A simple Google News search for “child sexual abuse in the church” yields 27 pages of results … and that’s just the headlines from the past 30 days.
This reality stands in stark contrast to a mindset which experts agree pervades too many churches: It can’t happen here.
Given the gravity of what’s at stake, in this issue you’ll find several articles on child sexual abuse prevention. Written by legal, insurance and risk management thought leaders, each submission speaks to the necessity for church executives to do everything they can — proactively — to protect the children in their care.
One of these experts is Shawn T. Yingling, president of Glatfelter Religious Practice, who shared a shocking statistics from The National Center on Child Abuse: One out of every three girls and one out of every five boys is a victim of some form of sexual abuse by 18.
“The primary reason the public isn’t sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73 percent of child victims don’t tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year,” he adds. “Additionally, 45 percent don’t tell anyone for at least five years, and some never disclose.”
Even so, Kimberlee Norris and Gregory Love — attorneys, sexual abuse litigators and founders of Ministrysafe.com — say churches aren’t as proactive as they need to be. Many act too late, only after an allegation involving a volunteer, staff member or long-term member is leveled, or when a sister organization or geographically close entity experiences an allegation.
Other times, churches assume a background check is enough, Love and Norris assert. Not so.
“In actuality, less than 10 percent of sexual abusers will ever encounter the criminal justice system,” they explain in the article on page 37.
Of course, acknowledging the risk is just the first step. What to do about it is the next one.
Tackling the complex issue of mandatory reporting requirements head-on, attorney and Church Executive legal blogger Robert Erven Brown opens his article on page 34 with a compelling a scenario: A pastor is approached by a member, who confesses he has watched child pornography online and feels terrible about it.
According to Brown, all 50 U.S. states have some kind of mandatory reporting process for certain people — usually referred to as “mandatory reporters.” In this insightful article full of practical advice, he “unwinds” the scenario in terms of what comes next for the pastor. It’s a great read full of practical strategies and takeaways.
Church Mutual’s Amy Kimmes and Patrick Moreland also weigh in on the practical front with their article on page 40. They not only outline guidelines for selecting employees, volunteers and people who work with children, they also map out what your legal and religious obligations are before a case arises — and, of course, what do if the unthinkable happens.
While it’s a heartbreaking scenario, child sexual abuse is a very real risk for any church — one which must be managed before it’s too late. Arm yourself with the tools and information you need to protect the children entrusted to your care.
All the best to you and your ministry,