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Moral Injury from Sexual Abuse and War: Soul Wounds and Soul Repair (A Community Responsibility)

Friday, September 27 at 9:00 AM
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Des Moines, IA, 50312 Show Map

A day of reflection and awakening to new ideas

The horrific nature of sexual abuse and the trauma of war and military combat are not human experiences we like to think about deeply, yet understanding these experiences is crucial to life together in our communities. The soul wounds and moral injury resulting from such experiences not only haunt survivors and veterans for years, but also produce devastating ripple effects within family relationships and communities. The concepts of “moral injury” and “community responsibility” are common threads we will use to weave together these two topics so critical to the health and welfare of our country.

Moral injury is a term used to describe the internal and invisible injuries resulting from shame and guilt associated with being in high stakes and ambiguous situations from which there is no escape, and which require a person to act, even involuntarily, in ways that run counter to their sense of self and personal moral code. Persons who have experienced such events often describe a sense of spiritual suffering, and damage to their very souls.

The pain associated with such injuries is intensified by the isolation injured persons suffer as a natural consequence of having gone through something outside the realm of most people’s normal life experience. Attempts to seek relief from the severity of this pain can lead to a wide range of addictive behaviors, interpersonal conflicts, and even self-harm and suicide. Our denial of community responsibility for the roots of these distressful behaviors can only further distance injured persons from the community connections they need for healing and restoration. We need to increase public appreciation for the responsibility we all carry for injuries sustained and address the lack of resources for the healing required.


Target audience

A multidisciplinary group of health care providers (physicians, psychologists, clinical social workers, criminal justice staff, attorneys, judicial employees, chaplains, pastors, psychotherapists, military personnel, etc.) who are responsible for the care of victims of sexual abuse and/or soldiers suffering from moral injury due to war and/or military sexual assault.


8:30 a.m.

Registration and Light Breakfast

Flute music by Deb Jennings

8:50 a.m. Welcome and Introductions
9 a.m.

Sexual Abuse on the Hollow Water Reserve – Stories and ExperiencesReturn to Traditional Sacred Ways: The Role of Community

Burma Bushie

Ms. Bushie will share stories of how her community in the Hollow Water First Nation Reserve in Manitoba, Canada drew upon ancient Ojibwa teachings to develop a “sacred justice” model of community intervention and healing. This model goes beyond typical ways of thinking about restorative justice, and is radically different than “Western ways” of thinking that place guilt and shame on a single person (for hurting others, or “not getting better”), and tends to ignore the role we all play in the harm perpetrated by one person on another, or by one people on another.

10 a.m.

A Tribute to the Hollow Water Experiment in Sacred Justice

Rupert Ross

Mr. Ross will outline key elements of the Sacred Justice model of community intervention and healing practiced at Hollow Water First Nation Reserve, and major contributions it has made to the Canadian criminal justice system.

10:30 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m.

A Personal Path of Healing; the Path All of Us Must WalkFrom “Broken Laws” to “Broken Relationships:” A Paradigm Shift

Rupert Ross

Mr. Ross will then share how his own worldview and understanding of the law were radically challenged through his engagement with the Hollow Water community’s approach to survivors and perpetrators of sexual abuse. One of the many elements of his personal transformation was the realization that courtrooms rarely allow victims and perpetrators to be seen as whole persons, as evolving persons, and as extensions of their home communities.

11:15 a.m. Burma Bushie and Rupert Ross: A Dialogue
11:45 a.m. Group Discussion
12 p.m.

Lunch (Provided)

1 p.m. Soul Wounds from Moral Injury: War and Military Sexual AssaultRev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D.Drawing upon her experience with veterans suffering soul wounds from the experience of war, combat and/or military sexual trauma, Dr. Brock will share her recent thinking and work with moral injury, and those elements required for an effective and compassionate response to veterans who struggle with these wounds.
2 p.m. Group Discussion
2:15 p.m. Break
2:30 p.m.

Soul Repair and Community Responsibility

Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D.

Building upon her first presentation, Rita will challenge our lack of appreciation for the severe psychological onslaught that the men and women of our armed services will face in war, or at the hands of fellow soldiers. She will review for us her work at The Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School (http://www.brite.edu/soulrepair/), and will challenge us all to take on the high degree of moral obligation and community responsibility we need to bear for doing all that is necessary to aid veterans in their physical, emotional, relational and spiritual healing.

