Dealing with Abuse
In the Bible
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place (Matthew 18:31).
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father (Genesis 37:2).
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you (1 Corinthians 5:1).
And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her ... The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah (Genesis 34:2, 13).
"Rejoice with him, O heavens ... for he avenges the blood of his children (Deuteronomy 32:43).
So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people (1 Chronicles 18:14).
Meanwhile, in Kale Creek ... (Scenario)
"Good afternoon. Kale Creek Christian Church. Marcie speaking."
"This is Sgt. Barnes, Vinton County Sheriff's Department. May I speak with Pastor Grant."
"Elder Grant is not in today. May I take a message?"
"I'd rather speak with him directly."
"I'll give you his mobile number." Marcie looked up the number and relayed it to Sgt. Barnes.
- - -
Michael Grant's phone buzzed. The caller ID said, "VinCo Sheriff Dept." Grant answered, "Good Afternoon. How may I help you?"
"I'm Deputy Sgt. Barnes, Are you Elder Mike Grant of Kale Creek Christian Church?"
"Is Troy Mitchell on your church staff?"
"Yes, he is. He's the youth pastor. Why do you ask?"
"He is in our custody for sexual imposition of a minor. Where can I meet you?"
- - -
John Baines put down the phone. "The sheriff called. They picked up Troy."
Mary Baines set down the dish in her hand. "From what Tina told me, I'm surprised no one reported it. How could it go on so long without anyone seeing it?"
"Well, Honey, we're her parents, and we didn't see it, not until Tina told you."
Mary wiped her eyes. "Thank you for calling the sheriff. I was shaking too badly to pick up the phone."
It CAN Happen Here
No matter how well we screen persons working in the church, child abuse from within the church can still happen, whether physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse, or neglect. Some abusers can continue undiscovered for years. Some may have done it before, quit, and now have a relapse. On the other hand, some people may have an inner weakness they eventually give in to.
Other abusers may be family members, neighbors, activity leaders, or school teachers of the abused. It may be at our church where someone notices signs of abuse. Or the child or youth may tell someone at church about it. One way or another, we may be made aware of abuse. So now, what do we do?
See Something, Say Something
On bulletin boards in the workplace, while waiting in line for the TSA check at the airport, and other places where theft and security are concerns, we see notices and posters saying, "See something, say something." For most of us, the message is clear: If we know of theft or a security risk – or find evidence of such – tell those in charge.
This also applies when it comes to child abuse. This is not something to let continue. If we know about it, we need to deal with it. This begins with reporting. The Sheepdog Church Security slideshow "Child Protection" says, "If you, or another: Staff Member, Ministry Team Leader or Authorized Youth/Childcare Worker, observes abuse or is informed about abuse, you are required to report it" [2, Slide 45]. Honestly, this means even it involves a "Staff Member, Ministry Team Leader or Authorized Youth/Childcare Worker," or another Security Team member.
Often, the child, youth, or vulnerable adult tells about the abuse, directly or indirectly. For instance, Dr. Nassar was able to sexually abuse young female athletes for more than 20 years. Then one of his victims spoke out, and he was exposed. Along the way, there were others who either knew about the abuse or heard stories about it, and did not report it to authorities. If they were trying to protect organizations from scandal, the reputations of these organizations are now ruined. 
Now You Tell Me!
Presiding Elder Grant calls the other elders to tell them that Troy Mitchell has been arrested.
Elder Mark James says, "Oh no! Shaquille Nunez confided in me that Tina Baines told her something about Troy messing around. I thought it was just teen talk."
"Now you tell me! If you had come to me, we could have brought Troy in for a talk. Then we could have set him down and called the authorities ourselves."
While Mike is talking to Mark, his phone signals a call waiting. When finished with his conversation, he answers the call: "Elder Grant. May I help you?"
"Good afternoon. This is Bill Baxter of the Vinton County Observer."
Who Is to Report?
Every state in the United States and every U.S. territory has laws requiring persons who are teachers, caretakers, coaches, etc. who know of child abuse or have good reason to suspect it to report it to the authorities. Individual states differ on some of the details concerning clergy, but all offer immunity to "good faith" reporters. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a function of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, has issued a list of several documents on child abuse reporting and response laws . A few are sub-listed below [4.a-f]. You can check to see what the laws are for your own state. Even better is to check with your state itself.
