Recent cases of sex abuse of minors in churches by church staff have raised a number of important questions. Perhaps the first question that current church leaders might need to answer is when a report of past abuse should be reported to the police. While blogs and comments are an important forum for discussing such things, often information is a mixture of opinions, questions, ponderings, and facts.
This article from LifeWay’s Facts and Trends of May 18, 2018 is particularly helpful.
Texas attorney Kimberlee Norris often gets calls from child sex abuse victims looking for representation—but the people calling her are no longer children.
Many are in their 30s or 40s, wanting help decades after having experienced child sexual abuse.
“For the first time, many are seeing the cyclical damage caused by past abuse and are looking for accountability,” Norris says.
So, is it ever too late to call the police?
“The bottom line is if it should have been reported then, it should be reported now,” Norris says.
“And that’s particularly true if a ministry worker realizes or comes to believe a cover-up has occurred.”
The quotation above is from a lawyer whose organization, MinistrySafe, is a partner with my state convention. I am familiar with it and am currently working to implement the system in church.
A few things from the article:
- The average age of victims who call the law firm for representation is in the mid-30s and deals with abuse years in the past.
- The recommendation is for adults who were abused as children to file a police report.
- While there are statue of limitations on offenses in many states, filing a report may encourage other victims to come forward and corroborate the accusations against a single individual.
- Norris says that if a church leader hears “an abuse allegation comes to your attention—especially in the context of a ministry position—and [the leader] choose[s] not to report it, it just doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’ in terms of public perception,” not to mention that victims need support and understanding.
Thousands of churches are implementing child protection systems that include education on sex abuse of minors. It’s my view that if you as a church leader do this the most likely incident that will come forward is that of an adult in your church who relates a case of abuse that occurred when they were a child.
What will you do?
It’s easy to be indignant about other cases where abuse was not reported but if a 25 year old woman came to you and said she was abused by a church staff member ten years ago in another church in another state, what’s your response? If she added she didn’t want the matter reported to police nor did her family want the matter reported to the police then what course of action would you take? You may be required to report.
Reporting statutes vary among the states. In my state all clergy and church volunteers (and many others) are mandatory reporters. Priest/penitent exceptions are confusing to me and I’m not an expert on this but the general principle that we should act in ways that protect children should prevail.