You’re an adult. You hear of or even see another adult sexually abusing a child. It could be at your church or school. It could be next door or in your own home.
What would you do?
You would do everything in your power to stop it, or at least call the police, right? Especially as Christians who take seriously God’s command to protect “widows and orphans” (in other words, the most vulnerable in society), there’s no way you would let another adult abuse a child. So, why is there likely an adult near you in position of leadership such as, a priest, pastor, coach and mentor, who is abusing a minor?
It’s estimated that one out of three girls and one out of six boys in the U.S. is molested by an adult annually. The abuser is usually someone close to them, such as a family member or coach on their team. There are an estimated 493,000 registered sex offenders across the nation. Many of them were child abuse victims.
The Penn State University tragedy, where former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with 40 criminal counts of child molestation has returned this issue to the forefront. Sandusky denies molesting several boys in his Second Mile mentoring program, during a 15-year period. The revelation that has only this year come fully to light, has led to the resignations and firings of top university officials, including the president and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno. The Penn State community is in shock. Sounds like the church.
Child molestations perpetrated by men of the cloth have been well documented. How do molesters go unnoticed despite other adult Christians being around? The signs are there but not easy to detect. A search of several websites yielded molester profile clues such as:
• Adults who prefer jobs where they have access to children
• Men who seem to love children and to whom children are drawn.
• A person who is either extremely authoritarian or passive.
Basically, the only near certainty is that most molesters are men (though based on recent media coverage there seems to be a growing number of women offenders as well). Anyone — teacher, coach, priest or pastor — can be a child molester.
But adults don’t always want to see the signs, either. Adults have jobs and reputations to protect. If we blow the whistle, it could lead to a firing or losing that next promotion or pay bonus. Adults put other adults on pedestals; when our icons are accused of wrongdoing, we identify personally and go into denial. Adults build and worship institutions that become our identity. We pride ourselves in attending a prominent school or church. This is in part how priests and pastors have been able to molest minors with impunity. But eventually as we put more value in the institutions than in the caring for those most vulnerable among us, the institutions, like all idols, must crack, even fall. They can never bear such weight that is reserved only for God.
Still, sometimes adults sense the sin, and just don’t know what to do. The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry advises to do the following if a child hints that they’re being abused:
• Take them seriously and show that you understand and care.
• Don’t be judgmental, but encourage them to talk freely.
• Tell the child the abuse is not their fault
• Tell them you will protect them and act to prevent the abuse
• If you’re a family member, report the abuse to the local Child Protection Agency
• If you’re outside of the family, report it to police or the district attorney.
God reserves a special place in his heart for children, and he views their innocence as a virtue that we must all embrace. Recall, for example, the words of Jesus in Luke 18:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The Bible doesn’t specifically address child molestation, but it’s clearly a sin. Doing nothing about it is a sin, too. James 1:27 reads:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The Penn State community is asking itself, “How did this happen to us? Why didn’t we do more? Why didn’t we see the signs?”
They are questions for all of us adults to ponder.
For Additional Info
Check these online resources for more information on Child Molestation Statistics and Tips on Recognizing and Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse.