A Reflection for Child Abuse Prevention Month

            The month of April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and I've been thinking of ways child abuse can be prevented. As I reflect on this continuous problem, I think of the countless stories of adults who have walked away from the faith because they had "Christian" parents or other "Christians" who abused them. If I'm honest, most of the abusers were leaders in the church.
            They lamented, "My dad would preach an amazing sermon at church, then come home and beat me and my mom." Or, "We went to church every time the doors were open, but when we were home, my dad would call us horrendous names." "My mom could quote almost every word in the bible, but would beat me bloody almost once a week." I could go on and on with the stories.
            I can't forget that one night I sat in the car with my friend Laura*. We sat for hours telling me about how her grandpa, the pastor, raped her countless times—except she didn't call it rape, she said he had sex with her. We were trying to understand her choices in men, so we traced her journey back to the beginning. She told me that her first bad choice was to become involved with an abusive drug dealer. She explained, "I had to get away from my family because I got tired of my granddad sleeping with me. I couldn't continue to go to church, then come home and let him sleep with me. So, I ran away with James*."
            I can think about my own life and I remember hearing about those church leaders who liked kids. My friends and I knew to stay away from them. Peter* liked little girls and Sam* liked little boys. Everyone knew. No one spoke up. No one reported. My heart aches for the little girls and boys who couldn't flee from Peter and Sam.
            I now spend my life advocating for the protection of kids. While I work in the child welfare system, the protection of children is not solely the duty of social workers and the courts. It's a responsibility that we must all share. Is it is hard work? Yes, but it is crucial work. It's life changing work. One of my favorite theologians Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
            Here are three ways your church can prevent and report child abuse:
1.      You need to thoroughly vet your leaders. You need to carefully observe a person before placing them in positions of leadership or children's ministry. Speak with their families and get to know them. Also, you should never let new members come to your church and be alone with children. Get to know them and their background. You should do background checks on all volunteers. You should put security measures in place to ensure that no one person is alone with a child. Above all else, trust your instincts.
2.      You should address child abuse in your church. Will it be a popular topic? No, but a necessary topic. If you don't feel competent to share on this topic, contact your local child protection agency. I’m sure they would be more than willing to send someone to speak to your congregation. If you are a leader and shepherd of a congregation, it is your obligation to do what you can to ensure that children are safe.
3.      Finally, report all instances of suspected child abuse to the police and/or child protective services. You don't have to have evidence. If you suspect that abuse is taking place, it is not your burden to investigate. The government has trained professionals who can investigate the facts. In most cases, your reporting will be confidential.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I encourage all people to fight for the

most vulnerable of our society—children. Your eyes and ears are the ones that God uses to fight for justice. It is your courage and boldness that will put an end to the silent, vicious cycle of child abuse. Speak up. Step up. Do Something.

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