How to Report
If a child reports that they are being or have been abused, we need to stay calm and let the child tell us without pressuring them, and without influencing what they say. Let the child know they did right by telling. Then we can follow the reporting procedures.
The five steps of reporting procedures as given in the Sheepdog Church Security training course are: Inform, Contact Authorities, Report, and Document.
The first step in reporting known child abuse – or of being informed of such – is to inform those within the church who need to know. These include the Lead (or Senior) Pastor (Presiding Elder, Bishop, or whatever title your church uses), the Ministry Leader of the department or program involved, and the church's Safety/Security Director. This enables them to immediately respond in the areas of their responsibilities.
The church leader should then inform the authorities. In some states with laws saying "anyone" the teacher, etc., also has to report it. Check your state's laws. If the incident involves one of the congregation's leaders, go ahead and report it.
The church files a "Report of Suspected Abuse" to the appropriate county agency (Health and Human Services [HHS], Child Protective Services [CPS], etc.). It does not matter who the alleged offender is, even if it is someone with no known connection to the church. What matters is knowledge of the suspected abuse. Besides, if a child connected to the church is being abused, this is our part in protecting him or her.
Whoever reports child abuse to church leaders should fill out a written report for the Safety Ministry's and the church's files. Every person in the church's ministries (including the Safety/Security Ministry) who has received a report by someone alleging the abuse (or who has witnessed it) should fill out an Incident Report, including who reported (or what was seen), what was reported, times and locations reported, and other evidentiary information (which can be almost anything related to the case – no detail is too small). This Incident Report has to be filed with the Church Safety/Security Director in 24 hours or less.
How to Respond
The most dangerous course of action when receiving a report of child abuse is to not take it seriously. Any response to an incident of abuse should be immediate, unified, and carried out with compassion.
- This means that every church worker, whether volunteer or staff, who was present at an event when and where the alleged abuse took place must cooperate with investigations by church leadership and by governmental agencies.
- Notify all who are caregivers of the alleged victim of the abuse about the allegations
- Offer pastoral support and counseling to the abuse victim and the family.
- If the alleged offender is a staff member, teacher, authorized childcare volunteer or staff, pastoral team member, church leader, etc.,
- Notify the parent(s) or custodial guardian of the child.
- Discreetly remove the alleged abuser from all children's and youth activities in the church pending the outcome of the investigation.
- Have them contact the county HHS or CPS for a quick resolution. Remember that his is just an allegation until proven.
- Advise the accused to get legal help.
When there are allegations of child abuse in the church or at church-related activities, how we respond (including reporting) can affect the effectiveness of the church's ministry. The wrong response will affect it negatively. This is especially true if there is any appearance of a cover-up or a denial of responsibility. Therefore, it is imperative that we fully and honestly report allegations of abuse, and that we take action to protect both the alleged victim(s) and the rights of the accused.
There Is More …
Get the free download, A Code to Live By, A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct for Your Church's Safety Ministry by following this link: https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.lpages.co/pdf-child-protection/
- 1. Sheepdog Church Security Training, "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church":
- Individual Training: [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church],
- Training Bundle: [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church-training-bundle].
- Kris Moloney, "Child Protection v2.pptx", Sheepdog Church Security, © 2015.
- Hadley Freeman, "How was Larry Nassar able to abuse so many gymnasts for so long?", The Guardian, Fri 26 Jan 2018 08.47 EST [https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/jan/26/larry-nassar-abuse-gymnasts-scandal-culture].
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, Children's Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway, "State Laws on Reporting and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect" [https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/can/reporting/]:
- "Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect", 2016 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf],
- "Cross-Reporting Among Responders to Child Abuse and Neglect", 2016 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/xreporting.pdf],
- Immunity for Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect", 2016 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/immunity.pdf],
- "Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect", 2016 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/manda.pdf],
- "Penalties for Failure to Report and False Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect", 2016 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/report.pdf],
- "Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect", 2017 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/repproc.pdf].