All communities are scarred by the destructive evils of child abuse. In fact, the rate of child abuse in the United States is ten times the rate of cancer. Studies show that:
1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually abused as children.
But sadly the Church has largely ignored physical, sexual, emotional, and even spiritual child abuse, despite the prevalence of abuse within faith communities. Even more disheartening: Christians have often unwittingly contributed to the suffering of victims because of a failure to protect children and adequately respond to disclosures of sexual abuse. Additionally, clergy and lay leaders often overlook the many needs of those within their congregations who are adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Child abuse eats away at faith.
There is no doubt that child abuse profoundly impacts a child’s faith, and this spiritual damage is often compounded by the inadequate response of a child’s faith community. As a result, many survivors of child abuse flee the church, wanting nothing to do with God.
Child abuse spreads like cancer in the Body of Christ.
Most people recognize that we can’t haphazardly remove a cancerous tumor and trust that a person’s health will improve with no further action. Rather, cancerous growths are studied carefully, and the body is scanned in search for traces of cancer elsewhere, and patients are given carefully monitored treatment plans that include follow-up care for days, months, even years after the cancer is removed.
But too often faith leaders are ill-equipped to understand how children experience abuse and how offenders operate, thus failing to remove the cancer. They don’t know how to recognize signs of abuse or how to protect children from experienced abusers. Without the proper training, faith leaders don’t know how to measure the scope of the abuse and all too often have failed to effectively respond to abuse disclosures.
There are over 60 million child abuse survivors living in the US, and many of them grew up in professing Christian homes and faith communities.
The abused are all around us, regardless of religion, race, or gender. If the Christian community doesn’t know how to protect children from experienced abusers, recognize the signs of abuse, measure the scope of the abuse, and effectively respond to past or present abuse disclosures, the abused and those who abuse them will slip through the cracks of our ignorance, despite our best intentions. The development of legally and spiritually sound child protection best practices and response protocols can lead to better abuse recognition, prevention, and response; and GRACE can help.