“Nothing destroys a child’s faith like child abuse does.” Victor Vieth
Child sexual abusers span all genders, socio-economic statuses, religions, and nationalities. So what is the one trait most abusers share? 93% of abusers claim to be religious or very religious. A report came out last year showing 700 sexual assault victims in 20 years in Southern Baptist churches. We’ve all heard the horrific stories of abuse in the Catholic Church, but this isn’t a Baptist problem, and it isn’t a Catholic problem. It is an abuser problem.
Please don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a church leadership problem either. The majority of perpetrators are not religious leaders, but the majority of perpetrators use religion to abuse. Most children are abused by someone they know and frequently in some type of family relationship. Child sexual abuse is about power and control, and many faith-based messages such as obedience, forgiveness, sin, and shame can, unfortunately, be distorted by an abuser and used against an innocent child. If you don’t think someone you know would do such a thing, please click here to read, The Three Things Parents Need to Know About Child Sexual Abuse.
Abuse can be found in every faith community. Why? Because abusers seek out people that are good, honest, forgiving, trustworthy, and will give them the benefit of the doubt. Abusers also seek out places they can hide and manipulate. Faith communities need to be aware of this and have appropriate policies and accountability systems in place so abusers can’t hide or manipulate there.
Our advocacy center provides training to faith communities put on by Victor Vieth and the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center that is now a part of the Zero Abuse Project. Here are a few important points from the training:
- 93% of sex offenders describe themselves as religious or very religious.
- Abusers distort a child’s faith to abuse them.
- Abusers weaponize a child’s innocence, trust, guilt, shame, love, and faith.
- Abusers like “cheap grace” – they know all they have to do is cry or mouth the words of sorrow or repentance.
- Abusers assume you are gullible.
- Abusers are very good at lying. – Most of us are not, but abusers have been lying their whole life and do it effortlessly.
- Abusers have “cognitive distortions” and justify their actions as not being bad or that they are actually helping the child.
- How church leaders respond to a survivor can make or break their faith.
- Most survivors don’t want to sue their church – they just want them to act like Christians and make sure this does not happen again.
- Don’t ever require a survivor to forgive their abuser – if you do, you may be no better to them than their abuser, because the abuser has probably been telling the victim they must forgive or they are not a good Christian.
- Forced forgiveness is not forgiveness and may actually harm the survivor’s healing. Forgiveness is personal and up to the survivor and their timeline of healing.
- Most survivors feel somehow responsible for the abuse, so it is important to talk to the survivor about justice and righteousness – not forgiveness. They need to hear Jesus’s words to abusers that it is better for a millstone to be hung around their neck and cast into the sea than for anyone to hurt a child.
- Survivors need to know there is a difference between sinning and being the victim of sin. They need to hear that they did not do anything wrong, and God condemns the actions of the abuser.
- Most people rally around the offender and ostracize the victim. Why? Because everyone is opposed to child abuse in the abstract, but when it happens to someone you know, the natural inclination is to look for some other explanation.
We stop child sexual abuse by holding perpetrators accountable. The main way to stop child abuse is to believe the child. We then have a 100% chance of stopping a predator if we believe and defend the first child the first time they say the name of their abuser.
These are obviously only a few points from a two-day training that I can’t recommend highly enough not just for faith communities, but really it is important for anyone working with children. Click here for more information. Click here to read: When Faith Hurts: The Spiritual Impact of Child Abuse
Above all believe, protect, and defend the child. Whatever risk you may feel you’re taking to stand with the child, is nothing compared to the risk they are taking to tell you. You will not regret choosing the child.