Is Your Congregation Safe from Child Sex Abuse?

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Mark Serano was sexually abused by his priest.

It can happen in your congregation, too.

The crisis in the Roman Catholic Church is a stark reminder that people we love and admire may turn out to be sex offenders, capable of causing irreparable damage to young lives. Various studies indicate that a not-insignificant minority of adults (perhaps 3 to 20%) may experience some sexual arousal toward children or teenagers. Most do not act on their attractions, but some do – and they could well be some of the “nicest” people you know.

Despite the media myth that children are abused by strangers, in 90% of child sexual abuse cases, children know their abusers well. They are family members, teachers, scout leaders, athletic coaches, neighbors, babysitters and, as the world now knows, clergy.

Places of worship should be, and usually are, safe havens from the dangers of the world. Still, every congregation must implement policies and practices to reduce the possibility of sexual abuse.

Congregations should also have procedures in place for how to respond when someone in the congregation is accused of abuse, or when a person with a history of sexual offenses wants to begin attending the congregation. My book, A Time to Heal: Protecting Children and Ministering to Sex Offenders, is available from Christian Community.

An online guide, Balancing Acts: Keeping Children Safe in Congregations, developed for the Unitarian Universalist Association, offers provide a template appropriate for communities of faith in all traditions.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship can play an important role in helping prevent child abuse and equipping parents and children to be safe. Developing and implementing policies can assure that no child or teenager is abused in our sacred spaces.

Excerpts from an article by: Debra Haffner

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