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

Situational Sex Offenders

Church leaders should also be familiar with situa- tional sex offenders. Far more situational molesters exist in our society than preferential sex offenders, but they have fewer victims. As the title implies, a “sit- uational” sex offender is an opportunist and engages in misconduct when a situation develops or exists that makes the abuse possible. Situational molesters may engage in a wide range of abusive behaviors with individuals of all ages, and do not fit any single profile. What they share in common is the willingness to en- gage in sexual misconduct given the opportunity. They may use force or coerce their victims, be indis- criminate concerning whom they molest, and act completely on impulse. Consider the following ex- ample:

John, who is 27 years of age, married, and the father of a two-year old child, serves as a supervisor for the church youth group. Each Sunday evening, John drives several members of the group home following the youth meeting. Each time, the last member he drops off is a 15-year old girl who comes from a broken home. Recently, a pattern has developed where John and the girl sit in the car talking for an extended period of time. One thing leads to another and John has a sexual relationship with the girl.

In the above example, a situation develops that cre- ates the opportunity for the abuse to occur. Situation- al sex offenders are more likely to confess or feel re- morse than are preferential molesters. To reduce the risk of situational molestation, churches must create an environment of accountability. Screening and su- pervision represent the two key strategies to estab- lish such an environment and, in turn, reduce the risk of child sexual abuse in churches.

Both preferential and situational sex offenders oper- ate in churches. While we do not like to acknowledge the reality, these individuals include clergy, board members, respected volunteers, church employees, professionals, and people we think of as friends. They are not easy to identify in advance, but will not feel comfortable in an environment that poses a threat to them. Screening helps to put sexual offenders on no- tice that a church is on guard.

If abuse occurs in your church, a respected member will most likely be the molester. Emphasis upon “stranger danger” will leave your church ill prepared. While it’s uncomfortable even to consider this, the most likely assailants include clergy, Sunday school teachers, religious educators, nursery or preschool workers, teachers in a church operated school, camp counselors, scout leaders, and adults who volunteer to transport children to church. Trusted adults— male or female—can easily mislead children, and most incidents of child sexual abuse take place in the context of an ongoing relationship between the abuser and the child.

Thought Provokers • Does your church subscribe to a “stranger danger” type of fear when it comes to child abuse, or do you believe that your members are also capable of posing a threat to children?

• How can you help church members keep one another accountable for their actions with children?

• How might the leadership of your church communicate the warning signs of child sexual abuse and the profiles of abusers to church members in order to help protect children? n


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