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Many Christian churches are becoming “trauma informed”, so educating ourselves about trauma from a Baha’i perspective is a capacity that needs to be built in all of us, but how do we do it?

The NSA of Canada gives us some ideas in this quote:

Further developing this capacity depends on advancing in the understanding of certain concepts, the development of requisite spiritual qualities, the cultivation of appropriate attitudes and behaviours, and sharpening skills of all those who arise to work with children and youth, as well as in communities and institutions at all levels. Capacity is built in individuals as they translate knowledge into action, and reflect on their experience alongside others walking a common path of service. Thus, being and doing are seen as interrelated elements of the process of developing human resources to serve children and youth, and awareness and wisdom emerge gradually from a process of study, consultation, reflection and experience. A posture of learning allows the Bahá’í community in Canada, its volunteers and institutions, to become increasingly adept at mitigating risk and at developing the agility necessary to circumvent possible future threats.  (NSA of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Framework and Guidelines for the Implementation of Child Protection Policies, July, 2012)

Here we learn the steps to take:

  • advancing our understanding of certain concepts
  • developing the requisite spiritual qualities
  • cultivating appropriate attitudes and behaviours
  • sharpening skills
  • translating knowledge into action
  • reflecting on experience with others walking a common path of service
  • Seeing being and doing as interrelated elements
  • gainging awareness and wisdom
  • study
  • consultation
  • reflection
  • experience
  • a posture of learning

All of these allow us to become increasingly adept at

  • mitigating risk
  • developing the agility necessary to circumvent possible future threats

What are the concepts we need to understand? 

Educate Yourself and Your Community

Baha’u’llah tells us we need to:

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh., sec. CVI, p.213)

With trauma effecting such a large number of people, this certainly applies!

It is the duty of the Assemblies to increase our devotion to the laws so that our obedience comes from the love for Bahá’u’lláh rather than from the fear of punishment:

It is the vital and urgent duty of the Spiritual Assemblies to increase the believers’ devotion to these laws and their understanding of them, so that their obedience derives from their love for Bahá’u’lláh rather than from the fear of punishment.  (Universal House of Justice 11 Sept, 1991)

A systematic program to educate everyone in the Baha’i community should include an understanding of the implications of the equality of men and women, the status and role of women, as well as the positive aspects of the marriage relationship:

The House of Justice suggest that your efforts to eliminate any traces of domestic violence from the Bahá’í community might well be founded on a systematic programme to educate all elements of the Bahá’í community in the implications of the principle of the equality of men and women as set forth in the compilation on Women prepared by the Research Department at the Bahá’í World Centre early in 1986. Such an educative process focussed on the status and role of women, as well as the positive aspects of the marriage relationship described in the Bahá’í teachings, would assist Bahá’í couples to construct marriages which are entirely devoid of abuse or violence, as well as psychological or emotional manipulation, and which are a model to a society searching for harmonious domestic relations.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 September, 1987)

This education should seek to reach every age group and ethnic population within our communities:

Programs concerning domestic violence should seek to reach every age group and ethnic population within the Bahá’í community through a variety of age appropriate and culturally sensitive delivery systems.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 138)

Certain populations have been targeted for special education in particular.

Bahá’í men need to learn a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation:

Bahá’í men have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world around them a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation. The Universal House of Justice has pointed out in response to questions addressed to it that, in a marriage relationship, neither husband nor wife should ever unjustly dominate unjustly dominate the other, and that there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other, if agreement cannot be reached through consultation; each couple should determine exactly under what circumstances such deference is to take place.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

Single parents need training in how to be a single parent and how to interact effectively with the estranged parent:

Single parents often need training in how to be a single parent and how to interact effectively with the estranged parent, if there is voluntary or mandated contact, as well as education in what the needs of the children are in relation to the attitudes and behaviors of the parents.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 130)

Know the Law

The National Spiritual Assembly will not tolerate domestic violence and condemns its existence. Violent acts are forbidden.

