Today I completed an online training dealing with the prevention of child sexual abuse in churches which is provided to churches and organizations insured by the United Church of Christ Insurance Board. Although I’ve done several trainings like this before, I found it helpful to be reminded of how to be actively engaged in the prevention of child sexual abuse.
The training also reminded me of the stunning statistics related to child abuse. One out of every four girls and one out of every eight boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Those are stunning and sobering statistics. Given this widely available information, I find it shocking that I still hear from many people in congregations that “things like that couldn’t happen here.”
The reality is that “things like that” can and do happen in churches. Predators are attracted to places with a lot of children, especially if there are no policies or trainings dealing with the prevention of abuse. Predators, the training reminded me, often find places where they can easily spend too much time with young people. They often isolate the most vulnerable of these young people – the ones with emotional or behavioral problems, disabilities or one who just seem a little “different”.
I believe strongly that as church we are called to protect “the least of these.” Vulnerable children and youth seem to fit easily into this category. What are we inadvertently telling young people if we don’t have policies that take these things seriously? We are telling them that their church doesn’t care about what happens to them. I know we DO care; so, why don’t we SHOW that we care by taking the possibility of sexual abuse seriously?
My last call was at a treatment facility for young people with mental illnesses and behavioral disorders. The vast majority of these young people had been sexually abused. I can’t even tell you how many times as chaplain, I worked through the question, “Where was God when THAT was happening to me?” with survivors of sexual abuse. Abuse of any kind causes not only lasting emotional and psychological scars that impact the survivor’s ability to form relationships with other people; it severely impedes their ability to form a relationship with God.
God calls us to ensure the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health of our children. If we knowingly ignore that call in regard to sexual abuse, we are failing our children and God. We should move past our own discomfort with sexual issues in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.
If you are a UCC church leader that has UCC Insurance Board insurance, you can access the training I mentioned free of charge. If you have other insurance, call your agent to find out resources they may have that are available. The Centers for Disease Control also has resources available for those who are creating sexual abuse prevention policies.
Thank you for listening to this hard truth. Please share your thoughts about and experiences with the creation of these kinds of policies so that we can all learn from one another’s wisdom.