Knowledge, Response, And Protecting Children From Long-Term Abuse

Written exclusively for My Community Workplace for Religious Organizations

A 20-year-old woman sued a former youth pastor and church officials, alleging the youth pastor sexually abused her for three years, and church leaders did nothing to stop it. The woman was 15 at the time the abuse began. She was a member of the church and a student at the church's educational academy.

The abuse began when the pastor scheduled "individualized counseling sessions" with the girl. Within a month, sexual advances became a part of the sessions. Because the pastor had complete autonomy at one of the organization's locations, finding ways to be alone with the girl was not difficult. The plaintiff alleges the pastor violated her at various church property locations on multiple occasions every week for three years.

The lawsuit also contains allegations that the religious organization failed to implement even basic procedures or protocols for its counselors and did nothing to supervise the man's actions, even after receiving several reports from employees of a suspected inappropriate relationship between the girl and the youth pastor. Tim Potter "Wichita church enabled years of sex abuse by youth pastor, lawsuit says," (Mar. 02, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, a child who experiences abuse over a long period of time is more likely to have increased long-term effects. For adolescents in particular, the persistent anxiety and fear about being abused can lead to panic attacks, substance abuse, or self-harming behaviors.

All religious organizations must develop a detailed policy for employees and volunteers regarding appropriate conduct with minors of any age. All employees and volunteers must be strictly held to the conduct policy regardless of their position in the organization. It is up to all of the adults to be observant and to make sure everyone is adhering to the policy.

In the above case, the religious organization allegedly had little or no supervision over the pastor’s interactions with the youth in the religious school and community. When suspicions surfaced, the reaction of church leaders was to conceal not only the actions of the pastor, but also the lack of oversight.

The following suggestions will help your organization improve the protection of children in your care:

  • Establish a code of conduct and require all employees and volunteers to sign it.
  • Include in the code of conduct a requirement to report any violations of guidelines, or any behaviors they find suspicious.
  • Suspicions of child sexual abuse must be reported by the observer to law enforcement.
  • Eliminate any situation in which children or teens are supervised by only one adult.
  • Conduct training on how to recognize child abuse and how to report inappropriate behavior.
  • Coordinate the monitoring of programs and activities that involve minors of all ages.
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