“Has anyone ever touched you in your bathing suit areas?”
She asks the question lightly, trying not to put too much pressure on her four-year-old. Mother and daughter are “making breakfast” in a play kitchen, and it seems like a good time for a check-up.
“No, mommy,” the little girl says as she scrambles her invisible eggs.
Phew. “Good. And would you tell mommy if someone did touch you there?”
“Yep! Can we eat lunch now? I want a sandwich!”
As they get up and head to the kitchen, all is well.
If you’re anything like me, you might consider this due diligence for preventing or at least opening the lines of communication around sexual abuse. Unfortunately, with 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys sexually abused before the age of 18, the matter is much larger and much more complicated than we care to admit.
I remember the distress of many when Stephen Collins, the cherished patriarch and parishioner on the hit show 7th Heaven, was revealed as a child molester. Though he only played a pastor on TV, it was hard to imagine the walls of our church, even those on our small screens, compromised with such sin. Stephen Collins and Josh Duggar and Jordan Root are high-profile examples of a low-level truth: the sin is already inside our churches and our communities. Sexual predators are among us, and it requires much more than a few cagey conversations with our kids to fight this evil.
Targeting the Church
“I considered church people easy to fool. . . . They have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”
This quote from a convicted child molester who spoke with Dr. Anna Salter for her book Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders expresses what many people implicitly understand but rightly fear: the church is not always a safe place for children. In fact, some studies claim that the church is more vulnerable to abuse than secular environments.
But how can that be true? Why would the church, a place of literal sanctuary, be more vulnerable?
Some guess that it’s because the church hosts so many classes, events, and activities for children there is simply a higher likelihood of abuse occurring. Another explanation may be that there is an underlying respect for authority within the church, so parents will be more trusting and children will be less likely to report abuse.
Surprisingly, the Abel and Harlow Child Molestation Prevention study revealed that 93 percent of sex offenders identified themselves as “religious.” And, according to Boz Tchividhian’s “Startling Statics,” “Other studies have found that sexual abusers within faith communities have more victims and younger victims.”