The National Spiritual Assembly will not tolerate domestic violence and condemns its existence. Violent acts are forbidden. The Universal House of Justice has said: “Acts of violence might properly be regarded as a negation of the persistent emphasis on concord, understanding and unity which are at the heart of the Bahá’í Teachings.”  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 16 May, 1982)

Family violence can no longer be seen as a private matter, but as a global and pernicious problem that our communities can neither ignore or allow to be protected within the privacy of a family:

Family violence is a global and pernicious problem … [that] must be addressed by the world community. It is not a private matter, but has become a global pandemic that the international community can neither ignore nor allow to be protected within the privacy of the family. It is an affliction that ravages all regions of the world, all economic and educational strata and all types of families. The family is the primary locus of human socialization and development. If that development process is denied or distorted, the adverse consequences can be irreversible. Behaviors learned in the home are replicated in the wider society.  (Bahá’í International Community, Creating Violence-Free Families, Summary Report of United Nations Symposium, May 1994)

Everyone has rights and responsibilities:

The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother — none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the house-hold have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved.  . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace., p.168)

Don’t minimize it or assume that a Baha’i is too spiritually evolved to commit a criminal act:

The dangerous potential of [abusive] behaviours should not be minimized by assuming that Bahá’ís in general or that any particular individual would be too spiritually evolved to commit a criminal act.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, pp. 24-25)

Sexual abuse and assault, including rape, are crimes, regardless of who commits them and regardless of the age of the victim:

Sexual abuse and assault, including rape, are crimes, regardless of whether committed by a stranger, acquaintance, relative, or spouse, by a person of the same or opposite sex, and regardless of the age of the victim.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 99)

Date rape or rape by a spouse is a crime:

An Assembly should be careful not to minimize an allegation of “date rape” or of rape by a spouse. Sexual abuse or assault involving a person under a certain age (the age varies by state) is a crime regardless of whether consent is given or force is used.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 99)

Direct or indirect threats of violence that would cause a reasonable person to believe that she or he is in danger may be crimes:

In addition to physical violence, direct or indirect threats of violence that cause a reasonable person to believe that she or he is in danger may be crimes.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.27)

Other aspects of domestic violence are considered crimes depend upon the particular circumstances, as well as the laws of the state in which the act occurs:

Which aspects of domestic violence are considered crimes depend upon the particular circumstances, as well as the laws of the state in which the act occurs.     (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.27)

Whether or not an act is subject to criminal punishment, it may still be grounds for restrictions on personal conduct  such as court orders of protection or restraint to prevent offenders having contact with the abused:

Certain acts of domestic violence, whether or not subject to criminal punishment, may be grounds for restrictions on personal conduct, such as court orders of protection or restraint to prevent offenders having contact with the abused.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.27)

Assemblies should be aware of the laws applicable in their jurisdiction:

Assemblies should be aware of the laws applicable in their state.   (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 99)

Reporting Specific Cases

The motivation for an abuser to change is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offense:

For those who abuse women and children, it is not enough to express willingness to change such behaviour — the motivation to change must be coupled with extensive therapy over a period of time. This motivation is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offence, even in the face of the possibility of temporarily increasing the danger to the victim. Allowing the situation to continue, by silence, may very well be the greater evil.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada’s “Policy on Reporting Suspected or Alleged Cases of Child Abuse”, 3 June 1993)

To an Assembly

Assemblies should familiarize themselves with the reporting processes and bring this matter to the attention of the friends so that there will be no misunderstandings:

Because reporting and handling matters related to the abuse of children is very difficult and very sensitive, the National Spiritual Assembly asks all Local Spiritual Assemblies to contact the authorities in their jurisdictions to familiarize themselves with the reporting processes. Local Spiritual Assemblies are also asked to bring this matter to the attention of the friends in their communities and educate them on the related Bahá’í teachings and also on the reporting procedures outlined below, so that there will be no misunderstandings among the friends either about our own standards or about the requirements of Canadian law on this question. This educational work can be done at the Feast, at specially called meetings, or through any other means that would be effective in reaching all community members…  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada’s “Policy on Reporting Suspected or Alleged Cases of Child Abuse”, 3 June, 1993)

An Assembly may have an obligation to determine whether an allegation has some reasonable basis and the manner in which to proceed with reporting requirements:

