Thursday, May 29, 2008

Preventing the sexual abuse of children; keeping our churches safe

Republic Act 7610 is our country’s law on the prevention of child abuse and exploitation. Section 3 (b) of the law enumerates the various forms of child abuse, among others, as psychological and physical abuse, neglect, cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment. In this post, I will focus on the issue of child sexual abuse, how parents can deal proactively with this problem, and how local Baptist churches can ensure a safe environment for children.

I know that some pastors, church officers and members will react immediately and negatively to this article, and insist that child sexual abuse has never happened and will never happen in Baptist churches. I beg to disagree not only because of the information posted below but also because of personal knowledge.

As a schoolteacher, I have known several students who were sexually abused. One student (valedictorian of his high school class) was sexually abused by a relative when he was about seven years old. Another student was repeatedly sexually abused by his two older brothers

As a lawyer, I have been consulted by some pastors and members on issues dealing with sexual abuse not only in their communities but also in their churches. One pastor who ministers in a depressed area in Metro Manila told me of numerous cases of girls being abused by their own fathers.

Several years ago, a staff member from a Central Luzon church informed me that some children in her church were molested by a middle-aged man. When the pastor learned about these incidents, he made the man kneel, confess and ask forgiveness from the victims and the parents. The pastor then warned the parents and the children involved not to talk about the incidents, otherwise God would curse them. The staff member told me that the parents were not satisfied with the actions taken by the pastor and were seeking legal help.

That staff member also told me that she saw that molester attending a Baptist church in another place. When I talked to a staff member of that other church to warn it about the presence and history of that man, incredibly I was told that everyone was welcome to attend their church!

(I believe in repentance, confession, grace and God’s transforming power. But I also believe in church discipline, accountability and that anyone with a history of perpetrating child sexual abuse should not be allowed to have access to children.)

Several years ago, a senior pastor asked me about what to do with a church member involved in several acts of sexual misconduct. The pastor wanted to know the legal consequences of informing the church that person was transferring to about the sexual misconduct.

The most tragic and saddest incident I have known is that of a church member who was sexually abused by his own pastor.

And yet, for various reasons like naiveté, the fear of the church losing its testimony, indifference, embarrassment, or lack of knowledge, some pastors and churches have refused to act proactively or even acknowledge the potential problem of child sexual abuse. Two years ago, I obtained posters from CPTCSA (a non-governmental organization) on the warning signals about child molesters. I gave these posters to several pastors, and yet, not one of these posters was displayed in their church school premises.

There are numerous resources available on the Internet on the issue of child sexual abuse. What I will do in this post is to give highlights of these resources and provide the links so that you can read the articles in their entirety.

Child sexual abuse is happening in Baptist churches

Consider the following reported incidents involving pastors and staff members:

[1] “Huge Southern Baptist Church rocked by sexual abuse charges

Pastor Paul Williams, who directs prayer programs and special projects at the Bellevue Baptist Church outside of Memphis, has been forced to take a leave while a church committee investigates charges that Williams sexually molested a family member 17 years ago. Williams has been at Bellevue for 34 years, reports Agape Press, a news service run by the American Family Association.
[2] Lawsuit Charges Sexual Abuse of Teen by Florida Baptist Minister in 1960s

A Southern Baptist minister who has worked at two Central Florida churches is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a teenage church pianist in Texas nearly four decades ago.

The Rev. Thomas Gilmore, who worked as children's minister at First Baptist Church of Oviedo and had been consulting at Cornerstone Community Church in Seminole County, is accused of coercing the girl, who was 16 at the time, into sex during six months in 1968 and 1969. According to the suit, Gilmore told her the sexual acts were God's will. At that time, the age of consent in Texas was 18.

C.L. Brown, the complainant, ended her lawsuit in February 2006. The First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch issued a formal apology to Brown for the "very serious sexual abuse" that was inflicted on her by its prior minister Tommy Gilmore when she was a girl in the church youth group. The church expressly confirmed that its music minister had knowledge of the fact that Gilmore had sexual contact with Brown as a minor. Despite that long-standing knowledge, the church's response to Brown's report of abuse was "inadequate and less than compassionate," according to its own admission, and Gilmore remained in ministry in Florida until Brown finally resorted to filing a lawsuit.

