Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan
If You Suspect What steps would you take?
“When the phone call came, it was if someone knocked the breath out of me.” That’s the response of one senior pastor as he explained how he felt upon finding out that his youth pastor had been accused of molesting a young boy in the youth group. The call had come from the father of the young boy. As he hung up the phone, he had no clue where to turn next.
Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear of yet another child being victimized and abused in some way. So just what should a church do if they think their church may be harboring a pedophile? What should leaders do if they suspect a child is being abused—in any way and at any time?
Plan Ahead First, pre-planning is critical. Making sure your staff, youth workers, children’s workers, and board members are screened and well trained is an important first step. Not only will you have taken the steps to reduce this happening at your church, but you will understand the dynamics of the whole situation as it unfolds. An important component of the pre-planning is to have a written response plan in place. If something occurs, you can pull out the pre-written plan and follow it.
Protect the Child
Upon hearing of an incident, the safety of the victim is vital. Take any steps necessary to create distance between the alleged suspect and victim. It is wise to temporarily remove any suspects, whether they are staff or volunteers, from any position that puts them in contact with minors.
Get Facts Quickly Then begin the fact-finding phase. Seek to gather as much initial information quickly. I can’t stress enough that no church or leader should think they should be the investigator of an incident. Leave this to professionals. This fact-finding step is to simply try and understand what is being alleged and who is involved. As soon as possible after the initial fact- finding phase, you should make sure the mandatory reporting is done according to your particular state’s requirements. Too often, church leaders delay this process to their own peril.
Offer Help Many victims and accused suspects report they feel immediately isolated and ostracized. Remember, we are people of faith. Countless churches offer careful, intentional pastoral care to the reported victims as well as the alleged perpetrator. Remember as well the families involved. To meet with them and offer prayer is a good and godly response.
Finally, always cooperate with authorities. They have a job to do. Obstructing their investigation not only delays getting the facts out, but may also put your church in a bad light in the community. Pray about the whole incident. Pray for those involved and the ministry of the church. Seek that truth will prevail and that lives may be restored. n
Christianity Today | ChurchLawAndTax.com
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