Allegations come in a number of different forms, from the wildest speculations to scientifically-based conclusions… While an Assembly should not, and is not competent to determine whether a child is truly at risk, it is competent, and may have an obligation, to determine whether the allegation has some reasonable basis and the manner in which to proceed with reporting requirements.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 4 August, 1996)

It is necessary to act without hesitation and without delay to protect the children:

The protection of young children from sexual assault or other forms of abuse by a member of the community must, of course, be given paramount importance.  In carrying out this obligation, every reasonable step must be taken to protect the children of the community ….  (on behalf of the House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 January 2014)

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies:

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies in the investigation of alleged behavioural delinquencies. This difference arises from the spiritual nature of the Assembly’s deliberations, the importance of a prayerful attitude, the due weight given to the preservation of the unity and integrity of the Bahá’í community, and the distinctive character of Bahá’í law as a means for individual spiritual development.  (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 15 January, 1992)

There is no detailed procedure of steps to be taken in carrying out such an investigation:

The House of Justice does not feel that it is appropriate, at this time, to attempt to define a detailed procedure of steps to be taken in carrying out such an investigation. Every case is different and every individual has his or her own particular circumstances which must be taken into account. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 15 January, 1992)

Likewise, the process to be followed for the investigation may only become apparent progressively, and could not be outlined at the beginning.

There is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice:

While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offense and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, dated February 20, 1977)

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith it should be reported to the Assembly or Auxiliary Board:

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement- unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, dated February 20, 1977)

If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant.   (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, dated February 20, 1977)

 If the alleged abuser is an Assembly member, contact the National Assembly:

. . . if an Assembly finds itself unable to function effectively concerning a case of domestic violence, due to the fact that the alleged abuser is an Assembly member or for any other reason, it should contact the National Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 68)

 To civil authorities

Bahá’í institutions must be obedient to the civil law in reporting perceived abuse to the authorities:

Bahá’í institutions must be obedient to the civil law in reporting perceived abuse to the authorities.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 4 August, 1996)

An Assembly must report any alleged or suspected instances of child abuse:

An Assembly must report to the authorities any alleged or suspected instances of child abuse, whether this information comes to its attention as the result of a formal report to the Assembly, or through other means. This is both a moral and a legal responsibility… Regardless of the letter of the law, an Assembly’s overriding responsibility is to ensure that any such case of suspected or reported child abuse is immediately communicated to the authorities, so that those agencies charged by society with the protection of those who are at risk, are able to act swiftly and bring all of their skill and training to bear upon the situation. The analysis of whether indeed the child is in any danger rests fully with the authorities and not with those [including the Assembly] who may receive such a report or have such a suspicion.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p.44)

Some reporting requirements do not apply to religious institutions:

The House of Justice is aware that, in some civic jurisdictions in other countries, reporting requirements do not apply to religious institutions. This is a derivation on what is commonly called the “priest-penitent privilege”. In light of the relatively strong position of the Christian churches…, you may want to further research this point, if you have not already done so. Should religious institutions be exempt from reporting in any or all provinces, this would not, of course, mean that an Assembly should not, or may not, report an instance of child abuse to authorities. Rather, it raises the question of whether it should presume, based on the National Assembly’s disseminated policy, that it is legally required to report the issue to the authorities.  (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly., 4 August, 1996)

A promise of confidentiality given under duress is not binding:

A promise of confidentiality given under duress is not binding, as it is a common tactic used by abusers to conceal misconduct. It is all the more reason to seek professional assistance and civil protection and to report the matter to Bahá’í institutions.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p.62)

Changing Our Understanding

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta find URL released a large survey indicating that over 50% of Americans have been exposed to one category of adverse childhood experiences and a quarter of Americans have been exposed to two or more categories of adverse childhood experiences. The research showed that the

  • greater the exposure to adverse childhood experiences the greater the likelihood of developing a variety of psychiatric, social and physical problems including substance abuse, depression, and many life-threatening diseases
  • A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that people who are as labeled as “bad” are also far more likely than the average person to have had horrendous experiences of abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence in their childhood backgrounds as well.

