Every church ought to have the best possible sexual abuse prevention policies in their children’s ministry. These should be followed closely and reviewed regularly. But what happens when evil slips through the cracks of even the best policies and procedures? How does the church respond then? How should the church care for the victim, the victim’s parents, the alleged perpetrator, and cooperate with the legal authorities?
What is most frightening is that by the time a child molester gets caught he/she has on average 50-100 victims. How does the church find and care for the other children who have likely been abused? How does the church communicate with its people, community, and media who all want answers when these tragedies occur?
How is the situation different when the sexual abuse is by a minor against a minor instead of by an adult against a minor?
These are sickening questions. Unfortunately, they are so uncomfortable that most churches have not attempted to answer them. These questions go on the list of policies every church needs and no church has.
After 8 years of serving as a counselor at a parachurch counseling center, I came to The Summit Church in January of 2011. While in the parachurch setting I was contacted by several churches facing this type of scenario (both adult-to-minor abuse and minor-to-minor abuse). It was scary and painful to try to provide guidance. Answers were hard and time was short. The victim and family often got lost in just trying to figure out what could-should be done.
No doubt the churches’ confusion added to the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of these children and families.
When I got to The Summit Church this was an early priority for me. I did not want to relive this trauma from the inside. I started asking churches if they had a policy to provide guidance in these situations. The repeated answer was, “No, but we’d love a copy of yours when you write it.” Even when I contacted churches who had experienced this tragedy, the answer was the same.
The only piece of guidance I was able to find was a podcast at CCEF. I tell the back story of this policy for two reasons. First, I want to acknowledge this is our “best effort” and will likely need amendment. Second, I want to learn if similar policies exist that we could learn from in refining this one.
So over the next year I began drafting the policy below and consulting with attorneys, pastors, counselors, social workers, medical professionals, and elementary teachers to refine what a “Sexual Abuse Response Policy” should look like for a local church. Many people were extremely gracious in donating their time and expertise.
I would like to especially thank Renee Hill (RN, Clinical Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Clinical Site Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing), Darin Meece (P.A.), Phil Monroe, Alex Quigley (Elementary School Principal), and Karla Siu (LCSW, Masters in Social Work from UNC Chapel Hill) for their contributions.
This policy is being shared publicly to serve as a resource for churches. Sexual abuse against children is frequent enough that the church must be prepared to respond. The well-being of children is at stake. The faith of generations in a family and entire communities are at stake.
Recent events at Penn State demonstrate why a church or other institution must have policies in place to provide guidance for these kinds of situations. In the absence of a pre-determined plan, fear and self-protection are strong influences upon decision making in this kind of crisis.
This policy is crafted primarily for the state of North Carolina. It should not be assumed that the laws and statutes of other states are the same. A legal review of this policy should be conducted before any version of this policy is adopted by a church to ensure that the leaders of that church understand what liabilities and responsibilities they bear.
With that said, it is my prayer that this policy will allow many churches to effectively represent Christ at a time of immense crisis. I pray that the trauma of many children and families will be lessened as God’s people are prepared to respond to one of the greatest tragedies of our day.
I ask that everyone who reads this policy to pray regularly for the protection of children. We know this is very near the heart of God (Matt. 18:6) and our discomfort with the subject should not rob these children of our prayers.
Policy in PDF Form: Response Plan for Sexual Abuse Against a Minor at XYZ Church