What parents and church leaders need to know to protect children from sexual abuse
I once went to a conference dealing with the topic of parenting. This particular conference drew an audience of about a thousand people. Two years later, at the same church, I attended another conference. This second conference dealt with the topic of protecting children from sexual abuse and caring for those who were abused. The speaker for the conference was a nationally recognized individual. Guess how many attended.
Even in our more relaxed and open Western culture, presentations regarding abuse are approached with considerable hesitation. Most likely this is the result of the delicateness and complexity of the issues involved.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child or child’s family knows.
Every parent and church leader should step up to protect those under his or her care from abuse. It is essential to not fall into a complacent mode of thinking and assume that no harm can happen to one’s own child. An abuser could be a family member or a close friend or even a church member.
ProtectHisSheep, a ministry established to promote awareness and to prevent the abuse of children in churches, has recently released twenty stories from survivors. All of these incidents occurred to those who were part of conservative evangelical churches. Even worse, in almost all cases, the perpetrators were an immediate family member or a close acquaintance.
Failure to take protective steps will surely lead to more serious consequences for church members. Someone has rightly said ‘the best day to act was yesterday, and the next best day to act is today’.
What can parents and church leaders do to protect their children from abuse?
Justin Holcomb, who speaks and writes extensively on the topic lays out 9 Ways to Protect your children from sexual abuse.
One of those points is to teach proper names of body parts. Justin explains “It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.”
Parents will find the following book written by the Holcombs particularly useful as a tool to talk about sensitive issues with two to eight-year-old children.
God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies This book uses colorful and age-appropriate illustrations to teach children how to protect their bodies.
Teach Sexual Morality
The topic of sex immediately brings some kind of reluctance or intimidation to many. Because of this, as well as other reasons, teaching on sex is seldom conducted appropriately by those people who are naturally expected to do it. Teaching about sex is still a controversial topic in the United States. Does it have to be so?
The Bible often deals with the subject of sex and sexual immorality. Given this fact, how can Bible teachers, Sunday school teachers, parents, and church leaders shy away from giving those under their care crucial age-appropriate teaching on the subject?
Because of this lack of guidance, many young people or children learn about the topic of sex from improper sources. This could be through exposure to pornographic content perhaps introduced by a friend or classmate, or even through suffering personal abuse.
Is it better for parents, trained staff or a church leader to teach children about sexual morality and age-appropriate content on the topic? Or would you rather neglect proper responsibilities and let your child be exposed by a source that most likely is immoral and damaging to the child? Which would you choose?
The sexual exploitation of children may happen through popular technology including video games or online chat applications. Sexual predators actively seek out young children using the convenience of the less-protected virtual world. It is extremely important that parents proactively communicate about online safety and use clear guidelines to protect their children from abuse.
Help and Healing for victims
Sexual abuse is a traumatic experience and horribly affects an individual’s health, particularly one’s mental health. Seek help and find good resources if you are suffering from the trauma of abuse. Moreover, God is able to heal and He heals physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Based on their ministry of counseling victims of sexual assault the Holcombs have written on how the grace of God can heal the broken and restore the disgraced. The book, Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault is a powerful resource for anyone who has gone through the terrible experience of abuse.
Scripture warns us and current situations dictate that everyone must be watchful. We have seen that sexual abuse is not uncommon. Furthermore, we have noted that sexual predators are oftentimes an acquaintance. In this article, I have introduced some helpful resources for parents and church leaders to protect children from sexual abuse. Shying away from the issue will only make matters worse.
Protect His Sheep Ministries is started in 2018 by Merin Minch, Sherin Thomas, Jim McCarthy, Steve Price, and Brady Collier. They urge you to review the material presented on their website and learn what you can do to put a stop to the sinful and criminal abuse of children in our homes and churches.
Justin Holcomb’s resources are used with the author’s permission. Justin is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology and apologetics at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. Justin serves on the boards of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments), HeartSupport, and Leaders Collective. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, live in Orlando, Florida, with their two daughters.