NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- He looked like the ideal youth minister -- recommended by a friend of the pastor, personable, and leading a thriving ministry to teens at Wayside Baptist Church in Miami.
But looks were deceiving.
For months, he had been sexually abusing boys during sleepovers at his home. When the offense came to light, the church had its very existence jeopardized by a $6 million civil judgment in favor of the victims. Eventually the case was settled for an undisclosed amount, and Wayside determined to do everything it could to protect children in the future.
|'We do criminal background checks on anyone who is volunteering' at church. |
"Now we do criminal background checks on anyone who is volunteering, and they put glass in all the doors [of children's and youth classrooms]," said Carrel Youmans, a longtime member at Wayside who taught youth when the abuse occurred in the 1970s.
Wayside is not an isolated case, said Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing at Church Mutual Insurance Company. Church Mutual averages four to five reports of child sexual abuse each week from its approximately 100,000 clients, the vast majority of which are churches. That includes roughly 9,000 Southern Baptist congregations.
Every church needs to have policies in place to protect its children, Moreland told SBC LIFE, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.
"It is common for a congregation to think, 'It can't happen here. We're small and everyone knows everyone,'" Moreland said. "That is not sound thinking when it comes to child sexual abuse. Most abusers are known to the child and trusted by the congregation. Child sexual abuse occurs in churches of all sizes and denominations and in all parts of the country -- urban and rural."
REPORTING SUSPECTED ABUSE
If abuse is ever suspected, Moreland urges churches to contact the proper government reporting agency immediately and to suspend the alleged offender (with pay for employees until the situation is resolved). They also should contact their attorney and insurance company.
Representatives of the church, accompanied by a reporting agency official, should meet with the child's parents and, in their presence with their permission, the child.
"Reassure the child that he or she has done nothing wrong and that it was right to report the incident," Moreland said. "Allow the child to speak freely. Do not coach responses from them and do not become defensive. You want the truth and you want to protect the child's wellbeing." Read More