As I come across story after story of leaders in the church or those that profess to follow Christ involved in sexual molestation, child porn, sexual harassment, sexual assault on children, within church settings, and how poorly the church handles such cases, I find myself disgusted and angry. Through working at crisis centers for children for almost 10 years in my 20’s I understood the depravity of man even before I knew there was a theological category for it. It did not take much convincing for me to accept this particular aspect concerning the five points of Calvinism. I knew that it was possible for “man” (meaning people in general) to commit the most horrendous evil acts possible, especially when done to children. I was privy to these acts of evil by seeing first hand what it did and does to children, psychologically, emotionally, and behaviorally.
Was Jesus referring to people that commit heinous acts against children when he said……?
“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.“
How would child sex perpetrators cause little ones to sin?
Statistics show that those who have been molested, specifically boys, eventually will go on to be perpetrators, making more victims who then become perpetrators. The cycle is never ending.
For girls, they end up destroying themselves emotionally by detaching themselves from the evil that was committed against them and go on to live personally destructive lives by giving themselves away to anyone who will take them. Living promiscuous lives for years and suffering the consequences of it. I know all to well this life. I was raped at 17.
I am thankful for the training I received at the crisis centers I worked at. It made me a better parent, even if it was at the expense of paranoia….aka….over-protectiveness. My season in life of working with “at risk children” is no longer a daily part of my life, but the training and knowledge I received and digested is still with me.
Several years ago, after a move into a tiny new town, my family and I started attending one of the few local churches. It was our first visit to the new church and after the worship music began, I left the pew to use the restroom. I walked into the restroom and found a little girl, approx 11 yrs old crying her eyes out. Immediately I felt the heaviness of this situation when I walked past her to use the restroom. While I was alone in the stall, I looked up to God and asked Him quietly….whispering the words….
“what am I supposed to do with this God”.
We were new in town, for heavens sake. These people did not know me, nor did I know them. I was conflicted. I left the stall and walked over to the sink to wash my hands. I looked at her and asked her if she was ok.
“No. I’m not ok. I lost my necklace that my daddy gave me. I can’t find it anywhere”.
“Oh, I’m sure you will find it”….I said reassuringly.
“No I won’t. He’s dead and that was the last thing he gave me before he died and now I can’t find it”.
Immediately I felt relieved that she was crying over her father’s death. Not that a child losing a parent is not detrimental and heartbreaking…it is! I was just relieved that her crying was not over any sexual molestation issues that I first felt was the issue. Why would I assume it was molestation issues? I don’t know. I just had a feeling.
“Oh, I’m sorry your daddy died. When did he die?”
“When I was a baby”…she said.
My stomach dropped and I knew she was not crying over her dad’s death or the necklace. Something else was going on and she did not have the emotional maturity or the right words to express it. I scrambled as to what to say or what to do.
My mind raced. Ok, God. Did you bring us to this town so that I could be her advocate? Why me God? There is a pastor out there who probably knows her better than I do. Can’t he handle this situation? I didn’t want to be the new lady in town with the reputation for causing a ruckus.
So what did I do?
I patted her on the knee and told her she will be ok.
I walked out of the bathroom with a heavy heart, a guilty conscience and a burden that wasn’t mine…or at least so I thought.
A few years later, the little girl, who had turned 15, along with the girl’s mom, re-entered my life. She had indeed been molested. The molestation happened around the same time we moved into town and had been ongoing for several years. A local man was the perpetrator. He was arrested, charged, and now sits in jail. We lived in such a small town….and small town folk love to gossip…..so inevitably the victim and her mother were re-victimized by all the intrusive and destructive gossip circulating. School officials and town folks were far from supportive. The girl and her mother eventually had to leave town in order to get the emotional help they needed. The last time I saw this mother and her daughter, they had come over to my house so that I could help them process it all and to pray with them.
I cried for days after discovering that this precious girl, who was then 11 had been molested. I repented for not acting as the girls’ advocate when I first crossed paths with her. I prayed for peace because the guilt was swallowing me up.
In time, God did give me peace concerning the guilt…however I will never forget…and I don’t think I need to forget that I ignored being her advocate in place of ease of life and reputation. She literally had cried out to me, a stranger, and I did nothing.
As I think back to what could have prevented this young girl’s molestation….I am faced with the reality that parents don’t really want to talk about this issue with their kids. They think telling their kids about the dangers of sexual molestation and potential predators will cause undo anxiety and fear.
