Keepers of the flame
How quickly we can be transported from the innocence of childhood to the reality of how tough life can be as we approach adolescence, young adulthood and adulthood.
Rarely are there written labels on people to warn us: “Beware, I am going to hurt you!”. But the potential for danger can be lurking around the corners of any human understanding and any interaction.
For example, Gina, 14, routinely walked to school and back with a pack of friends. Late one fall afternoon, Gina decided to walk home by herself.
From the accounts of the police reports, what occurred next was a struggle for her life. A truck had been following Gina since she had left the school grounds. The driver pulled the truck up close to her asking if she wanted a ride home. “No thanks, I am almost home,” she said. The male stopped the truck abruptly and she dropped all of her school items and ran.
Despite following her instincts, Gina could not outrun the male and he proceeded to tackle her and then attempted to sexually assault her. Luckily, another vehicle passed by and the driver recognized that something was not right. He stopped his car and diverted the attacker who subsequently ran from the scene. Gina sustained a concussion and a broken rib from the incident.
Gina identified the attacker; it was a “family friend” who admitted to stalking Gina for over six months.
This scenario is all too common. The reality is that we cannot predict behaviors — even under the best circumstances.
In addition, we have to remember that there are times when doing the right thing may have unintended consequences that we are unprepared for as well. For example:
With your mother’s permission, you review her bank statements and determine that your brother has been withdrawing large amounts of money from her savings. You bring this finding to your mom’s attention and she shares, “Well, your brother needs the help.” You say, “Mom, this money is to take care of your health needs and living expenses. This needs to stop and I am calling him right now to say: ‘Enough is enough.’ ’’
You contact your brother and he angrily tells you that it is none of your business and hangs up. You then take your mom to the bank and transfer her money into a joint account with you in order to provide oversight. Your brother no longer speaks to you and his mother.
The action taken was one of protection; the consequence – perhaps expected, perhaps not -was the brother’s anger. We all need to prepare for such situations.
There is enormous collaboration among those of us working in protection ministries: Creating and sustaining a safe environment for all is a never-ending job that can take all of us out of our comfort zone. We have to be vigilant, even around those we think we know. We have to have conviction to ask questions and to call attention to situations we believe are suspect, even when those situations make us uncomfortable.
We have to be effective agents and keepers of the flame. Always.
Here in this first article, I wanted to highlight several core values that are important to this office and that will be critical in our operations:
That we remind ourselves on an on-going basis that our ministries are here to protect the most vulnerable among us.
That we continue to view keeping are communities safe as a strength and as the centerpiece of all our activities, and that our communication and actions reflect our commitment to those values.
That we understand that by creating safer communities we also must continue to work towards overcoming complex societal issues which requires collaborative solutions and bringing communities and institutions together as equal partners.
Understanding these values requires us to be constantly reflecting together on our own experiences, sharing our stories, defining problems, seeking solutions and building upon each other’s insights.
I look forward to meeting and working with you on continuing to strengthen the Diocese of Tucson Safe Environment Program in our faith communities.