The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States as well as in some provinces in Canada (other Canadian provinces acknowledge this in May, some universities in January). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. By working together and pooling resources during the month of April, churches and communities can highlight sexual violence as a major public health, human rights and social justice issue! We can strengthen and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.
Many communities host special events, speakers, marches, prayer vigils, etc. Learn more on the SAAM website or the Avalon Centre in Nova Scotia. The Take Back the Night foundation is another organization seeking to end all forms of sexual violence, creating safe communities and respectful relationships through awareness events and initiatives. SAAM is in April in Manitoba, in May in Ontario. Find out what’s happening near you. These are not Christian organizations, yet provide wonderful resources and opportunities to engage with our neighbors around a common theme. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to see churches on the front lines of these initiatives to end sexual abuse?
April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. The National Child Abuse Prevention Website discusses multiple protective factors, or conditions in families and communities, that when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. These protective factors act as buffers, mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including child sexual abuse. They can help parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent more effectively.
Research has shown that these protective factors correlate to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect. Protective factors include such things as nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting skills and child development, and social connections. What could our churches be doing to strengthen these factors within our church and wider community? Prevention is more than just policies!
In addition, our partner in prevention, Dove's Nest, offers ideas and resources for churches during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. What is your church doing? And perhaps if April is too filled with Lent and Easter, I bet many of these ideas are good at other times of the year as well. Every month is a good time for child abuse prevention.
Take some time to browse these websites to better understand the issues and to see what others are doing. Then consider what might be one take-away that you could use to help increase awareness about sexual violence or about child abuse in your church or community.
Perhaps you’d like to bring a church friend with you to a community-sponsored event. Or, go with a group of people and host a dessert/discussion afterward. Or, perhaps you could sponsor an event at your church. Or, lead a prayer or liturgy related to the topic during your church service. Safe Church can help with ideas and resources. Or…prayerfully and creatively imagine what you might do in April.