HIGH COUNTRY — A local nonprofit is tackling sexual violence prevention from a new angle.
OASIS, Inc. — Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter — began organizing a task force to train the High Country’s church leaders in sexual violence prevention in August.
“In southern culture we do a few things, and that’s go to school and go to church, and the church was a group of people that we were kind of missing with our outreach,” Kellie Bass, OASIS Rape Prevention Education Coordinator said.
The new program, called “Putting Faith Into Action,” brings training similar to the organization’s sexual violence prevention training already implemented in local bars and schools, into area churches. According to Bass, it’s something an OASIS director saw the need for years ago.
“A lot of the topics we discuss involve challenging victim-blaming and empowering women,” Bass said.
The program also addresses consent culture and attitudes toward sexuality in the church, she said, adding that the toughest part of the program are questions surrounding how to treat church members who have perpetrated sexual violence.
“Do we shun that person and kick them out or do we give them grace to grow as a person?” Bass asked. She said the answer can vary depending on the comfort level of the congregation, but ultimately it’s about creating an environment where people feel safe.
OASIS has worked with leaders in various churches on the new training, including Larke Blanton, senior pastor at Regeneration Church of Boone, and Boone’s Multi-faith Clergy Alliance.
Lead pastor at High Country United Church of Christ, Tamara Franks became a member of OASIS’s new task force. When HCCUC hosted OASIS’s new training in August, Franks said, consent was a big part of the conversation.
“It’s become transformative for me because I didn’t grow up with the idea of consent,” Franks said. She said conversations around consent and sexuality aren’t normalized within the church.
Franks said though many church leaders registered for the training, only a representative from a local nonprofit showed. In light of scandals about clergy abuse, she said, it would “behoove” the church to take the lead on addressing sexual violence.
“If we really do understand humanity as sacred beings and gifts of God, how do we in the church take a lead to prevent sexual,” Franks said.
Bass said OASIS plans to hold another training, open to all of the community’s faith-based leaders after the new year.