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Working with an Advocate

As you move into confrontation, having an advocate is vital. She or he can help you work through these questions and decide what types of confrontation, if any, are your best options. It is our sincere hope that the denomination will provide you with an advocate experienced in both the dynamics of clergy sexual misconduct and the workings of Unitarian Universalism. This person would be roughly the equivalent of the "Good Offices Person" the defendant minister can call upon. Hopefully your advocate will have equal stature to the Good Offices Person. This is necessary for working with the congregation in particular. The deck is already stacked in favor of the minister. Then if he has another local minister as a support, while you have only a friend, at congregational or board meetings the power imbalance is palpable.

To be clear, an advocate is not the same as a lawyer or a therapist. Rather he or she is a professional who stands by you—helping you clarify your needs and being your voice when you need this. An advocate offers support, and is a conduit between you and the congregation and between you and the denomination. If you decide to go to court, then you will need a lawyer. An advocate can help you in finding and choosing a lawyer.

As we write this report, there is a fledgling advocacy program in place. It appears that this will become a permanent part of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) response to victim/survivors of clergy sexual misconduct. To find out more about having an advocate, the person to contact is either the Executive Vice President of the UUA or the Director of the Department of Ministry. They are currently coordinating this effort.

If the UUA does not give you an advocate, then it's a good idea to look for one on your own—the most likely resources being your local rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter. Even if you are given a UU advocate, one problem is likely to be geographic distance. Be sure to work this through in advance. If you decide to file a complaint, for example, it will be critical to have your advocate with you for the investigation and hearing. You and your advocate might work out a team approach with someone at the local rape crisis center, for example, to help when emergencies arise.

In general, it's important that you feel you can work with your advocate and that she (or he) will provide the support you need. Things to assess in choosing an advocate include:

  • Is she a good listener?
  • Does he understand the workings of the UUA?
  • Does she understand how clergy sexual misconduct affects a victim or survivor?
  • Is he readily available? Does he give you clear contact information, including what do to in case of an emergency?
  • If she is geographically removed from you, can you work out arrangements for her to be with you at the most critical junctures?

For more information contact safecongregations @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.

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