Professor Tyler J. VanderWeele Ph.D, Director of the Human Flourishing Program at at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science writes in Psychology Today. Access the original article here.
Childhood sexual abuse is a widespread problem and has been a major issue in religious communities. Many religious institutions have begun taking steps to better safeguard children, which have led to important declines in sexual abuse rates, but much work remains to be done. Research is needed to determine the best strategies for prevention, to assess the best approaches to healing, and to continue to uncover the extent of the problem.
In our last research update, we highlighted the important role religious communities play in promoting human flourishing, with religious service attendance extending longevity, preventing depression, encouraging healthy behaviors, and facilitating happiness, purpose in life, and social integration. Indeed, one of the major contributions of the Human Flourishing Program has been providing rigorous evidence to establish these links.
However, we also noted that sometimes religious communities hinder human flourishing, an especially prominent instance of this being the ongoing child sexual abuse scandals in religious institutions.
Much work remains to be done. Research is needed to continue to uncover the extent of the problem, to determine the best strategies for prevention, to assess the best approaches to healing, and understand how this might vary by context and person. While considerable progress has made in improving efforts for prevention, we know much less about, and arguably fewer efforts have been made towards, providing healing for those who have previously suffered abuse. Communities need to be able to share best practices. The best thinking from psychology, counseling, public health, ethics, and moral theology needs to be brought together to help shape the most effective approaches to healing and to prevention.
To begin to better understand this complex web of forces and harms, and to find the right paths forward toward healing and prevention, we are organizing a symposium on “Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse.” A single symposium can only go so far in addressing problems of this complexity. However, we believe that these discussions, which are too often conducted either in fearful whispers or bitter invective, would benefit from a patient, truthful, and humble discussion. We need more open sharing of stories, research, ideas, and best practices to bring better prevention and better healing. We hope that this symposium will facilitate further work on this critical topic, and will help bring healing to victims, to religious communities, and to society at large. And we hope that healing will thereby empower religious communities, and all institutions serving children and dedicated to promoting flourishing, to better and more safely carry out their important work.
April 8-10, join the global discussion on preventing and healing child sexual abuse, sharing resources across academic and religious communities. Available in French, Spanish and Portuguese REGISTER HERE.