Help for Responding to Sexual Abuse in Church Settings

There are few more painful, complicated, difficult, demanding, divisive and stressful issues to deal with than sexual abuse in your church.

If you are already dealing with it, you will find this extended essay very helpful.

If you are not yet dealing with it, you need to read it, so that you are more alert to the signs of its presence, aware of the issues, and be prepared to deal with it.

The author, a good friend of mine, has had extensive experience counselling victims of sexual abuse, and helping church leaders to respond to sexual abuse in their churches. She prefers to remain anonymous, for good reasons.  I encouraged her to write this essay, so more people could learn from her hard-won wisdom.

If we are to better protect children, bishops, pastors and priests need to be alerted to many situations where their well-intentioned decisions, could expose children to much more risk.

She writes,

As you are aware, the Royal Commission has revealed that churches can so miss the mark in their response to child sexual abuse that they can cause untold harm. If we are to better protect children, bishops, pastors and priests need to be alerted to many situations where their well-intentioned decisions, could expose children to much more risk. This [essay] offers help through practical hints, and checklists of common blind spots that have led to so much damage. It includes hints and sample wording to assist leaders of denominations and leaders of local congregations, to be wiser shepherds when responding to children, victims, offenders and congregations about such difficult issues. 

This is not a high-level academic essay, but includes wise observations and practical advice, that come out of deep and demanding ministry.

I was particularly struck by her observation that sexual abusers often choose churches because they are sure they will be welcomed, and how expertly they ‘groom’ the ministers and church leaders before they begin ‘grooming’ their targets.

She also suggests ways of dealing with different people with conflicting needs: the victim, the abuser, other potential victims, and the congregation. High-level pastoral wisdom and skill is needed.

The essay is not an easy read, but is highly recommended. I wish I had read it 50 years ago!

The author also reminds us:

This [essay] is not meant to distract from your obligations to comply with government legislation, inform police or follow your denomination’s protocols.

Make sure you know current government legislation and reporting requirements in your state or territory!

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