I think its dangerous not to.
Its important for parents to face the reality that, regardless of how uncomfortable it is, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s never too late or too early to talk to our kids about this subject.
We, as parents, need to equip our children with the appropriate ways to respond if they find themselves in the midst of a perpetrators grip….regardless of who the perpetrator is.
“Good upstanding church men“, many of whom are church leaders, are not except from becoming a sexual predator. I have read and seen reports of one too many who have led church youth groups, who have been kindergarten teacher’s at Christian school’s, principal’s at a Christian elementary, and some who have worked as a caregivers in church day care settings. It is often assumed that church sexual abuse oonly occurs in Catholic church settings, but that is far from the truth. Evangelical and Protestant church’s are just as prevalent in contributing to the deviancy of sexual predation.
It’s shocking to hear of men who go to church regularly and seem to genuinely selflessly serve in the church become known for preying on children and adolescents. Parents had no reason to not trust them. With no one reporting them to the proper authorities, they would have passed back ground checks with flying colors.
Here is a link to a small list of formally charged church leader predators earlier than 2003-ish time frame. These are just a few cases compared to the vast number of current cases and unreported cases. Remember, predators will only be charged if someone steps forward.
This is also not counting child sex offenses that have occured outside of a church setting.
USA TODAY recently reported on a child porn sting where law enforcement arrested 70 adults who were law abiding citizens. The article states the group includes “police officers, paramedics, a Little League coach, a nurse, nanny and a rabbi”.
According to the article, Kim Gorgens, a clinical associate professor of forensic psychology says “If you look at these pedophiliac predators, you couldn’t pick them out of a crowd.”
Obviously the scope is larger and significantly more exhaustive than any one person can put a handle on.
So, what do we do as parents. Do we run and hide our children? Do we look at everyone at church or in the community with suspicion? Do we just stop going to church or stop allowing our children to participate in community activities? We obviously cannot….so where do we start?
(from a parent to a parent)
1) Establish personal space with your children -(use words like personal space, personal bubble, bubble space- whichever one fits the best for you and your child) Tell your children to hold out their arm and draw a pretend bubble around their bodies. That is their personal space. Tell them that no one is allowed into THEIR space without permission. This one can be done as early as feasibly possible.
Explain that every one of us is entitled to having others respect our personal space.
I want my kids to know that our bodies are ours and ours alone. No one…not even siblings, are allowed to get into our personal space if we don’t want them to.
We have a no hitting rule in our house that is strictly enforced. No…we don’t even spank. I have rarely spanked my children. I can probably count on one hand the times I have spanked either one of my two young ones. There are so many ways to discipline a child without the use of spanking so I know I don’t have to use spanking as a form of discipline. If I am teaching them that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone, we, as parents need to respect that rule too.
The idea is to ingrain in their minds and impress upon their hearts that no one is allowed to enter their personal space without their permission.
This equips them with a sense of personal autonomy. Children who have a strong sense of personal autonomy for their own bodies, are less likely to be victims.
2) Once personal autonomy (personal space) has been established, its an easier transition to help our children understand that their private parts are theirs and theirs alone….. and no one is allowed to touch their private parts.
I have explained to my kids that no one….absolutely no one…is allowed to touch them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable….especially if a person attempts to touch their private parts. NO ONE!!!
Equipping them with the idea of overall personal autonomy in conjunction with the idea that no one is allowed to touch their private parts gives our children the extra mental and emotional strength to sense something is not right when perpetrators attempt to do things to them that we have told them no one is ever allowed to do.
3) Tell them the dangers that are out there- (in age appropriate ways of course)
My kids are old enough (8 and 13) to hear that “bad people” come in all forms. I have shared with them that there are “bad people” who pretend to be Christians, but really are not. I call these people “pretenders”- literally wolves in sheep’s clothing.
I have told them that there are people who teach kids, who lead churches, who help out in youth groups, as well as strangers, that look for ways to touch kids inappropriately.
The important things is to keep talking to them about it. Keep reminding them. Perpetrators will target children as old as 15 and 16. So keep talking to them!!!
I have told them that these bad guys will say things to kids to scare them into keeping secrets from parents, only so that they can touch their bodies without anyone finding out.
I’ve explained to my kids that I…their parent…am telling them that no one is allowed to touch them inappropriately yet if someone does and threatens them with a scary consequence if they tell their mom or dad, these bad guys are lying. Bad guys don’t want parents to know because the bad guys know its very wrong to touch kids in their private parts.
