Editor’s note: The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has invited nationally known attorneys Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris to lead two free workshops for church leaders on prevention of child sexual abuse. The workshops will be at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board on Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at First Baptist Church in Perry from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 14. In this article, Love and Norris encourage church leaders to stay on the lookout for children who may be victims of sexual abuse.
By Gregory Love
and Kimberlee Norris
As the church struggles to reopen ministry programs and navigate requirements related to masks and vaccinations, resist the urge to ‘back-burner’ sexual abuse prevention and reporting efforts. In this current cultural reality, sexual abuse risk should be a priority. Why?
Protecting Our Children
Children are precious and vulnerable. We shouldn’t need a legal or financial reason to give our best for their protection. Yet … legal and financial reasons continue to grow. The focus of this writing is not related to legal or financial risk; instead it is far more simple: do the right thing … because it is the right thing.
It is important that church leaders have eyes to see, but equally important that ministry leaders have a mouth that speaks.
Like many other states, adults in Georgia are mandated to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Abused children need us to take that mandate seriously – now more than ever. Effective systems to prevent sexual abuse of children in ministry contexts are imperative, but ministry leaders must also understand that children are commonly victimized in their core world: where the abuser is close to the child in the home, extended family or community. Pre-pandemic, the child’s core world risk was offset by the fact that the child had interaction with trusted adults outside the child’s core world: teachers, daycare providers, youth ministry workers and after-school mentors. During the pandemic, children have had the double difficulty of remaining in their core world with individuals who present risk, while not having access to the outside trusted adults. In short, our programs have pulled back, but the impact of child sexual abuse has not receded – for many it has intensified.
As we begin to re-engage in children’s and youth ministry, we must be prepared to interact with children who have been in harm’s way with no outlet for communicating harmful experiences. Ministry leaders are part of the child’s environment who can and should make a difference. Sadly, we will never accidentally do this well; we must receive instruction – about abuse, abusers and the need to report.
Need for Training
Because we cannot reduce or respond well to a risk we do not understand, the church needs training. We must better understand the risk of sexual abuse, how to prevent abuse, and mandatory reporting requirements. By so doing, the church creates safe environments for ministry programs and becomes part of the solution by responding well.
Upcoming events in Duluth and Perry will provide training for prevention and reporting. The training will discuss changes in the landscape related to sexual abuse: ramped up risk, insurance requirements, how abusers have adapted, and the continuing need for effective safety systems. Ministries will be directed to relevant resources to take the next right steps.
Prioritizing Sexual Abuse
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been hosting live and online trainings addressing sexual abuse prevention since 2013, raising the bar in hundreds of Baptist ministries in Georgia and elsewhere. Many churches, however, have not yet embraced the challenge to evaluate current safety efforts and take ‘next steps’. Georgia Baptists have another opportunity to access state of the art information and training. The challenge: join us in October and be prepared to do the next right thing.