Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan | What Is Child Sexual Abuse?

Sunday school activity. The young girl reported the incident to her parents and Bob was apprehended. The church leaders hearing this confession sat in disbelief. How could Bob, a successful businessman, husband, father of three children, and respected church worker commit such actions?

Who is the typical child molester? Some church leaders assume that molesters are “strangers wearing trench coats” or “dirty old men.” These stereotypes not only are inaccurate, but they dangerously contribute to a false sense of security. Researchers in the field of child sexual abuse currently indicate that no one profile fits the various perpetrators of abuse. Church leaders can become preoccupied screening stereotypes, while not suspecting the real molester could be an active adult or teen in the church. Consider the following:

• Over 80 percent of the time, the abuser is someone known to the victim

• Most abuse takes place within the context of an ongoing relationship

• The usual offender is between the ages of 20- 30 years

• 20 percent of sex offenders begin their activity before the age of 18

• Child abusers often are married and have children

Understanding the Behavioral Profile of Molesters Key point: Church leaders need to be on guard for any adult who attempts to isolate children or develop special relationships with needy children apart from the involvement of other adults. Based on 30 years of work with the FBI as a Special Agent fighting crimes against children, Kenneth Lanning has developed a typology that profiles the complex behaviors of sex offenders. According to Lanning, sexual offenders function along a motivational continuum that ranges from situational sex offenders to preferential sex offenders. Understanding some basic aspects of that continuum can be helpful to church leaders in responding to the problem of child sexual abuse.


Preferential Sex Offenders As the title implies, “preferential” offenders have a particular sexual preference, often for children of a particular age and gender. While these individuals are few in number, a single perpetrator can molest hun- dreds of children. They are extremely dangerous be- cause of their predatory nature. They actively seek victims and will engage in bold and repeated attempts to molest children. Lanning notes that these individ- uals develop long-term patterns of abusive behaviors, and are willing to invest significant amounts of time, energy, money, and other resources to fulfill their sex- ual needs. Preferential molesters may be victims of sexual abuse, are generally male, single, over 25 years of age, and live alone or with their parents, although none of these factors may be significant. According to Lanning, they have an excessive interest in children, seek access to children, frequently move to avoid be- ing caught, maintain pornographic collections, and also photograph children.

Preferential sex offenders pose a unique and serious danger to churches. These individuals may appear as the ideal worker for children. They enjoy being with children, and will spend an excessive amount of time socializing with them. They are also very intentional and selective concerning their victims. Over time, they refine their skills in seducing children. Further- more, these individuals may be very hardworking and skilled individuals in their everyday work life, and may be among the best and most dedicated of all church workers. They may even develop good rela- tionships with the parents of the children they mo- lest. Since most churches find it hard to recruit adults to work with children, finding someone that enjoys being with children, and who is willing to invest sig- nificant amounts of time in church programs, may be viewed as a blessing. In such a case, ignorance about the risk and profile of preferential molesters puts children at risk. The best way to ward off preferential sex offenders is to develop an environment that puts the molester at risk rather than the children. That process begins with the development of a thorough screening program for both paid and volunteer work- ers, and continues with proper supervision and ac- countability.

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