Churches that care about children are an important part of our culture. The need for spiritual and moral development is imperative for our future as humans and also for the future of all faith traditions. The significance of growing into a community of people that love and support you is essential for a successful transition into adulthood as well. Unfortunately, any community can be vulnerable to sexual abuse, especially when adults interact with those children on a regular basis.
- It can happen in your church.
“It won’t ever happen here.” Famous last words. There is no such thing as a “typical” sexual predator. They come in all shapes and sizes. We can’t afford to live in denial about the possibility that sexual abuse can happen in our ministries. Talking about it won’t make it happen. Talking about it publicly will help keep it in the forefront of your minds and will communicate a sense of safety, that this issue is not being ignored. Parents are always thinking about the possibility so your ministry should as well.
- You’re as sick as your secrets.
Should sexual abuse occur in your church or ministry, you might be tempted to avoid the public scandal. Don’t! Nothing feels worse to the victim than brushing abuse under the rug. Don’t minimize or victim-blame. Speak out directly to your community, cooperate with the police, walk alongside the victim, and walk alongside the abuser. This will be messy but it will be worth it in the end as it will give everyone a sense of security that this issue is taken seriously and that we (the church) is in it for the long road to recovery.
- Background checks – it’s a good start.
Background checks should be required by now. If not, you’re already vulnerable to predatory individuals. While background checks are essential, law enforcement says that 88% of sexual assault goes unreported. That means 9 out of 10 offenders will not have a criminal background. Proper vetting, relationships, ongoing supervision, accountability, and policy are necessary to reduce the risk of abuse happening in your ministry.
- The importance of policies and procedures.
Beyond background check, extensive and comprehensive policies and procedures are going to be your best defense against child/youth abuse in your community. Good policies make clear that your ministry is committed to nurturing safe spaces for your kids to explore faith and tradition.