Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keeping Children Safe in Faith Communities

Everyone knows the stories of child molestation in the Catholic Church, but the reality is that children are abused in congregations of all denominations. And too few churches, synagogues and mosques have actively considered how to keep children safe.

Today, I worked with a group of ten ministers from congregations in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania on developing policies to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse and harassment and to determine under what circumstances, if any, a convicted or confused sex offender can be involved in the congregation. The workshop was based on my books Balancing Acts and A Time to Heal: Protecting Children and Ministering to Sex Offenders.

I'm always a little surprised how many myths people have about child sexual abuse. The culture emphasizes stranger danger, when the reality is that 9 in 10 children who are abused know the abuser well; in the case of girls, it's most likely an adult male who is a family friend - for boys, in 45% of the cases it's a teenage girl. And most of these ministers, like most people in the general public, vastly overestimate the number of people who will reoffend. According to a Department of Justice report of 61 studies, less than 13% of offenders who have received treatment will reoffend. Congregations can provide people with a community of support and accountability if they are willing to limit their involvement to adult worship and adult education and sign a written agreement.

Every faith community has an obligation to make a commitment to keep children safe -- from the person who is know to have a history of molesting children and from those whose sexual attraction to children is unknown to anyone but themselves. Half a million children are sexually abused each year -- faith based communities must begin to play a greater role in prevention of this social and public health crisis.

PS I will be at conferences the next three days, and won't be posting new entries until Monday. But, why not go to our web site and read our latest newsletter?

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