Predator Haven? Church Tackles Child Sex Abuse
Church should be the last place that parents worry about taking their children. But instead of a sanctuary, child sexual abuse experts say it can be dangerous for kids and can provide a friendly environment for predators.
Studies show that one out of four Americans are survivors of child sexual abuse. That poses a daunting challenge for churches trying to help the adult victims while also protecting potential victims.
"We so focus on issues of forgiveness and grace - offenders are drawn to these places. They're drawn to places where if they get caught, they simply need to cry and say they're sorry. And the church many times embraces them and places them back where they were," child sexual abuse expert Boz Tchvidjian said.
"Churches are also in great need of volunteers. I've never been to a church that was not in need of a volunteer. And churches are very trusting," he added.
To help churches in the fight against this trend, Tchvidjian began the Grace Initiative, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.
In recent years he's seen progress as believers talk more openly about the problem.
Tchvidjian would like to see more denominations and local churches developing policies that minister to survivors while also protecting kids.
"You have to know how offenders think and act so you can stay one step or two steps ahead of them," Tchvidjian said.
Often the biggest challenge for churches is learning how to respond to reports of abuse. In many instances abusers have been well-liked and trusted leaders.
Tchividjian described where the breakdown happens.
"When the 13- or 14-year-old kid in the youth group who's caused a lot of trouble in the youth group, who comes from a broken home, who maybe has had some trouble with the law, when that 13- or 14-year-old comes forward and says 'this particular person in the church has abused me' and when that person happens to be an elder or a leader or a well-respected person in the church - how are we going to respond?" he said.
Tchvidjian calls on churches to take sexual abuse reports to the authorities quickly and be prepared to minister to victims, offenders, and their families.
He said his shedding of light on darkness is the best way for the Church to move forward and demonstrate integrity in a fallen world.