3:30 p.m. Group Discussion
3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks and Ceremony with Ms. Bushie, Mr. Ross and Dr. Brock
4 p.m. Adjourn


  1. Define “moral injury” and “communal responsibility.”
  2. Recognize the defining characteristics of a moral injury.
  3. Distinguish wounds from PTSD from those of moral injury.
  4. Apply systems-based perspectives to assessment and intervention approaches to patient and family care.
  5. Effectively use broad-based community resources for treatment intervention.
  6. Identify basic strengths of a model of “sacred justice”
  7. Discuss unique indigenous contributions to healing sexual abuse.
  8. Cite the specific flaws of our judicial system and recognize needed changes.

Guest speakers

Burma Bushie

Ms. Bushie is an Ojibwa grandmother, residing at the Hollow Water First Nation Reserve in Manitoba, Canada.  An Anishinaabe Elder, Ms. Bushie co-developed a sacred justice model of healing from sexual abuse.  In cooperation with Crown prosecutors and judges, her organization, Community Holistic Circle Healing (CHCH), brought revolutionary changes to the legal system after recognizing violent crimes were more about broken relationships than about broken laws.  Recognizing as well that some crimes, like sexual abuse, were too severe to be handled in government courtrooms and in jails, restorative justice options were created that borrowed from traditional Ojibwa spiritual teachings and returned voice to her community.  Sexual abuse was not reflective of individual pathology, but symptomatic of a person falling out of relationship with his/her community.  Seen this way, sexual abuse was a Hollow Water illness requiring community self-examination and healing. Ms. Bushie will inspire you with her healing stories about Hollow Water’s radical notions of community healing, sacred justice, and the resurrection of tribal spiritual traditions.

Rupert Ross


Mr. Ross is a retired Crown Prosecutor of Western Ontario. He is the author of several books including the Canadian best seller, Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice. In writing about the Hollow Water experiment, Mr. Ross found he was deeply touched by the sacred Ojibwa teachings and underwent personal transformative changes.  He realized, as did the healers at CHCH, that courtroom proceedings and incarceration work against the healing process, and that courtrooms rarely allow victims and perpetrators to be seen as whole persons, as evolving persons, as extensions of their home communities.  As a result of Rupert’s participation in the sacred justice experiment at Hollow Water, he wrote, “The teachings seem to hold that we must find ways to remind ourselves, each step of the way, that we are not important in ourselves.  Sometimes it takes getting back down to Mother Earth on your hands and knees, naked and in the darkness as in the sweatlodge, to feel that small again, to focus on accommodating and respecting all the life around us.  I can only say that all my experiences with Aboriginal healing, from the healing circles at Hollow Water to the sweatlodges and cleansing ceremonies have left me feeling larger and ‘wholer’ than when I went in.  Humbler, too, if the truth be known, because I see how little I’ve developed my gifts to touch others in healthy ways, how little I’ve understood about what we do to each other and how small my heart feels against the hearts of the healers.  Not to mention the heart that drives the universe that my language helps me to pretend I’m so separate from.”

Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D.


Dr. Brock is Research Professor of Theology and Culture, and Founding Co-Director of The Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, Texas. Dr. Brock is the co-author of Soul Repair an examination of “moral injury.” She examines how war creates ethical dilemmas for soldiers who are forced to witness or engage in death or other atrocities that can develop problems beyond the scope of PTSD. Dr. Brock has a particular interest in the examination of military sexual assault (MSA). MSA is the compound wounding of female soldiers who must not only kill and face the threat of being killed, but may also be sexually assaulted by male soldiers on the frontline. Dr. Brock explains our moral obligation to our teens as we prepare them for the psychological onslaught of war, and how many of our public ceremonies and welcoming home parades do little to explore and heal the deep psychic scars that many returning veterans bear. As a result, returning soldiers must often settle for the language of heroes and patriots when, deep down, they are extremely conflicted over the events they participated in voluntarily and involuntarily. Rita calls for a national dialogue on how we enter and depart wars. She will emphasize community responsibility for creating and resolving soul wounds when “conscience strikes.”


DMU logo  

Department of Behavioral Medicine, Medical Humanities and Bioethics 

Blanchard       Geral Blanchard, author of Transcending Trauma


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Continuing education

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M.D.: This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with ACCME® Essential Areas and Elements and Iowa Medical Society (IMS) policies. Des Moines University is accredited by the IMS to provide continuing medical education for physicians. Des Moines University designates this live education activity for a maximum of 4.75 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

D.O.: This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the essential areas and policies of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Des Moines University is accredited by the AOA and approves this live activity for a maximum of 4.0 hours of AOA Category 2-A CME credits.

Nursing: Des Moines University (provider #112) is approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing as an accredited provider. This activity has been reviewed and approved for a maximum of 5.7 continuing education contact hours.

Other: This live activity was designated for 4.75 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™.

Everyone in a position to control the content of this educational activity will disclose to the CME provider and to attendees all relevant financial relationships with any commercial interest