Why does it matter whether we think of people as “sick”, “bad” or “injured”?

It matters because very often feeling helpless or being labeled as “sick” – particularly emotionally sick – or “bad” arouses a sense of shame which may be effective as a way to correct inappropriate behavior, but no one responds positively from being ashamed of their self. Shame is experienced as a toxic emotion that does not need to be endured.

For more information, please see:

Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt and Shame

Recognizing that people who’ve experienced trauma have sustained psychological “injuries” instead of judging them as “sick” or “bad” or “malingering” can help us develop compassion, tolerance, patience and forgiveness; and can help them to recover faster.

For more information, please see:

Letting God of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation

We typically turn “sickness” over to experts who understand the mysterious realms of disturbed minds and body.

Injury, on the other hand, is something we can all relate to. We know what to do for injuries:

  • treat the injury
  • do no more harm
  • nurse it for awhile
  • learn everything we can about how to promote healing
  • gradually and carefully resume functioning at the pace the injured part can tolerate
  • recognize that the injured part may need some extra protection because of its vulnerability for a long time – and sometimes forever

The same is true for emotional injuries due to trauma!

When everyone in the community understands what trauma actually does to a pers communities where we can:

  • develop compassion and forgiveness
  • stop victim-blaming
  • reduce punitive and judgmental responses
  • develop clear and consistent interpersonal boundaries
  • know how to confront negative behavior

Understand Mental Illness 

There is no connection between psychiatric disorders and being spiritually ill:

The statement that ‘only the spiritually ill experience psychiatric disorders’ is entirely without foundation. (From a letter dated 2 February 1994 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual)

For more information please see:

Mental Illness  

 Training Volunteers of Children’s Classes and Junior Youth Groups

The development of human resources to serve younger generations is an ongoing process that includes:

  • recruitment
  • screening
  • training
  • supervision

These are seen as interrelated elements and not a set of discrete requirements that can be checked off as complete:

The development of human resources to serve younger generations is seen as an ongoing process that includes recruitment, screening, training, and supervision as interrelated elements of this process, rather than a set of discrete requirements that can be checked off as complete.  (NSA of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Framework and Guidelines for the Implementation of Child Protection Policies, July, 2012)

Volunteers of children’s classes and junior youth groups will participate in training under the supervision of the institute, which will include:

  • materials from the sequence of courses from the Ruhi Institute
  • texts from the junior youth program
  • the lessons for classes of children

Training should be in progress at the time of the screening.

Training is an ongoing process and volunteers will be required to participate in periodic training sessions when made available in their cluster.

Such sessions, along with providing a space for reflection, consultation and study, involve training in matters such as:

  • code of conduct
  • program safety
  • transportation rules
  • the prevention and reporting of child abuse
  • emergency procedures

In clusters where capacity for coordination exists, whether through a cluster coordinator or through the support of a regional coordinator, coordinators and/or other volunteers will visit activities periodically as they oversee the development of the programs for junior youth and children within a cluster or region, accompanying volunteers in their efforts:

Volunteers of children’s classes and junior youth groups will participate in training under the supervision of the institute, which will include materials from the sequence of courses from the Ruhi Institute, texts from the junior youth program, and the lessons for classes of children. Training should be in progress at the time of the screening. Training is an ongoing process and as such volunteers will be required to participate in periodic training sessions when made available in their cluster. Such sessions, along with providing a space for reflection, consultation and study, involve training in matters such as: code of conduct, program safety, transportation rules, the prevention and reporting of child abuse, and emergency procedures.  In clusters where capacity for coordination exists, whether through a cluster coordinator or through the support of a regional coordinator, coordinators and/or other volunteers will visit activities periodically as they oversee the development of the programs for junior youth and children within a cluster or region, accompanying volunteers in their efforts.  (NSA of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Framework and Guidelines for the Implementation of Child Protection Policies, July, 2012)

Volunteers of activities and events organized by other agencies (eg. conferences, seasonal schools, etc.) will participate in designated orientation sessions and will be accompanied and supervised.  (NSA of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Framework and Guidelines for the Implementation of Child Protection Policies, July, 2012)