In a powerful blog, Hilary Jerome Scarsella reflects on what she has experienced and witnessed in the years following her sexual assault on the campus of her seminary. These calls to the church to end sexual violence are important hear as Synod 2019 discusses the recommendations from the Abuse of Power committee.
Hilary Jerome Scarsella wrote the blog nine days after returning to the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary where she had been sexually assaulted nearly a decade ago. A year ago, she requested that the school facilitate a review of actions taken, actions that had failed both her, the school, and God’s call for right and just relationships. “These meetings were the culmination of the review process. I arrived on campus knowing already that the seminary had corroborated my account, that they agreed that the original administrative response to my disclosure was unacceptable, and that they wanted to do right this time around.”
You are encouraged to read Hilary’s whole blog, “Hope and the Work that Gets Us There,” as she invites us to “Dance with what’s here, make it your own, advocate for me and for you and for all the people who need the church and the academy to get it fully together with respect to sexual violence.” Pay particular attention to these themes:
- “Success is a thing that exists and is possible.” With God’s grace, people who have experienced abuse are telling their stories, and communities around them are listening to them, believing them, and seeking justice with them.
- “Grief is pretty real too.” Jesus and the disciples experienced the reality of grief, and the presence of God with them. Jesus weeping over the body of Lazarus. The disciples in a locked room. A parent running to Jesus knowing their child was dying. The church bears witness and offers presence to people in the midst of grief within the community and around the world. Grief is significant for journeys of healing and right relationships.
- “Reality confirmation and narrative restitution” can provide a way forward. Hearing people share their own experiences of abuse, and believing them, is significant. Hilary offers, “By issuing public acknowledgement of AMBS’s failures, by clearly and unequivocally apologizing to me through its official communications platform, and by publicly standing with me in the release of my narrative of sexual assault and institutional betrayal, AMBS has offered me narrative restitution.”
- “What felt like chaos truly was.” Hilary offers, “It is both frustrating and validating to learn now that AMBS’s administrative process was not the organized, intentional, or informed process I thought it was.” It matters significantly to have intentional and informed policies in place that are known, understood, and implemented by all.
- “The thing we did was hard.” Understand and respect that "people who ask for institutional or community accountability do so at incredible cost to ourselves no matter how smoothly the process goes.” The process towards healing and justice is neither easy nor straightforward. Remember to offer pastoral presence throughout, acknowledging and stepping faithfully into the hard conversations.
We thank Hilary and others who have experienced abuse for sharing their stories and for calling the Body of Christ to be communities of justice and compassion. May God continue to lead us.