Episode 25 – Sexual Harm in Religious Spaces

This episode of Beyond Fear is truly groundbreaking. We welcomed four esteemed guests – Nadiah Mohajir, MPH, Dr. Maryyum Mehmood, Dr. Guila Benchimol, and the Rev. Dr. Danielle Tumminio Hansen –  to lead a discussion about sexual harm that occurs across different religions including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. You may remember that we spoke to Dr. Karen Terry in Season 1 about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. That episode focused on the institutional response to the abuse that was eventually uncovered and what the data showed about those that experienced abuse and those that perpetrated it.

In this episode, we dig deeper and discuss how abuse across these different religious spaces is and is not being addressed. Our guests talk about the scope of the sexual harm occurring, their thoughts as to why sexual harm occurs in religious spaces, the role that lay members of their faiths play in sexual harm, and how this type of harm impacts survivors.

Recording this episode was fascinating and we could have continued talking for another hour or two. We know that you will find it just as informative and interesting as we did! 

Guest Bios:

Nadiah Mohajir is a lifelong Chicagoan, Pakistani-American-Muslim, mother of three, public health professional, reproductive justice activist, and anti-sexual assault advocate.

She is the Co-founder and Co-Executive Director for HEART Women & Girls. For over a decade, she has led the organization to provide sexual health education and sexual violence awareness programming and advocacy to thousands of individuals, organizations, and campuses across the country. HEART ultimately aims to dismantle the stigma, silence, and systems that prevent individuals from seeking information, healing, and justice.

Nadiah has worked in public health and reproductive justice for over twenty years in a variety of settings, including, but not limited to research, academics, policy, and community health. Her past work includes projects such as redesigning teen pregnancy programs, improving pregnancy outcomes in low-income communities in Chicago, running sex education programming for vulnerable youth, and evaluating innovative cross-sector partnerships in public health.

She earned her master’s degree in Public Health in 2009 from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago. Nadiah has also participated in a number of fellowships, including the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, is a recipient of the Women’s Innovation Fund and most recently was selected to participate in NoVo Foundation’s Move to End Violence program. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2018 Chicago Foundation for Women’s Impact Award and the El Hibri Foundation’s Community Builder award. In the past, she served on the executive board of directors for the National Women’s Health Network. Most recently, she co-authored the first edition of The Sex Talk: A Muslim’s Guide to Healthy Sex and Relationships.

Dr. Maryyum Mehmood is a ‘pracademic’ (practical academic) whose work sits at the interface between academia, grassroots and policy. Her professional pursuits transcend the ivory towers, with the aim to harness the power of positive social impact. Through her decade-long academic career, Maryyum has been at the forefront of providing training to international diplomats and NGO leaders, and her students have included some of the UK’s most eminent religious officials.

Maryyum is also the Founding Director of The SHIFT (Social Harmony, Intercultural & Faith Training) organization, where she facilitates pan-sector partnerships and provides consultancy, advisory, and ethical leadership training to enhance religious and cultural literacy, and tackle spiritual abuse, gender-based violence and racism. She is a Trustee of the Women’s Interfaith Network in the UK. Maryyum holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London, as well as a master’s degree in South Asia and Global Security.

Dr. Guila Benchimol is a researcher, educator, consultant, and victim advocate. She is the Senior Advisor on Research and Learning with the SRE Network and was one of the key advisors who guided its launch in early 2018. Guila has crafted standards and policies for Jewish workplaces, institutions, and communal spaces and has been invited to address Jewish professionals and clergy across Canada and the US, as well as other faith communities. Guila also sits on the board of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and is a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, where she has worked on projects related to homicide and domestic violence deaths. Her first career as a Jewish educator informed her understanding of the need to address victimization of all kinds in Jewish communities. Guila holds a PhD in Sociological Criminology and an MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy from the University of Guelph and is a trained restorative and transformative justice facilitator. Guila lives in Toronto, Ontario.

The Rev. Dr. Danielle Tumminio Hansen is a professor at Emory University and ordained Episcopal priest.  She has written several books and multiple articles on the intersection of religion and public life, often focusing on issues related to trauma and women’s lives.  Her editorials have appeared on international outlets, including CNN and The Guardian, and she has been a guest on national and international news outlets.  Her current research focuses on sexual violations and restorative justice.

Additional Readings and Resources:

HEART Women & Girls
The Sex Talk: A Muslim’s Guide to Healthy Sex and Relationships by Nadiah Mohajir
The Social Harmony, Intercultural & Faith Training (SHIFT) with Maryyum
Safety Respect and Equity (SRE) Network
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)
Remembering Rape in Heaven (2020) by Rev. Dr. Danielle Tumminio Hansen in Modern Theology

Follow us on Facebook at Beyond Fear: The Sex Crimes Podcast, on Instagram @beyondfearpodcast, and on Twitter @fearcrimes. If you have questions about this or any of our previous episodes, or if there is anything you’d like to know about our work, we hope you will email us at beyondfearpodcast@gmail.com or you can contact us on our site here.

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