[3] Baptist Pastors Accused of Sexual Abuse; One Lawsuit Settled, the Other Is Ongoing against Denton County Men

Two Denton County Baptist ministers have been sued by women who accuse the pastors of sexual abuse when the women were teenagers.

Larry Reynolds, pastor of Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, and Dale "Dickie" Amyx, pastor of Bolivar Baptist Church near Sanger, were accused in separate lawsuits filed in June.

As part of the settlement agreement, Dr. Reynolds issued an apology at a church Thanksgiving banquet Nov. 19, saying he was happy to report that all parties would soon be "dismissed" from the suit and that he needed to read a prepared statement "to bring closure to this process."

"Twenty years ago I made a terrible mistake,"(Dr. Reynolds) the 59-year-old pastor said at the banquet, calling it a "lapse of judgment that caused one of our parishioners great harm."

"Amyx by contrast was never required to confess to the congregation that he had committed the crime of raping a young girl under his ministry. Instead, Calvary Baptist Church simply assisted in Amyx's transfer to a church in Arizona for a period of time."

The suit said that the abuse continued through Ms. Vasquez's college years and that Mr. Amyx stalked her as she moved from city to city to try to escape his attention.

In a sworn deposition Mr. Amyx gave Nov. 14, he insisted that Ms. Vasquez was 17 – the age of consent – when he began having sex with her.
[4] New Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Baptist Church

At a news conference, a new civil sexual abuse lawsuit against a local fundamentalist Baptist church will be announced. The lawsuit names the Baptist Church, Marquette Manor Baptist Church of Downers Grove, IL, and its former youth pastor, Edward D. Greene
[5] When clergy prey, women pray to be heard

The first time the pastor of her church made sexual advances, Deborah Dail said no.

"No" was her answer the second and third time the Baptist pastor propositioned her, the Denton mother of two said.

But as her resolve unraveled and her confusion mounted, Dail became sexually involved with the pastor in the county where she lived then.

[6] Baptist churches more vulnerable to clergy sex abuse, By Hannah Elliott

Inappropriate behavior by clergy cuts across all denominational ties and theological positions, ethicist Joe Trull said. But he says a case can be made that “nondenominational churches and Baptist churches who have autonomous church government are more vulnerable and susceptible” to instances of sexual abuse.“ In a sense, every one of these situations has certain commonalities,” he said. “But on the other hand, each one has its own unique face. In a sense, they’re all different, but in a sense, they’re all alike.”

The editor of Christian Ethics Today, Trull co-wrote Ministerial Ethics in 2004 and taught Christian ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Possibly if you looked at the statistics, I think there would be a higher incidence [in nondenominational and Baptist churches] because of a lack of accountability,” he said. “[Pastors there] have not been prepared by their denomination. There is still that attitude in seminaries and colleges that prepare these pastors that they’re on their own. It’s that CEO mentality. And the thing that grieves me is that there’s absolutely no sense of how this [misconduct] affects other ministers and churches.”

While Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestant denominations have “spelled-out” obligations for ministerial ethics, Baptist clergy lack a code of ethics to which they can be held accountable.

Precautions and safety measures taken by some Baptist churches

In view of these incidents of sexual abuse in churches, some Baptist churches have instituted safety and prevention measures. Among the safeguards these churches have instituted are criminal background checks for potential staff, asking these applicants to fill out consent forms for disclosure of confidential information and making sure that there are always two adults present when teaching or taking care of a child.

[1] First Baptist Church of Waukegan Child Abuse Prevention Policy

[2] Guidelines For Preventing The Sexual Abuse Of Minors by Rison Baptist Church, Arkansas, USA
Facts and statistics on child abuse in the Philippines

[1] is a website that features organizations in the Philippines, both state-run and non-governmental, that work on the issue of child protection. It is a project supported by the Arci Cultura E Sviluppo, Save the Children (UK) Philippines, and UNICEF Manila with the participation of eight other organizations. Among its statistics on child abuse are:

There are 1.5 million streetchildren. DSWD estimates that this number increases annually by 6,365.

