The news is full of stories about sexual abuse in spaces we have always regarded as “safe.” You may have noticed that diverse community organizations such as churches, schools, and scouting are paying greater attention to the safety and well-being of everyone in their community. Are you feeling confused or overwhelmed by changing requirements for background checks, fingerprinting, youth safety, or the ever changing social media landscape? And while you know how important safety is, have you struggled with where to begin? Have you ever said, “wouldn’t it be great if someone laid out an easy to follow, comprehensive program that every congregation could work on at their own pace, completely online to ensure that they are reducing risk and providing a safe space for all ages?”
Well, have I’ve got great news for you!
The UUA, in partnership with the Religious Institute (religiousinstitute.org), is encouraging congregations to complete the requirements to receive a Sexually Safer Congregation Seal designation. Sexually safer congregations have policies and practices to help assure that the congregation will be free from sexual abuse, sexually harassment, and professional sexual misconduct.
The seal is awarded to congregations who complete a self-assessment followed by a commitment to have in place 14 out of 18 different “policies, procedures, practices and guidelines” that, together, help ensure that you are doing all you can to create a safe and welcoming community. (Note that lay-led congregations or those with few than 101 members have require fewer criteria to complete the program).
Upon completion, your congregation will receive official recognition from the Religious Institute and the UUA and you can proudly display a “seal” that tells members, friends and prospective members that you take safety, particularly sexual safety, seriously and that ongoing board and leadership commitment is a priority.
Where do you begin? All the information, instructions and resources are located here: http://www.uua.org/safe/creating-sexually-healthy-congregations. The Religious Institute has put together a nifty video for your viewing pleasure and I recommend that you start there. Your next step is to complete the assessment and see what you are already doing well and what areas need more attention. The Central East staff is available to help you sort through and prioritize the best practices that you need to work towards. I’m the regional specialist on Safer Congregation and, in partnership with your Primary Contact, we are happy to answer questions about the program or help you discern a couple of next steps. Isn’t the safety of your congregation worth it?
Congregational Life Staff