I can’t express this enough, so I’ll say it again….equip them to be aware that bad guys can be anyone…..from mommy and daddy’s friends, to really fun teachers, to babysitters, to Sunday school teachers, to strangers. They could even be older kids or teenagers that they know. No one was off limits when explaining who could be possible bad guys.
Let me add….I have explained to my kids that even though there could be bad guys that we know personally……we CAN NOT hide from the dangers or be afraid of everyone. Talking openly about who could be a potential perpetrator equips them and prepares them to not be caught off guard.
I told my kids that if they were ever in a situation where someone tried to get into their personal space and touch their private parts, regardless of who it is….they need get away as fast as they can.
They also need to tell us, their parents, AS SOON as is happens.
For those that have children in school and the incident happens at school, I recommend telling your children to get to a phone as soon as possible. Tell them not to wait until they get home. Have them go to the office and have the office personnel get in touch with you so your children can tell you directly. I would suggest even coming up with a code word that your child can tell you over the phone that you and your child have established before hand. This helps them feel immediately connected to you and helps them tell you something happened without having to go into all the details with other adults present.
Of course…you want to make sure that they only use this emergency system for incidents where someone has touched their private parts…not when someone invades their personal space for something silly like someone pulling their hair or another kid standing too close to them.
4) If your child tells you something happened….believe them!
Reassure them with lots of love and encouragement.
Ask simple yet probing questions as unobtrusive as possible, in light of what they just divulged.
Where did he/she touch you?
Where were you at?
Were there other grown-ups around?
Were there other children around? (if there were other children involved, call the police FIRST, then the other parents)
Did it happen more than once or was this the only time?
If you get that phone call from your child when they are at school, do not ask probing questions over the phone. Once your child gives you the code word, tell your child to hand the phone over to the office personnel and inform them that you are picking your child up and you do not want them to be sent back to their classroom. Drop what you are doing and immediately go pick up your child from school. Try to compose yourself before entering the school building, in case you are panicking. Once you are alone in the car with your child, then ask the probing question….calmly.
Again…let them know that they are brave for telling you!
Don’t show anger or frustration…even if the person your child is claiming to have done the molesting is someone you know and trust. Your child will take your anger to mean that you are angry at them and not the molester.
Stay calm and show love!
After you have gathered some preliminary facts call the police as soon as possible. Don’t delay. Don’t wait until the next day.
Calling the police as soon as possible not only allows the authorities to start their investigation more swiftly, but it also allows your child to see that this is serious and they are safe. It tells your child that you will do everything to protect them over whoever it was that molested your child…even it it turns out to be someone you love, trust or respect.
Remember, it will take a lot of courage for your child to tell you. They will be scared, not only for having to endure what happened to them, but also for mustering up the courage to tell you that they encountered a pretender – a person everyone thought was a safe person. That’s a lot of weight to carry around for child.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to call the police right away.
If what your child claims turns out to be factual, then there will be a record of it.
For more info please check out this pamphlet. Even though it’s directed toward churches as a whole, it’s good for parents to read these policies too. If your church does not have any of these policies in place, encourage your church leaders to find ways to implement them. Don’t wait for church leaders to take the lead in this. These are our children. Make your church leaders take this seriously.
Its going to be difficult and uncomfortable at first.
It gets easier though….trust me!!
If they see you feel uncomfortable about talking to them about keeping their private parts safe, imagine how uncomfortable it would be for them to bring to your attention that someone had already invaded their personal space or touched their private parts. They probably won’t do it.
The conversation will only get comfortable if you talk about it regularly and with consistency. Let them know this is important to you. Let them know this is for their protection.
Teaching our kids the importance of purity goes deeper than simply talking to them about the birds and the bees when they hit adolescence.
Protect them dear parents!
Let’s equip them with the right words and actions to safeguard them from perpetrators.
Let’s let them know…that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
People who we would not suspect as “bad guys”…yes…even church leaders or well respected people in the community or good family friends…even the neighborhood kids down the block. Anyone can be a “bad guy”.
BE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE!
Equipping our children is our first line of defense when waging war with wolves in sheep’s clothing.
(update- the mother and girl are doing well. they both are getting the help they need to heal. please continue to pray for this family for full emotional recovery)
Here are some other helpful links: (just click on the title and it will take you to the website.
Create Your Family Safety Plan