Of the 1.5 million streetchildren, 60,000 are prostituted (ECPAT 1996). The DSWD claims that the annual average increase of prostituted children is 3,266.

The Philippines is the fourth country with the most number of prostituted children (Intersect, December 1995).

Research studies conducted in schools show that for every 3 Filipino children, one child experiences abuse (Manila Bulletin, 11 February 1996). During the first semester of 1999 alone, there were 2,393 children who fell prey to rape, attempted rape, incest, acts of lasciviousness and prostitution (DSWD 1st semester, CY 1999).
[2] Most Negros rape victims are children, from Philippine Daily Inquirer Visayas Bureau, by Romey G. Amarado

Police recorded a total of 145 rape cases in Negros Oriental between January and June this year. 122 of them were children according to the Women and Children's Concerns Desk (WCCD) of the PNP. Of the 51 cases that were directly recorded by the WCCD, 42 of them were children, half of them under the age of 12 and the rest, aged 15 to 17. The majority of the victims were girls and the youngest was a four-year-old boy raped by his uncle in Dumaguete City. Two cases were incest; eleven and sixteen year-old girls were the victims.

Last year 94 cases were reported, 70 of these were children. Twenty-four of the victims were 12 years old and younger. The youngest victim in 2000 was a two-year-old girl. Researches hold that most cases of rape are unreported and for every one that is reported at least ten more can be presumed. The WCCD is conducting children's rights awareness seminars which in turn, seems to be resulting in more reports of child abuse.

Myths and facts about sexual abuse

One great secular resource on child sexual abuse is the blog Telling It Like It Is, with articles written by Lin Burress. Very candidly, Lin reveals that she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Despite learning all she could about the issue and teaching her children about the warning signs, Lin says that “one of her sons was sexually abused at a young age by a highly respected church minister and close family friend, inside the church she attended at that time.”

In Lin's article entitled Child Molestation Prevention Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse”, she tackles the issues of (a) Signs of Sexual Abuse; (b) Why Don’t Children Tell? And (c) What Can Parents Do To Keep Children Safe?" Lin warns that:

Most sexual abuse is committed by people the child already knows such as friends, relatives, caregivers, trusted adults as well as complete strangers. Sexual abuse takes many forms and can involve forcing, coercing, bribing or threatening a child into sexual activity. The abuse often begins gradually and increases over time unless discovered.
Among other valuable articles in Lin’s blog are the following:

Danger signals about sexual predators; local resources available

The Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) is a non-profit, non-government, child-focused institution working towards a safe world for children free from sexual abuse exploitation. This NGO, based in UP Village, Quezon City, has numerous materials on the prevention of child sexual abuse, including a ten-session Sunday School material. Some materials are free while others are for sale.

In its flyers and posters, CPTCSA enumerates some of the early warning signals and telltale signs of sexual offenders which children - and their parents - should be aware of. These are:

[1] Offender says you are special, different or the only one who really understands him

[2] Treats you differently from other kids; gives you special privileges; treats you like an adult while he acts like a kid

[3] Says he is teaching you sex education by showing you pornographic pictures or movies; he shows his body or touches yours

[3] Puts lotion or ointment on you when your mother or others are not around (even when you don’t need the ointment)

[4] Offenders hang around school, yard or park where children play; tells you “not to tell” or asks to “keep a secret”

[5] Does not let you have friends or does not let you do things that other kids your age do

[5] Comes into your bedroom for no reason

[6] Asks you to do things that involve physical contact or touching of private parts

[7] Offender wants to spend time alone with you; makes excuses for you to go places with him

[8] Asks questions or makes accusations about sex between you and your boyfriends

[9] “Accidentally” comes into the bathroom when you are taking a bath; not respecting your privacy

[10] May fool your parents into allowing you to be “friends” through bribes and other tricks

The CPTCSA books and flyers also list “Wants to take your pictures” as an early warning signal and telltale sign of sexual offenders, but since photography is the number one hobby in the world, this sign should be taken not in isolation but in relation with the other warning signs.

Valuable resources on the issue of child sexual abuse and prevention

If you want to avail of print materials and videos on the issue of child sexual abuse and how your church or ministry can proactively deal with this problem, please surf to the Reformed Churches in America website.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008