Dealing With The Aftermath

During the summer of 2003 I worked at a local Christian summer camp. At a staff party, a fellow counselor tried to assault several female staff members at a party (read more here). As staff began to arrive back at camp and prepare for new campers on Sunday morning, the story started filling out. Sam* first attempted to assault me. Then he tried to assault two of our other female staff members after I fled. My team was horrified. We thought we were part of a family, a safe place. We had just sat through three hours of Safe Church training. Three hours completely dedicated to learning how to protect children and the importance of reporting incidents like this. How could this happen when we worked together in such a sacred space?

We knew we had to tell the camp director, a member of the clergy, who oversaw the summer camp program. I couldn’t have been more shocked when she told us that what happened was our fault because we tempted Sam with our crazy American girl ways. Sam worked at the camp through a foreign exchange program and our director said it would be too expensive to fire him and send him back to his home country. As the female staff leader, I would have to find a way to help the other girls avoid working with him. Our other female staff knew what happened and they didn’t want to work with him. I was forced to spend several weeks working side by side with someone who attempted to assault me and my friends.

Our camp had done all the right things:

  • Mandatory training for adults working with youth;
  • A rule that all incidents are immediately reported to the next level of authority;
  • Provisions that children wouldn’t be one-on-one with staff members.

Except one thing. The camp wasn’t prepared to deal with the aftermath of what happened and the impact it had on our team. I look back now at that awful summer and think about how things could have been different.

Our director could have supported us, filed official paperwork with the diocese that ran the camp, and found a way to deal with our attacker without brushing the incident under a rug. I found out years later that no official incident report had ever been made. We could have addressed the incident as a team with a facilitator to process what it meant for our staff and our ability to do the intimate work of building community when trust has been breached. The camp could have provided individual counseling and support for the three victims to help us recover from the trauma we experienced.

So many groups that we at STSM talk to think they are doing all the right things by offering training and setting up systems, but are you doing everything you can to protect your community? Are you having ongoing conversations and dialogue that build a safe space? And are you really providing effective training for your leaders or are you doing enough to check the box complete?

Please examine these questions with your leadership. Talk to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. We want to help you build community and prevent incidents like what happened at my summer camp. Together we can build safe spaces that protect people from experiencing sexual abuse.

*The actual identity of this person has been withheld.

Mary Dell Hayes

Mary Dell Hayes rejoined the staff at STSM as Development Coordinator in 2013, Director of Development in January 2015, and Executive Director in February 2016. Her job is to help the community achieve the vision of healthy survivors thriving in a community free of sexual violence and engage people to end sexual violence through philanthropy and advocacy.