Monday, August 21, 2017

Protecting Children from Abuse: An Interview

One of the first steps to protecting children is the recognition and acknowledgement that the prevalence of child sexual victimization isn’t any lower within the very communities where children should be most protected, our churches. We also need to acknowledge that both adults and children perpetrate sexual abuse.

 

It happens. We wish it didn’t happen and perhaps even try to pretend it doesn’t happen. But the tragic and undeniable reality is that there is abuse within the church. I recently spoke with Boz Tchividjian to ask some key questions for every Christian and every church.

How prevalent is child sexual abuse in the Christian community? In the Protestant community specifically?

Research has consistently found that approximately 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be sexually victimized before their 18th birthday. With 75 million children in the United States, this translates to almost 15 million children who will be sexually victimized over the next 18 years! Another way of understanding the prevalence of this horrific offense is that child sexual abuse is 75x more common than pediatric cancer. Also, keep in mind that when we talk about child sexual abuse it includes the astonishing rise of children sexually abusing other children. For example, a 2013 study found that nearly 1 in 10 young Americans between ages 14 and 21 acknowledges having perpetrated an act of sexual violence at least once.

There is no evidence that these heart-wrenching statistics are any lower within Christian communities. In fact, some older reports by church insurance companies show that child abuse allegations against American churches average 70 per week! One of my concerns is that too many of my Protestant friends seem to think that these statistics focus namely on the horrific abuses we have all come to learn about within the Catholic Church. Some may be tempted to watch this film with disgust for the Catholic Church and a sigh of relief for Protestant churches. Such a belief is simply unfounded and misplaced. A number of years ago, the three companies that insure most Protestant churches reported that receiving approximately 260 reports a year of minors being sexually abused by church leaders and members. This is compared to the approximately 228 “credible accusations” a year of child sexual abuse reported by the Catholic Church. There is no doubt that in reality both of these numbers are much higher due to the fact that sexual abuse is the most underreported crime. In reality, the likelihood is that more children are sexually abused in Protestant churches than in Catholic churches. Protestants are going to have to accept the fact that we have many more similarities than differences with our Catholic brothers and sisters when it comes to how we have failed to protect and serve God’s children.

One of the first steps to protecting children is the recognition and acknowledgement that the prevalence of child sexual victimization isn’t any lower within the very communities where children should be most protected, our churches. We also need to acknowledge that both adults and children perpetrate sexual abuse.

Christians must also come to grips with the troubling reality that our churches are filled with child sexual abuse survivors, many of whom are suffering in silence having never disclosed the abuse out of fear of how others will respond. Using the 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 statistics mentioned above, a 200-member church (100 women and 100 men) would have approximately 41 child sexual abuse survivors…..20.5%!! Yet few pastors ever mention it let alone preach a sermon about it. Think about it, how would pastors and other church leaders respond if 20.5% of their congregation had cancer or 20.5% of their congregation had lost a child or if 20.5% of their congregation had lost their homes in a natural disaster? My guess is that addressing and ministering to these members would immediately become a primary focus of church ministry. We would probably see support ministries started, sermons preached about the issue, and an ongoing public dialogue within the church on how best to love and serve those who have experienced such trauma. When it comes to this painful issue, too many of our churches still prefer silence over service. My hope and prayer is that the as we work to educate and equip our Christian brothers and sisters on the prevalence of this issue and the lifelong pain it inflicts upon precious souls, God will transform His Church into the safest community for children and the most welcoming and hope-filled community for those who have been abused. I believe Jesus calls for nothing less from His people.

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