. The church agreed to introduce the reporter but stipulated that she would not ask questions during the training session or interview anyone afterward. Attendees were told they could approach the reporter to express their thoughts and feelings if they so chose at the end.
Participants discussed their reaction to the videos in small and large group discussion. Along with the interviews, the videos explained myths and facts about child sexual abuse and then outlined a five-step plan to protect all children.
Training of additional church adult members will continue. In addition, an important component to be implemented this fall is a teaching curriculum that will be offered to all VPC children, ages 3 to 18. Teaching children how to stay safe is critical, says Geschiere and others.
At the training’s completion, Geschiere urged everyone to encourage all members to sign up for the training.