“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
Scream! Kick! Run!
That’s what kids are taught to do when confronted with a stranger trying to harm them. But the advice to “scream, kick and run” doesn’t work with a step-parent or Good ol’ Uncle Joe. It is not the responsibility of children to defend themselves against adults. Adults need to step up and be protectors for children.
Ask nearly anyone and they will say that they would speak up if they thought a child was being sexually abused. Almost no one believes they would knowingly allow harmful sexual behavior to continue if they knew for sure that it was going on. And yet, millions of children continue to suffer from sexual abuse in their own homes. Many of them believe, correctly, that someone else knows, or should know, about their situation. But then little or nothing is done to protect them. Some children tell adults what’s going on; seeking protection and help, only to be met with disbelief, denial, blame, or even punishment.
Approximately 90% of children who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family. Step-parents, family friends, relatives and persons in positions of authority over the child are more likely than strangers to commit sexual assaults against the child. In fact, a child who lives with someone other than their biological parent is 33 times more likely to suffer from child sexual abuse than a child who lives with biological parents.
One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
These numbers may be even higher because many child sexual abuse victims never disclose their abuse to anyone. Less than 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the police. The average age for first time sexual abuse is 9 years old!
Imagine for a moment that you’re the child who has been sexually abused by someone in the safety of your own home—In your own bedroom! You may feel doubly betrayed by someone’s failure to help. You were in danger, they could have protected you but they chose not to. And to make matters worse, when you speak up to the one person that you trusted to tell, they refuse to believe you or actually blame you! No excuses or rationalizations for their failure would seem acceptable.
Would you feel more anger toward a non-abusive adult who didn’t speak up or toward the person who actually abused you? You may have expected the worst from the abuser, who was clearly deeply disturbed and had little or no concern for you, but you expected better from someone who was supposed to be caring, loving and worthy of trust. And this anger may last for decades.
There are over 805,000 sex offenders living free in the united states today. Texas and California has the most with over 80,000 followed by Florida with nearly 70,000. You can check your own state HERE.
The crime of silence in the Church
The statistics of child sexual abuse are startling to say the least. But what makes this even more heartbreaking is that these statistics aren’t much different in the Church. The apostle Paul spoke against this type of sin to the Corinthian Church: “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do.” (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) He went on to rebuke them for not doing anything about it.
Many in the Church today are guilty of the same thing. But what is even more repugnant is when child sexual abuse is discovered within a church member’s home and many decide to hide it within the walls of their church rather than report it to the police. This is not only ludicrous and unbiblical, it is against the law!
In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul teaches that believers are to be subject to the civil authorities. “For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong.” (Romans 13:1-4) Child sexual abuse has been deemed to be criminal by the civil authorities deserving just punishment. Child sexual abuse should be a matter of public alarm. Not only because of the long term psychological problems it causes for the child, but also because of the ripple effect it causes in countless of lives.
While the right to silence is a right we have in order to guard against self-incrimination, a witness of a crime who doesn’t stand up and testify on behalf of the victim of a crime is held as an accomplice in the crime. (Leviticus 5: 1)
Abuse flourishes when adults do not take responsibility for protecting children. Many Christians would rather avoid this difficult topic, and so they do not understand how abusers operate. Abusers almost always go out of their way to appear trustworthy. They are master manipulators. They disarm with a facade of generosity and kindness. With the Bible so readily available to us, we in the Church should be least likely to fall prey to this, but sadly we do.
So what do we do?
First, adults must own up to the problem of child sexual abuse and accept responsibility for protecting children in their care.
Secondly, we must report suspected child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. Child sexual abuse is a crime, and in many states an adult’s failure to report a reasonable suspicion of abuse is also a crime. Serious crimes should not be addressed with church discipline alone, and there are few crimes worse than child rape and molestation.
Sadly, even when perpetrators are arrested and charged with child sexual abuse, many times they are allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and most judges only sentence them to probation and register as a sex offender.
Sadly, the Sex Offender Registration law in many states does not have any restrictions on registered sex offenders.This is a common misperception.The SOR law also does not have the legal jurisdiction to prevent an offender from entering schools, playgrounds, children’s museums, daycare centers or refrain from living with or socializing with children or other vulnerable persons.The SOR law can only mandate that the offender register his or her required information at the sheriff’s office within the required time. Period!
You can be a voice for victims of child sexual abuse by writing to your senators. Last year I wrote to the Governor of Nebraska and 18 senators, voicing my concern about sexual child abuse and the SOR law. All of them ignored me. So I wrote to two more senators. There are now a few senators that drafted a bill that will do more to protect children from sexual predators. They plan to bring it to the senate floor during the next session. It’s not all that I wanted, but it’s a small step toward it.
I am just one person. Imagine what would happen if hundreds of you wrote the same kind of letters to your senators. Information on how to contact your senator is at: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
We must be willing to openly confront child sexual abuse and give of ourselves so that those impacted by it can experience the healing and transformative power of Jesus.
For decades, adults have put the burden on children to come forward if they are being abused. This status quo has failed. Because abusers spin a web of manipulation and lies around a child, children cannot protect themselves and rarely tell about abuse without another adult’s help. While teaching our kids about their bodies and sexual boundaries are vital, these actions alone cannot keep kids safe. Adults must take that burden off children. The antidote to child sexual abuse is faithful adults working together to create a safe environment for children.
For more information on what you and your church can do to protect children from sexual predators visit: http://byfaithonline.com/key-questions-about-child-sexual-abuse-in-the-church/
I recently received letters from Nebraska senators Sara Howard and Brett Lindstrom who are working to bring bills to the legislature that will provide more protection for child sex abuse victims. Brett Lindstrom has introduced bill LB60 to address custody issues and convicted sex offenders living in the homes of children. It mandates that the non-custodial parent receive written notification when a sex offender is residing with the children or is allowed unsupervised contact with the children. It also clarifies the standard judges must use when declaring their opinions to what is in the best interest of the children and that there is no significant risk to the children in doing so.
Sara Howard has created the Office of Inspector General specifically to provide independent oversight of the child welfare system. The recent report by the Inspector General discovered that at least 36 children in foster care had been sexually abused over the last three years. Sara Howard is on the Health and Human Services committee and will be working with the Inspector General on how to improve the system.
This is not everything I had hoped for, but it’s a good start. Just imagine what would happen if hundreds of people wrote to their senators.